Tugs Esther Button was born to a luckless family. Buttons don’t presume to be singers or dancers. They aren’t athletes or artists, good listeners or model citizens. Until tomboy Tugs befriends the popular Aggie Millhouse, wins a brand-new Brownie camera in the Independence Day raffle, and stumbles into a mystery only she can solve, she looks at her hapless family and sees her own reflection looking back. But it’s a summer of change, and it just may be that in the end, being a Button is precisely what one clumsy, funny, spirited, and observant young heroine decides to make of it.
Ever since local boy Lester Ward got drafted by the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and football fever hit Goodhue, Iowa, scrawny Ned Button can think of nothing but the game. Sure, Lester’s younger bully of a brother is determined to keep Ned and his gang from ever getting near a real pickup game. But Ned has a few tricks up his sleeve: he can catch and sometimes even throw, much to his surprise. And he’s got his eccentric grandpa Ike, who has less get-up-and-go these days, but no shortage of down-home wisdom.
When a steamboat arrives heralding the news that Iowa has been called up to represent the Union of the United States of America, Ike is beside himself with excitement. For months, the promise of war has enveloped small-town Keokuk like a grand game that everyone's in on - everyone but Ike, his swaybacked pony, and his best friend and checkers partner, Albirdie. Left behind with Mother and the aunts and girl cousins while the Button men march forth toward glory, Ike's fate is sealed.