Cammie O’Reilly lives at the Hancock County Prison–not as a prisoner, she’s the warden’s daughter. She spends the mornings hanging out with shoplifters and reformed arsonists in the women’s excercise yard, which gives Cammie a certain cache with her school friends.
But even though Cammie’s free to leave the prison, she’s still stuck. And sad, and really mad. Her mother died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. You wouldn’t think you could miss something you never had, but on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, the thing Cammie most wants is a mom. A prison might not be the best place to search for a mother, but Cammie is determined and she’s willing to work with what she’s got.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Murder; Suicide; Shoplifting
Booklist (October 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. Most people would hate to call the Hancock County Prison home, but 12-year-old tomboy Cammie O’Reilly wouldn’t have it any other way. As the warden’s daughter, she lives in an apartment above the prison entrance with her father and has a commanding presence that’s earned her the nickname Little Warden. Set in 1959, just before Cammie turns 13 and enters junior high, this is a story about facing hard truths and growing up. In the background swirl issues of race, treatment of prisoners, and the arrival of a high-profile murderer, but Cammie’s mounting anger over her mother’s tragic death takes center stage. Spinelli’s latest gives readers an interesting, often heartbreaking glimpse into the 1950s and the timeless need for a parent’s love. Narrated by Cammie as an adult, the carefully constructed story seems a little too neat and purposeful at times, but readers will love the details of having a prison compound for a home and adore the many secondary characters who help keep Cammie’s head above water during her desperate search for happiness.
Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2017)
It’s 1959, and Camille, a lively, determined, self-described tomboy, is twelve. She lives in a suite inside a prison where her father is the warden. Spinelli makes the most of this distinctive setting as Camille becomes a kind of mascot or pet for the female inmates, has access to historical criminal records, and gains status at school when it is presumed she has inside information on crime and criminals. The driver of the story is Camille’s hunger for a mother to substitute for her own, who died in an accident when Camille was just a baby. It’s a busy, multi-strand plot, including a mystery from the past, Cammie’s growing friendship with a family from the wrong side of the tracks, a framing story involving Cassie as a grandmother looking back (“But now, more than half a century laterâç¦”), a friend who gets to appear on Bandstand, and a re-spin of the plot in diary form from the housekeeper/mother-substitute’s point of view. Spinelli’s gift for humorous chaos and his trademark magic realism touches are showcased here, and it is exhilarating to read about kids with so much freedom, but Cammie and her female friends don’t always ring true. For example, discussing Cammie’s flat chest, they come up with three solutions: stuffing her sweater with a pair of socks, holding her breath to make her breasts pop out, and refraining from going to the bathroom for the same effect. This is a good joke, but it sounds more like one a boy might make. Without a convincing main character, the complicated narrative structure doesn’t cohere. sarah ellis
About the Author
When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.
He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.
In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children’s book author, live in Pennsylvania.
Her website is www.jerryspinelli.com.
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