Monday, June 27, 2016

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

     Number the Stars is a middle grade Newberry Medal winner. It is based on real-life experiences of a ten-year-old girl in 1943, Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, Denmark.
     Annemarie Johansen learns that having courage is not about having a lack of fear, it is doing the right thing in spite of fear. She learns about family secrets, and what it means to trust and be trusted. She learns about patriotism, loyalty, about the realities of war, the integrity of her countrymen, and the Danish Resistance.
     The Johansen family quickly mobilize when their Jewish friends are threatened with 'relocation'.
     This little story is very suspenseful without being graphic. I wonder if I could be as brave and quick-thinking as that family. It's the kind of book that made me hope that all humanity will someday learn to do the right thing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

McScruff: Top Secret Agent by Grandma Beans Chapter 7

Chapter 7

   Was he safe to proceed with his search? He held his breath again and listened. He heard feet landing on the gravel, footsteps, and the door opened again.    
   Ralph and Fluffy kicked up dirt every time they entered the barn. Scruffy wondered if they couldn’t pick up their feet, being bull-legged bulldogs. They grabbed another crate and back out to the truck.
   Scruffy looked around at all the cages. He couldn’t see Belle anywhere. He didn’t know what to do. He had to find her, but he couldn’t let these other dogs go to the lab. That sounded worse than the pound. He had to save them all. He needed a distraction.
   An idea popped into his head. He went from cage to cage unlatching the doors. Some of the cages had padlocks. Maybe he could get the key from Ralph somehow, so he wouldn’t notice it was gone.
   “Don’t open your doors until I give a signal. You’ll all have a better chance of escaping if you run at the same time,” Scruffy explained.
   The dogs nodded their agreement.
   He spotted Belle. She was asleep in a cage that was stacked on top of five other cages in the center of the barn. He looked above her in the rafters. An old rope hung over the center beam that ran the length of the barn.
   In a flash of light, Scruffy saw a geometry equation diagramed in his mind like he was looking at a chalkboard. It showed him how to use the rope and the beam to rescue Belle.
   He found a ladder and climbed up to the hayloft. The loft was full of empty crates. The barn doors squeaked again, so Scruffy laid down flat. He looked at the beam—all he had to do was climb those crates and he’d be able to reach the rope. He’d grab both ends of the rope and quietly lower himself down to Belle’s cage. Next, he'd tie one end of the rope to her cage and pull on the other end lifting her up to the loft where he could hide her.
   He saw it in his head, diagrams and angles, it was all there. He’d save the day and be the hero, just like in his adventures.
   This was a brilliant plan, but he didn’t know how much time he’d have before the bulldogs came for the next crate. He shoved all the crates together to make them more stable.
   Scruffy climbed the first crate and realized some of the wood was old, rotted splinters.
   Half way up, the barn doors creaked open. Scruffy froze in place.    He held his breath hoping the bulldogs wouldn’t look up. They grabbed another crate and out they went.
   Scruffy wiped his brow. “Whew.”
   He knew this could be dangerous, but he couldn’t see another way to rescue Belle and the other dogs.  Slowly, so carefully he put one foot above the other. The slats bowed under his weight, but they held. He climbed the next crate and then the next.
   Finally, he pulled himself up and over the last crate. He stood and slid his feet across the top one step at a time. So far, so good, he thought. Scruffy made it to the edge when his nose started to itch. 
   He held his breath but it was too late.
   Just as he was about to leap for the rope he sneezed a big one. His left foot broke through the crate. He lost his balance and started to fall. He reached for the rope, and grabbed one end, but the other end slipped through his paws.
   This would be the loudest crash he’d ever made so he yelled, “NOW, everyone.”
   The barn door creaked open. Scruffy and his crate crashed into Belle’s cage. Then the crate beneath Belle, and the one under that, and the next one under that, like a crazy kind of dominoes.
   A pile of jagged splinters and a coil of rope buried Scruffy and Belle. A big splinter pierced Scruffy’s paw.
   The other dogs opened their cages. At least twenty dogs were barking, jumping, and yapping all through the barn.
   Some of the dogs escaped through the missing planks. Some of the dogs dug their way out under the wall, and bigger dogs broke their way through the smaller holes.
   Two of the smaller dogs ran right under Ralph’s legs and out the front door.
   “Look here, see.” Ralph barked his toughest, deepest bark, but no one heard him. He managed to grab one of the older dogs and put him back into an unbroken crate.
   Fluffy dropped a Pomeranian and howled, “He bit me!”
   “Don’t be such a puppy, see.” Ralph snarled and nipped at Fluffy.

   “Oh dear,” Belle said.
   “Don’t worry, Belle. This is nothing. I’ll just bite it out.” Scruffy chewed and spit out the chunk of wood.
   Belle rolled her eyes. “No, I meant this.” She dangled her left foot. “I don’t think I can walk.”
   “I’m sooo sorry Belle. I’m such a dork-brain.” Scruffy hit himself in the forehead.
    Scruffy put his arm around her waist and they picked their way through the broken crates. They made it to the wall.
   “After you, Belle.” Scruffy tried to be thoughtful and lifted the plank of shards so Belle could go first. 
   Belle shook her head. “Uh, Scruff…”
   He looked at her leg again.
   “Ahhchoo.” All the commotion kicked dirt and straw into the air making Scruffy sneeze. “Maybe I should go first and pull you through.” He blushed and grinned and sneezed three more times.
Scruffy dug his way out then reached back under for Belle’s paw. She pulled away from him.
   “Oooooowww,” Belle howled.
   Scruffy peaked through a knot hole. Fluffy muzzled Belle and drug her back to another crate.
   That was it! Scruffy had had enough! He scrambled back under the wall, baring his teeth. His legs twitched and before he knew what happened his body went crazy, as if he had no control over himself. He went after Fluffy, running faster and jumping higher than ever before.
   “This is soooo cooool,” Scruffy said.
Fluffy’s mouth fell open dropping a gallon of drool. He let go of Belle’s muzzle and she hopped out of the way.
   Fluffy looked for a weapon, anything he could find. He grabbed the rope and started swinging it over his head.
   In a flash, Scruffy had him all tied up in knots.
   Then wham! Ralph hit Scruffy across his head with a large, metal feed bucket. Scruffy staggered and fell.
   “Scruffy,” Belle cried.
   Ralph shoved Scruffy into the first unbroken crate he could find. He threw Belle in with him, and locked it with a padlock.
   “Quit goofing off, Fluffy. We’ve got to round up the rest of these mutts, see.”
   “Well then, help me.” Fluffy rolled around biting at the knots.
   “I don’t believe this, see.” Ralph grabbed one end of the rope and drug Fluffy outside.
   The barn door creaked shut.
   “I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you, Scruff.” Tears gathered in Belle’s eyes as she licked his face. “You have to wake up. You just have to.”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Reading just for fun

I believe that a child's love of reading is a gift from his or her parents. I have fond memories of my mother rocking me in her rocking chair and reading to me at bedtime. I loved fairy tales the most, and I asked for the same ones over and over again: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, etc.

Then, Dr. Seuss came out with "Read Myself" books. That was cool! Enter the flashlight under the covers. I hated going to bed, so every night I'd pull out my flashlight and read until I fell asleep.

In the summertime, my aunt took my cousins and I to the library every week. I read all of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mysteries I could get my hands on. I tried, desperately to figure out the mystery before Nancy did, or at least by the time all was revealed.
     The only time in my life that I did not enjoy reading was when I read textbooks because I had to. Funny thing about professors--they think theirs is the only class you are taking, so it shouldn't be a problem reading 300 pages for the next class. How I longed for the day to read just for fun again!

Now that I'm there, I get to rock my grandkids in my rocking chair and read to them. Ahh, the simple pleasures. . .
     What are some of your simple pleasures?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

McScruff: Top Secret Agent Chapter 6

Chapter 6

  Scruffy tightened his grip on the rat. He threw open the door of the salon so hard that it knocked him in his back side as it closed. He tripped and almost dropped Blab.
  The receptionist giggled. “May I help you?” She touched a button on her desk.
  “Earlier you told me that my friend, Belle, didn’t come into the salon with me.” Scruffy held Blab up on the counter. “I brought an eye witness. Go ahead Blab, tell her what you saw.”
  At that moment the two bull dogs pushed through the swinging door.
  Blab struggled to get free. “I saw nothing, nothing my friend.” He bit Scruffy’s paw.
  “Hahahahaha,” the two bulldogs laughed.
  “What the . . .” Scruffy dropped the rat and he scurried out of the salon as another customer opened the door. Scruffy ran after him.
Blab jumped into the closest can still shaking all over.
  “No bag for you, you . . . you dirty rat.”
  “Could not be helped, my friend.” Blab rubbed his eyes with the back of his paws.
  “Explain yourself!” Scruffy grabbed the rat by his neck.
  Blab looked back and forth, and twisted his head all the way around. “Not here.”
  “Fine.” Scruffy carried him to the alleyway behind the City Gas Station.
  Blab went to bite Scruffy again. Scruffy tightened his grip.
  “What do you think you’re doing?”
  “Ok, ok. You win.”
  Even as he said that Scruffy knew Blab was lying. “I’ll let you go when you tell me what’s going on.”
  “Very well, my friend. Uh, what was the question?”
  Scruffy shook his head with disbelief. The rat still tried to wiggle his way out of talking.
  “Spit it out, Blab, and I’ll let you go. Why did you freak out when you saw those bulldogs?”
  “They aren’t just any bulldogs. They work for that evil genius, Faux Paw, the fox.”
  “Who is Faux Paw, the fox?” Scruffy laughed. “That silver-tipped, red-tailed fancy pants I’ve seen around town?”
  “One and the same. Faux Paw runs things around here. He’s not just clever, he’s diabolical. You don’t want to get in his way.”
  “Does he own the Perky Pooch?”
  “Yes, and most of the stores in this town. He just bought that abandoned farm on Maple.”
  Scruffy sat down on the curb to think things out. That truck at the farm was probably Faux Paw’s too. What does a fox want with an abandoned farm?
  Scruffy didn’t know what to do next. Trusty doesn’t believe him and Belle is in some real trouble. He needed a plan.
  Blab squirmed. “Say, my friend, you said you’d let me go.”
  “I did, didn’t I?” Scruffy set Blab down and he ran off down the alley, back to the café.
  Scruffy decided an investigation of the Maple Street farm was in order.

*          *          *          *

  Scruffy rustled through the dry yellow weeds outside the rustic, pine pole fence. Every now and then he had to jump up to see over the weeds. The big white truck was gone.
  He wished Trusty was with him. He wished they were running through the grass, chasing grasshoppers like they did last summer.  He crawled under the fence when he got close enough to the barn.
  Scruffy heard all sorts of howls, yaps and barks. It reminded him of the dog pound he lived in before his family adopted him. He quivered inside, but he knew he had to keep going. Funny, Scruffy thought, Belle and I didn’t hear any noises this morning.
  Scruffy squeezed through a hole in the barn wall where two planks were missing. Straw covered the dirt floor and made his nose itch and his eyes water.
  Stacks of wooden dog crates lined the barn walls in rows. In the center of the barn, empty broken crates laid about in splinters.
He heard a big truck screech to a stop, so he crept to the front door. It was the same truck he’d seen earlier. The truck doors opened and slammed shut. Someone was coming.
  The barn door creaked open. Scruffy dived behind a bale of straw. It was the bulldogs. They were so close he could hear them slobber and drool when they spoke.
  “The Boss said to load them all backup, see.”
  “What for? Huh, huh?”
  “He made a deal with that laboratory over in Thistle, see.”
  “I don’t get it Ralph. Tell me huh, huh, tell me huh.”
  “They’ve all been tested and none of them are the dog he’s looking for, see.”
  “What’s he looking for, huh, huh?”
  “I don’t know exactly, see. Some magic chip thing, see.”
  “What’s a chip thing, huh, huh?”
  “It’s supposed to give the dog who has it some kind of super powers, see. The boss could rule the world with a chip like that, see. Now get back to work, Fluffy,” Ralph barked.
  Scruffy put a paw to his mouth to stifle his giggles. “His name is Fluffy? Hehehe. More like toxic Fluffy.”
  Ah-oh, here they come. The barn door creaked open. Scruffy flattened himself against the bale of hay as the two bulldogs stood next to him.
  They both lifted the first cage and hauled it out to the truck. The poor greyhound puppy inside trembled all over and whined.
  Scruffy felt a sneeze coming on. He held his breath and buried his nose into his left elbow. The barn doors closed.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want."--Dan Stanford

I used this picture for the cover of the binder where I keep all of my rejection letters. It reminds me that if crocuses can bloom in a blizzard,  so can I.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

McScruff: Top Secret Agent Chapter 5

Chapter 5

  Scruffy stood at Trusty’s front door, panting. He rang the doorbell. He laid his head against the door and pounded with his fist. He couldn’t stop shaking.
  Trusty opened the door. “Wow. What a mess. What have you been up to?” He laughed. “No wait, let me guess, another adventure?”
  Scruffy looked down at his fur caked with dry mud. “I haven’t got time to explain. I took Belle to the salon a couple of hours ago, we were both going to get baths, only Belle never came out. When I asked about her they pretended they’d never heard of her.  They sicced their bulldogs on me and threw me out of the salon.”
  Trusty grinned.
  “This isn’t a joke, Trusty. Belle has been missing for two hours now. The longer you laugh at me, the farther they’ll take her.”
  “This is classic Scruffy, except you’ve upgraded your pretend adventure. You know the one where all the dogs go into the salon, but no one comes out. Now you’ve added Belle.” Trusty shook his head, laughing. “She’s going to love this.”
  Trusty laughed and laughed. He turned and shut his door right in Scruffy’s face.
  “Trusty, wait. This is for real, honest!” Scruffy pounded on the door, but it was no use.
  “I guess I deserve this. I must have pretended too many times.” He said aloud to himself. He hit his head against Trusty’s front door a few times and turned away.
  Scruffy paced back and forth on the sidewalk in front of their houses. “What am I going to do?” He paced some more. “Belle is in real trouble. . . I’ve always wanted to be a real detective . . . It’s time to go to work!” He pounded his fist into his other paw. He went home and got his spy kit.
  He ran to town while a plan formulated in his mind. He’d start in the alleys around the salon.
  Scruffy tippy-toed around the back alley behind the outdoor café.  He spied Blab, the rather round and squatty rat, sifting through the garbage cans.
  “Pssst, Blab.” Scruffy tried to be as quiet as he could be.
  Blab kept digging.
  “Blab,” Scruffy said a little louder.
  Still Blab ignored him.
  “BLAB!” Scruffy yelled this time.
  Poor Blab just about jumped out of his skin. He lost his footing and fell to the bottom of the can. “Keep your collar attached. I heard you, my friend.” Blab’s lisp echoed.
  “I need to talk to you.”
  “Indeed? How much is it worth to you?”
  “Time is food my friend.” Blab licked his lips. “Why don’t you get me out of here, and we’ll chat.”
  Scruffy grabbed Blab by the knap of the neck and set him down on top of a closed can.
  “So, what have you to trade with me?” Blab rubbed his front paws together like he was washing his hands.
  Scruffy didn’t trust those beady little black eyes, but a little encouragement couldn’t hurt. He looked around the alley and spotted a take-out bag from the café. He picked the bag up and the bottom almost fell out. Gross. The bag reeked.
  He held his nose up out of the way and didn’t see the banana peel in the middle of the alley. Swoosh. He slid into a couple of garbage cans. Bang. Crash. Kaboom.  
  “Hmm, dinner and a show.” Blab clapped his little paws.
  Scruffy grinned and picked himself up. He peeled the yucky, black banana peel off his foot. He’d have to go roll in the dirt for that. That’s how boy dogs take a bath.
  Blab started to shake.  The closer the bag came to him, the more he shook and twitched his nose.
  Scruffy thought this might be below even Blab’s standards, but apparently not.
  “Here you go Blab.”  As he held the bag out, Blab’s whiskers went sproing and his nose twitched. Blab went to grab the bag.
  “Not so fast.” Scruffy pulled the bag back at the last moment. “I want to know what you know about the salon next door.”
  “They do a lot of business.” Blab trembled.
  “You can do better than that. What else?”
  “It’s mostly for rich pets, my friend, not for the likes of us.”
  “Notice anything unusual lately?”
  “Like what, exactly?” Blab reached for the bag again, but Scruffy pulled it away. “Like dogs who get their nails polished?” Blab snickered.
  “Ever notice dogs going in that don’t come out?”
  Blab shook his head, “Too busy looking for food.”
  “Did you happen to see me and Belle go in earlier today?”
  “What if I did?”
  Scruffy dangled the bag in front of Blab. “Did you see Belle or not?”
  “Very well, I saw her with you.”
  “Yeah?” Scruffy grabbed Blab again. “They won’t believe me inside. You’re going to tell that receptionist you saw Belle go in there, then you get the bag. Understand?”
  “Yes.” Blab wiggled to get free. “You know, my friend, Belle can take care of herself. She could take you.”
  “Is that right?”
  “I’m telling you, my friend, I saw her kick some other dog’s trash just last week. And Trusty, he’s got skills too.”
  “What? He’s smaller than I am.”
  “Size does not matter, my friend.” Blab patted his large, round tummy. “Belle taught him.”