Queen Sophie Hartleyby Stephanie Greene
A suggestion from her mother leads Sophie to befriend the new girl at school and an elderly, grouchy woman, and helps her overcome the feeling that she is not good at anything.
"Greene conveys Sophie's emotions and thoughts with ruthless candor and the dynamics of her large family with humor and clarity." —Booklist, ALA
"Delightfully messy family dynamic and tightly composed subplots...here's hoping there is more of Queen Sophie to come." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"[A] humorous voyage to self-discovery...simple plot, droll dialogue and strong characters...Sophie's world...feels wonderfully like Ramona Quimby's." —Kirkus Reviews
"Sophie is likeable and resilient, and readers will identify with her as she works through her school and family situations." —School Library Journal
"Greene's narrative shines in its depiction of the heartwarming, entirely realistic Hartley family dynamics." —Publishers Weekly
"Greene's...humor and understanding of...family dynamics are as impressive here as in her Owen Foote books." —Horn Book Guide
Read an Excerpt
The day Nora and Sophie's ballet teacher, Mrs. Ogilvy, told their mother after
the recital that Nora should continue her lessons, but 'I wouldn't waste any
more money on Sophie,' was not a good day in the Hartley household.
First, because Sophie and Nora heard. And second, because when Mrs.
Hartley told their father about it in the living room before dinner as the girls
were going up the stairs, Mr. Hartley said, 'What did I tell you?'
The girls heard that, too.
Sophie ran upstairs and flung herself on her twin bed in the room she shared
with Nora and sobbed for a few minutes. They were deep, heartfelt sobs, and
as she sobbed, a tiny part of her listened. It was really very satisfying to think
how wronged and sad she sounded. But it was a bit of a waste, too, because
nobody came up to check on her for what felt like a very long time, so when
Nora was finally finished in the bathroom and came into their room carrying
her ballet bag, Sophie was feeling much better. Crying cheered her up, but
she didn't want Nora to know that. Sympathy cheered her up even more.
'Even Daddy thinks I'm fat and clumsy,' she said to her older sister in as
pitiful a voice as she could muster.
'He didn't say anything about your weight,' Nora said. She didn't cast so
much as a sympathetic look in Sophie's direction as she opened their closet
door and slipped her pink ballet slippers neatly into the two slots reserved for
them in her shoe bag.
'It's your own fault, anyway,' she went on after she had shut the door and
turned back around. 'Mrs. Ogilvy told you not to wear those shoes, and you
'Ilike them,' said Sophie. She gave a self-righteous little sniff, but she knew
Nora was right. Mrs. Ogilvy had told the beginners' class they were to wear
their ballet slippers, tights, and white leotards for the recital, but Sophie
hadn't been able to resist wearing her new shoes. She adored them. They
were the most beautiful things she had ever owned.
They were pink velvet covered with red roses. Embroidered roses with bright
red petals and delicate green stems. Best of all, each rose had a tiny
diamond in the middle. Well, maybe they weren't real diamonds, but they
looked like real diamonds. They sparkled like real diamonds, too. They would
go perfectly with the diamond tiara Sophie was saving up for. She had been
cutting pictures of people wearing tiaras out of the newspaper and magazines
for months. She kept them in the drawer of her bedside table. There were
pictures of real queens wearing tiaras, actresses in movies wearing tiaras,
and the past two Miss Americas in their tiaras.
She even had a picture of a dog wearing one.
Sometimes Sophie put a book on her head and practiced walking slowly
around her room with her chin up and her head very still, the way she
imagined she would have to walk when she finally got her tiara. She was
planning on wearing it all day, every day, for as long as she lived. Everyone
would have to curtsy to her.
Until then, her pink velvet shoes would have to do. They were wonderful. Even
the straps were special. They could be worn up or down.
Which is where Sophie got into trouble.
She was supposed to wear her shoes with the straps up because they were
too big. Her mother had bought them that way on purpose. Mrs. Hartley
always bought their party shoes a size too big so that Nora and Sophie
wouldn't outgrow them before they could wear them out. She told Sophie to
wear them with the straps up to keep them on until her feet got bigger.
But Sophie didn't like wearing them with the straps up. They felt like little-girl
shoes. With the straps down, it was a different story. Sophie thought they
looked sophisticated with the straps down. She didn't care if they did slip off
her heels with every step she took.
'You were supposed to be a snowflake, for heaven's sake, and drift across
the stage,' said Nora. 'That's what the rest of your class did. But not you!
You clopped all over the stage the entire recital. You sounded more like a
hailstorm! Everyone could hear you. I was so embarrassed, I almost died.'
'I wasn't embarrassed,' said Sophie. She wanted to say, I felt beautiful, but
she knew it would make Nora mad.
'Well, you should have been.' Nora shoved her leotard into her top drawer
without folding it and slammed the drawer shut, which meant she was
already mad. After a life of sharing a bedroom with her sister, Sophie knew
that Nora usually took very good care of her clothing. She folded everything
neatly and even buttoned all the buttons on her sweaters before she put them
away. When she started stuffing things into her drawers, it was a bad sign.
Sophie tried one last sniff, in case Nora had a thread of sympathy in her, but
it was no good. Her nose was dry.
'You hate ballet, Sophie, you know you do,' Nora said in a reasonable,
annoying-older-sister kind of way. 'You only took it because you were giving
us all headaches with the violin. And the only reason you took the violin was
because Thad takes it.'
'I liked the smell of the rosin,' said Sophie.
'And look what happened with your riding lessons,' Nora went on. 'You only
wanted to ride horses because the girl in that book you were reading rode
horses. You hated it.'
'It made my bottom sore.'
'I don't know how it could have.' Nora picked up her hairbrush, gave a quick
glance at the rounded half moon of Sophie's belly peeking out between the
top of her shorts and the bottom of her shirt, and bent over to brush her hair
one hundred strokes. 'You have enough padding,' she said from behind a
curtain of hair.
Sophie tugged half-heartedly at her shirt. She knew how much her stomach
annoyed Nora. Nora was always showing her how she should take a deep
breath and suck in her stomach and then throw her shoulders back so she
would look better. But when she did all of that, Sophie could hardly walk,
much less breathe. And she didn't understand why a flat stomach was so
wonderful in the first place. She was certainly never going to stand sideways
in front of the full-length mirror on their closet door and smooth her shirt down
over her stomach every night to check on it, the way Nora did. Or watch
every little thing she put into her mouth and jump on and off the scale all the
time like it was a trampoline.
'And now look what you've done,' said Nora. She had stood up suddenly and
sent a great wave of dark hair flying back over her head. 'You've made a
mess of your bedspread again. Before you know it, you'll be crying about
Sophie looked. There was a large damp spot on her spread right under the
edge of her pillow. She wiped at it with the sleeve of her shirt. 'Crying makes
me feel better,' she said.
'It wouldn't if you knew how disgusting you look,' Nora said. 'Most people
look horrible when they cry. Eyes rimmed with red, like horrible possums,
noses dripping.' She shuddered. 'I never cry, it makes such a mess.'
Nora had been telling Sophie she looked disgusting for as long as she could
remember; Sophie was used to it. She admired her older sister enormously
even so. She could have been jealous of Nora, but she wasn't. There were
too many nights when Nora had let Sophie crawl into bed with her and huddle
under the blanket during thunderstorms. And all the times Nora had walked
on the outside to protect her when they passed the brick house on the corner
because Sophie had been afraid of the huge black lab that lived there.
Besides, back when they were younger, Nora used to come up with the most
wonderful plays. Nora assigned the parts, of course, and always got to be the
princess because she was the oldest and the prettiest, as she told Sophie.
But Sophie didn't mind. The princess never seemed to do anything except sit
in front of the mirror and comb her hair. Sophie had much more fun being the
frog and hopping all over. Or sticking a wad of old gum on the end of her nose
and mixing everything she could find in the kitchen cabinets in a big pot when
she was the ugly witch.
Still, it was hard, sometimes, having a perfect sister. Even at twelve, Nora
looked like the prima ballerina she said she was going to be when she grew
up. Sophie didn't doubt it for a minute. And lately, things between them had
changed. Sophie wasn't afraid of dogs anymore; now she fell in love with
every mangy dog she saw and longed to drag it home. And ever since Nora
had started marking off on the calendar the months until she turned thirteen,
Sophie wouldn't have dared ask to jump into her bed even if the whole house
was under water and it was the only thing still afloat.
These days, Nora didn't even want Sophie to step on her side of the room.
She had actually made a line on the rug between their beds with masking
tape. Sophie wasn't supposed to cross it. For a few days, Sophie had
gamely tried jumping from the doorway to her bed without touching the floor,
but when she fell short one night and almost got a concussion on her
bedpost, their mother made Nora take the tape up.
Sophie sighed. She didn't know what had changed, but Nora acted as if she
was angry with Sophie half the time. Being around Nora was like walking on
eggshells. Sophie didn't think she was the one who had changed. But she
was careful just the same.
'Why don't you do something you're good at instead of always doing things
the rest of us are good at?' said Nora.
'Because I'm not good at anything.'
The minute she said it, Sophie remembered her list. She had been working
on it for weeks. Now she had one more thing to add to it, she thought with
Sophie hadn't told Nora about her list. She hadn't told anyone. A list of things
she was bad at was not something she wanted to have fall into anyone else's
hands. Especially not in her family, where everyone else was good at
something. In addition to playing the violin, her older brother, Thad, was co-
captain of the soccer team. Nora was such a good dancer she was
auditioning for the lead in the spring performance their ballet school was
putting on. Even John—who at six was almost three years younger than
Sophie—could draw funny cartoons. It didn't seem to matter that his
characters were always either blowing things up or hanging from cliffs, and
that there was at least one knife with blood dripping from its point in every
picture. They made people laugh.
As for Maura... Sophie sighed. Maura was good at being a baby, she
thought resignedly. That's the only thing babies had to be good at to get all
the attention. Sophie might have started feeling sorry for herself again if it
hadn't been for her list. She had hidden it in a spot where no one would find
it. She wanted to get it out now and add ballet.
'You're good at crying—that's something,' said Nora. She had stopped
brushing her hair and was smoothing it away from her forehead with a hair
band. Her dark hair was almost as curly as Sophie's, but Nora wouldn't allow
it to curl. She dried it with a dryer every night and sprayed things on it and
spent a great deal of time trying to tame it until not a hair was out of place.
'You should be good at it,' Nora added. 'You do it enough.'
It was obvious she was bored with the whole subject. Sophie was bored with
it, too, because what Nora said had given her a sudden, wonderful idea. All
she wanted was for Nora to leave so she could take out her list.
'Well, you're not very good at making me feel better,' said Sophie.
'I don't have to be. You've already stopped crying. You turn it on and off like a
faucet, Sophie. You know you do.'
'Oh, go away and leave me alone,' Sophie said ungratefully. She threw
herself down on her bed to make it look as if she was about to start crying
'Fine with me,' said Nora. 'There's far too much navel contemplation going on
in this room for my taste.'
The minute she left, Sophie sat up; thinking about her list made her feel
remarkably cheerful. As for the navel contemplation, that was what their
mother always warned them about. It didn't mean they couldn't look at their
belly buttons if they wanted to. Mr. and Mrs. Hartley laughed when they did
that. In fact, back before Maura was born and Thad and Nora got too old and
thought it was silly, they used to line up in a row and compare belly buttons
from time to time. Thad and Sophie had
'outies,' John had an 'innie,' and Nora had what looked like a perfect circle
divided into two equal halves.
There was still a photograph on the refrigerator door of the four of them
standing side by side, holding up their T-shirts and grinning.
Navel contemplation was something different, Sophie knew. According to
Mrs. Hartley, it meant thinking about yourself too much. Focusing on your
own worries and problems. She told her children that contemplating their
navels would only make them feel sorry for themselves and that there were
too many people going around feeling sorry for themselves as it was. The
world would be a far better place if people went around feeling sorry for other
people for a change, she said.
They were all used to their mother talking this way. Mrs. Hartley was a
nurse. Before the children were born she had worked in a hospital. Now she
worked part time taking care of people in their own houses. She saw so
many people who were in truly in bad shape that she was forever lecturing
her children about the need for them to 'get on with it,' as she put it.
That was fine for Nora and Thad, Sophie thought as she opened the top
drawer of her dresser. They both had things they could get on with.
She felt around at the back of her underwear drawer. It was filled with clean
underpants and dirty socks. Her mother would be horrified if she saw them.
She never did see them, though, because while it was her job to wash the
family's clothes, it was each person's job to put them away. Mrs. Hartley left
the clothes in neat little piles in the laundry room under signs with their
names. Half the time, Thad and John changed right there.
Sophie, however, liked to put her own things away. That way, her mother
never saw what was going on. She never knew, for instance, that Sophie
wore her socks for a week at a time before putting them in the hamper.
Sophie liked her socks dirty. She liked the way they held the shape of her
foot so that it looked as if her feet were still in them. She liked the way they
got softer and softer the more times she wore them, too. Even the smell
didn't bother her.
Sophie felt the familiar crinkle of paper and pulled out her blue socks with the
yellow butterflies. She sat down on her bed, took out the piece of paper she'd
stuffed into the ball, and smoothed it over her knees. Then she looked at it
and sighed. The list of her weaknesses seemed to be getting longer and
Things I Am Bad At:
Sophie was nothing if not truthful, so she picked up a pencil and carefully
added 'Ballet' to the bottom. Then she turned the paper over and wrote
another heading, because the wonderful idea that had come to her while she
was talking to Nora was that she would start a second list.
This list would be things she was good at.
Things I Am Good At, Sophie wrote carefully. She immediately wrote 'Crying'
at the top and then looked at it and frowned. Did one thing make a list? she
wondered. She thought not, and chewed furiously on the end of her pencil for
a few minutes while she racked her brain for something else she could add.
And then it came to her.
'Stopping crying' she wrote triumphantly. There. That looked much better.
Sophie stuffed her list back into her sock and jumped up off her bed. She
was glad the job was done, because so much thinking had made her hungry.
Judging from the smell of onions wafting up the stairs, they were having
hamburgers smothered with fried onions for dinner. Thank heavens it wasn't
liver, Sophie thought; they were due for liver any night now. She knew
because she kept track. Mrs. Hartley insisted they have liver on a regular
basis because it was so good for them. But they all hated it.
At least tonight was going to be delicious, she thought cheerfully. Since she
wasn't going to be a ballerina anymore, it didn't matter how much she ate,
did it? And Nora was wrong about tears, she decided as she looked at
herself in the mirror. They weren't horrible, they were interesting. Hers had
left dirty tracks down her cheeks that her mother was sure to notice. Maybe
she would be extra nice to Sophie at dinner.
With a tremendous sigh of satisfaction, Sophie stuffed her socks back in her
drawer. Making lists was another thing she was good at. No other member of
the family was as good at it as she was. In fact, there wasn't another list in
any other underwear drawer in the house.
Sophie knew, because she'd looked.
Any list that wasn't worth hiding in your underwear drawer wasn't worth
reading, she told herself firmly. She went down to dinner a happy girl.
Copyright © 2005 by Stephanie Greene. Reprinted by permission of Clarion
Books / Houghton Mifflin Company.
What People are saying about this
"Delightfully messy family dynamic and tightly composed subplots...here's hoping there is more of Queen Sophie to come." BCCB Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"[A] humorous voyage to self-discovery...simple plot, droll dialogue and strong characters...Sophie's world...feels wonderfully like Ramona Quimby's." KIRKUS Kirkus Reviews
"Sophie is likeable and resilient, and readers will identify with her as she works through her school and family situations." School Library Journal
"Greene's narrative shines in its depiction of the heartwarming, entirely realistic Hartley family dynamics." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY Publishers Weekly
"Greene's...humor and understanding of...family dynamics are as impressive here as in her Owen Foote books." HORN BOOK GUIDE Horn Book Guide
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