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Disappearing Act

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An unseen man they call the Toad is stalking twelve-year-old Kevin and his older sister, Holly. They flee town in Holly's beat-up old car, driving west until they reach the Pacific Ocean. They change their names and attempt to hide in plain sight as street performers in Venice, California. But have they really eluded the Toad? Here is Newbery Medalist Sid Fleischman doing what he does best — spinning a tale with style.

After their archaeologist mother fails to ...

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An unseen man they call the Toad is stalking twelve-year-old Kevin and his older sister, Holly. They flee town in Holly's beat-up old car, driving west until they reach the Pacific Ocean. They change their names and attempt to hide in plain sight as street performers in Venice, California. But have they really eluded the Toad? Here is Newbery Medalist Sid Fleischman doing what he does best — spinning a tale with style.

After their archaeologist mother fails to return from Mexico and they discover that someone is stalking their Albuquerque house, twelve-year-old Kevin and his opera-singing older sister flee to Venice, California, where they hope that new identities will keep them safe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A 12-year-old and his aspiring opera singer sister flee from a stalker. They don't know what he wants, but perhaps it has something to do with their missing mother. "Fleischman again unleashes his literary slight-of-hand, dispensing laughs and a lickety-split plot," according to PW. Ages 8-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Despite the complaint that it starts the reader with little background information about their predicament, Fleischman's wacky story of a brother and sister who invent new lives in order to escape a stalker would be an exciting-and at times, absolutely hilarious-book for almost any middle school student. A quick read, it takes an interesting look at the triumph of two runaway kids on their own in the crazy world that is California. PLB
— Alison Daniels, Teen Reviewer <%ISBN%>0060519622
Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Kevin Kidd (alias Pepe Gomez) and his big sister Holly (alias Chickadee Gomez) are on the lam. After the disappearance of their archeologist mom in Mexico, their Albuquerque home has been burglarized and a mysterious man seems to be stalking them. They wash up on the beach in Venice, California, and cheerfully set about creating new lives. The bohemian milieu is good to them. Holly/Chickadee sings opera and Kevin/Pepe learns how to be a "hat man," a slightly more successful enterprise than his attempts at fortune telling. Life is getting better all the time until the stalker reappears and threatens to put a crimp in their futures. Newbery Medalist Fleischman has a good hand for breezy storytelling. Here, he is obviously enjoying painting the carny atmosphere of Venice and its living-by-their-wits occupants. "Toad," the stalker, may be in the background, but he doesn't put a crimp on Kevin's natural common sense any more than does the local gang of delinquents he sweetly turns around. The book is a good read, and a fast one, too—filled with Fleischman's signature humor and occasional sly wit. 2003, Greenwillow,
— Kathleen Karr
KLIATT has reviewed this in hardcover in March 2003 and also in audiobook (in this issue). To quote the hardcover review: This is for the youngest of YAs, and is a charming story of life on the boardwalk of Venice, California. Fleischman has dreamed up a wild story of a brother and sister on the run from a stalker, a man in a white suit...Their mother is an archaeologist who has disappeared and is believed to be dead; and the stalker is probably someone who knows the mother's work and thinks there is some information her children have in their possession that would make him rich... This is a funny romp, not to be taken seriously in any way, with wild coincidences and characters with crazy names. Holly and Kevin are remarkably capable young people who use their resources to defend themselves, make friends, and at the end, fulfill their dreams. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, HarperCollins, 132p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Twleve-year-old Kevin and his older sister Holly are on the run from a mysterious stalker named Toad and, befitting their offbeat lifestyle, they wind up in Venice Beach, California. Holly gets a chance to practice her opera singing under the alias of Chickadee Gomez while Kevin reinvents himself as Pepe, the kid fortune teller. The siblings encounter many wacky characters in their new home, including a medical student who juggles watermelons, a mother who imitates the Statue of Liberty, and a movie extra landlady. Of course, Toad follows them to Venice in a thin plot to gain a map that their missing and presumably dead mother left behind. Although the mystery aspects of the plot are sketchy, the colorful characters and vivid sketches of life in Venice make this novel by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow, 2003) worthwhile. Galen Druke and the Full Cast Audio staff do an excellent job of imbuing the wacky characters with life. Fans of Sid Fleischman as well as those new to his work will enjoy this novel's humor and great dialogue.-Katherine Devine, Westminster Academy #26, Elizabeth, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A brother and sister on the run find refuge and rescue among the eclectic and eccentric characters of Venice Beach. Kevin is 12, his sister Holly, 21, and their archaeologist mother has recently died in an earthquake while on a dig in Mexico. Shortly after her death, a mysterious predator they nickname the Toad begins to stalk them, precipitating their sudden and secretive move from New Mexico to Southern California. They rename themselves "Gomez," and Kevin (as "Pepe") turns his energies to making a living with the busking community on the beach, while Holly (as "Chickadee") gets a role as Mimi in a beachfront production of La Bohème-when the Toad shows up and threatens everything. The real treasure of this fast-paced narrative is the colorful assemblage of secondary characters, from Bumpy, the med-student-cum-watermelon-juggler, through Mrs. Niederhauser, the living Statue of Liberty, to their landlady, a career movie extra named Miss Fiesta Foote. Fleischman (Bo and Mzzz Mad, 2001, etc.) serves up an agreeable stew, flavored with heaps of coincidence and goodwill, and laced with a hearty dose of disregard for reality. Kevin and Holly, despite their almost total lack of resources, never lose heart, nor even think about such dreary things as school. This attitude is entirely in keeping with the other-dimensional feeling of Venice Beach and keeps the reader's attention focused on the plot, which leaps about good-naturedly and wraps up happily for all. Realistic fiction it's not, but good, quick, and smart fun-definitely. (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060519643
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/27/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,427,624
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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First Chapter

Disappearing Act

Chapter One

The Toad

Hear that screaming? That's my sister, Holly. It's not exactly screaming. It's singing. She's practicing to be a world-famous opera singer. She thinks people will actually pay to listen to her.

I have to listen because she's driving. We're heading for California in her old VW with about a million miles on it. The only thing holding it together is the green paint. Holly couldn't find Los Angeles without me, Kevin. She gets lost going around the block. Aside from her sense of direction, she's brilliant.

We have to get out of New Mexico. Some guy is stalking her. Us, I mean. My picture was inside her purse when he burgled it three weeks ago, and now he is beginning to stalk me, too. He was sending drawings of skulls with my name under them.

The minute school was out, we packed a few things, locked up our house, and just walked away from our friends and everything. We couldn't expect the police to station a cop on our front porch day and night.

Holly keeps looking in the rearview mirror to make sure that the stalker's car isn't following. We don't know what the creep drives or looks like. We call him the Horned Toad. The Toad, for short.

By the time we reach Phoenix we begin to relax and she sings into the wind, some bullfight stuff from Carmen. She snaps her fingers like castanets.

I'd help drive, but she won't let me, except when the road is out in the middle of nowhere. I'm twelve, plus, plus. Holly is twenty-one, plus. We both have green eyes and straight brown hair, though mine is longer than hers. She tells me I look like a yak. She's kind of tall for a girl, and I answer back that she looks like a giraffe with earrings.

We may be orphans. Maybe not. I am trying not to think about it.

We reach the Pacific Ocean around eleven at night and park under a streetlight. We splash right in the waves, jeans and all. I've never laid eyes on the ocean in my life, and now it's running down my neck. The thought makes me giggle. Holly, too.

That's the way we stand in the lobby of the motel to register -- soaking wet. And ready to start living all over again with fancy new names. She signs us in as Smiths. Smith! Sometimes I think that Holly has no more imagination than a turnip. I'd have called ourselves the Draculas or Svengalis or something to really confound the Toad. Not that he could have a clue that we have washed up in Venice, California.

We sleep for twenty-four hours or so and then find a room to rent. It's in an old beach house all buttered yellow by the sun. It looks friendly. It isn't home with a room of my own, but it will do.

The patio is walled in with blue Mexican tiles and actually has an avocado tree growing in the middle of it. With actual avocados hanging on it. Red flowers climb over the roof like a prairie fire. If that house could talk, I think it would speak Spanish. It's called Casa de Sueños. Holly, who knows everything, says that means House of Dreams. She's good at languages.

Exactly what we need, I think. Dreams. We've had it with nightmares.

Chapter Two

The Garbage Juggler

I'd made so much noise about calling ourselves Smith that Holly changed our name to Gomez when she paid the rent.

"Gomez," I whispered. "Do we look Mexican? Who do you think that's going to fool? Whom, I mean."

"The Toad," she murmured.

I gave her a quick grin. The stalker would never think to look for a couple of Gomezes. I felt safer already.

We could hear someone upstairs tap dancing. At the foot of the stairs we had to pass a big, sweaty guy with a short red beard. He was practicing juggling apples and bananas, grabbing bites off the flying fruit as fast as he could. It seemed like a messy way to eat lunch.

"Welcome to the House of Broken Dreams," he said, bits of apple shooting out of his mouth. "You come out here to bust into the movies like everyone else? You ready for your close-ups? You got that wannabe look. Where you immigrants from?"

Ever since the Toad had turned up in our lives, Holly had stopped talking to strangers. I figured as long as our name was now Gomez, it didn't matter what I said. So I gave him our new name and said, "We're from Mexico City."

"Never heard of it," he answered. "Either of you wannabes wanna job? My hat man quit."

Hat man? They must speak their own lingo in California. We started up the stairs with our suitcases, but he kept talking, his mouth spraying bits of apple like sawdust. "Hey -- what do you think of the act? I'm the only artiste on the boardwalk who juggles watermelons. Lady Gomez, you want the job?"

We left him standing there snatching his lunch out of midair, and found our room. It had two beds and old movie posters on the walls, one of them of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Wasn't it going to be pleasant at night looking at that creature with the bad teeth bent over my bed? The big, open window looked out on a lot of sand and seagulls. Holly listened for a moment.

"That bird is hitting high C," she said.

"That's a good sign, isn't it?"

"I wonder who its teacher is? I'm going to have to find a new one."

I was glad to see her smiling again. The stalker just about ruined her sense of humor. It didn't do mine any good, either.

We unpacked, which took about twenty seconds. All we had brought along were some extra clothes, my baseball mitt, our mom's dig notebook (she was an archaeologist), and some chit-chatty language tapes. Holly needed to study Italian and French for opera. Books and stuff we left in the car.

Finally she said, "You hungry? Let's eat....

Disappearing Act. Copyright © by Sid Fleischman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Disappearing Act: By Sid Fleischman

    I think this book had a lot of adventure, but the author could have put more detail into his descriptions of the characters. I enjoyed the plot, it gave great suspense to the reader. The author made a good point of explaining the Toad, though, which I liked a lot. It gave you a mystery of sorts to solve, with clues throughout the book. Overall, this book was a book I would recommend to people for an enjoyable read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2006

    Fun to read

    This book has alot adventure,suspense,and fortune telling.Some where at the end Kevin and Holly new who the Toad really is and Holly became a famous oprea singer

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