NPR's Best Book of 2018
An orphan grapples with her unpleasant aunt and the even more unpleasant idea of moving to Boston in this poignant middle-grade debut that handles loss and renewal.
"Heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, Donut’s story is gritty, hopeful and ultimately all about the various ways that love shows up. I loved it.”--Kathi Appelt, author of the Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist novel The Underneath
"Taxidermy? What better journey to uncover the true stuff of character! A classic, indelible debut."--Rita Williams-Garcia, author of the Newbery Honor novel One Crazy Summer
Donut is an eleven-year old geography buff who keeps her taxidermied mice hidden in her late mother’s hope chest. Her pops passed away, leaving her an orphan. Aunt Agnes has moved in, bringing along her lumpy oatmeal, knitting, and a plan to drag Donut off to Boston forever.
Donut stands to lose everything: her friends, her village, her home, the woods, and walks where the memories of her pops are stored up.
While Donut dodges the ache of missing her pops, she and her best friend Tiny plan how to keep her where she belongs.
A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar is shot through with gorgeous, evocative language, and gets right to Donut’s heart.
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|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In her nightclothes in the early morning light, Donut perched on the chair at the small desk in her room. She held a number sixteen glass eye with a clamp, lining up the iris so it looked forward and to the right. Once before she had so concentrated on the socket and the wood glue drying that she had popped the eyeball in backward. There was no fixing it. That little deer mouse would forever gaze into the pitch-black of its own empty skull.
It wasn't so much the mice and birds themselves that fascinated Donut. It was the precise steps needed to put them back together. Sam had taught her how to prepare the skins and stitch them up all perfect, stuffed with cotton batting, dusted with arsenic powder to kill the lice and other vermin. It was making them almost as good as new that gave her the patience to undertake the tiny stitches with linen thread and curved needle.
Donut could hear Aunt Agnes downstairs clanking the door to the woodstove, filling the teakettle. Since her aunt had arrived three weeks ago, she'd been arguing with the old stove — loading the firebox with too much wood, burning the bread and biscuits. "Like cooking in the Dark Ages," she grumbled.
Donut slipped the glass eye into the left socket.
"There you go," she whispered.
She kept her taxidermy private, stowed away in her mother's cedar hope chest. Three voles, eleven mice, two chickadees, three house wrens, a cardinal, and a bluebird — practice specimens. The mice and voles came from traps that mostly broke their necks. Her best friend, Tiny, brought her the birds, offerings from Bangor, his Maine coon cat, who left them on the rag rug right inside his kitchen door.
Aunt Agnes didn't approve and Donut suspected that her mother, whose delicate porcelain knickknacks lined the shelves in the parlor, would not have allowed the chemicals, skins, scalpels, and such. But then, Donut and her mother had crossed paths just the once, on the day Donut was born, the same day her mother died. Her mother, Rose, probably would not have approved of Donut's nickname, either. Dorothy was the name she'd picked out. Pops said that if the baby was a girl, Rose had wanted her to have a proper name, three syllables, unlike her own. But the name Dorothy had faded away without her mother there to protect it. And then there was the colic.
Her pops couldn't abide baby Dorothy's fussing and crying due to the colic and discovered that one of Mrs. Lamphere's maple-cream donuts always did the trick. Gumming at the sweet frosting sent her right to sleep. That probably explained why she had no fear of rodents, as her crib often had visitors late at night — field mice, deer mice, gathering crumbs and bits of icing twisted up in the blanket. Her pops had told her of the scampering, the sprinkling of tiny black mouse droppings that he shook out of the bedding every morning.
Aunt Agnes would have keeled over in fright at the thought of all the small mammals visiting Donut as a baby, like furry fairies. The thought made her smile as she inserted the second eye.
Donut examined her work. The mouse's body was so light in her left palm. Without the feel of the scrambling feet, the sharp toenails digging in, there was nothing left. What was it like to be dead, stuffed and preserved by an eleven-year-old girl, eyeballs and guts gone, empty like the seashell on the windowsill whispering the sound of the ocean up against her ear?
"Where are you, mouse?" she said, sitting very still. There was no answer.
Donut wrapped up the mouse in a square of red flannel and stowed it in her mother's chest. She pulled on her pants and a wool shirt. Not bothering with a brush, she braided her long brown hair. With a tight fist she tapped her Rand McNally World Atlas, second edition, three times for luck.
Her pops had said that a big part of geography was rivers. Towns and cities grew up along waterways like pearls on a necklace, so she'd decided to organize her study of geography river by river. She'd finished the Nile, and now she was learning the names of towns and cities strung along the Mississippi.
"New Orleans, Baton Rouge." Donut reeled them off. "Vidalia, Arkansas City, Helena, Memphis, St. Louis, Hannibal, Keokuk, Davenport, Dubuque, La Crosse, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Bemidji. Got it."
It was Saturday — launch day. Pops had designed and built his boat at Mr. Daniels' factory, where he'd worked. Newfangled furnaces, manure spreaders, and milk coolers were their business, but her pops had big dreams for his little boat. They'd been waiting for the spring, for the ice on Dog Pond to melt.
"You and me, Donut," he'd said, "in the footsteps of Henry Hudson, Lewis and Clark, the Wright Brothers, Ernest Shackleton. We'll launch my folding boat and make history or get very wet trying." He'd laughed at the thought of it.
"Ready-made shipwreck," Mr. Daniels said. "I told him it'd never sell. A surefire drowning bucket."
Well, she and Tiny were going to prove him wrong.CHAPTER 2
Donut stuck a pencil behind her ear and grabbed her canvas book bag. Taking two steps at a time, she ran down the stairs.
The kitchen was warm and smelled of toast. Aunt Agnes sat at the table wearing a dress so full of flowers, so pink and purple, it was looking for a fight. She stirred her tea with a rapid-fire clinking. One of her thick books lay open by her plate — not one adventure story or mystery or interesting fact hiding in the whole blasted thing. Aunt Agnes's head should have exploded by now from the boredom.
"Good morning. Oatmeal's hot on the stove. We need to have a little chat, so just slow yourself down." Aunt Agnes took a slurp of tea and smiled. "I opened up a can of peaches for a special treat."
Peaches? A chat? What was going on? Aunt Agnes was all love and kisses like Earle Barclay on slaughtering day. He'd scratch a hog's back with a rake until it was twitching with happiness, pick up his shotgun, and shoot it dead.
"No time for chatting. Gotta get my chores done and meet Tiny."
"Well, you'll just have to make time." Aunt Agnes picked her napkin up off the table and gave it a good snap. Terrified crumbs flew in all directions. Pasting a smile back on her face she said, "Get your breakfast. You'll be steadier with food in you."
"I'll be right back." Donut turned and headed for the mudroom. She had to get some air, get away from her auntie's smile. And the chat didn't sound too promising, either. Besides, she needed the paddles for the launch.
"Where are you going?" called Aunt Agnes.
Donut didn't answer. She got her boots and coat on and slipped outside. The storage shed by the woodpile was packed with the hardware, engine parts, and odds and ends her pops had collected. During the New Year's Day blizzard he'd dug a path out there just to get his hands on a sheet of tin and a rusty box of old bike gears for one of his inventions.
The paddles were there. She'd spotted them ages ago, way in the back. Donut stood in the yard, not moving. The shed had been closed up tight since the accident. Since her pops had died. Maybe it was a mistake to open the door. A piece of him that was stored up inside would float up into the clouds. The wind would grab hold and carry him away from the green hills of Vermont and out over the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.
Donut couldn't stay still with the thought of the wind and the open ocean and her pops, but she couldn't move any closer to the shed, either. The cold night had capped the puddles on the dirt drive with a thin skim of ice. Donut reached out her foot to the nearest puddle and cracked the ice with the toe of her boot. She lifted her other foot and stomped on the next puddle, shattering the ice. She kept going, reeling off her Mississippi towns. "New Orleans," stomp. "Baton Rouge," stomp. "Vidalia," stomp. "Arkansas City, Helena, Memphis, St. Louis," stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. Muddy water oozed up over the broken shards.
Donut eyed the shed. "Enough. Just put a penny in it. Get going."
Donut marched past the woodpile, right up close to the shed, and paused. For just an instant she believed, really believed, that she'd find her pops in there, rummaging around, wearing his lucky shirt — red flannel with a burn hole in the left sleeve. He'd turn, smile, and wink.
Her guts twisted up tight.
With both hands Donut yanked the door open.
The air inside was old and musty. The shelves along the walls were packed with crates and glass jars. Wire, sheet metal, and boards were stacked on the floor. Donut swung her arms in front of her face to hack through the spiderwebs and picked her way into the far corner, where she could make out the paddles.
Carrying them under one arm, she backed out of the shed and shoved the door shut. Her pops' treasures were just junk now. No one would see the wheel spokes and umbrella handles, the hooks and pulleys the same as he had. "Got potential," he'd say. The weight of it slowed her down. Every day she kept losing pieces of him. His old shed would disappear, too. Over time, rain and melted snow would seep through the cracks. Shingles would come loose, nails would rust out. The whole kit and caboodle would fall into a rotted, rusted heap, like Mr. Hollis's old barn on Kate Brook Road.
Donut leaned the paddles against the woodpile. Inside the mudroom she pulled in a deep breath, then yanked off her coat and hung it on a peg.
"Dorothy?" called Aunt Agnes. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing." Donut kicked off her boots. "Nothing, nothing, nothing," she mumbled.
In the kitchen Donut spooned a dollop of oatmeal into a bowl and passed on the canned peaches just to spite Aunt Agnes. She didn't like oatmeal, but her auntie was convinced that children, like horses, should have a dose of oats every day. Donut and her pops had cooked up eggs and some of Mr. Barclay's sausages most mornings. Tiny usually showed up for a second breakfast after he and his dad were done with the morning milking. He never came now, what with the oatmeal and Aunt Agnes sitting at the table.
Donut sat across from her auntie and poured some cream from the jug into her bowl along with a good measure of maple syrup.
"You'll have your Saturday soon enough," said Aunt Agnes. "But we must talk. It's been three weeks now since your father's passing. Your Aunt Jo and I are agreed that it's time to think about your future."
Donut clenched her fists under the table. Aunt Agnes had arrived the day of the funeral, wearing a black hat and shiny black dress, acting like an old crow perched on a branch, bossing and squawking. That very afternoon, while Donut hid out at Sam's, her auntie had dragged empty suitcases and two old trunks up from the cellar into Pops' bedroom. She'd packed up all his clothes, his shoes, his hats, his coats, cleared off his chest of drawers and bedside table. After she finished she'd moved right in — hanging up her dresses in his closet, laying out her brush and comb and hairpins by the washbowl where his pipe and pocketknife and razor used to be. Her pops had only just been buried, and Aunt Agnes had wasted no time in clearing all that was left of him out of his own house. Donut took hold of the table edge, studied her fingers as they went all white and pink. She gave her aunt a good long look.
"You and Aunt Jo ought to keep your hands off my future. It's mine."
Aunt Agnes stiffened. "Young lady, that's just the kind of behavior Jo and I are concerned about. You are at the cusp of womanhood. Here it is 1927, the modern age, and you are behaving like a young barbarian."
Aunt Agnes took a chomp of toast slathered in store-bought jam. There was no escaping her. And Donut knew she had to keep quiet or her auntie would cancel Saturday altogether, and Pops' boat was waiting. Tiny would be waiting down at Sam's.
Donut stared at the lump of gray oatmeal nicely centered on her mother's fine bone china. Purple pansies ran around the rim. The blob, surrounded by cream and syrup, was shaped like Australia, with a raisin on the east coast marking Sydney Harbor. She would raise the sails on her ship, skim across the creamy sea, head south to Tasmania, or east to New Zealand. Make friends with marsupials as they lapped up the blobs of maple syrup washing ashore.
"Are you even listening to me?" said Aunt Agnes, fussing with her napkin.
"Yes, Auntie." Donut built up the Australian Alps with the back of her spoon.
"That's an improvement. Now, finish your breakfast so we can have a proper conversation. I'll be in the parlor."
Donut ate as much of the oatmeal as she could stomach. The peaches would have helped. She cleared her dishes and scraped what was left of Australia into the slop bucket.
Donut stopped at the parlor door. Aunt Agnes sat in her mother's wingback chair knitting another sock, working her way through a ball of gray yarn. All she ever knitted was socks. Gray or black. When she had a dozen pairs or so, she'd ship them down to the Soldiers' Home. Donut figured the home was full of old men shuffling around in those socks, polishing up the floors, slipping once in a while and breaking an arm or a leg, their war medals pinned on their chests clinking together as they landed.
Aunt Agnes peered at Donut over her reading glasses. "Sit down. I'll just finish this row."
The click-clack of the bone needles started up again. Donut sat, gripped the seat of her chair, stared at the fire in the fireplace. Her house was emptied of all the familiar Saturday sounds — her pops whistling, the dings and clanks of his tinkering at the kitchen table. She'd sit across from him, the Rand McNally World Atlas, second edition, opened up to the African continent. They'd lose track of time; eat a whole sack of Mrs. Lamphere's gingersnaps for lunch.
"What would you want to see most of all?" she'd ask.
"Panama Canal," he'd say. "And you?"
The click-clack of the knitting needles stopped and Donut looked up. Aunt Agnes set her knitting down on the side table, laid her hands flat on the arms of the chair, and smiled. "Dorothy, I'll come right to the point. Your aunt Jo and I have decided it's time for you to come live with us in Boston. It's what —"
"Boston!" Donut stood, her legs kicking the chair over backward. "I'm not moving to Boston."
She stared at her aunt, stared hard and clenched her teeth so tight her head hurt. Aunt Agnes pursed her lips and stared right back, then she smiled again. Smiled.
"It's a shock, I know," she said. "We'll be leaving in two weeks. On April thirtieth. You'll settle right in at the academy. Free tuition with my position as administrator and your aunt Jo as headmistress. We'll be all together."
"Two weeks! Together? Who said I wanted any part of together? Me, at a stuffy girls' school, living with a couple of bent hairpins who —"
"Dorothy, control yourself." Aunt Agnes's voice had an edge to it that would scare the birds right out of the trees. "You do not have a choice in the matter. Now pick up that chair and sit down."
She didn't pick the chair up. She didn't sit down. "You'll have to tie me up, stuff me in a sack, and carry me out of here. I'm not going."
Donut kicked the fallen chair out of her way, stomped into the mudroom, and pulled on her boots and coat.
"Don't you dare leave this house," said Aunt Agnes from the parlor.
Donut grabbed her book bag, slammed the front door behind her, and ran. At the road she slowed to a walk. With each step she kicked a rock into the scrub. She kicked those rocks so hard they'd kill a cat.
She'd been to Boston once with her pops. They'd taken the train and spent the night in a hotel that was four stories tall. Even that high up, close to the low-hanging clouds, there was such a racket floating up from below she hardly slept a wink. In the streets there wasn't room to move, what with the automobiles, horses, and wagons hauling milk, coal, or ice, peddlers with pushcarts, telegraph boys flying by on bicycles, and more people than she could count. That was the one and only time she'd ever met them — Aunt Jo and Aunt Agnes in their sitting room in Boston, firing off questions while Donut and her pops squirmed, all stiff and awkward in their city clothes.
Donut turned and glared at her house, all filled up with this aunt, her mother's sister, someone she barely knew.
"I won't go, you old bat. Just try to make me."
Donut twirled around and stormed down the hill.
Sam would know what to do.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Stitch in Time"
Copyright © 2018 Daphne Kalmar.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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