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Birds have hollow bones. That's how they can fly. Sometimes I wish I had hollow bones so I could fly. I would fly so far away no one would ever find me. I would fly to the highest mountain on the furthest continent. I would perch there and wait for just the right air current to come my way, and then I'd fly some more. I'd fly over oceans and farms fat with corn and wheat and cows. I'd rise with the air and fall with my wings outstretched so wide you'd think they might snap ... but they won't. My wings are strong.
* * *
That night I stayed awake. I didn't want to sleep. I knew if I did the morning would come too fast. So I kept myself awake, awake dreaming about flying over the ocean and watching the waves build and roll and crash on the shore. Awake dreaming that I could fly over the Great Redwood Forest. That I could fly above the green tree canopy where salamanders live on the branches of the world's tallest trees.
I flap my wings but only a few times so I won't get tired. Mostly I rest on the air currents like dandelion seeds. Mostly I fly with only the wind under my wings.
Miss Tate arrived the next morning. She's my social worker from Miss Daylily's Home for Children, or Miss Daylily's Home for Unwanted and Misunderstood Children. That's what I call it. I lived there before I went to live with the Crums. Actually, I've lived at Miss Daylily's Home off and on since I was a baby, but I'll tell you more about that later.
The Crums don't want me anymore. So Miss Tate — tall, dark, and skinny like a Slim Jim—is taking me to a new foster home.
Lester and Mauveleen Crum have had me long enough, they said. Time for someone else to take over. Reason one: Lester won a boatload of money in the lottery, and now he wants to take Mauveleen on a trip around the world. They don't have room for me to go along, even though I am small, like a wren. They only have room for their three real children. Mauveleen said I'd just be in the way.
Reason two: I put shaving cream inside Lola's pillowcase. She's the oldest Crum child. I put honey on one of the kitchen chairs, and Lester sat in it. And I rigged a small bucket of water over a doorjamb, and it rained down on Lola.
So I had kind of a record with them. Mauveleen said they couldn't have a prankster along on the trip, and they were sending me back. Fortunately, Miss Tate told me she had some people who were interested in taking me right away, so I wouldn't need to go back to the home. No siree, Bob! I was going straight from the Crum house to my new foster family.
* * *
"Come on, Wilma Sue," Miss Tate called from downstairs. "It's time to go."
I had one suitcase. The same one I carried into the Crum house three years ago. It's brown with wrinkled leather that reminds me of cracked sidewalks and trees and maps of places I'd like to see. I crammed my book Emily of New Moon inside, along with my most secret possessions: a spiral-bound journal where I write my deepest thoughts, and the dictionary I won in a fourth-grade spelling bee. Ever since then, words have become my hobby. I'm always looking up new ones and figuring out a way to use them during the day. I also crammed my walk-around notebook into my back pocket because I never know when "the flash" will strike. That's what Emily, in Emily of New Moon, called that sudden urge to express what's in your deepest heart. Sometimes it's like a lightning bolt; sometimes it comes on slow, like Christmas.
Next, I stuffed a brown bear that I've had forever inside my suitcase and zipped it closed. I think I got the bear when I was a baby, but I can't be sure. I don't remember too much about those baby days. I just remember sounds. Loud sounds like crying or muffled sounds like water running.
"I'm coming!" I called. I took one more look around the little bedroom that had been my nest—at least a small part of it. I'd shared the room with Lola.
I lugged my suitcase down the steps. Lester Crum was out getting a haircut. Mauveleen stood near the front door with Miss Tate. Mauveleen wore her brand-new dress, hot pink with black buttons. She had her hair all done up like a princess, complete with a diamond tiara. I knew she couldn't wait for me to go so she could climb into her brand-new red Porsche and drive away.
"You take care, Wilma Sue," she said. "It was good having you."
I smiled at her. For a second I thought I should hug her, but she was closed that morning, the way she was closed most every day. Mauveleen Crum rarely looked me square in the eye, unless it was to holler at me about some such thing that I might or might not have had a hand in. And she always seemed to stand with her arms crossed against her chest, the best way of all to say, "No hugs allowed." I had written in my notebook a few months back, I will always look people in the eye and always be ready to give out hugs.
I looked at Miss Tate. Her face reminded me of a walnut, warm but wrinkly.
"Can I help with your suitcase?" Miss Tate asked.
"No, thank you. It's not heavy," I said. I smiled just so she'd believe me. I figured a girl's got to carry her own bag through life.
We drove in Miss Tate's van. It was black like midnight and had the words
Miss Daylily's Home for Children
emblazoned on the side in big yellow letters. The van was large enough to carry nine unwanted children. I was certain that everybody we passed knew the kid in the backseat was Unwanted and probably Misunderstood.
Miss Daylily's Home sat like a great stone factory with billowing smokestacks and chain-link fences in Philadelphia, all the way down near the waterfront. I had lived there off and on my entire life. Miss Tate said I arrived one cold winter day as a baby. She found me on the front steps with a small note pinned to my yellow blanket. The note said my name was Wilma Sue. She and Miss Daylily took care of me until I went to live with the McAllisters. I'd been two years old when I went there, and the thought of Mrs. McAllister gave me a slight pain in my chest. It was probably just heartburn, which I had pretty much all the time when I lived at the Crum house. But after the McAllisters, I lived at Miss Daylily's again for a whole year—almost to the day—from the time I was eight until nine. And then I went to live with the Crums.
Before Miss Tate took me to the Crum house, for a while I was the oldest kid at Miss Daylily's, and Miss Daylily and Miss Tate expected me to do a whole lot to "earn my keep," like change little Earl's diaper. And when Miss Daylily told me to do something, you betcha I jumped, cause otherwise she'd have me writing an entire essay on the origin of diapers or something.
Even so, I liked Miss Daylily. She was big and fat and wore long skirts down to her ankles. She wore her hair in a large gray bun that she secured to her head with two chopsticks, and most of the time she smelled like cherry cola. She made the best applesauce on the planet. And every once in a while, she would hold me in her lap and read me a book.
As Miss Tate and I drove, we passed block after block of row homes, some in better shape than others, with flower gardens and wrought-iron fences and lawn gnomes. Some of the houses we passed looked like ruins, with broken or missing windows and doors hanging off their hinges like dislocated shoulders. One house had yellow police tape stretched across the front door.
We drove through the large shopping district they called simply Forty-fifth Street, where I saw people on foot pushing shopping carts or carrying tote bags. We finally made it out of the city and into the suburbs. I knew this because I could see the summer sky again, blue and cloudless.
Miss Tate didn't have much to say the whole way. Me neither. She did tell me three times that the weather was nice for early summer, but she'd heard rain was moving in later in the day. She also looked at me in the rearview mirror, and I saw her eyes were a little stern and thin. She said, "Do your best to get along in the new house, Wilma Sue. The most important thing is to do your best to get along with everyone."
This is exactly what she told me when she took me to the Crums'. It was probably what she told me when she took me to the McAllisters', too. And now she said it again.
Millie and Meg McAllister were very nice people. Millie was the mother. My mother for all of six years.
Her husband, Mervin, died about two years before I got there. They had one other daughter, Meg, and she was a lot older than me. But that was okay. Meg treated me real nice. But when Meg went away to college, Millie sent me back to Miss Daylily's Home. I was so sad that day; I thought my heart would break into a gazillion pieces.
Do you ever feel that way? So sad that you can't even stand it another second and think for sure that your heart is breaking into a gazillion tiny pieces never to be put together again—ever? That's how sad I felt when I left the McAllisters' house. It was the first time I wished I had hollow bones.
* * *
"Did you hear me, Wilma Sue?" Miss Tate asked. "I said for you to get along in the new house." She pointed her index finger into the mirror. "And no more pranks! I mean it, Wilma Sue. This is a trial run. Just one infraction and back you go to the orphanage. That's the rule."
"Yes, ma'am," I said as I watched out the van window as neighborhoods of large houses whizzed past. Giant trees lined most of the streets. "No more pranks."
Then we turned onto a street called Bloomingdale Avenue. I liked the name but decided it was too soon to say it out loud. There were fewer cars on Bloomingdale Avenue and most were parked in driveways. We drove more slowly, and I noticed the houses grew further and further apart. They had larger and larger yards and longer fences. I thought maybe the longer the fence, the richer the people who lived on the other side.
"Here we are," Miss Tate said as she pulled up in front of a big stone house. It looked creepy, like a haunted house, with many roofs and porches and funny round windows like the kind you'd see on a ship. It sat on the corner of the street all by itself.
"This is the parsonage," Miss Tate said. "Your new home."
"Parsonage." I knew that word from all the time I spent reading. It's where the pastor of a church lived. "Am I going to live with a pastor?"
Miss Tate laughed a little. "No. Not a pastor. Missionaries. The church is letting them live in the house."
"Their names are Ruth and Naomi Beedlemeyer. They're sisters. Never married. They lived in Africa until last year."
"Africa?" That part sounded extravagant. Imagine that, Africa. I would like to fly to Africa. "Are they black?"
Miss Tate looked at me in the rearview mirror. "No. They're ... they're like you. They worked as missionaries in Africa."
I didn't know much about Africa, only what I learned in school. While Miss Tate snagged some papers from her briefcase, I imagined flying over Africa like a pink flamingo, sleek and fast, eyeing the continent for a lake.
I lugged my suitcase up the long cement path to the steps that led to the front door. The whole house was made from stone that looked like mica schist, great huge rocks with flecks of silver and gray that twinkled suddenly in the afternoon sun. The house had many slanty roofs and windows and two crooked chimneys. Even the roofs were covered with slate rock. I would call it Gray House.
The Crums' house was Black House. The house itself was white with shutters the most awful shade of dark purple you'd ever seen. It was like the color of plums left in the refrigerator too long. And when I walked inside, it was like walking into a black, dark cave. At least that was how it felt. Somebody was always fighting with somebody.
My favorite house so far was the McAllisters' — Yellow House. It was sunshine yellow with black shutters, and walking inside it was like walking into a field of Black-eyed Susans.
Gray House had several wind chimes that dangled from the porch roof. But they were silent. There was no wind that day. But I figured that if Miss Tate was right about the rain, then I'd probably get to hear the wind chimes tonight. I liked them. They were birds suspended from long chains. Miss Tate was just about to push the doorbell when the door flung open with gusto.
"Well, hello there! Come in. Come in." The woman, tall, old, and smelling of buttercream frosting, stepped aside and waved her arm with a flourish. She was barefoot. "Welcome home, Wilma Sue."
And then I saw a long cardboard sign made up of individual letters hung on a piece of string draped across the mantel:
Each letter was gold. Only the C was crooked and hung by a single strand of string.
I looked at Miss Tate.
"Go on, Wilma Sue, say hello."
That was when the other woman appeared. She was fatter around the middle but with skinny ankles like a sparrow. "Oh my goodness gracious! Aren't you just the sweetest little thing to ever walk the earth? Come on over and sit down on the sofa." She sat first and patted the seat next to her. She talked to me like I was five.
I looked at Miss Tate. She moved her eyes in a way that told me I should sit.
"Isn't she darling, Naomi?" the woman on the sofa said.
I felt like a Christmas present.
"Yes, yes she is," the other woman said. "Darling. Darling. Darling."
I felt my eyes roll, even if I didn't show it.
"And you must be Ruth," Miss Tate said to the woman on the sofa.
"Yes. That's right. I'm Ruth, and this, of course, is my sister Naomi." She giggled with three fingers to her mouth. "But I just told you that, now didn't I? I must be nervous."
Miss Tate smiled with tight lips.
"Are you thirsty, Wilma Sue?" Naomi asked. "We have lemonade."
A minute later she returned with a tall, sweaty glass of lemonade. I sipped it as they all stared at me like I was the royal food tester checking for poison. "It's good. Thank you."
They all let go of their collective breath. "Oh, and such nice manners," Naomi said.
"Good, good," Ruth said.
* * *
I tried to listen to what Miss Tate was telling Ruth and Naomi, but after a while I stopped. The sisters' house was kind of weird. The sofa smelled like bread dough, and it was thin and lumpy, like they had mice tucked away underneath the cushions. Strange and colorful blankets hung on the walls. One of the blankets had a picture—a sunset had been woven into it with a silhouette of two giraffes in the foreground. It was pretty and colorful, orange, red, purple, and yellow. I thought about the person who might have made it and imagined that her hands were thin and callused.
On the table next to me stood a lifelike wooden carving of a tall, skinny black woman with a long face holding a naked baby to her breast. The woman wore a long skirt, and even though it was carved in wood, it flowed like ocean waves, like the woman and her baby were standing on a mountaintop letting a warm summer breeze swirl about them.
Ruth and Naomi had shelves and shelves of old books crammed together with pottery bowls and cups and animal statues tucked in places haphazardly, like the sisters never gave a single thought to it. Like the tiny wooden animals chose their own places. A tingle of excitement sparked in my belly at the thought of all those books, but I quickly extinguished it. I doubted I'd be here long enough to read many of them.
The Crum house had been bookless, except for the ones I brought from the public library.
"Would you like a slice of cake?" Ruth asked. She patted my knee again. I decided she was a knee-tapper. I'd have to live with it if I wanted to get along. Getting along, said Miss Tate, was important wherever I went. Getting along.
I popped back into the discussion. "No, thank you." I lied. I did want cake but I didn't want to sound eager.
"Are you certain?" Ruth asked. "Are you quite certain? Because it's no trouble. No trouble at all. Is it, Naomi?" She looked at Naomi, who was whispering to Miss Tate.
"What? Oh, certainly not, my dear. Cake is never a problem."
"No. I'm not hungry."
"Just as well," Ruth said. "It will be suppertime soon." She put one of her long, thin hands on my knee again. "You do eat supper, don't you?" She laughed and laughed.
We were all silent. I held my lemonade in both hands and let the dewy condensation drip down my wrists. It felt cool. The house was warm. I could feel my eyes darting around like lizard eyes. I couldn't help it; there was so much to see. I avoided looking into Naomi's eyes or Ruth's eyes. But I could not avoid Miss Tate's eyes.
She stood and smoothed her skirt.
"Well then," Miss Tate said. "I should be going."
Ruth and Naomi stood.
I stood, still holding my glass.
"Thank you," Ruth and Naomi said together.
Miss Tate nodded.
She looked at me. "I'll call in a few days, Wilma Sue. See how you're getting along."
I nodded and held my glass tighter, wishing my bones were hollow.
We all walked her to the door. We watched Miss Tate climb into the van and pull away. My stomach wobbled and a burp formed in my throat. I held it in for as long as I could. Until Miss Tate was out of sight.
Excerpted from Cake by Joyce Magnin Moccero Copyright © 2012 by Joyce Magnin Moccero. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted March 8, 2013
Wilma Sue is a 12 year old girl who seems to be destined to spend her life hopping from one foster home to another......until she is put into the grey house of two sisters, Ruth and Naomi. As Wilma Sue gets comfy in the new house, she helps Naomi deliver special cakes to neighbors and discovers a strange secret. The cakes seem to have the power to make things happen to people who eat the cake, like making chairs float and magically putting goldfish in lemonade pitchers. Now, Wilma Sue is determined to find the secret ingredient in the mysterious cakes and finds out what it means to have a real family.
This book is a really good book. The author has a great flow and plot line; I want to read this book again! I can't really relate to any of the characters but maybe you can. I don't really enjoy the parts where snotty Penny is involved because it reminds me WAY to much of my little sister. There are some really good parts to the story, like reading about what happens to people who eat the cakes.
There is a lovely and happy ending that makes you feel like you already know what's going to happen after you close the book. It's one of those endings where you know everything's going to be ok, so there is no need for a sequel. The author writes in first person, and she never adds (or leaves out) to many details. This book is incredibly good and you should read it too.
Posted February 19, 2013
The description of 'Mary Poppins meets Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle' made this a book I could not pass up. Add to that the bright, cheery and fun cover and the subject matter and I knew I had to see if this was a book for my girls.
The Good: Fast-paced and filled with beautiful, colorful illustrations, reading Cake: Love, chickens, and a taste of peculiar went by quickly. While I originally thought this was a light-hearted and cheery book, I quickly learned that underneath the fun lie a serious and often painful subject - foster care. Children are so easily affected by what goes on around them and while little Wanda was pretty skeptical of Naomi and Ruth, she made an effort and each day held some fun, some mystery and above all, love. The theme was clear and the characters endearing.
The Not-So-Bad: This could easily have been a very serious and sad book. Thankfully Ms. Magnin knew exactly when to interject some levity and love to keep that from happening. Being an orphan is a difficult situation at best. I have had to do my fair share of studying about the wheres and the why-for's in hopes of being able to be a good mom for my sweet girl born in China. Sometimes we don't have all of the answers. Sometimes we just have to do the best we can and have faith for the rest of the answers. Ms. Magnin did an excellent job of making that very point.
The Snuggly: One of my favorite parts of the story was when Naomi and Ruth had put Wanda to bed and kissed her goodnight. Wanda put her hand up on the place where they had kissed her and held it there, perhaps all night, she thought. She was beginning to feel that maybe they did love her and that she could accept that and love them right back. The struggle she goes through emotionally is well documented via Wanda's thoughts and her diary but Snuggly wins out in the end.
The Rest: While I am not too sure about Mary Poppins, I saw some zany antics reminiscent of Mrs. Piggle -Wiggle for sure. This is such a great way to teach children compassion and consideration for others, under the guise of a fun and silly book, with a little girl (or two) that need love and understanding. I would be honored to give this book to most little girls, most especially my very own.
**Disclosure of Material Connection- I received Cake: Love, Chickens, and a Taste of the Peculiar by Joyce Magnin for free from DJC Communications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255. All links were current when posted.