Billy Creekmore
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Billy Creekmore

3.8 15
by Tracey Porter

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Folks say I'm bound to be unlucky in life, for I was born at midnight on a Friday, the thirteenth of December, and Peggy says it's certain I can commune with spirits. But I ain't never seen any ghosts, not even my own mother, and wouldn't that be the ghost I'd see if I could?

So begins the tale of Billy Creekmore, a boy with


Folks say I'm bound to be unlucky in life, for I was born at midnight on a Friday, the thirteenth of December, and Peggy says it's certain I can commune with spirits. But I ain't never seen any ghosts, not even my own mother, and wouldn't that be the ghost I'd see if I could?

So begins the tale of Billy Creekmore, a boy with mystifying powers and the glorious gift of storytelling. But what does life hold for someone growing up in the cruel clutches of the Guardian Angels Home for Boys, where Billy's gifts do more harm than good?

Escaping the orphanage seems an impossible feat, but when a stranger comes to claim Billy, he sets off on an extraordinary journey. With only a tin box that holds precious mementos of his beloved mother and mysterious father, Billy travels from the coal mines of West Virginia to the spectacular world of a traveling circus in search of his past, his future, and his own true self.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Elsworth Rockefeller
Billy Creekmore, a resident of the Guardian Angels Home for Boys, knows that there must be more to life than working for an unkind "master" who keeps his charges hungry, weak, and cold. Rescued by a long-lost uncle, Billy is introduced to the mining profession, which he enjoys until his uncle is killed by anti-union guards. Forced to flee into the wilderness, Billy finds salvation in the form of the Charles Sparks World Famous Circus. With the Sparks Circus, Billy does meaningful work and feels as if he has finally found a home. When he meets his absentee father and is convinced to join him and the low-class circus for which he works, Billy must decide what to make of his future. Set in the late 1800s, this well-researched story, written with consistent language and a pleasantly challenging vocabulary, focuses on the hardships of child labor and the resiliency necessary to take responsibility for one's own life. Action-packed, with scenes from deep in old coal mines to secret union meetings and inside the sideshow tent of a famous circus, the book will hook historical fiction fans from the first page. Descriptive and humorous chapter titles offer a preview of the topics to come. This book will be a welcome addition to larger school and public libraries, especially those with a historical fiction fan base. Certain elements of the plot development feel flat or unbelievable, but the character-driven story will appeal to readers who enjoy the genre.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
The Guardian Angels Home for Boys does not live up to its name—at least not for ten-year-old orphan Billy Creekmore. Underfed and overworked, he wants out, but not to the death sentence that is the local glass factory. Fortunately, a long-lost uncle collects him in time to introduce young Billy to the equally dismal coal mines of West Virginia. These are but the beginnings of Billy's travels in quest for belonging. It is a classic plot, and Tracey Porter applies herself to bringing bona fides to the early years of the twentieth-century working world with its lack of safety legislation and labor unrest. As for Billy himself, he is presented as a storyteller with a possible facility for connecting with lost spirits. His efforts at these endeavors are only middling, but the boy is a natural survivor. Younger readers should enjoy Billy's adventures in the mines and among the grafters of the circus world.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7
Porter has successfully woven elements of David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Huckleberry Finn into the character of Billy Creekmore, a 10-year-old "orphan" living in the Guardian Angels Home for Boys at the beginning of the 20th century. His story takes readers on an unsentimental journey to look at defenseless children who were forced to work on hardscrabble farms with little hope of improving their condition. Unexpectedly, Billy is rescued by a hitherto unknown uncle who takes him to live in a small cottage in a West Virginia coal town. There, the boy finds others his age and younger hard at work in the mines. A recruiter from the United Mine Workers secretly gets some workers to sign up, only to have strike breakers terrorize the community and kill his uncle. Billy's journeys and troubles continue when he runs off to join a traveling circus. Memorable characters, completely villainous or kind, fill the pages of this picaresque novel. Readers will empathize with the children's bitter deprivations and feel hopeful when Billy realizes he can make his life better. This is a well-told historical tale about an engaging and resourceful protagonist who learns to appreciate his many gifts as he makes his way in the world.
—Lillian HeckerCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Billy's voice is distinct and engaging as he relates his story of being left as an orphan at the Guardian Angel Home for Boys, even though he gets postcards from his father regularly. Friendship with the cook Peggy, his own reputation for communication with the spirit world and an ability to eavesdrop give him the edge as events at the end of the 19th century unfold. Rufus, whose Pa is in jail, starts a "Robbers Club," which helps spark that distrust of authority Billy needs to survive. Rescued from the home by the propitious appearance of a long-lost uncle, Billy ends up in a mining town in West Virginia with a chance for schooling and a healthy family life. As Billy's life is propelled by events, his energy and cheerful outlook are balanced by his fear of the unknown and his beliefs about his past and his connection to the departed. His values and courage are tested by the reappearance of his father just as Billy takes up circus life. Learning what makes life worth living and how to cope during a time when child labor seemed to be expected gives this historical narrative impact and charm. (Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Billy Creekmore
A Novel

Chapter One

The Strange Circumstances of My Birth and How I Came to Be Raised at the Guardian Angels Home for Boys

Folks say I'm bound to be unlucky in life, for I was born at midnight on a Friday, the thirteenth of December, and Peggy says it's certain I can commune with spirits. But I ain't never seen any ghosts, not even my own mother, and wouldn't that be the ghost I'd see if I could?

Peggy put down her knife to give it some thought. "Maybe she figures you won't recognize her. After all, you were only hours old when she died."

"Or maybe she's a fearful ghost who won't come to me since I'm what killed her. Now, don't shake your head, Peggy! I know what folks say! I heard Mrs. Beadle tell you."

"I don't believe it, Billy, and I don't want you to, either."

But I did.

The midwife who delivered me is sister to Mrs. Beadle, so the story was common knowledge. My birth alone nearly killed my mother, but it was the shock of me that did her in. It was 1895, the coldest winter in West Virginia's recorded history. I entered the world as the clock struck twelve, silent and limp, my eyes closed. Then, as the midwife slapped some life into me, I started speaking. And it warn't gurgles or babbles either, but real words. I raised a finger and pointed into space saying, "There! There!" my eyes shut, like I was stuck between worlds. It was unsettling and eerie, such a frightening thing to see that it stopped my mother's heart. My pa, wild with loss, fearful and distressed, ran out in the night and never returned.

"What about your pa?" asked Peggy. "Do you ever see the ghostof your pa?"

"My pa's not dead. At least he warn't at Christmas. He sent me a picture postcard."

"Well, where is he then?"

"I don't know. He travels about and sends me a postcard every now and then."

"How sad, Billy!" Her face puckered up, and her eyes got wet. "Oh, but it's not right to abandon your child, no matter how brokenhearted you might be!" She turned back to her chopping. Pieces of carrot flew about, and she moved quick and graceful in the kitchen despite her great size. I had risen before dawn to drink some tea and have a little talk. We were buddies, Peggy and me.

"Tell me, Billy. What was on the postcard then?"

"Picture of a paddleboat on the Ohio River. But that ain't no clue to where he's at. I get picture postcards from him once a year or more, all showin' sight-seein' type things—a suspension bridge, train station, a statue in a park. . . ."

"Does he leave an address for you to write him back?" asked Peggy.

"Nope. But he always writes the same thing—'with love from your pa.'"

"Oh!" said Peggy in a voice sharp with pain, just like she got pricked with a pin. She pulled me into her arms to rock me back and forth like a baby. I quick set down my tea so I didn't scald us. "Imagine leaving your only son in an orphanage while you rove about seeing the glories and curiosities of the world!"

One of the buttons down the back of her blouse popped off, and it was hard to breathe, being squeezed so tight in her doughy arms. Otherwise, I'm sure I'd have cried with her at my pitiful state. I was ten years old, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to be held and loved every now and then. I was alone in the world, my mother dead, my father traveling about in places unknown, too filled with mourning and dread to raise me as his son.

In time Peggy let up on me, but before she did, she held me at arm's length and looked me plain in the face.

"Do you see spirits, Billy? Any at all? Do they talk to you?"

I shook my head. Truth be told, I was afraid of having the gift of communicating with spirits. It's what killed my mother and made my father leave. "Sometimes I sense 'em, though," I admitted to Peggy. "I'll feel my skin tingle right here," I said, touching my temples, "and it's almost like they're hoverin' off to the side, just where I can't see, but I ain't never seen one. Sometimes I pretend to see 'em when I don't. But please don't tell no one I said so."

"I won't," said Peggy in a worried voice, "but one day they'll come to you, and until then you better stop pretending. Telling lies about seeing spirits is an awful sin."

"I know," I said. "But I don't think God minds if I tell a story to give folks something to think about, or else to save myself from Mr. Beadle. Remember how bad he hurt Herbert Mullens?"

"Heavens, yes, poor lamb," said Peggy. Then she crossed herself and moved her lips. Herbert was just a sparrow of a boy, slight and twitchy, only six years old when Mr. Beadle tore into him for dropping a basket of eggs. He was so scared, so injured by the beating, that he stopped talking and had to be taken to the home for children who are deaf and blind and otherwise can't find a way in the world. Peggy said a quick prayer for him, as was her habit whenever she heard of Mr. Beadle thrashing one of the boys. No doubt she'd be praying for him later on. After she cooked our breakfast, she walked all the way to Albright to go to mass, for she was Catholic, and couldn't go to our chapel.

"Whatever your reasons, Billy, don't get used to lying. You'll be lost if you do. Promise God in your prayers that you won't lie no more."

"I will, Peggy," I answered. I looked at her long as I could, but shifted my eyes to the ground as soon as she went back to her cooking. I couldn't bear to tell her that praying didn't make no sense to me, at least not the prayers the preacher and the Beadles made us say.

Billy Creekmore
A Novel
. Copyright © by Tracey Porter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Tracey Porter is the author of Treasures in the Dust and A Dance of Sisters. Her most recent novel, Billy Creekmore, was named to's Kids' Reading List, compiled by the American Library Association. For the past twenty years she has taught middle school at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, California. She lives with her family in Los Angeles.

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Billy Creekmore 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So im checking this book out for the summer and its really good so far
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was huge fart book!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am 11 and I really enjoyed this book in 4th grade. Thanks B&N for adding this book. Get this book,guys! You wont regret it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A sadish story about a boy who can feel the ppresence of spirits
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My son, age 12, who likes adventure stories and fantasy series, really liked this book. In fact, he put it on his top 20 list.
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