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Madame Squidley and Beanie

Madame Squidley and Beanie

by Alice Mead

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The story of a girl whose mother has a chronic illness

Beanie's mom used to be a lot of fun. She still is, when she pretends to be the amazing fortune-teller, Madame Squidley. But Beanie knows it's a strain. Mrs. Kingsley has been sick for months, and doctors can't say exactly what's wrong. They don't seem to take the illness very seriously, though.


The story of a girl whose mother has a chronic illness

Beanie's mom used to be a lot of fun. She still is, when she pretends to be the amazing fortune-teller, Madame Squidley. But Beanie knows it's a strain. Mrs. Kingsley has been sick for months, and doctors can't say exactly what's wrong. They don't seem to take the illness very seriously, though. Beanie does. She worries about her mom, and wonders what will happen to her and Jerm, her little brother, if their mother doesn't get well. Beanie's friend Charles Sprague has a problem, too -- scoliosis, and divorced parents who fight about it. Beanie begins to long for a new mother and a whole new set of friends. Then she discovers that she already has the best family, and the best friend, and that there's plenty she can do to help them.

This is perhaps the most personal story written by Alice Mead, herself a mother with a chronic illness.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
"Madame Squidley" is what Beanie's mother calls herself when she is pretending to be a fortune teller, peering into the future by means of a "malodorous yet mysterious" magical onion. Her zany sense of humor is the wonderful thing about Beanie's mother. The terrible thing about Beanie's mother is her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which prevents her from working and confines her to bed much of the day, leaving Beanie to care for her little brother, Jerm (Beanie's father died when she was a toddler). Beanie's best friend, Charles, has serious problems, too: his divorced parents bicker bitterly over whether or not he should wear a back brace for his scoliosis. Nor do a sick mother and a back brace make for popularity at school. Mead does a wonderful job of showing Beanie's rollercoaster of difficult emotions: love for her mother, fear for her mother, anger at her mother, loyalty toward Charles, embarrassment at Charles—and most of all, puzzlement at her own increasingly out-of-control and unpredictable behavior, culminating in the moment when she tells her new fifth-grade teacher that she hates her. Is Beanie just "a self-pitying slug, slithering along on her narrow trail of slime"? Or does she legitimately have a lot to pity herself for? Mead does not offer Beanie any pat answers. Her conclusion, movingly depicted, is that life just is hard for some kids, and that while self-pity does not help, determination, compassion, and laughter do. 2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 8 to 12.
—Claudia Mills
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Just entering fifth grade, Beanie Kingsley would like to be part of the "in" crowd with popular Miranda Adams. Not only is Miranda cool, but so is her mother, and Mrs. Kingsley is definitely not. In fact, Mom has chronic fatigue syndrome and tires easily. Although she still does amusing things, like pretending to be the fortune-teller Madame Squidley, she is not as much fun as she used to be. Beanie has to take up lots of slack with household chores and with her younger brother. Her friend Charles has problems of his own now that he must wear his back brace more often to correct his scoliosis. Beanie daydreams about a world in which all of her problems disappear. Mrs. Kingsley seems unusually patient and sensitive; her inability to deal with her health issues never seems to disturb her ability to connect with her children or say the right thing. Mead realistically shows how peer pressure prods Beanie into being hurtful to Charles, as well as the girl's gradual realization about who her true friends are. Although she often feels overwhelmed, the protagonist slowly finds a way to accommodate the unfairness in her life and make changes for the future. This slice-of-life novel depicts kids whose problems are unusual but not insurmountable.-Carol A. Edwards, Douglas County Libraries, Castle Rock, CO Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Beatrice Kingsley, Beanie, has spent the summer hanging out with her younger brother Jeremiah-Jerm-and their neighbor and Beanie's best friend Charles, who has to wear a back brace when at home. Now she's in fifth grade and wants to put that behind her. She wants to be a part of the popular crowd often called the "snob squad." Her mom, however, who in the past has been loads of fun, has an illness the doctors can't diagnose or treat and Beanie has to do extra work at home. Geeky, overly friendly Ernestine seems to lurk around every corner, and the popular girls won't pay any attention to Beanie. Through a series of realistic events, Beanie comes to realize that Charles is a true friend and that popular is in the mind of the beholder. Beanie is sometimes mean and sometimes does exactly the opposite of what she should do to get what she wants. In short, Mead has done her usual good job of creating realistic characters who worry about and then solve real problems. Fans of Junebug will enjoy Beanie. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Read an Excerpt

Madame Squidley and Beanie

By Alice Mead

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 Alice Mead
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3667-5


"OKAY, GUYS. HAVE A GOOD TIME," NORA Kingsley said. "And remember, I'll be at the doctor's, so Charles's mom will pick you up right here by the entrance at four. If I'm running much later than I expect, I'll call the house around four-thirty."

"Yeah, Mom, we know," Jerm said. Jerm was six, and his real name was Jeremiah Kingsley.

He and Charles Sprague were already climbing out of the car. Like Beanie, Charles was ten, and he lived directly across the street from the Kingsleys in the small town of Weymouth, Maine. His hair was blond and spiky and his face round, and he often wore an old Boy Scout shirt with the badges cut off, leaving darker-colored circles where they had been.

Beanie — really Beatrice — Kingsley slid across the seat and paused. Beanie had long, medium-brown hair and brown eyes. She wore faded gym shorts and an old Weymouth Day Camp polo shirt.

"We can remember that, Mom. It's no big deal."

But the problem was that for her mother now, it was a big deal. Remembering schedules, buying groceries, cooking — everything was. Her mom hadn't been back to work since last April, when she and Beanie had gotten sick with a bad case of the flu. Beanie had recovered, but her mother simply hadn't.

Since her illness, her mom couldn't remember schedules at all. She had been reading those times — "four o'clock, pick up kids; four-thirty, call home" — from a piece of notepaper that lay propped beside her on the seat. A bright yellow Post-It note was stuck to the dashboard with her doctor's name on it: Dr. Leo Howell, rheumatologist. 105 Sewell Street.

Feeling fretful and torn, Beanie sat half in and half out of the car. Part of her couldn't wait to pass through the festival gates; part of her wanted to stay with her mom and make sure everything went well at the appointment.

"How come your doctor can't give you some medicine to make you better?" she asked. It was the same question Beanie had asked on her mother's two previous trips to Dr. Howell.

"He has to confirm what's wrong. And he has to rule out some more serious problems," her mother answered. "You can't take medicine if you don't know exactly what you're taking it for."

"Serious problems? Like what? What could be more serious?" Beanie tugged at a strand of hair anxiously. She was by nature a worrywart.

"Nevermind that now, sweetie. Look: Jerm and Charles are waiting."

"Yeah," Beanie muttered. "I know."

Through the chain-link fence that surrounded the fairgrounds, she could see the tents and activities of Weymouth's annual August Lobster Festival. She could hear the screams of excited kids, smell the scent of popcorn and sawdust, and see colored lights swaying on cables strung between the exhibits, lit up and waiting for night, still many hours away.

"Beanie, come on!" Jerm said impatiently.

"Yeah, what's the delay, Beanbag?" Charles added.

What if Dr. Howell had bad news? What if her mom had a brain tumor or that illness old people got, Alzheimer's? Those were serious. Mrs. Kingsley was barely able to take care of Beanie and Jerm as it was.

"Should I go with you?" Beanie asked.

"No, no. This visit is just to get some lab results. It's nothing. You go on and have fun. Come on. Out you go!"

Beanie sighed. "Okay. Bye."

She climbed out of the car and slammed the door, then watched her mom pull onto the road.

"Beanie! Come on!" Jerm urged again. "Move it, girl!"

His sweatpants were torn at the knee, and the seat bagged out. His little round eyeglasses flashed sunlight at her. He wore a faded, much-too-small black T-shirt that said VISIT MAINE. She stuck out her tongue at him.

Why did she have to go to the festival with a scrawny six-year-old instead of a crowd of girls from her grade? She knew that none of the other girls who were sure to be here would be taking care of younger brothers and sisters. Beanie was worried about her mom, true, but that wasn't the whole story.

As she hurried after Charles and Jerm, she felt a sharp stab of self-pity and resentment that her mother wasn't strong or active anymore. Her mom always used to take them to the festival. Last year she had entertained Jerm on the kiddie rides while Beanie and Charles ran around with a group of their school friends. Her mother used to do a lot of things ... But Beanie wouldn't think about that now. She was here to have fun.

Beanie stumbled after the boys through the dry weeds. On their street, Poplar Lane, there was a girl Beanie's age, named Miranda Adams. For the hundredth time at least, Beanie wished that Mrs. Adams, Miranda's mom, were her mother. And she wished that Miranda, one of the popular girls in school, were her best friend.

They quickly bought their tickets. Today, August 30, 2000, was half-price day for kids under fifteen, and the festival was mobbed with kids dashing around in excitement.

"Let's do the Haunted House first," Jerm called out. "This way, you guys."

He started to rush ahead through the crowd, but Charles seized his arm.

"Wait, Jerm," Charles said. "We don't want to get separated in the first five minutes."

"He never waits," Beanie said. "You are so lucky you're an only child."

"Yeah? I don't think so," Charles said. "My parents worry about me too much. Have you ever seen them out in the driveway, fighting about my back brace? My mom wants me to wear it. My dad thinks I shouldn't. Blah, blah, blah. I have to put it on as soon as we get home."

"I know they don't agree about it," Beanie replied, "but I hadn't noticed the fighting."

"Yeah, well, keep an eye out. Things have reached a fever pitch."

Charles had scoliosis. His parents were divorced, and his dad lived a half hour away Beanie and Jerm's dad was dead. He'd died when Jerm was a baby and Beanie was four. Their only other relatives were their Uncle Ozzy and Auntie Jane in San Francisco. Beanie and Jerm saw them once a year at Christmas.

"What do you do when they fight?" Beanie asked.

"I sit in the car and hold my breath, seeing if I can turn blue."

Beanie laughed. "No you don't."

"Yes I do. I want to act as weird as they do."

"Your mom is kind of whacked."

"Kind of? Ha!"

"She's nice, though. Hey!" Beanie cried suddenly. "Look. A fortune-teller's tent. Wait for me, you guys, while I go in."

"Beanie, don't. It's a rip-off," Charles said. "Save your tickets for the Cobra and the Octopus."

"Just wait for me."

"Oh, man," wailed Jerm. "This is going to take forever." He flopped down on the grass.

"Goodbye, Charles. Adiós, Jerm." Beanie saluted them. "I'm going in."

Charles cupped his hands to his mouth and announced in a deep voice, "She's going in, folks. She's going in."

Beanie grinned. Then she approached the purple tent cautiously, tickets clutched in her hand.


THE SIGN OUT FRONT READ: FORTUNES BY MADAME Olivia. Beanie hoped Madame Olivia would tell her that her mother's doctor's appointment would go well that afternoon, that there was absolutely nothing to be worried about, and that her mother would make a full recovery. As Beanie parted the flaps and entered, the spicy-sweet smell of burning incense greeted her. It made the inside of her nose tickle.

"Tickets, please." Madame Olivia wore a gold turban and had enormous blood-red fingernails (fake ones, thought Beanie knowingly) and long black curls (a wig?). She gestured for Beanie to sit on an old-fashioned wooden stool with claw feet. The small square table that held the crystal ball was draped with a gold brocade cloth, and fat candles in bronze holders flickered in each corner of the tent, casting the folds and crags of Madame Olivia's face into deep shadow.

"Well? Give me your right hand," Madame Olivia said.

Obediently, Beanie thrust out her hand, palm up. Madame Olivia inspected it carefully. Beanie hoped she wouldn't say anything about her nails, which Beanie had been biting earlier that day. And she very much hoped that Madame Olivia wouldn't say anything about how often Beanie pulled on the end of her nose because it was too short. Barbie Leighton, Miranda's friend and leader of the Snob Squad, said Beanie's nose looked piggy.

Beanie shifted her gaze while she waited with her arm stretched out. In the center of the table sat the shiny crystal ball. "Madame Olivia, is, um, anything secret about me going to appear in that ball?" Beanie asked.


"Sorry," Beanie said. She looked at the candles instead, and tried not to think about her mom slipping on the stairs last week, or dropping the salad bowl, so that little slices of carrot rolled across the floor like orange-colored wheels, or stumbling over the edge of the carpet while she was carrying a load of laundry.

What if Beanie's most absolutely secret wish did appear in the shiny ball? She would see her ideal dream family, the perfect, beautiful, rich Adamses, drive up to her school in a stretch limousine to take her away from her messed-up family with the sick mom, the dad killed in a car crash long ago, and the little brother who thought he was a genius but was really just a big buttinsky. Did Madame Olivia have the power to see that? Beanie wasn't quite sure.

"I suppose you want to hear about your future," Madame Olivia said finally with a heavy sigh. "Right? The four healthy children, winning the lottery, and all that?"

"Maybe you could just tell me my present. You see, I think ... Well, it sounds kind of silly, but it might be possible that there was a mix-up in the hospital when I was born, and I went home with the wrong family. I have proof. They have these great big noses, you see, and I have this short, stubby one —"

Madame Olivia held up her hands to silence Beanie. "Stop. Please. How can I hear the voices from the Great Beyond with all this childish chatter going on?"

"But can I just say one more thing? My mom is sick, and she really can't take care of us very well. Well, she thinks she can, but she hasn't been able to work since April. She might have to quit her job altogether, and then we'll be poor and —"

"Hush!" Frowning, Madame Olivia dropped Beanie's palm abruptly. She crossed her legs, pulled an emery board from the bodice of her puffy-sleeved blouse, and started to file her fake-looking nails. "You want to hear about the present? That's absurd. You already know what's going on. You just told me your mother is ill." She blew away the invisible nail-file dust.

"But what if there was this terrible mistake? I mean, what if my real family is actually very wealthy? What if they have a limousine? And they are very healthy. They never ever get sick, not even with the flu. And they have medium-sized noses ..."

Madame Olivia pursed her lips and stared at Beanie. "Are you quite finished?" she asked.

Beanie nodded.

"You want to trade in the family you've got? Sort of a self-pitying little wretch, aren't you?"

"No. I mean, maybe."

"You want to be driven about in a limousine? There is absolutely no limousine in your future. You can forget about that!"

Madame Olivia put on a pair of reading glasses and bent over the crystal ball, shifting her gaze from side to side as though to get a better look. "Hmmmm. Something's wrong, that's obvious. Your future is clouded. Like a bank of fog. Very, very sorrowful and damp fog. But! What's this? You will take a voyage of discovery near a mountain," Madame Olivia said. "That's all I can tell you."

Beanie gasped. "A voyage? With my mom and little brother? Or all by myself?"

"By yourself."

"Please, can you look again?"

"Heavens, no, I can't look again. I said a voyage near a mountain. I believe the fog is mist rising off a lake."

"A lake and a mountain voyage? If I went on a voyage by myself, wouldn't it be like running away from home? I'm only ten. Or — oh! Do you mean maybe my mom is ... I mean, she's not going to ..."

"What's wrong with a voyage? I thought you just said you wanted to leave your family. Anyway, do you think the universe cares what age you are or even what you want? That's all. Please go. All this jibber-jabber is wearing me out. Be thankful you have a mother, for heaven's sake"

Beanie stood up. "Thank you," she said in a small voice.

"My pleasure," Madame Olivia said, rolling her eyes.

Beanie turned and opened the door flap. A sorrowful fog? A voyage all by herself? Beanie pushed her way out of the tent.

"What happened? What did she say?" Charles asked impatiently.

"You were in there forever," Jerm added.

"Not forever. Eight minutes," Charles said, glancing at his big, black, scientific-looking watch.

"It was jumbled up. It was stupid. She didn't really tell me anything," Beanie replied, thinking of how the fortune-teller had said she was ungrateful and self-pitying.

"But she must have said something in all that time," Charles insisted.

"She didn't tell me anything that I didn't know, that's all. Come on. I'll race you to the Teacups." The twirling Teacups ride was a traditional rendezvous spot for fifth- and sixth-grade girls.

"The Teacups? Hey, I thought we were going to the Haunted House. Beanie! Wait up!" Jerm hollered.


BUT ALREADY BEANIE WAS RUNNING THROUGH THE crowd, dodging baby strollers and big, round beer bellies, sticky spires of pink or blue cotton candy and buckets of oily yellow popcorn, sullen teenagers in heavy metal T-shirts, and little kids with large cups of sweet Orange Crush.

The twirling Teacups was one of the busiest rides, and the long line that doubled back on itself meant at least a fifteen-minute wait. They joined the line at the end.

Suddenly Beanie clutched Charles's arm. "Oh, no! Charles, look! There's Ernestine Brown. I hope she doesn't head this way."

"Isn't she in 4-H club? I think she raises sheep," Charles said. "Yep. Check it out. She's covered with bits of straw."

"Let's get out of here. Come on!" Beanie whispered urgently. "Before she sees us."

"I'm going to say hi," Jerm said teasingly.

"No you're not!" Beanie grabbed his hand and pulled him. "Come on."

"Hi, Ernestine!" Jerm hollered over his shoulder. "Yoo-hoo."

Ernestine, wearing overall cutoffs, her bushy auburn hair flying out around her face, turned her head, trying to see who had called her.

"Jerm," hissed Beanie. "Shut up!"

"Yeah, Jerm. Beanie's right. Ernestine is one of the world's most annoying people. She can ruin just about anything she puts her mind to."

But they'd already been spotted.

"Hey!" hollered Ernestine, bearing down on them. "Wait up."

"Hi," Beanie said lamely.

"Guess what? I'm in the sheep finals," Ernestine said, pulling a long yellow piece of straw out of her hair. "You should come see me."

"You're a sheep?" Charles asked with apparent innocence.

"No, peanut head. My sheep, Marissa, is in the finals. I just shampooed her and gave her a fluffing and a blow-dry."

"You shampooed a sheep?" Jerm said.

"Is this your little brother?" Ernestine asked.

"Yes," Beanie answered. "But we're not going on the Teacup ride now. The line's too long. Come on, guys. See you, Ernestine."

"You're baby-sitting? Too bad. The Snob Squad is here — Barbie, Miranda, and company. So listen, my sheep will be in the 4-H ring at five. You guys better be there to cheer me on."

"We can't. We're leaving at four," Charles said.

"Four?" shrieked Ernestine. "What a bunch of babies. Big fat babies, wearing big fat diapers. Where are you going now?"

"To the Haunted House. But don't come with us. You're really rude," Jerm said. "You know that?"

Ernestine burst out laughing, and as they hurried off, she continued to laugh, holding her stomach and staggering along behind them.

"That whole scene was your fault, Jerm," Beanie said angrily. "Now she's going to follow us."

"What did I do?"

"You called her over."

"We might have stumbled into her on our own," Charles said, trying to be Mr. Reasonable.

"Hey! Hey! Wait up!" Here came Ernestine, charging after them. "I'll do the Haunted House with you. My mom is watching Marissa for me to make sure she doesn't get dirty. I am not, I repeat not, washing her again!"

If they bumped into Miranda Adams and Barbie Leighton now, Beanie was sure she would die.

"Ernestine in the Haunted House. This should be an experience," whispered Charles.

"Yeah. No kidding."

The Haunted House was an old tractor-trailer parked in a far corner of the fairgrounds. Loudspeakers on its roof blared screams and groans and the sound of clanking chains. The carnival person in charge of admission was wearing a witch hat and green makeup and was reading last week's newspaper.

The four kids handed over their tickets. Pushing and shoving one another in excitement, they hurried up the ramp to the sound of a loudly creaking door and a deep-bass butler type of voice saying, "Do come in," followed by an evil, cackling laugh. They rushed inside.


Excerpted from Madame Squidley and Beanie by Alice Mead. Copyright © 2004 Alice Mead. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

Meet the Author

Alice Mead is the author of Year of No Rain, Girl of Kosovo, Soldier Mom, Adem's Cross, and three novels about Junebug. According to Booklist, she "writes of important subjects with tenderness, humanity, and realism." She lives in Maine.

A children's writer has the unusual task of developing a unique voice coupled with evoking the so-called magic of childhood. But is childhood truly a magical kingdom?

I do know that childhood is a time so deeply and purely felt that adulthood can rarely match it. It is a time of great heroism, dashed hopes, leaps of joy, steadfast friendships, explosive frustration, utter hilarity, the shame of betrayal. Certain smells, certain words elicit powerful memories of childhood. For me, the smell of boiled brussels sprouts even now makes me feel utter revulsion. The smell of ethyl alcohol and the words "tetanus booster"cause sheer terror. The clap of an old, dusty book snapped shut and the words "hidden staircase" fill me with wonder. Where? Where? Tell me! How could I not write about childhood?

When I was seven and eight, my family lived in postwar England, in an industrial Yorkshire city that still showed the devastation of World War II and the Nazi bombings. This left a lasting impression on me. The journey there, by ocean liner across the Atlantic, and my later poking about deserted misty castles and the dank Yorkshire moors, and smelling pungent coal fires, all created an unusual and not always pleasant adventure filled with questions. Was Robin Hood real? Was that truly King Arthur's castle? And had I really snapped a photo of the Loch Ness monster? The long, snaky streak still shows plainly in my faded photo.

Back in the United States, I grew up during the Cold War, at the height of the nuclear arms race. I studied Russian for six years, or tried to, endlessly curious about the countries behind the Iron Curtain. And when I was eighteen, there was the Vietnam War. There were antiwar protests, Woodstock, flower children. I went to a Quaker college. I wanted to major in art, but there was no art department, so I majored in English. I started attending Quaker meetings.

One summer, when I was twenty, I worked as an art counselor at a Fresh Air camp for inner-city kids. Watching their sheer delight in using paint and clay, I was hooked. I became an art teacher. I felt privileged to be with kids, to make my classroom a safe place where they could explore their own creativity.

In the meantime, I married and had two sons, both of whom are now in college. One is studying economics and one physics. My husband and I have two dogs, and used to have the occasional rabbit, chameleon, hamster, and goldfish as visitors.

My life was going along smoothly until I was forced to leave teaching because of a chronic illness. I had to rest a lot. That gave me time to work harder on my writing. I began writing a storybook about nature called "Tales of the Maine Woods." Although editors seemed to like the stories, they weren't willing to publish them. Eventually I gave the stories a grandmother, and then I gave the grandmother a granddaughter named Rayanne. Two of those original tales are part of my first book, Crossing the Starlight Bridge.

For two years I watched the war in Bosnia, formerly part of Yugoslavia. In another part of this region, one million Albanian children are among the brutally oppressed. Even under these harsh conditions, they struggle to live in peace and dignity. The family bonds in their culture are extraordinary. I wrote about these children in Adem's Cross. Each day for the past four years, I have worked to help them, and all Balkan people, regain their freedom and human rights.

Recently, other Quaker values besides non-violence became more meaningful to me. These are simplicity and self-reflection. My husband and I moved to a small house near a cliff overlooking the islands in Casco Bay, Maine. I have a flower garden that my dogs like to dig up. When I am stuck writing a story, I can go and sit on the rocks and watch the water for a while, something I have enjoyed doing through my whole life.

Alice Mead was born in 1952 and attended Bryn Mawr College. She received a master's degree in education, and later a B.S. in art education. She founded two preschools for mainstreaming handicapped preschoolers, and taught art at the junior-high-school level for a number of years. She played the flute and piccolo for twenty-eight years, and now she paints, and enjoys gardening and writing--especially about a little boy named Junebug.

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