Sunday, August 19, 2012

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage (ages 9 - 12)

Kids are NOT patient readers, for the most part. You've got to grab them from the very beginning, introduce the main characters and setting, and thrust them into the problems or action of the story. All within a paragraph or two. That's a tall order for a writer to pull off. Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage, starts off with a bang - it hooked me from the first page:
"Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down."
Bang! Right away, you know that someone's died, trouble is turning everyone's life upside down. The narrator - Mo LeBeau, a rising sixth grader - introduces herself right in the next paragraph, letting the middle grade reader know just who's who.
Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
NY: Dial Books, 2012
ages 9 - 12
available from your local library and on Amazon
Mysteries are nothing new to eleven year old Mo LeBeau. She's been trying to figure out who her "Upstream Mother" is for years. You see, she was found as a tiny baby floating on a river after a hurricane struck this rural North Carolina area - thus her full name, Moses. Every chance she gets, Mo floats bottles with messages to her Upstream Mother - hoping that the river that brought her to Tupelo Landing will also bring her birth mother back to her. And there's also the mystery of the Colonel - Mo's adoptive father and the owner of the local town cafe. Who exactly was he before his amnesia wiped away his memory?

But as Mo tells us, trouble really comes to town when the law arrives, flashing a gold badge and driving a beat up Chevy. At first, Detective Joe Starr suspects Mo's best friend Dale for committing the murder of Mr. Jesse. So Mo sets about trying to solve the murder case herself. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon the whole town is trying to figure out who has kidnapped Mo's adoptive parents, the Colonel and Miss Lana.

Sheila Turnage creates memorable characters that made me laugh at every turn. Even the secondary characters have unique personalities - and yet their quirkiness never overwhelms the story. Turnage builds the plot, turn by turn, toward an eventful climax. She balances descriptive language, humor, setting and action - carefully making sure each step takes you closer to understanding the mystery. She unveils just enough hints to satisfy middle grade readers. As the Kirkus starred review says,
"Pairing the heartbreaking sadness of children who don’t get their fair share from parents with the hilarity of small-town life, Turnage achieves a wickedly awesome tale of an 11-year-old girl with more spirit and gumption than folks twice her age."
Go ahead and read this sample of Three Times Lucky from Google Books. You'll get a sense of Turnage's witty style right from the beginning:

Many folks are raving about Three Times Lucky. Some are suggesting it might be a dark horse contender for the Newbery Award. See reviews at:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. I love your review of "Three Times Lucky". As part of a digital publishing team I appreciate the time you dedicated to this interesting review. Just like this book, your review caught me up in the very first few sentences. Looking forward to more and possibly to getting your feedback on some of our titles.

  2. Looks really interesting!

  3. I'm reading this right now and adore this book. Mo's such a smart, believable character, and I fell in love with her right from the first page, too. Hard not to, with that voice! You've hit the nail on the head, "their quirkiness never overwhelms the story. " It's a convincing quirkiness that is part of the book's essence and isn't trying too hard. I'm so glad someone recommended it to me, otherwise I might have missed it. Glad you're reviewing it here.