Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker (Candlewick, 2011)

Tugs Button is a buck-toothed, overall clad, accident prone child living in the middle of Iowa in 1929. Not only that, but the entire clan of Buttons is about as unlucky as they come. They have to beware when there's pie on the counter because for some cosmic reason, that always means that calamity has already or is about to strike!

But when the slick talker salesman, Harvey Moore, comes to town trying to start up a local newspaper by collecting contributions, Tugs gets suspicious. There's just something strange about a man who offers to fix your car but doesn't even realize when it's out of gas. And why didn't he respond when Tugs called his name? Was he just rude to children when grown-ups weren't around, or did he not recognize his own name when he heard it? What's more, he was getting his housing in exchange for teaching the Dostals how to sail and for fixing their car, picking up some grocery tabs, and being a general handyman. But there was no lake anywhere near Goodhue, and why hasn't he fixed a single thing since he set foot inside their house? And why hasn't he paid one cent for groceries even though (as Mr. Dostal discovered) there was a large suitcase full of cash underneath his bed?

Well, Tugs may not be the prettiest or the most elegant, or even the most balanced girl in town, but she has a wonderful sense of curiosity that leads her back to the library's dictionary over and over again simply to discover new words. And as her suspicions mount against handsome Harvey Moore, she once again follows the trail and discovers Mr. Moore's secret before he can finish the mischief he planned.

Anne Ylvisaker has woven a simple but charming story, but the real selling point of this book is the quirkiness of the Iowan characters and the real struggles that Tugs experiences as a little girl. We see some of her inner thoughts as she writes a brief essay about America and how the current president (Herbert Hoover) grew up in Iowa and experienced the very same things that she, Tugs Button, was experiencing. She wants to fit in with the wealthier, prettier girls; so she gets her mom to bob her hair and puts on her only dress. But she soon abandons her plan to fit in as she pursues her quest for truth. We experience with her the overwhelming delight of discovering that another little girl, whom she has watched and admired, wishes her to be a close friend above all others. With Tugs' success winning the essay contest and the three-legged race and the raffle for the Kodak Brownie camera.... it seems that the luck of the Buttons is turning, at last. 

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