Love, Ruby Lavender

An Aurora County Novel

“Well, you are gone. I hope you are happy. I am not. For your information, Melba Jane is still here. I am working on a disappearing potion to make her vanish.”
—Ruby Lavender, Love Ruby Lavender

I’ve read your book, Love, Ruby Lavender, and I have a few questions about the book: Where is Ruby’s father? How did Melba Jane’s father die? If Miss Eula’s grand baby was smelly, why would she want to see it? Is Leilani a boy or a girl? Where are Ruby’s other two grandparents? Are you going to write a sequel? I hope you write back soon.”
— a young reader

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Pages: 240
ISBN13: 978-0152054786
Buy the Book: Amazon, Indiebound, Audiobook read by Judith Ivey at Listening Library, or at your local library.


Published by Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace & Company 2001

  • An American Library Association Notable Book for Children
  • An NCTE Notable Book in the Language Arts
  • A Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book for Children
  • One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, New York Public Library
  • Children’s Literature Choice List
  • Parent’s Guide Children’s Media Award
  • Nominated for SEBA’s best children’s book of the year
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2002
  • Society of School Librarians International Book Awards, 2001
  • Placement on 36 State Book Award lists voted on by young readers
  • Chosen as “One Book” studies and celebrations throughout the U.S.
  • Selected for countless Battles of the Books since its 2001 publication
  • AudioFile Earphones Award 2002
  • Cover art by Marla Frazee
  • Book 1 of the Aurora County novels

Ruby Lavender and Miss Eula are a pretty good team, for a couple of chicken thieves. What other granddaughter-grandmother duo could successfully drive the getaway car for chickens rescued from a journey to the slaughterhouse, paint a whole house shocking pink, and operate their own personal secret-letter post office?

So, when Miss Eula leaves for Hawaii to visit her new grandbaby, Ruby is sure that she will have a lonely, empty, horrible summer in boring old Halleluia, Mississippi. What happens instead? She makes a new friend, saves the school play, writes plenty of letters to her favorite (and only) grandmother… and finally learns to stop blaming herself for her grandfather’s death. Not too bad, for a nine-year-old.

Who is Ruby Lavender? She used to have a fun life, until her Yoo-hoo-drinking, pink muumuu-wearing, best friend of a grandmother up and left for Hawaii to spend the summer with her new (smelly) grandbaby. Now Ruby is stuck in boring old Halleluia, Mississippi, reading to her chickens, sweeping floors at the general store (torture), and being tormented by the curly-haired, tip-tapping Melba Jane.

In letter after letter, nine-year-old Ruby pours out her heart to her grandmother. But there is one thing Ruby cannot tell even her­ the very same thing that makes Ruby take the long way home every single time and that makes her hate Melba Jane more than anyone. She’s resourceful. She’s feisty. She’s in for some big surprises. Oh, Miss Ruby Lavender­ she will pull at your heart.

Praise for Love, Ruby Lavender

“Wiles has painted a picture of a time long past when communities were small and close-knit, people wrote letters, and chickens escaped only to create havoc at play practice. Yet she has also created a timeless story of life and death, the bond between grandparent and grandchild, and the reality that, regardless, ‘life does go on.’” ­

“The pace is quick and the tone is companionable, and if the final resolution between Ruby and Melba Jane is sentimental and sweet, well, as Ruby would say, sweet garden of peas! It couldn’t end any other way. Recommended.” ­
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“This refreshing novel recognizes how daily events often take on huge proportions in the minds of children and that with love, support, and kindness, youngsters can find their way.”
School Library Journal Starred Review

“This small comic novel makes good use of a lot of chickens.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Good garden of peas! It’s hard to imagine a better book for audio narration than this charming, funny, and deeply touching novel of life in the small town of Halleluia, Mississippi. Think kidnapped chickens! Think Yoo-Hoo and pink muumuus! Think handmade quilts, letters tucked into the root tangle of a silver maple tree, and the deep love between a granddaughter9-year-old Ruby L–and her widowed grandmotherMiss Eula. Judith Ivey’s long, leisurely vowels are filled with the sultriness of summer, the longing for connection, the generations-old belief that life does go on, even after a tragic loss. Ivey, Bemmie, and Bess will squawk at you. Miss Mattie will scold you sternly. Aunt Tot will bless your heart. Miss Eula will cajole you with the hoarse voice of reason. And Ruby herself will charm you with her brash enthusiasm and down-home sincerity. There’s more fun and feeling here than you can shake a stick at!


Teaching Guides at

Reading Guide


Chapter One

“Murderers! You can’t have them all!” Ruby Lavender leaned out the car window and shook her fist. The car lurched to a halt in the dirt yard of Peterson’s Egg Ranch, and Ruby scrambled out the door. She ran as fast as she could into a dusty sea of chickensa sea of chickens being herded toward their death at the chopping block.

Miss Eula Dapplevine was driving the getaway car. She leaped from her seat into the hot June sun and waved her arms wildly. “Run! Run for your lives!”

Ruby opened her arms and swept herself, like a wave, through the squawking.

“Gotcha!” She dropped to her knees and reached for chicken legs and necks and breasts and pulled them to her. “I’ll save you, girls!” She had a face full of feathers. She swayed from side to side, trying to get her balance. Her left overalls strap fell off her shoulder.

Three men came running from inside the chicken house. The tallest on jerked down the bandanna he wore around his nose and mouth. “Stop! Thieves! Get back here with those hens!”

“Go away, Lucius!” yelled Miss Eula. She waved dust from her face with her big hat. “You won’t miss a few old laying hens past their prime!” Ruby struggled to stand with her arms full of chickens. She staggered to the car, a squawking hen under each arm, and tossed them through the open window of the back seat. “Hit it, Miss Eula!” Another hen ran screaming straight for Ruby and nearly knocked her down. Ruby grabbed it. “Good garden of peas! Well, get in here!”

She tossed it into the car and then climbed in through the open window, right behind it.

“Hurry, Miss Eula!”

“You’re crazy, Eula!” shouted Lucius. “Crazy!”

Chickens flew at Lucius, pecking his hard boots. Others raced, like a river over a dam, through the split-rail fence, across the country road, and into the surrounding fields.

“Go, girls, go!” Miss Eula put her hands on her hips. “How would YOU want to be on someone’s dinner plate, Lucius? Lucius a la King!” Lucius and his workers didn’t know which way to run first as they tried to shush the puddle of chickens at their feet.

Miss Eula flounced back into the car. She jerked the gearshift into drive and pulled out of Peterson’s Egg Ranch, weaving the big car slowly right and left as she dodged chickens and stirred up dust. “How many did we get?”

“We got three! They’re red!” Next to Ruby sat three of the most pitiful-looking, nervous creatures she had ever laid eyes on. They clucked and stared at her.

“Three. That’s a good number. That’s a lucky number. YOU are a good partner, Ruby Lavender… for  anine-year-old.” Miss Eula winked at Ruby.

“And you are a good getaway driver… for a grandmother.” Ruby winked back.

“Folks will keep eating chicken, all right, but they won’t eat these three, now, will they?”

“They surely won’t,” said Ruby. “I can’t wait to get to know them.”

“We’ll get to know them together.”

The car traveled smoothly down the country road. The chickens squawked and flapped and put up a ruckus. Miss Eula’s and Ruby’s eyes met in the rear view mirror. They smiled at each other….They giggled….And then they laughed and laughed.