Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Review of The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson

The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson
Format:  Paperback ARC
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Number of pages:  320
Publishing:  April 12th, 2022
Source:  Publisher 

Opening Line: "Thank you, Mr. Foster!"  Ellis Earl Brown waved goodbye to his teacher, then trekked with his sister Carrie Ann along the dusty path toward home."

The Lucky Ones takes place in rural Mississippi in 1967.  11-year-old Ellis Earl lives with his mother and ten siblings in a small leaky three-bedroom home.  Times have been difficult with such a large family under one roof and so many mouths to feed.  Adding to the burden is their oldest brother and his four small children, who have come to stay until their mom delivers.  What little work the family can find comes from either their mother cleaning houses, or any odd jobs that their older brothers can find.  Meals consist mostly of beans and cornbread, when they can find it, and most of the kids have learned to go without.  Everyone in the Brown family pitches in with the chores and their eldest sister, Jeannette ensures the younger children, and house are kept in order while their mother is away at work.  Ellis Earl and his younger sister, Carrie Ann are the only two Brown children who currently go to school, Oscar, who is close in age to Ellis Earl hasn't been able to attend because he's been too ill.

Ellis Earl generally enjoys going to school.  Mr. Foster is a very kind teacher, he even drives nine of the neighbor children to and from school each day, because there is no school bus that comes out their way.  Mr. Foster gives the children snacks, shares his lunches and even lets Ellis Earl borrow books from his personal library so he can read to his younger siblings at home.  His latest book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  In school, Mr. Foster discusses news articles from Jet Magazine and currently they're learning about Thurgood Marshall.  Ellis Earl is even dreaming of becoming a teacher or lawyer someday.  However, Ellis Earl learns that he may soon have to give up his dream and leave school to find work to help out the family.  

With Easter approaching, Mr. Foster invites Ellis Earl to his church to recite a speech to the congregation.  At first, Ellis Earl's mom is hesitant about the idea, on account of the church not being Baptist, and worrying that Ellis Earl has nothing to wear.  However, Mr. Foster isn't easily put off and brings some clothes for him to wear and Mrs. Brown agrees to let him come.  Ellis Earl has such a fun time at church that he even encourages his siblings who are musicians to participate in an upcoming talent contest, although he falsely says that there will be a cash price if they win to get them to come.  Mr. Foster sees great potential in Ellis Earl, and along with a few of his classmates, he invites them on a field trip to the Jackson Airport to greet Senator Robert Kennedy and Marian Wright, who are touring the area and exploring options to help their state.  When Senator Kennedy later shows up at their home, Ellis Earl is initially surprised, but takes the opportunity to discuss the Fair Housing Act with Senator Kennedy and even asks for help in enrolling their family into the food stamp program.  The end of the story brings improvements to the family's living situation and a brighter future for the Brown family.  

The Lucky Ones is a beautiful historical fiction story that explores the topics of poverty, racism and the power of education and reading with a sensitivity and empathy that children will be able to easily relate to.  It's a story that will evoke an emotional response but is uplifting too.  Ellis Earl is such a wonderful main character, he is selfless, even splitting up his treasured Moon Pie into equal shares so that all his brothers and sisters can have a small piece.  He goes without eating when it would prevent one of his siblings from getting dinner.  The lengths he will go to and the sacrifices he makes for his family while being heartbreaking just made me love him so much more.  I so loved the inclusion of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a vehicle to compare Ellis Earl's life to Charlie's, pairing something children might have read to a historical time period they may be unfamiliar with really brought the story home for me.  I also loved how his siblings and he were captivated by the book and how it stimulated his younger sister to want to read as well.  And Mr. Foster, what a wonderful teacher, seeing the potential in Ellis Earl and the way he encourages him to challenge himself and gives him opportunities to shine.   Overall, this was a beautiful story about family, sacrifices, education, and the power of having the right book in the right hands.       

** A huge thank you to Candlewick Press for the Paperback ARC**   



  1. I gave my paper ARC to an 8th grader who wouldn't read anything but graphic novels all year, and when I said he could keep it he was SO happy. This is his first year at our school, so I don't think he's had a lot of exposure to different types of books. Have reading some Broaddus now. Thanks for this review.

    1. Broaddus is a new to me author and I'm sure I will enjoy The Usual Suspects. Off to check the library, thanks for commenting.

  2. This sounds like a fantastic story wth a lot going on. Hope my library orders it.