The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Brief Description: 12 yo girl reluctantly moves with family from civilized Massachusetts to California, so that her widowed mother can find work at a gold mining camp.

Geographical Setting: , , ,

Historical Era:

Date Range: 1849-1852


Original Publication: 1996

Suitable for Grades: 4-8th

Target Audience: Middle Grade

Librarian's Review

Twelve-year-old Lucy Whipple would rather be reading a good book than doing just about anything else.  So when Mama insists on uprooting Lucy and her younger siblings from civilized Massachusetts to wild Gold Rush era California, Lucy secretly plots to return east.  Lucy starts a small business selling pies to miners in and around Lucky Diggins, even as she is kept busy helping Mama run the boarding house and watching her younger siblings.  Her difficulties at turning a profit are a great lesson into Gold Rush economics.

Lucy makes some interesting friends; The boarding house guests are mostly the usual assortment of odd men seeking elusive fortune, but one day she discovers a nameless runaway slave hiding by the river.  He is a her first encounter with an African American.  She invites him to overwinter at the boarding house, a prospect both he and Mama are uncomfortable with at first.  A ragamuffin of a girl, her limbs dark with bruises, befriends Lucy with gratifying result.  The local Native Americans are barely glimpsed through the trees, making their way past town.

Lucy and her Mama endure many losses and hardships; death, dry summers, harsh winters.  After three years, a fire destroys the town and even Mama gives up on her California dreams, making plans with a new husband to move with her children to Hawaii, of all places!  Still pining after Massachusetts, Lucy seizes an opportunity to travel east with a young couple. She comes to a different realization on her last night however: “Home is where I am loved and safe and needed.  And that’s Lucky Diggins.”


Leave a Reply