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Newbery or Not: The Thing About Luck

Book Blurb: “Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills. The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own. Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.”

Pub Stub: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ISBN-10 1416918825, January 2013

Author Tidbits: Kadohata, Cynthia. 2013 National Book Award winner for The Thing About Luck. 2006 PEN USA Award for Weedflower. 2005 Newbery Medal recipient for Kira-Kira.

Newbery or Not: Kadohata’s laurels are stacking up, and this rare look into the life of a migrant worker family has already won a National Book Award. It’s the type of book you can imagine a Language Arts teacher using in the classroom. The information imparted by Summer, the first-person narrator, feels a bit didactic at times, but unless the reader is already closely acquainted with harvesting equipment and processes, he or she will learn a great deal about how wheat gets from the field to the silo, how many people are required, how hard they must work, and how much depends on the whim of the weather. Summer’s mosquito obsession makes her blurting of mosquito biology feel a bit more natural.

While not as charming or feel-good as many other works on this year’s Best Ofs, The Thing About Luck has heft and importance. Children, and readers of any other age, will be shocked at the life and conditions migrant workers consider normal, although Kadohata doesn’t take the subject matter so far as to make the book kid-unfriendly. Summer is very much a typical 12-year-old, concerned about the opinions of her peers and trying to make sense of the world, which makes it that much more poignant when she takes up the mantle of an adult to help her family. Kadohata may have a runner-up on her hands at the least.

Weigh In: Will Kadohata take top honors again?


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