Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
This book for ages 10 and up was brought to my attention by my boss with the claim that she thought it was a Newbery contender (again, we are rarely able to predict or agree with past winners.) However, her claim wasn’t too far-fetched as this book is reminiscent of recent Newberry winners.
Like 2012’s Dead End in Norvelt (Gantos, 2011) this book features a small town full of eccentric characters and a murder mystery. Like 2007’s Higher Power of Lucky (Patron, 2006) this book’s main character, Mo, is a “plucky orphan.” There is a whole genre of “plucky orphan” literature. First thing you learn in Children’s Literature class is that most children’s authors get rid of the parents. It looks like an amended genre is emerging: “plucky orphan with loving adopted parent(s)”. This is the case with the heroines in both Three Times Lucky and Higher Power of Lucky.
In Three Times Lucky, Moses “Mo” LoBeau’s parents, The Colonel and Miss Lana, find it easier to live together separately (think Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton) in their small, present-day, North Carolina town. While it is clear they love each other and Mo a great deal, Mo still sends letters-in-a-bottle to her biological “Upstream Mother.” Mo has a comfortable and interesting life; however, her life becomes a lot more interesting when the town’s resident grump turns up dead and she and her best pal decide they will get to the bottom of it.
Three Times Lucky is a witty, quirky book that is fun to read without the mystery, but those who need the mystery will appreciate it as well. This is Turnage’s first fiction book for children and she clearly has a gift for colorful colloquialisms, intriguing characters, and teasing a mystery along at a perfect pace for children. While, I’m still pulling for R.J. Palacio’s Wonder to take top Newbery prize, I admit that when I had to wrap up my lunch break with 20 pages to spare, I did finish this book while sitting at the Children’s Reference Desk, something I only do in emergency situations.