In a ballroom in the Seattle convention center, filled with a couple thousand librarians and other folks who love children's books, author and librarian Susan Patron's life changed in January when her book, The Higher Power of Lucky, was named as the winner of the John Newbery Award for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 2006. For the first time, I was there when the announcement was made. As the people in the room made frantic calls to try to find copies of the book, I grinned smugly. In my backpack, I had a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky, just waiting for me to finish on my flight home.
Ten-year-old Lucky Trimble lives in the California desert community of Hard Pan (pop. 43). Lucky's mother was electrocuted in a thunderstorm two years earlier and her absent father's first wife, Brigitte, stepped in to act as guardian. Lucky loves Brigitte but fears that she is tired of being her guardian and worries that she is about to be left alone. Searching for solace and direction, Lucky looks around Hard Pan. While cleaning up outside the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, she eavesdrops on the many 12-step groups that meet in the museum. Listening to the tales of alcoholics, gamblers, smokers and overeaters who have hit rock bottom, the heroine begins to search for her own Higher Power.
Fascinated by science, nature and Charles Darwin, Lucky observes her world carefully but sometimes misreads what is going on. And when her misguided observational skills tell her that Brigitte is about to leave, Lucky decides to run away.
Patron deftly weaves a tale of family love, community support and the power of friendship. Her deceptively simple novel, with charming spot drawings by Matt Phelan, begs the reader to slow down to the pace of the desert and follow along as a little girl named Lucky searches for the truth of her own life just like the rest of us.
This is a treasure of a tale that would have been easy to miss had it not been for the 15 members of the Newbery Committee. Thanks to all of them for finding it.
Robin Smith is a second grade teacher in Nashville and a member of the 2008 Geisel Committee. She hopes to find a diamond in the rough for young readers.