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Newbery or Not: The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

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Pub Stub: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1481401505, July 2014

Book Blurb:In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her. Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man’s grave as protection for entering the Widow’s house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw. When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way . . . if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around.”

Author Tidbits: Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is Lawson’s debut.

Newbery or Not: Well, let’s see. Well-written, teaches a moral lesson, touches on dark themes including death of a family member and depression, and ties in perfectly with a classic of American literature. This book practically screams, “Teach me in your Language Arts class!” which is generally tantamount to screaming, “Put a shiny gold or silver sticker on my cover every time I’m printed for all of history!” Although competition is already stiff with a few heavy-hitters still to come later in the season, I like this one for an honor or for the gold. Becky is sure to get laughs, and you have to respect her sense of fun even if it does get everyone around her into trouble. She’s a bit like an older, 19th century version of Pennypacker’s Clementine. Lawson does a great job of reworking characters and events from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer into a story all Becky’s own, and seeing Tom recast as a whiny tattletale is somehow poetic. After this excellent debut, I can’t wait to see what Lawson does next!

 

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