Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Flash: Senior Sneak

In celebration of the final two days of the special sale price for Death By Ice Cream, I am offering a short story featuring JJ MacGregor and her friend Kitty, neatly solving another problem for Pismawallops Island high school. This would take place between the events of Death By Ice Cream and those of Death By Trombone.  998 words.

 Senior Sneak

“Anything interesting at school?” I juggled a gallon of milk and an overloaded hand-basket as I made the polite inquiry of my son’s principal. I expected Mr. Ammon to smile and give an equally polite and meaningless answer and get on with his shopping.

Instead, he groaned. “What should there be, JJ? I’m sitting in the office doing paperwork when I should be teaching algebra and trigonometry, coping with everyone’s moods and issues and crises, not to mention that the seniors get insufferable this time of year. Apart from all that it’s just hunky-dory.”

I mumbled something about, “let me know what we can do to help,” and tried to rest the corner of my basket on a shelf to take some weight off. Why had I said that? I just wanted to get home with my groceries so we could have dinner.

Too late.

“As a matter of fact, I do want a little help from you and Kitty.”

Kitty Padgett is my best friend, and PTA president. I’m the VP, and in a school as tiny as Pismawallops Island’s high school, it’s hard to hide when the principal wants something. I set my burdens down and waited to hear what was needed now. Chaperones for a field trip? Decorations for a party? Maybe he hoped we’d throw a nice lunch for the teachers. We could do that.

“The seniors are up to something. Some kind of prank or other.”

“They do that every year, don’t they? Senior Prank, Senior Skip day, that sort of thing?”

“They do. But I need to know what they have in mind.”

“Aren’t you going to let them have their fun?”

“They can have their fun. I just want to see if we can’t have some, too. And I do need to know what they’re up to. The school board is just a bit touchy about liability right now.”

I could understand that. The whole island was still reeling from a nasty scandal, not to mention murder, that had involved the principal and vice principal. That was why Russ Ammon was acting as principal instead of teaching math.

There was only one response to make, and I made it. “So what can Kitty and I do?”

“Find out what they’re up to. Then—we’ll see.”

The thing is, Kitty and I recently acquired something of a reputation for finding things out, on top of our usual reputation for doing whatever needed to be done around the school. I phoned her after dinner.

“We’ve got a case, Watson.”

“JJ, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Mr. Ammon wants us to figure out what the seniors are planning so he can decide what should be done about it. And then no doubt ask us to do it.”

“Why should he do anything about it?”

I told her.

Next morning we quizzed the kids—her two daughters and my son—while we carpooled to school, but none of them knew, or admitted to, anything of what the seniors were planning. That didn’t surprise me. Part of the fun each year is that no one outside the graduating class knows what they’ll do.

“Well, we can’t just ask,” Kitty said. “No one is going to confess without rack and thumbscrews.”

I thought about a couple of the kids I wouldn’t mind treating to a little lesson in medieval life, and stifled the thought. I suggested bribes; Kitty suggested spying scopes and bugs.

Compared to rounding up a murderer, the kids proved laughably easy. We were still sitting in our car floating silly ideas when a group of students came out to the parking lot and clustered around a nearby vehicle. They never even glanced our way. Since our windows were already down, all we had to do was sit quiet and listen.

As usual, the students weren’t all that imaginative. They planned to gather at the lighthouse instead of on campus the following Tuesday, and none too early, either. What was the point of skipping school if you still had to get up early?

That was when we began to get ideas of our own.

It took little to persuade Russ Ammon, who had a wicked sense of humor hidden under his mathematical exterior. He suggested two or three teachers who might go along, and we were off and running.

The hardest part was making sure our own kids didn’t know what we were up to. They were good kids, but the temptation to talk would be powerful. We dealt with that by not doing anything concrete until we’d dropped them off Tuesday morning. Then we got busy, starting with groceries.

Ms. Day and Brett Holt were already in the picnic shelter at the lighthouse, unpacking boxes. I passed around cups of coffee from a take-out box I’d gotten at the Have-a-Bite bakery, and we had plenty of time to set everything up before most of the senior class arrived in a clump.

What they found where they had planned to meet, hang out, and eat a few chips and sodas was…a classroom with piles of textbooks and two teachers handing out exams.

“Exit exams today, kids,” Brett told them, struggling to hold a straight face.

Kitty and I lurked behind the big stone fireplace and snapped photos of their shocked faces. We’d find a use for those.

When the kids had worked themselves up to a desperate protest, we admitted it was a joke and pulled out the food. Their chips and sodas would make a nice counterpoint to the sandwiches, cake, fruit bowls, and other snacks that we provided. A few of the kids continued to pout, but most of them took it in good grace, laughed, and began to eat.

None of them even noticed that their sneak day, when they might have thought of partying with more hazardous things than soda, had fallen under adult supervision. They were too busy playing with the Frisbees and soap bubbles.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A to Z Highlights #4

Last of my A to Z highlights posts, unless I find some more blogs I just have to share in the last 4 days of the month.

For everyone who has ever loved Dilbert or hated work, Words from Sonobe features daily horror stories (or maybe they aren't all horror, just the ones I read?) from work, with a touch of humor.

I've been following My Life in Retirement for quite a while. This A to Z its about books and travel.
And another in a similar category, A Septuagenarian's Ramblings.

Some interesting snippets on writing from Thinky Thoughts...Mostly About Writing.

I'll throw in here the second live-on-board blog that Jemima mentioned last week in my comments: S. V. Cambria. They sail where my brother likes to cruise; wonder if they've ever run into each other! The "V" post is lengthy, but some excellent advice about improving your photos.

Paws 4 Puzzles offers a fun puzzle every day. Looks like the difficulty varies, but they aren't super simple. I'll be hunting through those for entertainment when I'm bored.

Okay, that's enough for today. I'll be going back both to my list to see who I want to follow more actively (I like to see what they do AFTER A to Z) and to the A to Z list to check out more blogs.

I can't say I've managed the level of visiting I'd hoped to do, but I *have* managed to keep up work on my novel during the month, which has not been the case the years I have participated in A to Z. So I'll count my experiment as at least a partial success.

Will I do A to Z next year? Hard to say. I may just go on being a visitor.


Speaking of there being only a few days left in the month, that means just a few days to get Death By Ice Cream for only 99 cents!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Middle Grade Monday and Kid Lit Blog Hop

It's been a while since I managed to hook up with the Kid Lit Blog Hop, but here I go. Click on the image above to see the links to other blogs covering books for children!

And now for my review:

Title: Replay
Author: Sharon Creech
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2009. 136 pages (per my Nook)
Source: Library (digital services)

Publisher's Summary: 
With the backdrop of a large family and a theater as its frame, this is a story about twelve-year-old Leo, who has a talent for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. That's why he's called "fog boy." He's always dreaming, always replaying things in his brain. As an actor in the school play, he is poised and ready for the curtain to open. But in the play that is his life, he is eager to discover what part will be his.

With the universal theme of finding one's true identity, and set amid a loud, noisy, memorable family, Leo's story is one that all kids will relate to. And there's a full play at the end of the book that kids and teachers can perform!

My Review:
I expect Sharon Creech to provide me with a good read that's also thoughtful and thought-provoking, and Replay did not disappoint. Creech beautifully captures Leo's sense of being the odd one out in his family, the kid who's no good at sports and spends too much time daydreaming. Leo is 12, on that awkward brink between little kid and teen, and he's struggling with a sense of identity. It doesn't help that he's the second of four kids, and his siblings all call him by not-so-flattering nicknames like "Fog Boy," which may be accurate (he does tend to get lost in the fog of his imaginings) but isn't helpful or kind.

I liked, though, that in the end we see that Leo's family isn't icky and disfunctional. They are perfectly normal, dealing with a lot of normal stresses, some worse than those faced by others, some less so. It's just that Leo is at that point in his life when it all feels uncomfortable, like he doesn't know how to fit anymore. He likes to imagine himself doing great and grand things, because he doesn't feel like he is seen by his family, but in fact when he does his part in the school play and does it well, they are there and see it and give him the applause he needs.

This is a very short and easy-to-read story, especially if one discounts the play that follows (it is the play that Leo's class puts on, and it's subject is definitely relevant to the book, so worth reading), but as usual, Creech manages to capture a whole story and present it well. There were also some very funny lines, though I always wonder when I laugh aloud at a children's book if the kids will laugh in the same place.

This might be particularly relevant for middle-school boys (and girls), but it will be accessible and of interest to kids from about 8 up, with nothing a younger child shouldn't read. There is no romance for Leo, just a healthy friendship that we see move to a more mature level, and in the end we see Leo getting the space and the support he needs to grow up.

Full Disclosure: I checked Replay out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  

Final week of the 99-cent sale!