Title: The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Author: Karen Cushman

Publication Date: 1996

Publisher: HarperTrophy

Price: $5.99

Number of Pages: 224

Awards: Booklist Editors’ Choice – Books for Youth – Middle Readers Category,

School Library Journal Best Books

Genre/Subgenre: Historical Fiction, Coming-of-age


Popularity: 4/5

Quality: 5/5

Reader’s Annotation:

Meet Lucy Whipple, the most reluctant resident of Gold Rush settlement Lucky Diggins, California.


California Morning “Lucy” Whipple’s world is turned upside when her widowed mother moves Lucy and her younger siblings across the country to a California Gold Rush settlement called Lucky Diggins. Lucy immediately hates California and has no desire to live in Lucky Diggins, which consists of a few tents and a saloon/general store. When not helping her mother run the boarding house that supplies their income, Lucy plots and saves to get back to her hometown in Massachusetts. In spite of herself, Lucy becomes an integral part of the Lucky Diggins community when she begins selling pies and loaning her few precious books to the miners and residents of the settlement. When Lucy is at long last given an opportunity to return to Massachusetts, she must decide whether to go back to her old life or forge ahead in her new one.


The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is a fantastic work of historical fiction. It has a lot of great historical details that would make it an excellent complement to California history curriculum. Lucy is a funny, smart narrator whom young readers are sure to relate to and enjoy.

Why I Chose the Book:

I love historical fiction and was interested in reading a children’s novel taking place during the California Gold Rush.


By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild by Kristiana Gregory

Addie Across the Prairie by Laurie Lawlor

Book Talk Ideas

Have students or patrons pretend that they are a young person living in Gold Rush-era California. Have them write a letter to a friend or family member talking about their day-to-day life in the Gold Rush.

Discussion Questions

1. Much of the novel comes from Lucy’s letters to her grandparents back in Massachusetts. What does this narrative style contribute to the novel?

2. Were you surprised by the ending of The Ballad of Lucy Whipple? Why or why not?


“The Ballad of Lucy Whipple.” NoveList K-8. EBSCO, 01 Jan. 2001. Web. 4 May 2014. <http://0-search.ebscohost.com.catalog.sjlibrary.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=njh&tg=UI&an=082856&site=novpk8-live&gt;.

Cushman, K. (1996). The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. HarperTrophy: New York.

Goodreads (2014). The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/820985.The_Ballad_of_Lucy_Whipple