The Higher Power of Lucky (Lucky Trimble Series #1)

The Higher Power of Lucky (Lucky Trimble Series #1)


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Lucky, age ten, can't wait another day. The meanness gland in her heart and the crevices full of questions in her brain make running away from Hard Pan, California (population 43), the rock-bottom only choice she has.

It's all Brigitte's fault -- for wanting to go back to France. Guardians are supposed to stay put and look after girls in their care! Instead Lucky is sure that she'll be abandoned to some orphanage in Los Angeles where her beloved dog, HMS Beagle, won't be allowed. She'll have to lose her friends Miles, who lives on cookies, and Lincoln, future U.S. president (maybe) and member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers. Just as bad, she'll have to give up eavesdropping on twelve-step anonymous programs where the interesting talk is all about Higher Powers. Lucky needs her own -- and quick.

But she hadn't planned on a dust storm.

Or needing to lug the world's heaviest survival-kit backpack into the desert.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416975571
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 12/30/2008
Series: Lucky Trimble Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 175,153
Product dimensions: 7.64(w) x 5.08(h) x 0.37(d)
Lexile: 950L (what's this?)
Age Range: 9 - 11 Years

About the Author

Susan Patron specialized in Children's Services for 35 years at the Los Angeles Public Library before retiring in 2007, the same year her novel The Higher Power of Lucky was awarded the John Newbery Medal. As the library's Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager, she trained and mentored children's librarians in 72 branches. Patron has served on many book award committees, including the Caldecott and Laura Ingalls Wilder Committees of the American Library Association. She is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Patron's previous books for children include the Billy Que trilogy of picture books; Dark Cloud Strong Breeze; and a chapter book, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe. All earned starred reviews, and the latter was named an ALA Notable book. The Higher Power of Luck will be translated into twelve foreign languages and has been optioned for a motion picture. Married to a rare book restorer from the Champagne region of France, Susan is working on the final book in the "Lucky" trilogy.

Matt Phelan's black-and-white illustrations first appeared in The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney. His picture books include The New Girl...and Me and Two of a Kind, both written by Jacqui Robbins. Matt lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt



Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster. Her ear near a hole in the paint-chipped wall of Hard Pan's Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she listened as Short Sammy told the story of how he hit rock bottom. How he quit drinking and found his Higher Power. Short Sammy's story, of all the rock-bottom stories Lucky had heard at twelve-step anonymous meetings — alcoholics, gamblers, smokers, and overeaters — was still her favorite.

Sammy told of the day when he had drunk half a gallon of rum listening to Johnny Cash all morning in his parked '62 Cadillac, then fallen out of the car when he saw a rattlesnake on the passenger seat biting his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

Lucky balanced herself with a hand above the little hole that Short Sammy's voice was coming out of. With her other hand, she lifted the way-too-curly hair off her neck. She noticed two small black birds nearby, panting like dogs from the heat, their beaks open, their feathers puffed up. She put her ear to the hole because Sammy's voice always got low and soft when he came to the tragical end of the story.

But Short Sammy didn't head right to the good part. To stretch it out and get more suspense going for the big ending, he veered off and told about the old days when he was broke and couldn't afford to buy rum, so he made homemade liquor from cereal box raisins and any kind of fruit he could scrounge up. This was the usual roundabout way he talked, and Lucky had noticed that it made people stay interested, even if the story got quite a bit longer than if someone else had been telling it.

She stood up, her neck and the backs of her knees sweating, and mashed wads of hair up under the edges of her floppy hat. She carefully angled an old lawn chair with frayed webbing into her wedge of shade, and made sure the chair wouldn't break by easing herself onto it. Flies came, the little biting ones; she fanned them away with her plastic dustpan. Heat blasted off the Dumpster.

There was a little silence, except for the wobbly ticking noise of the ceiling fan inside and people shifting in their folding metal chairs. She was pretty sure they had already heard the story of Short Sammy hitting rock bottom before, as she had, and that they loved the pure glory and splendiferousness of it as much as she did — even though it was hard to imagine Short Sammy being drunk. Short Sammy's voice sounded like it could barely stand to say what came next.

"That Roy, man," said Sammy, who called everyone "man," even people like Lucky who were not men. "He was one brave dog. He killed that snake even though it bit him in the place where it hurts the worst for a male. And there I am, trying to get away, falling out of the Cad. I break a tooth, I cut my cheek, I give myself a black eye, I even sprain my ankle, but I'm so drunk, man, I don't even know I'm messed up — not till much later. Then I pass out.

"Next day I wake up on the ground, sand in my mouth, and it feels like death. I mean, it's like I died, man, but at the same time, like I'm too sick and ashamed to be dead. There's a mangled rattlesnake under the car, there's blood, lots of blood — I don't even know if it's my blood or Roy's or the snake's. Roy's gone. I call him — nothing. I figure maybe after saving my stupid life he went off to die alone somewhere. It's probably like a hundred degrees in the shade, man, about as hot as it is now, but I'm so cold I can't stop shivering."

Lucky's hands smelled metallic, like the thin arms of the lawn chair; they felt sticky. She pushed her hat back from her forehead; air cooled the sweat there.

"I make this deal with myself," Sammy continued. "The deal is if Roy is okay I'll quit drinking, join AA, get clean."

Lucky edged her bare leg away from a rough, poking strand of chair webbing. Each time Short Sammy came to this part in his story, Lucky thought of what kind of deal she would make with herself if she hit rock bottom. Like, let's say she didn't know if her dog, HMS Beagle, was alive or dead; she would have to do something really hard and drastic as her end of the bargain. Or, let's say that her Guardian just gave up and quit because Lucky did something terrible. The difference between a Guardian and an actual mom is that a mom can't resign. A mom has the job for life. But a Guardian like Brigitte could probably just say, "Well, that's about it for this job. I'm going back to France now. Au revoir." There poor Lucky would be, standing alone in the kitchen trailer, at rock bottom. Then she would have to search for her own Higher Power and do a fearless and searching moral inventory of herself, just like Short Sammy and all the other anonymous people had had to do.

Short Sammy went on, "Then my wife drives up. Man, I didn't even know she'd gone. I'm still kind of laying there on the ground. She gets out of her car, but she doesn't say one word about how messed up I am.

"All she says is, 'I took Roy to the vet's in Sierra City.' She's talking real calm, almost like she's not mad or anything. She says, 'Fifty miles from here, and I drove it in, like, maybe half an hour. That was the worst drive of my life, Sammy, thanks to you. But Roy's okay because I got him there in time for the antivenom to work.'

"Then she goes into the house and comes out with her suitcases that she must have packed the night before, and Roy's food dish and water bowl. That killed me, her taking his food dish and water bowl. All she says to me is, 'Don't call me.' That, man, was rock bottom. So I threw down the shovel. And here I am."

There was clapping, and Lucky knew that pretty soon they would pass a hat around for people to put money in. It was a little disappointing that today nobody had explained how exactly they had found their Higher Power, which was what Lucky was mainly interested in finding out about.

She didn't get why finding it was so hard. The anonymous people often talked about getting control of their lives through their Higher Power. Being ten and a half, Lucky felt like she had no control over her life — partly because she wasn't grown up yet — but that if she found her Higher Power it would guide her in the right direction.

Chairs scraped as everyone stood up. Now they would all say a little prayer together, which Lucky liked because there was no church or synagogue or anything in Hard Pan, California, so the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center was the closest they got to one. That meant the end of the meeting and time for her to disappear quick. She'd finished her job of clearing trash from the patio in front — smashed beer cans and candy wrappers from yesterday's Gamblers Anonymous meeting. It wasn't likely that anyone would be coming back to the Dumpster behind the museum, but someone might. She had to hurry, but she had to hurry slowly, in order not to make a sound.

She stashed her dustpan and rake beside the wall and left the aluminum lawn chair hidden behind the Dumpster. Tomorrow, Saturday, would be her day off. Then on Sunday afternoon, before the Smokers Anonymous meeting, she would again clean up the museum's little patio. The patio was where the anonymous people sat around talking after their meetings. All the anonymous people left lots of litter, and each group could not bear to see the butts or the cans or the candy wrappers of the group that met before it. The reason was that they were in recovery. The recovering alcoholics hated to see or smell beer cans left by the recovering smokers and gamblers; the recovering smokers could not stand cigarette butts left by the recovering drinkers, and the recovering overeaters hated to see candy wrappers left by the recovering drinkers, smokers, and gamblers.Which meant that Lucky had a job — a great job — and except for Dot's kitchen-and-back-porch Baubles 'n' Beauty Salon and the Captain's mail-sorting job at the post office, it was the only paying job in town.

Wrestling with the straps of her survival kit backpack, which she had with her at all times, then jogging down the dry streambed toward home, Lucky thought of a question that Short Sammy's story had lodged into one of her brain crevices. She figured she had so many crevices and wrinkles, almost all of them filled with questions and anxious thoughts, that if you were to take her brain and flatten it out, it would cover a huge space, like maybe a king-size bed.

The question of Short Sammy's dog's scrotum settled into one certain brain crevice as she picked her way among the weedy bushes of the dry wash. Even though Lucky could ask Short Sammy almost anything and he wouldn't mind, she could never ask about the story of Roy, since she had overheard it. If she asked about Roy, then he would know that she'd been eavesdropping at the anonymous twelve-step meetings.

Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much. It sounded medical and secret, but also important, and Lucky was glad she was a girl and would never have such an aspect as a scrotum to her own body. Deep inside she thought she would be interested in seeing an actual scrotum. But at the same time — and this is where Lucky's brain was very complicated — she definitely did not want to see one.

A little breeze had come up by the time she got home to the half circle of trailers. First was her little shiny aluminum canned-ham trailer, where she and HMS Beagle slept. Next, the long kitchen-dining room-bathroom trailer, and last, Brigitte's Westcraft bedroom trailer. Instead of having wheels and being hooked up to cars to tow them around, the three trailers were mounted on concrete blocks; plus they were anchored to the ground with metal cables to keep from being blown over in windstorms. The best part was that you could walk from Lucky's canned ham to Brigitte's Westcraft without ever going outside, because passageways had been cut where the trailers' ends touched, and sheets of metal had been shaped and soldered together to join all three trailers, so not even a mouse would be able to find a crack or an opening anywhere.

HMS Beagle bounded out from under the kitchen trailer to smell her and find out where she had been. "HMS" stands for "His Majesty's Ship," and the actual original HMS Beagle was a beautiful ship that took the scientist Charles Darwin all around the world on exciting discoveries. Lucky's dog — who was neither a ship nor a beagle — got her name because of always being with Lucky on her scientific adventures. Also, HMS Beagle was beautiful, with very short brown fur, little dog-eyebrows that moved when she was thinking, and big ear flaps that you could see the veins inside of if you held them up to the light.

A breeze rattled the found object wind chimes at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, and the high desert air carried that sound in front of it, all the way across town, down to the three trailers at the very end of Hard Pan. Just the sound of those chimes made Lucky feel cooler. But she still had doubts and anxious questions in all the crevices of her brain, especially about how to find her Higher Power.

If she could only find it, Lucky was pretty sure she'd be able to figure out the difference between the things she could change and the things she couldn't, like in the little prayer of the anonymous people. Because sometimes Lucky wanted to change everything, all the bad things that had happened, and sometimes she wanted everything to stay the same forever.

Text copyright © 2006 by Susan Patron

Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Matt Phelan

Reading Group Guide

Susan Patron's Hard Pan Trilogy:

A Teacher's Guide to

The Higher Power of Lucky
Lucky Breaks
Lucky for Good


Lucky Trimble is ten years old in The Higher Power of Lucky, and the only thing wrong with her life in Hard Pan, California (population 43), is that she doesn’t have an actual mother. When she becomes convinced that Brigitte, her guardian, is planning to return to France, she packs a survival kit and runs away. Her plans go awry, and two friends, the entire town, and one almost actual mother help her discover what she has been searching for all along—her personal higher power. In Lucky Breaks, Lucky discovers that at age eleven she needs a friend who’s a girl. She meets Paloma Wellborne, who comes to Hard Pan with her uncle to do geological research. The girls hit it off, but it is up to Brigitte to convince Mrs. Wellborne that Hard Pan is a safe environment for her daughter. Old and new friendships are tested and celebrated as the girls embark on an adventure that turns dangerous and causes them to think about the meaning of trust and responsibility. Lucky is a little older and wiser in Lucky for Good, the final book in the trilogy. She now has a mother to answer some of her questions, but there are just so many questions. Does her father really hate her? Is she really going to hell for being interested in Charles Darwin? Will the health department ruin everything for Brigitte’s Hard Pan Café? Some of her questions have easy answers, and some have no answers at all. But, as always, Lucky knows how to chart her own course.


When The Higher Power of Lucky won the Newbery Medal, newspapers and talk radio shows across the nation raised questions about the book because Lucky, the main character, hears Short Sammy say that his dog was bitten on the “scrotum” by a rattlesnake. Ask readers to discuss why it is wrong to take words out of context. How does this promote censorship? Ask them to discuss why some adults don’t think it’s appropriate for children to read about parts of the anatomy. Debate whether censoring a book because of one word is an insult to the intelligence of a reader.


Lucky, Lincoln, and Miles are the only kids in Hard Pan. Describe their relationship. Miles is especially annoying to Lucky. Debate whether it’s his age, his personality, or the echo of him in her own longing for a mom that sometimes irritates her. Discuss the circumstances that change the relationship of the three kids as they grow a little older in Lucky Breaks and Lucky for Good.

In The Higher Power of Lucky, Lucky eavesdrops at the anonymous 12-step meetings at the museum and learns that each person is in search of a Higher Power. Discuss why Lucky is so anxious to find her Higher Power. The 12-step people tell about rock-bottom moments before finding their Higher Power. What is Lucky’s rock- bottom moment? Explain why the “getting in control of your life” step is especially difficult for Lucky. At what point in the novel does Lucky discover her Higher Power? How does discovering it set her life on a different course?

Lucky’s father asked Brigitte to take care of Lucky until she could be placed in a foster home. Brigitte says that she would want a foster home that would give Lucky a little freedom but some discipline as well. Discuss whether Brigitte offers this type of home environment for Lucky. Brigitte is a “beginning mom” in The Higher Power of Lucky. Describe Brigitte’s mom skills by the end of Lucky for Good.

At the end of The Higher Power of Lucky, Lucky asks Brigitte, “What is a scrotum?”

Discuss the symbolism in her question. What is symbolic about Lucky plugging up the knothole in the fence of the museum?

The three kids in Hard Pan are free to roam their desert town. How does freedom require responsibility? Discuss moments in all three novels when Lucky takes her freedom a little too far. How is learning to be responsible part of growing up? In Lucky Breaks, Lucky wants to be intrepid. How does she confuse acting intrepid with acting responsible? Discuss moments in the novels when Lucky is responsible. What is her most intrepid moment?

Abandonment is a central theme in all three novels. In The Higher Power of Lucky, Lucky is dealing with the death of her mother and with a father who doesn’t want her. Debate whether Brigitte’s decision to adopt her changes Lucky’s feelings of abandonment. Miles’s mother is in jail. Why does he think his situation is better than Lucky’s?

Explain the following metaphor in Lucky Breaks: “She felt unseen, a lamp with its cord unplugged from the socket.” Why does Lucky feel misunderstood? What doesn’t she understand about herself? What more does she need and want? Debate whether she is searching for a more typical or ordinary life. At what point in Lucky for Good does Lucky finally feel that her “cord is plugged into the socket”?

In Lucky for Good, Lucky elects to research her family tree as punishment for fighting Ollie Martin. Why is the school principal worried about Lucky taking on this particular assignment? How does the assignment help Lucky discover her family? Why did her father want her to have his books upon his death? Debate whether Lucky can now deal with the feelings of abandonment that have plagued her for so long.

Lucky and Lincoln have been best friends forever. Now that Lucky is growing up, she really wants a girl friend. Describe the friendship that develops between Lucky and Paloma in Lucky Breaks. Discuss the term “polar opposites.” How are Lucky and Paloma polar opposites? What is it that intrigues Paloma the most about Lucky’s life in Hard Pan?

In Lucky Breaks, Paloma’s mother isn’t sure about letting her daughter spend the weekend in Hard Pan. Discuss Brigitte’s conversation with Mrs. Wellborne about trust. Discuss the good and bad choices that Lucky and Paloma make. What do they learn from their mistakes? What does Mrs. Wellborne discover about Hard Pan?

At first, Lucky thinks that she has to give up her friendship with Lincoln in order to have Paloma as a friend. What does Paloma help her realize about Lincoln? How does Lucky and Lincoln’s relationship deepen by the end of Lucky for Good?

In Lucky for Good, the three kids from Hard Pan encounter Ollie Martin, a bully from Einstein Jr. High School. How are they unprepared for dealing with a bully? What is wrong in Ollie’s life that causes him to be a bully? Discuss how he is eventually pulled into the circle of friends in Hard Pan.

Lincoln Clinton Carter Kennedy is named for four US Presidents. Based on his name, to which political party do you think his parents belong? Lucky thinks that Lincoln sounds and acts like a future president—grave, serious, and diplomatic. Discuss moments in each book when Lincoln displays each of these characteristics.

The Inyo County Health Department of the State of California wants to shut down Brigitte’s Hard Pan Café because the kitchen is in a residence. How does the entire town engage in a solution to the problem?

Justine, Miles’s mom, returns from prison a changed woman. How does her newly discovered religion confuse Miles? Debate whether she was part of a 12-step program in prison. Mrs. Prender and Justine argue about religion. Debate how Miles might view religion as he becomes an adult.

Justine thinks that Lucky is a “sinner” for studying Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. And, she won’t allow Miles to read the dinosaur books that he has always enjoyed. Why is Justine so afraid of what Miles is reading? Mrs. Prender reminds Justine that Miles is considered a gifted child. Discuss whether Justine is frightened by Miles’s intelligence. How is censorship a form of mind control? Explain what Lucky means when she advises Miles to keep thinking with his “own brain.” How is “thinking with your own brain” a healthy way of dealing with the world around you?

Discuss how Susan Patron uses humor in characters and plot to reveal serious and profound themes.

At the end of Lucky for Good, Lucky realizes that there is always someone in Hard Pan who needs rescuing. She knows that she will sometimes be that person, and sometimes she will be the person that comes to the rescue. Trace Lucky’s journey from needing to be rescued in The Higher Power of Lucky to her role as rescuer in Lucky for Good.


Write a two-line character sketch of the following characters: Lucky, Lincoln, Miles, Brigitte, Short Sammy, Ollie, Paloma, Mrs. Prender, and Justine.

Brigitte becomes a naturalized citizen. Find out the steps one must take to become a naturalized citizen. Then have a citizenship ceremony for Brigitte.

Ask students to collect interesting objects in their home or on a walk in their neighborhood. Then have them make a wind chime that might be displayed in Hard Pan’s Found Object Wind Chime Museum. Students may wish to vote on the most unusual wind chime.

Lincoln is going to England to the International Knot-Tying Guild. Visit the following website and find out what Lincoln needs as a minor applying for a passport for the first time.:

Almost everyone in Hard Pan qualifies for government surplus commodities. Yellow cheese is one of the commodities delivered in abundance. Short Sammy is especially creative in developing recipes using the commodities. Ask each student to create a cheese recipe that Short Sammy might serve the people of Hard Pan that visit him in his water tower house.

Divide students into small groups and ask them to create a YouTube video advertising Brigitte’s Hard Pan Café. Instruct them to use any two characters from the books as stars of their video.

Guide prepared by Pat Scales, children's literature consultant, free speech advocate, and retired school librarian.

This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

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