In the tradition of E. B. White and Kate DiCamillo comes the magical and moving story of a bird-like boy who longs to fly
Ten-year-old Nashville doesn’t feel like he belongs with his family, in his town, or even in this world. He was hatched from an egg his father found on the sidewalk and has grown into something not quite boy and not quite bird. Despite the support of his loving parents and his adoring sister, Junebug, Nashville wishes more than anything that he could join his fellow birds up in the sky. After all, what's the point of being part bird if you can't even touch the clouds?
"This is an impossibly lovely tale—but then, as Nashville, the soaring heart of this exquisite novel, learns, nothing is impossible when you follow your dreams. Beyond the Laughing Sky is a triumph."—Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
About the Author
Michelle Cuevas (www.michellecuevas.com) graduated from Williams College and holds a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Virginia. She lives in Massachusetts, and is the author of The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant. This is her second book.
Julie Morstad (www.juliemorstad.com) is an award-winning illustrator and artist. She lives with her family in Vancouver, B.C.
Read an Excerpt
Nashville and his family lived in a house perched in the branches of the largest pecan tree in the village of Goosepimple. The tree grew on the top of a high hill, and the hill overlooked the small, perfect village, where the sun always shined, the grass was always mowed, and the men strutted like doves in their gray suits.
The house in the pecan tree, however, was often shrouded in fog like the purple-gray gloom of an aged bruise, causing the old men in town to sit on their porches, drink sweet tea, and gossip.
“That tree on the hill looks like the last feather to be plucked from the pimpled skin of a goose.”
“Naw, it looks like the last sprig of hair on an ancient bald head.”
“Naw, it looks like the last white ghost seed waiting to fly away from a dandelion.”
Tourists often wanted to drive up the one creeping road that led to the top and visit the house, but once they got close realized they had somewhere else to be or something else to do. When they stopped by the town visitor center they would say, “That house in that tree is not like the rest. Was it built there? Was it built like a nest?”
“Oh no, sugar,” the old widow working at the visitor center would say. “That house sat on a small street in town for nearly a century. Then, ten years ago, there was a flood the likes of which this area had never seen. It started raining as hard as it could in March, and it didn’t stop until June. Can you imagine that?” The widow paused, allowing the visitors to imagine that amount of precipitation. “Needless to say,” she continued, “the rivers and swamps and the bayou overflowed. The foundation of the building came loose and the whole place just floated away, bobbing on the water like a toy in the tub. The water rose all the way over that hill, and when the rain stopped, the house was stuck in that pecan tree like a mouse in a hawk’s claw.”
“Who lives there now?” asked the tourist.
“A sweet young couple and their little girl,” replied the widow.
“And also . . .” the widow paused. “And, well, that boy.”
“What boy, indeed,” replied the widow. “What boy hatches from an egg?”
“Oh, fiddlesticks,” a Southern gentleman said to the widow. “A boy can’t hatch from an egg. That’s impossible”
“What an absurd little word,” the widow replied.
“You said impossible,” the widow pointed out. “There’s no such thing. There’s things you’ve seen and things you may not have, but there ain’t nothing that’s impossible, sugar.”
Impossible. improbable. inconceivable. if the children from far-flung villages who came to catch a glimpse of Nashville had better vocabularies, perhaps these are words they would have used. As it stood, they would ride their bikes to the base of the hill after sunset, their brakes screeching like the call of a night bird, with hopes of seeing something they called just plain weird.
“I double-dog super dare you to go up and knock on the door and get a look at him.”
And then they’d look and look at the house without moving, their hearts pounding like hoofbeats. They’d imagine they saw a light come on, or a curtain billow out like it had bones.
“I saw him!” they would shout to the wind, pedaling fast. “He’s half boy, half bird!”
Had Nashville heard their words it wouldn’t have mattered, for he really did look how they said—why, the truth of the matter was, he looked like a bird in almost every way. He was the size of a normal boy, perhaps a tad small for his age, but he had feathers for hair and a beak for his nose and mouth. His eyes were sharp and golden and his legs too long and thin. But when it came to clothing, Nashville was fond of bow ties and hats, and this made him about as alarming as a puppy in a paisley suit. He was, however, extraordinary, and that tended to scare townsfolk, who were hooked on the Ordinary with a capital O, and preferred their day-to-day served without any Extra.
Nashville was one of a kind, and he had a way of stirring up whispers in town, causing the old women to sit in the beauty parlor, get their hair curled, and gossip.
“That youngster looks like a dodo bird in a dinner jacket. What’s next? Turtles in tuxedos? Skunks in swimsuits?”
“I’m just glad he doesn’t have wings.”
“Oh! Can you imagine that? Some whippersnapper flying around, peeping in our windows.”
It was true. The only avian attribute Nashville seemed to be missing, much to his disappointment, was a pair of wings. But he had everything else. Why, by the time he was a baby barely out of the egg, Nashville was not only looking like a bird, but acting like one, too—chirping instead of crying for food, preferring sunflower seeds to milk, and only settling down to sleep in the bed his parents had custom made just for him, the one carpenters had been consulted and hired to build. Branches had been soaked, bent, and twisted. The nest was as large as a bed, and made up with pillows and a soft blanket.
“Did you make your nest?” his mother asked Nashville every morning.
“And Junebug,” she asked his little sister. “Did you make your bed as well?”
“I want to sleep in a nest, too,” whined Junebug, with the misguided jealousy of a younger sibling. She was only eight, but Junebug often seemed older and wiser, and Nashville enjoyed her company. And so, from time to time, Nashville would allow his sister, Junebug, to sleep with him in his boy-sized nest.
Sometimes, especially when he was alone, Nashville would stand for a long time at his bedroom window. The interior of the house glowed green due to all the leaves outside, and was like being in the cabin of a ship that sank in an algae pond. Sometimes Nashville felt as if his soul was waiting just under the surface of his skin, ready to leap like a fish into the cool, crisp air above.
But no. Nashville couldn’t fly, that was for certain, so there was no reason for his strange desire to leap. Plus, he loved living in a pecan tree. When it was windy, the branches around the house danced and made shadow puppets on the walls. When the birds sang, he and Junebug imagined that from the outside, it must seem like the tree itself was singing.
“If a tree could sing,” asked Junebug, “what do you think it would sing about?”
“I suppose,” replied Nashville, “it would depend on the tree. A tree starts as a sapling. If it’s lucky—if it’s not mowed or mocked, chewed or chopped—the tree sets roots. The tree grows branches. The tree sprouts leaves. And every part, down to the smallest speck of bark and the tiniest vein of a leaf, is shaped by the world—the particular world around the tree. One less storm, one more insatiable caterpillar, any twist or turn along the way, and the tree would be changed. The tree would have a different song to sing.”
Junebug thought deeply about this. “I wonder,” she said finally, “what those pines at the edge of town sing about.”
“Junebug,” said Nashville. “You know I’ve never been past those pines.”
“Yeah. Me neither,” said Junebug. She looked at Nashville who was staring into the distance.
“Nashville?” she continued. “I think I’d like to stay here in our tree for always. Wouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” Nashville replied, with only the slightest hint of doubt. “I’d like to stay here forever, too.” Anything else seemed, well, downright Impossible, Improbable, and Inconceivable.
The birdhouse hanging in the pecan tree was shaped like any other. It had a slanted roof, a hole for an opening, and a peg of wood that served as a front porch. The one difference was the size of this birdhouse—it was big enough for two children, and inside, instead of a nest and eggs, were books, crayons, and one small record player.
The birdhouse hung from a giant rope in the midst of leaves and was only accessible by climbing up through the branches of the pecan tree. No one was brave enough to do this—no one but Nashville and Junebug, that is, for this was their fort.
Sometimes, it was just a tree house. But most times it was a ship-like flying contraption with newspaper sails and oars dripping in ink. Junebug would sit in the crow’s nest, binoculars to her eyes, looking out for monsters in need of a good slaying. Nashville would, of course, man the wheel. His duties also included waving to pirate kings and throwing the occasional coin to a troll when they’d cross a bridge.
Excerpted from "Beyond the Laughing Sky"
Copyright © 2015 Michelle Cuevas.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Beyond the Laughing Sky
"This is an impossibly lovely tale—but then, as Nashville, the soaring heart of this exquisite novel, learns, nothing is impossible when you follow your dreams. BEYOND THE LAUGHING SKY is a triumph."—Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
"With sharp yet fanciful imagery and prose magical enough to make readers feel that they, too, can fly, Cuevas weaves a story that illustrates how we all have the power to become what we are meant to be."—Booklist
"Readers will end the book with a new sense of possible."—Kirkus
"With a variety of metaphorical language and imagery, this short read engenders the theme of acceptance and aspiration of fitting in."—School Library Journal
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Beyond the Laughing Sky is a delightful read. Nashville is a ten-year-old birdlike boy who instantly captures your heart from the moment he hatches. The imagery and lyrical writing lifts you up and keeps you flying through the pages hoping nothing is impossible.