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The Luck of the Buttons

The Luck of the Buttons

3.4 5
by Anne Ylvisaker

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In Iowa circa 1929, spunky twelve-year-old Tugs vows to turn her family’s luck around, with the help of a Brownie camera and a small-town mystery.

Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners, or model citizens. The one time a Button ever


In Iowa circa 1929, spunky twelve-year-old Tugs vows to turn her family’s luck around, with the help of a Brownie camera and a small-town mystery.

Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners, or model citizens. The one time a Button ever made the late Goodhue Gazette - before Harvey Moore came along with his talk of launching a new paper - was when Great Grandaddy Ike accidentally set Town Hall ablaze. Tomboy Tugs looks at her hapless family and sees her own reflection looking back until she befriends popular Aggie Millhouse, wins a new camera in the Independence Day raffle, and stumbles into a mystery only she can solve. Suddenly this is a summer of change - and by its end, being a Button may just turn out to be what one clumsy, funny, spirited, and very observant young heroine decides to make of it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ylvisaker sets her agreeable story of the summer of 1929, when life begins to change for ungainly 12-year-old Tugs Button, in the small town of Goodhue, Iowa. Born into a downtrodden family that "considered victory, even for one's affiliated party in national politics, showing off," good-natured, plainspoken Tugs is accustomed to being called names like "rapscallion" and "know-it-all." But when wealthy Aggie Millhouse asks to run the three-legged race with her at the Independence Day picnic and they win, Tugs begins to question whether she might be able to break out of the Buttons' tradition of bad luck. After she also wins the patriotic essay contest and a Kodak camera, she declares, "I'm going to go on being lucky," to the horrified Button clan. As Ylvisaker builds an increasingly suspenseful tale revolving around a dapper, silver-tongued newcomer with plans for starting a newspaper with citizens' money (think The Music Man), she presents a multitude of somewhat stereotypical characters who can be hard to keep track of, but succeeds in her portrayal of a cozy, close-knit community. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Cynthia Levinson
Twelve-year-old Tugs Button can hardly do anything right. Within the first two days (and 35 pages) of this historical novel set in 1929, Tugs has irritated the town "rowdy," broken a statuette, ruined one of the Mary's beanbags, lost the dog belonging to the most prominent family in town, and been called a "rapscallion," a word she has to look up in the dictionary at the library. Even her name, taken from a tombstone that her mother misread, is a mistake. But her family doesn't mind; in fact, when Tugs accidentally won a spelling bee, her grandfather warned her not to get stuck up. Sometimes, though, luck finds her, such as when she wins a Brownie camera in a raffle. And, sometimes, she makes her own good fortune, such as when she wins not only the three-legged race with Aggie, the owner of the lost dog, but also an essay contest. The camera becomes instrumental in Tugs' recognizing that the newcomer to town, who claims that he will revive the defunct local newspaper if only the good people of Goodhue, Iowa will supply the cash, is a scoundrel. Tugs' conflicts with her family and neighbors will seem both gently old-fashioned and shockingly real (she tells them to "clap their trap") to readers. By the end, both Aggie and the rowdy have become genuine friends, and Tugs is no longer "just a Button;" after all, she learns, "button" can also mean "bring to a successful conclusion." Populated with eccentric characters and set firmly but not heavy-handedly in its time and place, this story successfully manages to be charming, amusing, informative, suspenseful, and heart-warming all at once. Reviewer: Cynthia Levinson
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Twelve-year-old Tugs Button, so named when her mother misread an inspiring gravestone, is having a run of Independence Day luck: she has won the three-legged race with a new friend, a blue ribbon for her entry in the patriotic essay contest, and the raffle for a Kodak Brownie camera. But Tugs is uneasy about the arrival of Harvey Moore in her small Iowa town. He's a smooth-talking stranger who's promising to reestablish a local newspaper, the Goodhue Progress, as soon as he can raise enough money for a printing press. He has beguiled the gullible Goodhue citizens, but Tugs suspects that he is about to swindle them out of their savings. When her budding friendship with elderly twin sisters leads her to the town library archives, she discovers a photo of Harvey Moore, aka Dapper Jack, on the front page of a Chicago newspaper. Now she has to convince the powers that be to stop him before he absconds with the loot. Set in 1929, with a plot, setting, and characters reminiscent of Meredith Wilson's The Music Man, this novel overcomes stock characterization, a predictable plot, and some overused motifs by means of subtle humor, a clever narrative style, and an endearing heroine. Details of photography of the time period add interest, and readers who enjoy a good story with only the mildest of sinister overtones will find this one appealing.—Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Set in Iowa in 1929, this offbeat tale features plucky, twelve-year-old Tugs Button, who has a meaningful relationship with pie. The Button clan bakes and serves it up whenever there is trouble in the ranks, from accidents to crop failures to illnesses to spousal friction. Poor Tugs has eaten a lot of pie in her life. It seems the Buttons just don't have any luck. And judging by her buck teeth and her clumsiness, social and otherwise, Tugs is most definitely a Button. Not surprisingly, everyone—not least of all Tugs herself—is fit to be tied when she wins two blue ribbons and a Brownie camera at the town's Independence Day celebration. And they are further stunned by the mystery she solves with her camera, some good instincts and a little luck. A bit slow-going at first, but if readers persevere, they will warm up to Tugs and enjoy getting to know the people in her circle, including her unlikely, primly-dressed friend Aggie Millhouse, her Granddaddy Ike who gambles his false teeth away and back again, and twins Elmira and Eldora, photograph fanatics and owners of Leopold, a cat as big as a raccoon, who frequents the local library. The main message here is uncomplicated, but important—with a little faith in ourselves and a willingness to take some risks, anything is possible, even a lucky Button. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.90(w) x 4.80(h) x 0.80(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Anne Ylvisaker is the author of Dear Papa, which Booklist named a Top Ten Youth First Novel, and Little Klein, a Book Sense Pick and winner of numerous awards. Formerly of Iowa and Minnesota, Anne Ylvisaker now lives in California.

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The Luck of the Buttons 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Terrible plot, characters, setting and everything else
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
YoungMensanBookParade More than 1 year ago
The Luck of the Buttons is about a young girl named Tugs Button who is in a very unlucky family. She is determined to turn that luck around. When it looks like she might be lucky after all, no one knows if their luck is turning or if she is the only lucky one in her family. Then an opportunity appears to the people of the town and everyone is very excited. But Tugs has some questions, and so she looks for answers. Other kids will enjoy this book because it’s thrilling and makes you want to keep turning the pages. My favorite part was when everyone finally began to believe that Tugs was actually lucky and not just another Button. It was sad when it was over even though all of her questions do get answered because you realize that you will miss the character and want to know what she will do next. Because it takes place in the 1920s, some of the language takes some getting used to. For example, you have to get used to names of items and stores that we don’t really have anymore. It was slow paced at the beginning but it gets faster as you get deeper into the book and by then you won’t want to put it down. But overall this story is special because it says that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything. I give this book 5 Stars because it was a thrilling page-turner with a surprise ending. Review by Audrey D., age 10, North Texas Mensa
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Emmaley brown: its a realy great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago