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The Warden's Daughter

The Warden's Daughter

by Jerry Spinelli

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From Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, Stargirl) comes the "moving and memorable" (Kirkus Reviews, starred) story of a girl searching for happiness inside the walls of a prison.
Cammie O'Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison--not as a prisoner, she's the warden's daughter. She spends the


From Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, Stargirl) comes the "moving and memorable" (Kirkus Reviews, starred) story of a girl searching for happiness inside the walls of a prison.
Cammie O'Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison--not as a prisoner, she's the warden's daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women's excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends. 

But even though Cammie's free to leave the prison, she's still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn't think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she's willing to work with what she's got.
"Jerry Spinelli again proves why he's the king of storytellers" (Shelf Awarenss, starred) in this tale of a girl who learns that heroes can come in surprising disguises, and that even if we don't always get what we want, sometimes we really do get what we need.
Praise for the works of Jerry Spinelli:
“Spinelli is a poet of the prepubescent. . . . No writer guides his young characters, and his readers, past these pitfalls and challenges and toward their futures with more compassion.” —The New York Times
“It's almost unreal how much the children's book still resonates.” —Bustle.com on Maniac Magee

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/14/2016
In this poignant coming-of-age story, Newbery Medalist Spinelli invites readers to revisit Two Mills, Pa. (last seen in Maniac Magee), during the 1950s to meet the 12-year-old daughter of a prison warden. When Cammie was a baby, her mother saved her life and was killed in the process. Still feeling her mother’s absence, Cammie lives a lonely existence with her father above the town prison. During the summer, she fills the hours by visiting the women inmates, playing records with her 12-going-on-17 best friend, and trying to turn her caregiver, Eloda Pupko, into a replacement mother. But Cammie’s failing schemes, coupled with another painful loss, cause her to lash out at everyone in her path. Spinelli again shows his mastery at evoking a particular time and place while delving into the heart of a troubled adolescent, creating an evocative backdrop through the sounds of early rock and roll, the smell of frying scrapple, and the sights of children freely roaming their neighborhoods. Like Cammie’s quietly wise housekeeper, readers will understand Cammie’s frustrations and cheer her on as she confronts her deepest emotions. Ages 9–12. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—As an elderly grandmother, Cammie looks back on the summer of 1959, when she lived with her stoic warden father in an apartment adjacent to Pennsylvania's Hancock County Prison. Young Cammie is filled with unprocessed grief from her mother's tragic death. She decides that Eloda Pupko, the distant but constant prison housekeeper, should be her mother figure. The summer is full of change. Cammie's fame-hungry best friend outgrows her, and her close relationship with verbose Boo Boo Dunbar, one of a handful of African American inmates, ends in numb grief when Boo Boo commits suicide. Finally, Eloda helps Cammie truly grieve for her mother in order to move on. Character development and realistic dialogue shine in this emotional historical fiction title. The pent-up anger that bubbles under the surface of Cammie's memories is palpable. Spinelli's characters are achingly real at times, although some readers may find it difficult to care about such a spoiled, entitled protagonist. With narration by an elderly Cammie, Spinelli artfully adds foreshadowing to keep the plot moving. However, the pacing is slowed by adult Cammie's endless reflections on her emotions and behavior. The grandmotherly perspective lacks a tangible connection to young Cammie's confusion on the cusp of teenager-dom. Period-specific details abound, but some hit the mark without context (will young readers understand that the passing reference to "the Hokey Pokey man" is 1950s slang for ice-cream man?). VERDICT Sentimental and reflective, this nostalgic story will strike a deeper chord in adults than in middle graders.—Amy Seto Forrester, Denver Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-09-19
Perpetually angry, motherless Cammie O’Reilly, the warden’s daughter, sets about turning Eloda Pupko, the silent, distant trustee working as “Cammie-keeper,” into a mother figure over the summer she turns 13. Set in 1959 in the Two Mills, Pennsylvania, of Spinelli's own childhood, this is firmly grounded in its time and place and full of details of life at Hancock County Prison. Cammie’s essential compassion shows in her willingness to spend time with all the incarcerated women, her particular affection for Boo Boo, a large, ebullient black woman who befriends the sad white child, and her disgust at best friend Reggie's admiration for their most famous inmate, a murderer. Reggie lusts for fame herself; one highlight of the summer is her appearance on the TV show Bandstand—watched and loudly applauded by a gang of rising Two Mills seventh-graders who are the friends who move into Cammie’s life without any apparent effort and who are firmly ejected as Cammie’s spiral into depression’s depths approaches its climax. Cammie tells her own story chronologically, until its whirlwind crest; she frames it with scenes from the present. It’s a tapestry of grief and redemption, woven by a master storyteller who never loses his focus on Cammie’s personal journey but connects it to Eloda’s in a powerful twist. Moving and memorable. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
"It's a tapestry of grief and redemption, woven by a master storyteller who never loses his focus on Cammie's personal journey but connects it to Eloda's in a powerful twist. Moving and memorable."— Kirkus, starred review

"Spinelli again shows his mastery at evoking a particular time and place while delving into the heart of a troubled adolescent..."— Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The prison community is a powerful backdrop for Cammie’s turbulent coming of age, populated with messy lives that brighten in Cammie’s presence but that have their own demons to tame." — Bulletin, starred review

"Jerry Spinelli again proves why he's the king of storytellers." -- Shelf Awareness, starred review

"This is a story about facing hard truths and growing up. Readers will love the details of having a prison compound for a home and adore the many secondary characters who help keep Cammie’s head above water during her desperate search for happiness." -- Booklist

"Spinelli’s gift for humorous chaos and his trademark magic realism touches are showcased here, and it is exhilarating to read about kids with so much urban freedom." -- The Horn Book

"Character development and realistic dialogue shine in this emotional historical fiction title. Spinelli’s characters are achingly real."--School Library Journal

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
550L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Breakfast time in the prison. The smell of fried scrapple filled the apartment. It happened every morning.

“I could teach you how to do it yourself,” she said. “It’s simple.”

“I want you to do it,” I said.

“You’ll be a teenager soon. You’ll have to learn someday.”

“You’re doing it,” I told her. “Case closed.”

Her name was Eloda Pupko. She was a prison trustee. She took care of our apartment above the prison entrance. Washed. Ironed. Dusted. And kept me company. Housekeeper. Cammie-keeper.

At the moment, she was braiding my hair.

“Okay,” she said. “Done.”

I squawked. “Already?” I didn’t want her to be done.

“This little bit?” She gave it a tug.

She was right. I’d wanted a pigtail down the middle, but all my short hair allowed was barely a one-knotter. A pigstub.

I felt her leaving me. I whirled. “No!”

She stopped, turned, eyebrows arching. “No?”

I blurted the first thing that came to mind. “I want a ribbon.”

Her eyes went wide. And then she laughed. And kept laughing.

She knew what I knew: I was anything but a hair-ribbon kind of girl. I sat on the counter stool dressed in dungarees, black-and-white high-top Keds and a striped T-shirt. My baseball glove lay on the other stool.

When she had laughed herself out, she said, “Ribbon? On a cannonball firebug?”

She had a point on both counts.

Cannonball was my nickname. As for “firebug” . . .

In school two months earlier we had been learning about the Unami, the Native Americans from our area. This inspired me to make a fire the old-fashioned Unami way. For reasons knowable only to the brain of a sixth grader, I decided to do so in our bathtub.

On the way home from school one day, I detoured to the railroad tracks and creek and collected my supplies: a quartz stone, a rusty iron track-bed spike and a handful of dry, mossy stuff from the ground under a bunch of pine trees. I laid it all in the bathtub. And climbed in.

Over the mossy nest I smashed and scratched the stone and spike into each other. My arms were ready to fall off when a thin curl of smoke rose out of the nest. I blew on it. A spark appeared. “What are you doing?” said Eloda from the doorway. I glanced up at her--and screamed, because the spark had flamed and burned my thumb. Stone and spike clanked on porcelain. Eloda turned on the shower, putting out the fire and drenching me. When I dried off and changed my clothes, she put Vaseline and a Band-Aid on the burn and told me to tell people I had cut myself slicing tomatoes.

Eloda tapped my hand. “Lemme see.”

I showed her. The burn was just a pale pink trace by now. She took my hand in both of hers. She seemed to hold it longer than necessary.

“Number one law,” she said.

“No more fires,” I said. She had made me recite the words every time she changed the Band-Aid. She still made me say it.

Then her hands were off me, but I was still feeling her. It was her eyes. She was staring at me in a way that seemed to mean something, but I would not find out what till years later.

“Tell you what,” she said, breaking the spell. “If you make it to three knots, I’ll get you a ribbon.”

Again she started to leave.

Again I blurted, “You’re so lucky.”

Again she stopped. “That’s me. Miss Lucky.”

“I mean it,” I said. “You get to have scrapple every day.”

“You’re right,” she said. “That’s why I decided to live here. I love the scrapple.” She walked away.


She stopped. She waited, her back to me.

“You can’t go,” I told her.

“I have work to do.” She stepped into the dining room.

“I’m your boss!” I called--and instantly wished I could take it back. I added lamely, “When my dad’s not here.”

Her shoulders turned just enough so she could look back at me. Surprisingly, she did not seem angry. She sighed. “Miss O’Reilly--”

I stopped her: “My name is Cammie.”

“Miss Cammie--”

“No!” I snapped. “No Miss. Just Cammie.” She stared. “Say it.” She kept staring. “Please!”

Now she was angry. My name, barely audible, came out with a blown breath: “Cammie.”

She walked away.

This was in mid-June, the fourth day of summer vacation when I was twelve, and I had decided that Eloda Pupko must become my mother.


Meet the Author

JERRY SPINELLI is the author of many novels for young readers, including Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Milkweed; Crash; Wringer; and Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal; along with Knots in My Yo-Yo String, the autobiography of his childhood. A graduate of Gettysburg College, he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, poet and author Eileen Spinelli.

From the Hardcover edition.

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