Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman


The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Dear Gram and Grampop,

Please do not address yours truly as California anymore, California Morning Whipple being a foolish name for a duck much less a girl. I call myself Lucy now. I cannot hate California and be California. I know you will understand.

California doesn’t suit Lucy Whipple—not the name, not the place. But moving out West to Lucky Diggins, California, was her mama’s dream-come-true. And now her brother, Butte, and sisters, Prairie and Sierra, seem to be Westerners at heart, too. For Lucy, Lucky Diggins is hardly a town at all — just a bunch of ramshackle tents and tobacco-spitting miners. Even the gold her mama claimed was just lying around in the fields isn’t panning out. Worst of all, there’s no lending library! Dag diggety!

So Lucy vows to be plain miserable until she can hightail it back East where she belongs. But Lucy California Morning Whipple may be in for a surprise — because home is a lot closer than she thinks…

When California Morning Whipple’s widowed mother uproots her family from their comfortable Massachusetts environs and moves them to a rough mining camp called Lucky Diggins in the Sierras, California Morning resents the upheaval. Desperately wanting to control something in her own life, she decides to be called Lucy, and as Lucy she grows and changes in her strange and challenging new environment.


Discussion guide

My Bookshelves: 19th Century America: You may enjoy reading the books I read while researching the times in which Lucy lived. You may also find them helpful for your own writing.

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple is a major motion picture, directed by Jeremy Kagan, starring Glenn Close, Jena Malone, Bruce McGill, and Meat Loaf.

Gold was discovered in California in 1848.” Read Write Think, NCTE, classroom activities and lesson plans.

The Gold Rush,” Smithsonian American Art Museum, activity, primary source connections, Lucy Whipple is included as a literary connection.

California Gold Rush towns are booming. Here’s what to see and do,” Barbara Noe Kennedy, National Geographic, 30 November 2023. Plan a trip for primary source research.

Awards and Recognition

Booklist Editors’ Choice

School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year

New York Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

Booklinks Lasting Connections Selection

Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts

IRA Teachers’ Choice

American Bookseller “Pick of the Lists”

Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection

John and Patricia Beatty Award

ABC Children’s Booksellers Choice Award


 “Cushman’s heroine is a delightful character, and the historical setting is authentically portrayed. Lucy’s story, as the author points out in her end notes, is the story of many pioneer women who exhibited great strength and courage as they helped to settle the West.” (School Library Journal, starred review)

“The recent Newbery medalist plunks down two more strong-minded women, this time in an 1849 mining camp—a milieu far removed from the Middle Ages of her first novels, but not all that different when it comes to living standards. … With a story that is less a period piece than a timeless and richly comic coming-of-age story, Cushman remains on a roll.” (Kirkus Reviews, with pointers)