The Ballad of Lucy Whippleby Karen Cushman
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In 1849 a twelve-year-old girl who calls herself Lucy is distraught when her mother moves the family from Massachusetts to a small California mining town. There Lucy helps run a boarding house and looks for comfort in books while trying to find a way to return "home."
Arvella Whipple and her three children, Sierra, Butte, and 11-year-old California Morning, make a fresh start in Lucky Diggins, a town of mud, tents, and rough-hewn residents. It's a far cry from Massachusetts; as her mother determinedly settles in, California rebelliously changes her name to Lucy and starts saving every penny for the trip back east. Ever willing to lose herself in a book when she should be doing errands, Lucy is an irresistible teenager; her lively narration and stubborn, slightly naive self-confidence (as well as a taste for colorful invective: "Gol durn, rip-snortin' rumhole and cussed, dad-blamed, dag diggety, thundering pisspot," she storms) recall the narrator of Catherine, Called Birdy (1994), without seeming as anachronistic. Other characters are drawn with a broader brush, a shambling platoon of unwashed miners with hearts (and in one case, teeth) of gold. Arvella eventually moves on, but Lucy has not only lost her desire to leave California, but found a vocation as well: town librarian. With a story that is less a period piece than a timeless and richly comic coming-of-age story, Cushman remains on a roll.
"Cushman’s heroine is a delightful character, and the historical setting is authentically portrayed. Lucy’s story, as the author points out in her end notes, is the story of many pioneer women who exhibited great strength and courage as they helped to settle the West."
School Library Journal, starred
"The recent Newbery medalist plunks down two more strong-minded women, this time in an 1849 mining camp—a milieu far removed from the Middle Ages of her first novels, but not all that different when it comes to living standards. . . . With a story that is less a period piece than a timeless and richly comic coming-of-age story, Cushman remains on a roll."
Kirkus Reviews with Pointers
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- 324 KB
- Age Range:
- 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
and vow to be miserable here
"Mama," I said, "that gold you claimed is lying in the fields around here must be hidden by all the lizards, dead leaves, and mule droppings, for I can't see a thing worth picking up and taking home." I did not say it out loud, but I sorely wanted to, for I was sad, mad, and feeling bad. The rocking wagon had upset my stomach, my bottom hurt from bouncing on the wooden seat, and my head ached from too much sun and too much emotion.
It was a hot day in late August, and nothing was moving in the heat but the flies, when our wagon pulled out of the woods and stopped at the edge of the ravine. Dense evergreens towered above us, the hillsides so dark with them the mountains seemed almost black, while over all the fierce yellow sun burned in the blue bowl of the sky. All was silent, with an impression of immensity. Later, folks would call it majestic, noble, imposing, magnificent. But not me.
"Awful," I said, climbing out of the wagon. "Just awful." And I thought with longing of snug spaces, of tree limbs that touched the ground and enclosed safe places within, of the big chair in Gramma Whipple's parlor cozy with the curtains pulled around, of the solidity of Grampop's strong arms and rock walls and houses with porches.
"California Morning Whipple, quit your mooning and come here and help me," Mama called, so I wiped my sunburned face with the back of my hand and went to help.
We woke up the little ones and they, along with themule and the loaded wagon, were pushed and pulled down the narrow ravine path to the bottom. Sierra, being only two, fell once or twice, so Butte, acting grown-up now he was ten, put her on his shoulders and continued pulling back on the wagon so it didn't move too fast. I fell too, but since there was no one to help me, I brushed the dust off my apron and took to skittering down again with Sweetheart, the mule, beside me.
Finally, in a burst, we skidded, down the last feet of the trail to a stop. Everyone, including Sweetheart, was hot and sweaty and dirty. Everyone, especially Sweetheart, was tired and hungry and glad to be done.
Mama and I stood and looked at the settlement along the river. The air, heavy with heat and dust, burned my nose and stung my eyes.
"Oh, my, look at this place, California," Mama said.
I looked. The ground was sunburned and barren except for patches of scrub here and there. Small tents, shacks, and brush-covered lean-tos huddled along one bank of the river. On the dirt path that served as the only street, several large, tattered tents shifted in the wind. The biggest had sulune paintedacross its front saloon, I figured spelled wrong but people seemed to have gotten the meaning allright judging from the noise inside. The hot wind howled; the tents flapped and creaked; thick dust mixed with the smoke from a hundred cook fires, tinted red by the setting sun. Surely Hell was not far away.
I took Mama's hand. We'd go home now, of course. How disappointed she must be.Mama and Pa had long dreamed of goingwest, even to naming, their family for western places: me, the first, California Morning Whipple; then Butte, Prairie, Sierra, Golden Promise, the lost baby ocean, and Rocky Flat, the dog.
When Pa and Golden died of pneumonia the autumn of 1848, people told Mama, "You got to stop dreaming, Arvella, settle down, and take care of them kids." But Mama was not one to listen to what she didn't want to hear mule stubborn, her own pa used to call her. After grieving for a spell over what was lost, she took a deep breath and started to look toward what was to come. Butte, Prairie, and Sierra were caught up in her excitement, but for weeks I lived in fear of what Mama would do, for our small Massachusetts town fitted her like a shoe two sizes too small. At night I had dreams of fierce storms that blew us to desert islands, of whirlwinds and whirlpools, of great sea monsters that swallowed the whole Whipple family, including Rocky Flat.
Mama had no patience with what she called my wobblies. She sold the house and stable and feed store, gave the dog to Harold Thatcher at the mill, packed us up like barrels of lard, and in the spring took us on a ship with raggedy sails to seek our fortune in the goldfields of California.
When we arrived near broke in the mud and garbage that was the Bay of San Francisco,, Minnie Oates, who had come from Connecticut to fetch her husband, said, "Face facts, Arvella. My hogs lived better than this. You best come back east with us."
But Mama wasn't going back. We lived on that idle ship for eight more days, its captain and crew having, abandoned it for the goldfields, while Mama stalked through San Francisco in her black dress, new flowered hat on her head and a copy of The Emigrant's Guide to the Gold Mines (25 cents, 12 1/2 cents without the map) tucked in her reticule, talking to everyone who would talk back and finally getting herself a job running a boarding house in a mining town. We took a steamer to Sacramento and then to Marysville, where she bundled up us kids in a wagon, bargained a shopkeeper her copper pot from Gramma Whipple for a mule, and trudged three days through country jagged with hills and mountains, peaks and valleys, blazing sunshine and cold sharp nights.
All along the way I watched for the gold lying on the ground, the fruit hanging from the trees, the magical possibilities that Mama said awaited us in California. I saw nothing but evergreens, dirt, and sun hardly even another human being except for some Indian women grinding acorns by the side of the road. They looked up as we passed, and their tattooed faces frightened me so that I spent the rest of the journey under my old sunflower quilt, crying for my pa and my home and all that was dear to me.
Meet the Author
Karen Cushman's acclaimed historical novels include Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Midwife's Apprentice, which received the Newbery Medal. She lives on Vashon Island in Washington State. Her website is www.karencushmanbooks.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is one of the worse book I've ever read. Never read this book. It's boring, and has no fun in it at all. Worst of all, it's not absorbing.
It was very informative and interesting, but not my favorite that I've read about this time period. For those of you who like history, a really good and interesting series is the Dear America books. (Yes, they are available on nook) They are written in diary format, so it's similar to this book, but more interesting. And they have books on just about every time period. I would like to read Karen Cushman's other books, though, to give her another chance.
This book is great and exciting but this is not a book you can feel excited about the second time you read it. This was okay but you should just read it at the library. I bought it and found out it was a waste of money.
Its a great book for learning about the california gold rush
Awesome book worth the money! Get it!
I love the author of this book, Karen Cushman. I greatly enjoyed her other two books, Catherine Called Birdy (my favorite book), and The Midwife's Apprentice. But I found Ballad of Lucy Whipple to be rather boring and dull.
Lucy Whipple was such an extroidanary book!! It made me feel like I was in the California Gold mines!! Lucy Brought out everything from the book in very descriptive detail! I reccomend this book to anyone that loves to read, yet in the beginning of this book is a bit slow the middle and ending totaly makes up for it.. :)
I thought the book, Lucy Whipple, was probably one of the best books I have ever read because it was funny and the moral of the story was pretty good. What I liked in the story was that it would lure you and would make you read it more and more until you finish the book. Lucy Whipple's letters that she wrote to her gramma and grampops made the story more captivating and fun. Her letters made the book more interesting to read because she tells about the events and her opinions are expressed as well. What costed the book one star was that the beginning of the book was a bit dull and less captivating to a reader. I think if the author had more interesting events that happened, that it would be better. Even though the beginning wasn't very good, when I was reaching the end of one chapter, I had to read yet another one until I had finished the book and I did at one time!
California Morning Whipple¿s life has been completely flipped. Her father and sister died just recently and now she has to take the Oregon Trail all the way to California. The trip there is just fine it¿s just what happens when she arrives in California. California decides to change her name because she couldn¿t have her name be the name of a place that she hated. She starts the pick names out of books she had read and finally decided on Lucy. She has many adventures and great times in California even though she had hated it on the Trail. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is a book filled with hardships and fun, a great read for all ages who want to learn about the Oregon Trail. Things out west are nothing compared to what everyone had been saying. Many people had believed that the gold would be everywhere on the ground for someone to pick up and become rich, but that wasn¿t true at all. People had been told that the landscape would be beautiful, but that was a lie, it was horrible! Sometimes there wasn¿t enough food and people had to live in puny tents until they could build real houses. Lucy¿s mother runs a boarding house to anybody who needs a place to stay, if they had $18.20. Mainly, miners would come to get a bed after a really long days work and would pay there share in gold dust. Lucy¿s friend, Joe, whom she later called Bernard Freeman, came to rent a bed but Lucy¿s mother wouldn¿t let him stay until he had the money. At first, the boarding house was a couple of tents, but later it turned it a very nice wooden building with a lot more room for people. In California, lots of things are different for Lucy, but mostly it was the friends that she made. One day while she was supposed to be picking berries, she was reading and couldn¿t stop, when she did she looked over and the buckets were already filled with berries, that¿s how she came to meet Joe, an escaped slave who Lucy later called Bernard Freeman. Lizzie Flagg, a daughter of Linus Flagg who is one of the meanest men ever, is another person who meets Lucy and instantly becomes friends with her. The Flaggs aren¿t the typical family, who live in a house and are civilized, but the live outside in a tent and eat from the land they are usually seen as wild animals. Good things happened in California, but bad things happened as well. Butte, Lucy¿s brother, died of a sickness, and a fire roared through Lucky Diggins and destroyed everything. This book is perfect for learning about how hard it was for everybody living in California or moving to California by the Oregon Trail to search for gold and maybe, just maybe become rich. E.Gray