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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

THREE TIMES LUCKY was a very mild surprise as a Newbery Honor book a couple of years ago. While I enjoyed Turnage’s debut, I did have some reservations about it (and I think Nina did, too).  I acknowledged that I needed a second reading to sort out my feelings, but I just didn’t have the time for it.  Fortunately, the Newbery committee doesn’t have that problem.  I think if I had reread it, I definitely would have come to a greater appreciation of it, but I don’t know that I would have found space for it on my ballot.

Flash forward a couple of years, and its sequel, THE GHOSTS OF TUPELO LANDING, was one of the strongest books of the spring season, garnering five starred reviews.  With another strong cover, and a ghost story element to go with the mystery, I think this one may have even broader child appeal than the first one.  Yet nobody mentioned it as a favorite when Nina opened discussion earlier in the week.

I’ll acknowledge that it’s sometimes harder to get as excited about a sequel (and we know the odds of repeating are not the best), and I still have some personal taste issues with the pacing and the over-the-top characterization that I’m sure some of you may also share, but all things considered, I think we may be selling this one short by not including it in the conversation.

Interesting side note: It’s almost a Newbery reunion of sorts.  I say almost because while Katherine Applegate publishes IVAN, and Steve Sheinkin has THE PORT CHICAGO 50 on the table, we’re still missing something from Laura Amy Schlitz.  Write faster, Laura Amy!


Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at


  1. What I didn’t like about Ghosts of Tupelo Landing was that the ghosts were real. The first book was completely realistic — or at least, no paranormal elements. I just could never buy that she was really going to do a project interviewing a ghost. Now, *maybe* if it hadn’t been a sequel, I would have realized it was a ghost story right from the start? But I just had a super hard time with everyone taking the ghosts’ reality for granted.

  2. I had exactly the same problem Sondy! I felt like it was a problem with world building. Following on the first book I saw this as a slightly over-the-top but otherwise realistic version of our world. One in which people are quirkier and situations a little out-sized, but otherwise familiar. I was expecting the ghost to fit in with that world by being ambiguous. It would not be hard to write it such that the children all fully believe in the ghost, but there are enough alternate explanations that the reader can make a choice whether it was “really” a ghost, or just a set of extreme coincidences. But the end of the book makes it very clear that there was definitely a ghost and that that ghost interacts with the world in a tangible manner. That just doesn’t fit with the rest of the world-building. If ghosts are that obvious in this world, why does no one believe them? And if ghosts are not tangible and obvious in the world, then why this one particular ghost?

  3. I didn’t have any problem with the ghost in the Inn being an actual ghost. (Maybe I just expect there to be a ghost or two in a small Southern town?) I also think that the ghosts of missed opportunities and lost chances are tied up in the title too. It also seemed to me that Mo was less concerned about finding her upriver family, so maybe that’s a ghost she’s learning to let go,
    just like others had to let go of Nellie.

    I love the way the author has built the relationships in this little town. I like how the kids and the adults are allowed to have actual friendships and appreciate each other as people regardless of age and circumstances. Also, I really appreciate the wit and charm of her writing. Humor is difficult, and she does it well.

  4. I enjoyed this one and thought it was a great sequel but it didn’t stick with me or really stand out in the field. I will echo the call for something new from Laura Amy Schlitz though!

  5. I liked this one a whole lot more than I did the first Tupelo Landing book. I have the same disappointment Sondy and Alys did with the ghost being real. I was expecting metaphorical ghosts and would have been happy with that, but can see how kids everywhere would disagree.

    The pacing and characterization were tighter and better developed than in the first Tupelo book, but there are other books this year that do both those things far better. I do think it shines stylistically and thematically. It is certainly heads and shoulders above A Snicker of Magic, which attempts a lot of the same things. When it comes down to it, there are a lot of books I feel much stronger about though despite loving this one enough to give it 5 stars on Goodreads. I agree we shouldn’t completely write it off, because it does have many strong points that one could argue for.

    • I’m with Brandy on this one. Read this in ARC form way back at Midwinter and liked it a lot…but oddly, it’s a bit forgettable for some reason. Too much distance? Does that hurt a book’s chances when it’s published so early in the year?

  6. I liked this one much better than the first one as well, and I had no quarrel with the ghost being real. These books are better with a supernatural element, because the town itself sure as heck isn’t realistic.

  7. Eric Carpenter says:

    I would have been really upset if the ghost had turned out to be fake. I was dreading a Scooby Doo type – the ghost is just a trick with projectors and wires- reveal. So pleased to see that there was simply a ghost. Who’s to say that that isn’t realistic?

  8. Benji Martin says:

    I agree with Eric, I was thinking we were headed for a Scooby Doo novel, and was really excited when the ghosts turned out to be real. I laughed my way through the entire book, and it has been in the top five of my Newbery list since the beginning of the year.

  9. Danielle Jones says:

    As a reader, I am a sucker for great characterization. Turnage knows how to bring a community alive with funny dialogue, quirky personalities, and showing a caring community that mostly looks out for each other, even if it felt like they were a little over the top at times. There were some weighty issues being presented in this novel as well; incarceration, abandonment, and loss. Overall, those subjects were handle both with some humor and care. The mystery and novel pacing moved along, and it was a great reading experience in that effect. I was pretty foggy about things that happened from the first novel, but I didn’t feel that I needed to have reread it to understand this, and truly felt that this could be a stand alone from its predecessor.

    I did struggle with the ghosts in the novel though. While I agree with Eric that I was glad the ghosts were real, and weren’t “Scooby Doo types,” I also had a hard time buying that they were real, and I agree with Alys in this was a problem with the world building. The fact of trying to wonder if the ghosts were going to be real or not actually kept taking me out of the story rather than moving the story and mystery along. Though I feel that this novel is solid and deserving its 5 stars, I also think that there was a little more of this world building needed to round out some of the plot points that would make it “distinguished.”


  1. […] requested The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage at my library because it has gotten some attention over at Heavy Medal and I anticipated its nomination for a Cybils (and I was right).  If I hadn’t already been […]

  2. […] SBooklist. BookPage. SKirkus. School Library Journal. Washington Post. Blogs: Common Sense […]

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