Birthday Surprises: Ten Great Stories to Unwrapby Johanna Hurwitz
"This unique collection of short stories celebrates the creative power of imagination. At Hurwitz's invitation 10 well-known children's authors have written pieces based on a single premise: a young person finds an empty box among his or her birthday gifts. The enormously varied responses range in tone from amusing to heartwarmingly sad; all provide food for… See more details below
"This unique collection of short stories celebrates the creative power of imagination. At Hurwitz's invitation 10 well-known children's authors have written pieces based on a single premise: a young person finds an empty box among his or her birthday gifts. The enormously varied responses range in tone from amusing to heartwarmingly sad; all provide food for thought....An excellent surprise package."School Library Journal.
Read an Excerpt
The Special Powers
of Blossom Culp
of Blossom Culp
My name is Blossom Culp, and I'm ten years old, to the best of my mama's recollection.
I call 1900 the year of my birth, but Mama claims to have no idea of the day. Mama doesn't hold with birthdays. She says they make her feel old. This also saves her giving me a present. You could go through the courthouse down at Sikeston, Missouri, with a fine-tooth comb without turning up my records. But I must have been born because here I am.
Since Mama is hard to overlook, I will just mention her now. She doesn't know her birthday either but claims to be twenty-nine years old. She has only three teeth in her head, but they are up front so they make a good showing. Her inky hair flows over her bent shoulders and far down her back. Whenever she appeared in daylight down at Sike. ston, horses reared. Mama is a sight.
But she is a woman of wisdom and wonderful when it comes to root mixtures, forbidden knowledge, and other people's poultry. We could live off the land, though the trouble is, it's always somebody else's land. Like many of nature's creatures, Mama goes about her work at night. Get your corn in early, or Mama will have our share. Plant your tomatoes up by the house, or Mama will take them off you by the bushel. She likes her eggs fresh, too.
A moonless night suits her best; then off she goes down the hedgerows with a croaker sack flung over her humped shoulder. But nobody's ever caught her."I can outrun a dawg," says Mama.
It was another of her talents that got us chased out of Sikeston. To hear her tell it, Mama has the Second Sight. For readymoney she'll tell your fortune, find lost articles, see through walls, and call up the departed. She can read tea leaves, a pack of cards, your palm, a crystal ball. It doesn't matter to Mama. But because Sikeston was a backward place and narrow in its thinking, her profession was against the law. So her and me had to hotfoot it out of town two jumps ahead of a sheriffs posse.
Mama said that fate was mysteriously leading her to our next home place. But we'd have hopped a freight in any direction. Aboard a swaying cattle car, Mama grew thoughtful and pulled on her long chin.
"The farther north we get," she said, "the more progressive. Wherever we light, you'll be goin' to school." She shifted a plug of Bull Durham from one cheek to the other. If Mama had ever been to school herself, she'd have mentioned it. About all she can read is tea leaves.
"I been to school before, Mama," I reminded her. Down at Sikeston, I'd dropped into the grade school occasionally. Though when I dropped out again, I wasn't missed.
"I mean you'll be goin' to school regular," Mama said. "I don't want the law on me believe it."
So when at last we came to rest at the town of Bluff City, I knew school was in my future without even a glimpse into Mama's crystal ball. I well recall the day I strolled into the Horace Mann School in Bluff City, wearing the same duds from when me and Mama had dropped off a cattle car of the Wabash Railroad.
"Yewww," said many of the girls in the school yard, giving me a wide berth. It was no better inside. I was sent to the office of the principal before I had time to break a rule. She was a woman tall as a tree named Miss Mae Spaulding.
"Oh dear," she said, looking down at me, "we're going to have to find you a comb."
I was small for ten but old for my years. Miss Spaulding seemed to grasp this and assigned me to fourth grade. She took me there herself, shooing me on ahead like a chicken. The teacher, name of Miss Cartwright, took a gander at me and said, "Oh my stars."
"Perhaps youd have a spare handkerchief to loan Blossom," the principal said to Miss Cartwright over my head.
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and noticed all the eyes of fourth grade were boring holes in me. The boys' eyes were round with amazement. The girls'eyes were mean slits.
"I guess we had better find Blossom a seat," Miss Cartwright said as Miss Spaulding beat a retreat out the door.
A big girl reared up out of her desk. She wore a bow the size of a kite on the back of her head. "She'll not be sitting next to mel" she sang out, and flopped back.
Her name turned out to be Letty Shambaugh, and once again I di&t need Mama's Second Sight to see I had met an enemy for life.
Miss Cartwright cleared her throat and said, "Boys and girls, we have a new class member. I will ask her to introduce herself."
I looked down the rows of fourth grade, and they looked capable of anything. Still, I stood my ground. "My name is Blossom Culp," I said, "and I hail from down at Sikeston, Missouri."
Letty Shambaugh twitched in her seat. "Hillbillies," she hissed to the girls around her, "or worse."
"Me and Mama have relocated to Bluff City on account of her business," I said.
"Ah," says Miss Cartwright behind me, "and what ... business is your mother engaged in?"
"Oh well shoot," I says, "my mama is well known for her herbal cures and fortune-telling. She can heal warts, too. There's gypsy blood in our family."
Letty Shambaugh smirked and so did the girls around her. "Ah," says Miss Cartwright. "And are you an only child, Blossom?"
"I am now," I said. "I was born one-half of a pair of Siamese twins, but my twin had to be hacked off my side so I alone could live."
Meet the Author
Johanna Hurwitz is the award-winning author of more than sixty popular books for young readers, including Faraway Summer; Dear Emma; Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better; Class Clown; Fourth-Grade Fuss; and Rip-Roaring Russell, an American Library Association Notable Book. Her work has won many child-chosen state awards. A former school librarian, she frequently visits schools around the country to talk about her books. Mrs. Hurwitz and her husband divide their time between Great Neck, New York, and Wilmington, Vermont.
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