Read an Excerpt
From the first chapter
The Puppet Master
There once was a boy who longed to be a puppeteer like his Grandfather. He loved the feeling of pulling a string and making a puppet come to life. He loved deciding whether the arm should move up or the leg should move down or the head should move from side to side. And especially, he loved the idea that he was the puppet's master_the one in charge.
His name was Simon and he would spend every summer with his cousins in the small thatched cottage of his grandparents. Since he had no brothers or sisters, his mother hoped he would learn to get along with other children by spending part of the year living in a house full of them. However, Simon did not learn at all.
Every morning, unless it rained, Simon's grandmother would shoo all the children out of the cottage to play for the day. For the first hour things would go fine. Eventually, though, Simon would yell at someone because they wouldn't follow him when he was the leader or play tag the way he wanted. He always demanded an extra turn, no matter what the game; and usually, if he didn't win the foot race, he'd pout. Then, in a huff, Simon would slip back inside the cottage to play alone with Grandfather's puppets and pretend he was a great puppet master.
"I see you love the puppets," Grandfather said one morning when he found Simon inside, alone.
"Yes." Simon smiled shyly.
"I've always loved the puppets too," Grandfather said softly. "I remember when I was your age, my aunt gave me my first marionette. I practiced with her everyday till I could make her move so smoothly that she seemed real. Perhaps it's time to give that marionette to you."
"You still have it?" Simon asked breathlessly, trembling at the thought of owning one of Grandfather's puppets.
"Yes, she is my most cherished puppet," Grandfather said slowly. "Do you think you can treat her well?"
Simon nodded enthusiastically.
"We shall see," said Grandfather with a twinkle in his eye. "If you treat her well this summer, I will let you take her home for keeps. If you don't, I will save her for another grandchild."
Simon's mouth dropped open earnestly. "I will take good care of her," he promised. "You will see."
"Very well," said Grandfather as he walked to a trunk and raised the lid. Very carefully he pulled out a beautiful marionette ballerina dressed in silver slippers and a flowing blue dress.
"Her name is Lorette," he said reverently as he unwound the strings from the wooden cross piece that held them. "If you treat her well, she will dance for you as no puppet you've seen before."
Grandfather gently began to work the strings. Lorette raised her arm and turned her head sideways. The puppet stood up on pointed toes and steadied herself. Slowly she began to turn and dip in an ordinary puppet-like way. Grandfather smiled patiently as he watched the marionette. "She's warming up," he explained.
Then, as Simon began to doubt that this puppet was special at all, Lorette leaped high into the air. In a moment she was gliding and spinning so gracefully, she could have been a famous ballerina dancing on a miniature stage. She did a perfect pirouette, then leaned forward, balancing delicately on one leg as still as a crane. Simon watched her, spellbound, as Lorette twirled away across the table and back again. Her kicks were smooth and powerful. Her jumps precise, and her body flowed effortlessly with each movement. All too soon the performance was over.
"Here," Grandfather said as he handed Simon the strings. "I will leave you with Lorette."
Grandfather left the room and Simon eagerly picked up the strings. He raised Lorette onto her toes, working the strings carefully. Lorette raised her arm stiffly and curtsied awkwardly. She took a few clumsy steps forward on her toes then tumbled into a limp heap. "Puppet!" Simon commanded. "I am your master. You must dance."
Simon raised the puppet again and worked the strings deliberately to make the puppet leap and turn. The puppet did as the strings instructed, but nothing magical happened. She did not dance as she had for his grandfather. Simon scratched his head and frowned. "You must dance. I want you to dance," he scolded the puppet.