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Three Times Lucky



Funny mystery with spunky girl touches on serious themes.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Even though Mo and other characters frequently use bad grammar and the word "ain't," she has respect for the written word, as she writes in a journal to help her resolve her feelings for her long-lost mother. Kid readers are also exposed to adoption-related issues, such as wondering about who your birth mother is. 

Positive messages

The people of Tupelo Landing know one another as well as family and, like family, they don't always get along. But when someone is in trouble, as when Mo's adoptive parents go missing, they all pull together to offer help and support. And when something good happens, they all come together to celebrate. The overriding message is that family is less about blood relations and more about who will love and stand by you no matter what.

Positive role models

Above all, Three Times Lucky's Mo is loyal to the people she loves, and she'll do anything to help them, whether it means helping her crush raise money to fix his car so he can race it or protecting her best friend Dale by standing up to his abusive father. Mo and Dale also observe other people in the town being polite and courteous and strive to follow their example, while Mo's adoptive father teaches Mo the importance of being in nature. Mo is a smart, observant girl, and she and Dale follow clues to help the police figure out a murder mystery.


Three Times Lucky starts out with a police detective coming to Tupelo Landing to solve a murder; while he's there, another murder occurs, and past murders are uncovered, but they all happen off the page. Mo's best friend, Dale, has an abusive father whose meanness is hinted at throughout the book and culminates in a scene in which he hits his wife and verbally abuses Dale (calling him a coward), pushing Dale to threaten his father with a shotgun. Mo's adoptive parents are both kidnapped, but the wrongdoers are all suitably punished.

Not applicable

Mo's friend Dale "started swearing last year," and Mo thinks she might start soon, but no real swear words are mentioned, although a restaurant patron refers to a thief as a "jackass." One of the town girls calls Mo a "throw-away kid" because Mo doesn't know who her birth mother is, and this hurts Mo deeply. Dale's abusive father insults him by calling him a coward. 


Several food-related brand names are mentioned, including Wonder Bread, Mountain Dew, and Piggly Wiggly markets, but they're more to give the reader a feeling for the small-town North Carolina setting than to sell products.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Dale's father drinks heavily, which drives him to abusive behavior. His drunkenness is mostly referred to rather than shown, but there's one scene in which he shows up drunk and hits Dale's mother. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that in Three Times Lucky, a 2013 Newbery Honor Book, tween narrator  Mo, was found floating down the river when she was a baby, and although she has loving adoptive parents whom she loves deeply, she spends much of her time wondering who her birth mother is. Mo and her best friend, Dale, get deeply embroiled in a murder mystery, disobeying parents and putting themselves in danger when they try to help solve it. Dale's father is an alcoholic who's abusive to his wife and children, and in one scene, he's drunk and hits his wife and threatens Dale and Mo, pushing Dale to threaten his father with a shotgun. 

What's the story?

Rising sixth grader Mo LoBeau longs to know who her birth mother is, and she occasionally wishes she had a \"normal\" family. But she deeply loves the Colonel, who rescued her from a hurricane when she was a baby, and the glamorous Miss Lana, who took both the Colonel and Mo in. When Detective Starr rolls into town and announces to the small town of Tupelo Landing that he's solving a murder mystery, Mo joins in and starts her own detective agency. The mission becomes personal when another murder happens right in town, and both the Colonel and Miss Lana go missing. As Mo desperately searches for clues to find her adoptive parents, she starts to rethink her definition of family.

Is it any good?


Mo's conversational voice will draw readers right in to THREE TIMES LUCKY, and her distinctive worldview will keep them reading. Mo's language is filled with colorful, over-the-top similes that infuse a casual humor into her observations (a woman wheezes "like an out-of-sorts accordion," and Miss Lana "sleeps like a sack of cement"), but Mo is also sensitive to the serious issues that the people she loves face.

Though initially the story seems more a portrait of a quirky small town and its (mostly) lovable, eccentric residents, midway through the book, the plot picks up as everything starts to tie together, and Three Times Lucky becomes a page-turner that's difficult to put down.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Mo's family situation could be viewed both as unusual or perfectly normal. In what ways does your family fit the classic idea of family? In what ways is it different?

  • There's no cell phone service and barely any Internet in Tupelo Landing, yet Mo and Dale find lots of ways to keep themselves busy. What would you do if you were stuck in a small town for the summer with no media?

  • Have you ever learned something valuable from someone you didn't like, the way Miss Lana learned from Mr. Jesse, even though no one liked him much?

Book details

Author:Sheila Turnage
Topics:Friendship, Great girl role models
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dial Books
Publication date:May 10, 2012
Number of pages:312
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

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Educator and Parent Written bytor1204 October 11, 2014

Great for the heart!

I think Three Times Lucky is a classic! It is one of those books that everyone should read at least once. The characters are not stereotypical, and they are worth getting to know. There is a murder, but it is not graphic at all. There is also a father who drinks too much, but the children learn how to deal with him.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Kid, 12 years old August 3, 2014


I usually don't hate books but this one was painful. I had to read it for summer reading at school. When I got to school for the year everyone hated it. Even the teachers said it was painful. But if you like books that move very slowly or confusing then get this book.
Teen, 13 years old Written byWolf_Girl December 26, 2014

Save Me

I thought this book was horrible. I was forced to read it for 6th grade summer reading. The book was slow and really confusing. It took me at least 4 or 5 chapters before I even knew the characters names. Most of my school thought this book was a bore too. It is fine for kids 9 and up