Eleven-year-old Emma doesn’t know that she comes from generations of tree singers, passed from mother to daughter. She doesn’t believe she can sing. Her ailing grandmother has just come to live with the family. Her father is hardly ever at home. Her mother has been acting strange. To add to Emma’s troubles, her mother’s great uncle from England is coming to stay. Then, a strange old woman wearing a hat full of feathers appears mysteriously in her garden. She gives Emma a white swan feather that emits a haunting melody. Emma’s only solace is the oak tree in her garden, which she names Annie Oakley. What she does not yet know is that Annie is part of a network of tree spirits who disguise themselves as old women. These spirits have come to Peachtree City to help Emma remember her mission to sing the Song of Creation and save the Great Mother tree.
|Publisher:||Our Street Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.58(w) x 8.59(h) x 0.39(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation
By Susan Elizabeth Hale
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Susan Elizabeth Hale
All rights reserved.
The White Feather
Splat! A tomato exploded onto Emma's white sweater. Not again, she thought. This was the third time this week those creepy twins had followed her home from school.
"Crazy Maizy! Crazy Maizy!" Jake and Jim shouted, taunting as they circled her with their bikes.
"Stop talking about my grandmother that way," she yelled, her green eyes flashing. "You don't even know her."
Splosh! Jim Smiley threw a second tomato hitting her on the forehead. Red juice ran down her face splashing into her long brown hair. "Leave me alone!"
"My dad says your grandmother's nuts. She can't even talk," Jim yelled. "We've been saving up tomatoes just for you." He laughed, reaching for another.
Something in his laugh made her skin go creepy. Emma ran from the street into a trail in the woods. Maybe she could lose them. But which way was home? Right or left? She sprinted past a small pond. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw an old lady trundling along in her golf cart and, just in time, managed to swerve to avoid her. Breaking into a sweat, she gained speed, her long legs flying over the trail. The cart shielded her from the twins, who were peddling fast behind her. Brakes screeched.
Crash! The boys tumbled off their bikes and into some thorny bushes. "We'll get you for this!" Jake said, fuming. His finger burned as he plucked out a prickle from his jacket.
Something told Emma to go left. In the distance she saw her new house. There was the backyard gate, she was sure of it! Thank goodness! Her legs tiring, she at last reached home. She was safe now. Fumbling with the latch she ran through the gate and into the yard. She at once called to Annie Oakley, a wide old Oak. Annie was her special tree, the tallest in the yard.
Heart pounding, hardly breathing, Emma waited, leaning into her tree's support. She hoped they wouldn't find her and that maybe the twins would just ride past. She wished she could disappear. A strand of ivy dangled down from the tree near her throat. Pushing her body against Annie, she whispered, "Annie, Annie, Open up. Please let me in!" She pretended she was inside the tree, protected and safe. The spell broke as leaves crunched underfoot.
"Tree hugger! Tree Hugger! Tree Hugger!" Jake cursed. She heard the gate bang shut. Her stomach turned somersaults. "You're going be just like your grandmother Mumbling Maizy. Crazy Maizy Mum-mum-mumbles. If you like hugging trees so much we'll help you!" Jake said jeering as he appeared behind her. He pinned her against the Oak. Jim grinned like a Halloween pumpkin lantern as he pulled a long rope of ivy down from the tree.
"Mom ... Mom. Help, Mom!" Emma yelled, her eyes darting towards the house, looking at the backdoor for her mother. Beads of sweat ran down her face like tears. The door didn't open.
Scampering down the tree, a gray squirrel ran chattering towards the boys. His bushy tail waved like a flag.
"Who do you think is going to help you? This squirrel?" Jake said, snarling. The squirrel spun in circles around his ankles. He kicked it away but the squirrel skittered in arcs back up the branches. Bonk! An acorn hit him on the top of his head.
Jim wrapped the ivy around Emma. He tried to tie it to the back of the tree but the vine was too stiff.
"Annie!" Emma shrieked as she hugged the Oak.
"Who are you talking to? This tree?" Jake said.
"She talks to trees! She's as crazy as her grandmother! It's probably contagious. C'mon let's get away from this sicko," Jim said, throwing the ivy on the ground. He climbed back on his bike. Jake followed. He turned around to leer at her before they rode off. "See you tomorrow after school, you skinny little weirdo."
Hot tears ran down Emma's face. She tore at the ivy, loosened its grip and slipped through, collapsing down onto the leafy ground.
"Jake and Jim Smiley with their stupid grins, they look like baboons! Snake and Grim Slimey," she muttered. "Snake and Grim, Snake and Grim. They look like monkeys in a jungle gym," she chanted as she stood up. "That's a good one, isn't it, Annie?" Taking off her heavy backpack, she nestled into a hollow in the Oak's great trunk.
"What am I going to do, Annie? I hate new towns. I hate new schools. I hate new people! I miss my real friends in Florida. They're so far away. Why did my dad have to take this stupid job?" She thought about her goodbye party in her best friend's tree house. "Was that only a month ago, Annie? It seems like a different life."
"And Peachtree City isn't even a real town," she complained. "Everyone drives golf carts. There's so many trails here I get lost all the time. Why am I here? Oh Annie, what's happened to Maizy? Why do I have to take care of her? I don't even know her anymore. She doesn't seem like my real Grandma. She's like an imposter. Annie, I miss her so much."
Annie's branches nodded with the breeze. "Thanks, Annie, I know you understand. You're the only who listens to me."
Sighing, Emma leaned into her tree and looked up. Tall thin Loblolly Pines swayed in the breeze as if they were whispering to each other. The Pines towered over the two-story houses in her neighborhood. The houses all looked the same. Many trees had been cut down to build the homes, her dad had told her. At least they kept the backyards looking more like the woods. But the woods were different too. Golf cart trails linked them together. Her dad explained it was a visionary idea of the town planners. "This is what makes Peachtree City special," he had told her before they moved. "Imagine we can drive from our house to the mall, and go to the park, or even to your school in our very own golf cart."
Picking up a nearby pinecone, Emma brought it up to her nose, breathing in the fresh scent. Jays were a blur of blue flying from tree to tree. The sound of a woodpecker distracted her from her troubles. Rat-a-tat-tat, she drummed along with the bird on her knee. Watching the red head bob back and forth as it pecked at insects, she became aware of gooey juice running down her face. Ick! Emma wiped the tomato off with her sweater. Tiny tomato seeds clung to her sleeve. "Oh that's great," she said aloud, "now I've stained it even more! What's Mom going to think?"
She picked up her backpack off the ground. Heaviness returned to her shoulders. She gathered up her feelings, stuffing them in her chest, the same way she stuffed books in her pack. "Later, Annie," she said. "Is it weird that I talk to you? I'm eleven now. Maybe I'm too old."
Emma ran up the porch steps into the house. She raced to her room on the second floor, almost colliding with her mother at the top of the stairs.
"Ouuff! Emma! Be careful! You almost knocked me over," said her mother Molly, her shoulders hunched over a load of dirty laundry bundled in her arms. "Look at you! You're a mess! What happened?" She fussed over her daughter's sweater, her forehead crinkling into worry wrinkles.
"Jake and Jim threw tomatoes at me," Emma said. "I'd like to throw something at them!" She picked up a dirty towel, scrunched it and threw it down the stairs. "I'll show them!"
"Well, take your sweater off and give it to me. I'll put it in the wash."
"But they called me names."
"Oh, that's just the way boys are. They probably like you."
"Ewwww! I hate them."
Molly's face tightened into a frown. "You're going to have to find a way to get along with those poor boys. They're motherless you know. You need to be nice to them."
"Nice? But I'm not doing anything. They chase me every day. They don't treat me like I'm a real person. It's like I'm a computer game to them."
"Your problem is that you're too sensitive. Don't pay any attention to them. Just try and stay out of their way."
"But, Mom, you don't understand!"
"I don't have time for this now. Uncle Alf's coming tomorrow from England. Besides, it won't help your father if you get in a fight with his boss's sons. You know he really needs this promotion," Molly said, dropping a trail of socks. Sighing with disgust, she stooped to retrieve them.
She walked downstairs to the laundry room, and then shouted back up, "Hurry up. Take off that sweater. Wash your face. You're late for Maizy's tea time."
Emma flung her sweater down the steps. She headed for the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror. Her chin quivered. Streaks of tomato mingled with tears made her throat red. Her eyes, usually wide open and sparkling, were dull and puffy. She'd grown tall over the last few months, like her legs had grown legs. In her eyes she looked like a gawky geek. She wished she looked like the other girls with their perfect hair.
"Emma! What's keeping you?" her mother hollered.
Emma quickly pushed back her hair, tied it into a ponytail then washed her face and hands. She looked in the mirror again. Fighting back tears she stiffened her upper lip to make her face look as calm as a mask before walking downstairs.
"Don't forget to tell Maizy about your day," her mother said as she handed Emma a tray with a cup of tea, a ginger biscuit and some applesauce. "I'm sure she'll enjoy hearing about your new school."
"But why? She can't talk anymore."
"Don't be so selfish. You used to love having tea with your grandmother. I need you to help me. And don't forget to clean the guest room. I'm sure Uncle Alf will need a rest after his long flight."
"But I have homework. I've got to write a paper about the rain forest by next week."
"Maybe he'll help you. That might be fun you know. He's going to be so happy to see you. He hasn't seen you since you were a baby."
Emma rolled her eyes when she passed her mother. She didn't need another old person in the house! She paused before opening the door to Maizy's room. Yuck and double yuck, she muttered. Bracing herself, holding her breath, she walked inside to the room. A smell of pee and medicine greeted her. As usual, her grandmother was slumped over in her wheelchair, a vacant gaze in her green eyes, her jaw drooping. Her thin white hair was gathered on top of her head in a bun. Back and forth her head bobbled and wobbled like one of those dolls in a car's rear window. "Hrrrrrrrr," she mumbled, struggling to pull her thoughts from the thick cotton wool that clouded her mind. Her blue-veined hands trembled as she pointed out the window.
"Hi, Grandma, here's your tea," Emma said, trying to sound cheerful. "School was boring today, except for biology." Her voice trailed off into a monotone. "I hate my new school – there are these stupid boys that chase me every day."
Emma laid the tray of food on a small table near the wheelchair. She tied a bib around her grandmother's neck then spooned some applesauce into her slack mouth, wiping its corners with a dampened washcloth. Maizy turned her head abruptly towards the window flailing her arms and stuttering, "Hrrrrrr ... thrrrrr."
Ignoring her outburst, Emma broke off a small piece of the round biscuit and put it in front of her face. "Would you like a ginger biscuit, Grandma? You used to like these."
Maizy sputtered. Drool dripped from the side of her mouth. Emma turned away and gazed at a portrait of Maizy as a young woman. It hung over her bed framed in a golden oval. How could this be the same person?
"Sh ... shhhh ... eeeee." Maizy's voice grew louder.
Emma picked up the china teacup to give her another sip of tea. Maizy bolted upright in her chair, gripped Emma's hands and shook them. Crash! The cup shattered into pieces splashing tea everywhere. Outside Annie's branches waved wildly in a sudden burst of wind. A huge bird circled the tree. Grabbing Emma's necklace, Maizy pulled on the chain so hard that it dug into the back of her neck.
"Ow," Emma shouted, overturning the tea tray as she ran from the room and out of the house to her tree. "What was she doing? Is Maizy trying to kill me?" she sobbed, hugging Annie tightly. "I miss my Grandma! Where did she go?"
A gentle breeze came up under Annie's canopy. Footsteps scrunched through yellow leaves. Her body stiffened. Who's there? Jake and Jim? Her stomach swirled. She saw something. Was it a bird? Or was it someone darting from tree to tree? Now here, now there, she watched as a twig-thin little old woman fluttered past. She had long wispy hair that looked like wings. Her sleeves billowed with the wind as she flitted through the backyard.
Dim images floated through Emma's mind, a stream near a forest, a group of women chanting. "This isn't real," Emma said out loud. She closed her eyes hugging Annie tightly. But when she opened them again the woman was in front of her. Her eyes were robin egg blue. Though wrinkled like the bark of a tree, her skin was glowing.
On her head the old woman wore a hat that looked like a nest of eggs. Plucking a feather sprouting from its side, she tossed it up in the air. A white swan plume drifted down, landing before Emma's feet. She picked it up and held it in her trembling hand.
Emma turned her head to try to find the old woman. But she wasn't anywhere to be seen. A fragrance lingered, something warm like a sunrise.
"Did you see her too? Or am I just making all this up? Oh Annie, I wish you could talk. Was she real? She looks familiar. Where have I seen her before?"
But the swan feather in her hand was real. Emma held the quill looking at it with excitement. This was not just any feather, but one from its wing. A ray of sunlight shone upon it. She stroked the plume three times. A whisper of a song wafted in the breeze.
"Am I like Crazy Maizy?" she whispered to Annie, not wanting to believe that it might be true. She tried to shut her mind to the song spinning in the air. Growing stronger, the music seemed to emanate from the feather. Many voices wove the song together, voices that lulled her. The melody soothed all the tight places in her heart until they softened. She drifted into a dream ...a forest of many colors ...trees glowing but fading ...a great tree in the center of an island ...its withered leaves falling in a pool. It looked as if all the colors of the world had melted together.
Then three sounds: a gust of wind, a flutter of wings and the sound of her mother's voice calling her from inside the kitchen.
"Emma Maizy Oliver! What's wrong with you? Come away from that tree and come back in this house right now!"CHAPTER 2
Along the Thames in England
"Out for your usual walk today, Alf?" a man with gray wavy hair called out from his barge, anchored on the bank of the River Thames.
"Oh, hello there, Clive, as long as these old legs will carry me," Alf called back, thrusting his wrinkled hands deep in the pockets of his rumpled corduroy jacket for warmth. The bulrushes along the bank looked golden in the sunlight. A swan drifted past pausing to look at the two old men before drifting past on the glittering water. "Beautiful day today, a bit chilly but at least the sun is out."
"See you at the pub tonight?"
Alf lowered his brow, the usual laugh lines of his face nowhere to be seen. "No, I won't be there for a while. I'm going to America tomorrow."
"Everything all right?" Clive wondered.
"I have a sister there who's feeling poorly. And a niece and her family, including a little girl I haven't seen since she was a baby. She must be eleven now."
"Gone for long are you?"
"A month at least, but I'll be back in time for the darts tournament," he said. A wide smile returned to his face.
"Couldn't miss that now, could you? Got to defend your title! All right then, Alf. Carry on. Righty-ho."
"Cheers." Alfred nodded as the two old friends waved goodbye.
He strolled along the river, making his way to a huge Copper Beech. "Good day, M'lady," he said to the tree. As he tipped his tweed cap he revealed thick white hair. "Do you remember me? Sorry I haven't been to see you in such a long time, Lady Beech Bottom." He peered around to make sure no one was watching. He didn't want Clive telling his mates at the pub that he had gone barking mad. "Barking mad! That's a good one!" he said with a chuckle as he patted her on her trunk.
Excerpted from Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation by Susan Elizabeth Hale. Copyright © 2015 Susan Elizabeth Hale. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter One – The White Feather,
Chapter Two – Along the Thames in England,
Chapter Three – Sheeee Treees,
Chapter Four – Queenie's Hair Parlor,
Chapter Five – Uncle Alf Arrives,
Chapter Six – Allies,
Chapter Seven – Smiley's Shangri-La,
Chapter Eight – The Gift,
Chapter Nine – The Mission,
Chapter Ten – The Red Hat Society,
Chapter Eleven – Secrets,
Chapter Twelve – The Protest Mounts,
Chapter Thirteen – Fear,
Chapter Fourteen – The Gatekeeper,
Chapter Fifteen – Trees Please,
Chapter Sixteen – Signed in Blood,
Chapter Seventeen – The Eclipse,
Chapter Eighteen – The Ceremony of Changing,
Chapter Nineteen – Helpers,
Chapter Twenty – Molly's Confession,
Chapter Twenty-One – A Bird of a Different Feather,
Chapter Twenty-Two – Esmeralda's Palace,
Chapter Twenty-Three – Maizy's Voice,
Chapter Twenty-Four – Smiley's Rampage,
Chapter Twenty-Five – The Shining Land,
Chapter Twenty-Six – The Song of Creation,