Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker

Imagine a bouncy five-year-old boy with a horribly runny nose dropping his books off at the library circulation desk and discovering his nose fits at just the right level to race it across the counter edge. He reminds me of the dwarf, Dopey, except on a sugar high as he deposits a viscous trail of snot down the entire countertop. I thought of this rascal while reading this book especially in the opening scene when hyperactive twelve-year-old Tugs Button wipes her nose on her shirt sleeve and overalls. She can be gross, nice, naive, blunt, cloddish, and smart - just the kind of character I love.

Tug's family does not come from the upper echelons of  society in the small town of Goodhue, Iowa. Tugs hangs out with her cousin, Ned, and doesn't have girl friends. She used to be friends with G.O. Lindholm but he has joined the small town gang and is not nice to her any more. When a classmate, Aggie, wants to make friends with Tugs, she begins to think about how she looks and acts and decides to change a few things about herself. "All I need is a bob. Can you cut my hair Mama?"  Tug's impulsive, no-nonsense attitude is mirrored in Mother Button who grabs a scissors and cuts off her hair. Mother doesn't take into account Tug's curly hair and when it dries it is way too short, but Tugs doesn't care. She bounds off like a puppy with a new collar. There are many laugh out loud moments in this short historical fiction book.

The Button family is known to be unlucky, but at the 4th of July festival, Tugs not only wins a ribbon at the three-legged race with Aggie, she wins the essay contest, and grand-prize raffle of a Kodak camera. Tugs thinks her luck has changed and she needs to aspire to the possibilities in life. She breaks her camera before the day is out, but not to be discouraged she's determined to fix it. As her confidence builds she pursues her suspicions of the town newcomer, Harvey Moore, who is collecting money from residents to launch a newspaper. The townspeople don't value the opinions of a Button, but Tugs is not one to give up and she tries all the harder to make them listen.

The rapid-fire dialogue suites the Tasmanian devil-like personality of Tugs, but at times I had to go back and reread to figure out who was talking. The first two paragraphs introduce six characters and I wasn't exactly sure who was who. Of course, I have Tug-like personality so I might have been reading too fast. I lost the characters again when the group's car runs out of gas. I goofed Granny with Gabby and Aggie with Aggie's mother, and Mother Button with Mother Goose. Just kidding. There is no Mother Goose, but my brain kept substituting names throughout reading the book... G.O. became B.O. ... Harvey Moore became Harold Hill ...Lucy the librarian was Marian the librarian ... Button was butt-on. (The last one wouldn't have happened except I was reading, "Chicken Cheeks," by Michael Ian Black to per-kindergarteners.) The plot is somewhat predictable but the characters drive this story and Tugs tenacious spirit; plus her imperfect qualities make her funny and fun to read.

Reading level 5.0
Fountas & Pinnell: T
3 out of 5 Smileys

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