The Warden's Daughter

The Warden's Daughter

by Jerry Spinelli


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From Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli (Maniac Magee, Stargirl) comes the "moving and memorable" (Kirkus Reviews, starred) story of a girl searching for happiness inside the walls of a prison.
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.
"Jerry Spinelli again proves why he's the king of storytellers" (Shelf Awarenss, starred) in this tale of a girl who learns that heroes can come in surprising disguises, and that even if we don't always get what we want, sometimes we really do get what we need.
"This book is never boring and never predictable. Fame, good and bad fortune, friendship and mental illness all make their way into [Cammie's] narrative."—The New York Times Book Review

Praise for the works of Jerry Spinelli:
“Spinelli is a poet of the prepubescent. . . . No writer guides his young characters, and his readers, past these pitfalls and challenges and toward their futures with more compassion.” —The New York Times
“It's almost unreal how much the children's book still resonates.” — on Maniac Magee

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375832024
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 79,470
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

JERRY SPINELLI is the author of many novels for young readers, including Stargirl; Love, Stargirl; Milkweed; Hokey Pokey; Crash; Wringer; and Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal; along with Knots in My Yo-Yo String, the autobiography of his childhood. A graduate of Gettysburg College, he lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, poet and author Eileen Spinelli.

Read an Excerpt




Breakfast time in the prison. The smell of fried scrapple filled the apartment. It happened every morning.


“I could teach you how to do it yourself,” she said. “It’s simple.”


“I want you to do it,” I said.


“You’ll be a teenager soon. You’ll have to learn someday.”


“You’re doing it,” I told her. “Case closed.”


Her name was Eloda Pupko. She was a prison trustee. She took care of our apartment above the prison entrance. Washed. Ironed. Dusted. And kept me company. Housekeeper. Cammie-keeper.


At the moment, she was braiding my hair.


“Okay,” she said. “Done.”


I squawked. “Already?” I didn’t want her to be done.


“This little bit?” She gave it a tug.


She was right. I’d wanted a pigtail down the middle, but all my short hair allowed was barely a one-knotter. A pigstub.


I felt her leaving me. I whirled. “No!”


She stopped, turned, eyebrows arching. “No?”


I blurted the first thing that came to mind. “I want a ribbon.”


Her eyes went wide. And then she laughed. And kept laughing.


She knew what I knew: I was anything but a hair-ribbon kind of girl. I sat on the counter stool dressed in dungarees, black-and-white high-top Keds and a striped T-shirt. My baseball glove lay on the other stool.


When she had laughed herself out, she said, “Ribbon? On a cannonball firebug?”


She had a point on both counts.


Cannonball was my nickname. As for “firebug” . . .




In school two months earlier we had been learning about the Unami, the Native Americans from our area. This inspired me to make a fire the old-fashioned Unami way. For reasons knowable only to the brain of a sixth grader, I decided to do so in our bathtub.


On the way home from school one day, I detoured to the railroad tracks and creek and collected my supplies: a quartz stone, a rusty iron track-bed spike and a handful of dry, mossy stuff from the ground under a bunch of pine trees. I laid it all in the bathtub. And climbed in.


Over the mossy nest I smashed and scratched the stone and spike into each other. My arms were ready to fall off when a thin curl of smoke rose out of the nest. I blew on it. A spark appeared. “What are you doing?” said Eloda from the doorway. I glanced up at her—and screamed, because the spark had flamed and burned my thumb. Stone and spike clanked on porcelain. Eloda turned on the shower, putting out the fire and drenching me. When I dried off and changed my clothes, she put Vaseline and a Band-Aid on the burn and told me to tell people I had cut myself slicing tomatoes.




Eloda tapped my hand. “Lemme see.”


I showed her. The burn was just a pale pink trace by now. She took my hand in both of hers. She seemed to hold it longer than necessary.


“Number one law,” she said.


“No more fires,” I said. She had made me recite the words every time she changed the Band-Aid. She still made me say it.


Then her hands were off me, but I was still feeling her. It was her eyes. She was staring at me in a way that seemed to mean something, but I would not find out what till years later.


“Tell you what,” she said, breaking the spell. “If you make it to three knots, I’ll get you a ribbon.”


Again she started to leave.


Again I blurted, “You’re so lucky.”


Again she stopped. “That’s me. Miss Lucky.”


“I mean it,” I said. “You get to have scrapple every day.”


“You’re right,” she said. “That’s why I decided to live here. I love the scrapple.” She walked away.




She stopped. She waited, her back to me.


“You can’t go,” I told her.


“I have work to do.” She stepped into the dining room.


“I’m your boss!” I called—and instantly wished I could take it back. I added lamely, “When my dad’s not here.”


Her shoulders turned just enough so she could look back at me. Surprisingly, she did not seem angry. She sighed. “Miss O’Reilly—”


I stopped her: “My name is Cammie.”


“Miss Cammie—”


“No!” I snapped. “No Miss. Just Cammie.” She stared. “Say it.” She kept staring. “Please!”


Now she was angry. My name, barely audible, came out with a blown breath: “Cammie.”


She walked away.


This was in mid-June, the fourth day of summer vacation when I was twelve, and I had decided that Eloda Pupko must become my mother.

Customer Reviews

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The Warden's Daughter 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this as an adult. Coming of age story with some serious themes. I really enjoyed it. Latter part in diary format really pulled out the emotions! However, epilogue left me wanting more. I recommend this book for 12-13 and up.
MorrisMorgan More than 1 year ago
“The Warden’s Daughter” is one of the best historical literary young-adult novels I have ever read. I couldn’t put it down. There are some flaws in the novel, with a child protagonist who is extremely limited in her view of others in the world. However, these flaws are intentional and acknowledged by the adult narrator saying they come from memory and may not even be in the correct order. I love that the big stories of the day were related only as to how they affected Cammie. Isn’t that how most of our childhood memories are? Actual awareness about the meaning of that summer came with age. The entire idea of a child living inside of a prison is fascinating. During the time period it wasn’t all that uncommon. What is uncommon is her progressive father. Once again, something only seen in hindsight. The story is a slow-burn that is worth the time and commitment. I think upper middle-graders through adults will enjoy “The Warden’s Daughter” if they have any interest in history or unique childhood situations. Highly recommended! This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
I felt so alone reading this novel. Here was a twelve-year-old girl living in a county prison with her father, the Warden, crying out for help. She was surrounded by individuals yet she was all alone. The one person she wanted, she couldn’t have and the one person she could have, was emotionally not there. I felt she was drifting away, she was trying to throw out lines for others to grab but no one was reaching for them. Then, at the end of the novel, there was some saving graces but why put people through the pain so there is sunshine later. Her mother died when she was a baby. As Cammie watches, she notices what she is missing not having a mother and now Cammie wants to find another mother. She feels the prison trustee that takes care of her father and her might be the replacement she is looking for but Eloda is not picking up on the clues that Cammie is leaving for her. Cammie becomes annoyed with her best friend when her attention strays to the boys and suddenly Reggie is interested in makeup and being seen. Cammie finds friendship in the women’s gated exercise yard at the prison. I found myself sad that she found acceptance with older women and was having a hard time being noticed at home. There were times when Cammie had friends, she was enjoying herself and the time with them but the time ended and she was alone again. I did enjoy the ending, it was amazing but I thought Cammie felt isolated and confused throughout the novel and when the ending occurred, it didn’t make it all right.