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Long, Long ago in a Land Called Pennsylvania
My obsession with princesses was my mom's fault.
It started with an outfit she bought at the mall. Cinderella was my favorite fairy-tale character, and she thought it'd be sweet if Cindy and I matched. I couldn't have been more thrilled! I pranced around in that blue puff of satin fluff and told everybody — including the paper boy, the mail carrier, and the TV repair lady — that I was Cinderella and that I actually slept in the attic. I whistled at the birds, swept the carpet, and pretended that Butch, our dog, was my fairy godmother.
When it came time for preschool, I dressed in a jumper and an apron, transforming myself into a peasant girl. An imaginary beast was my princely friend, and I was destined to be his princess. I made sure my beast sat with me during snack and nap time, and I got very angry when the teachers ignored him. Cranky Mrs. Higgins told my parents I was a difficult child, and that I'd be better off in another school.
Every night I'd slip into my mermaid princess bathing suit, and splash in the tub until my fingers and toes were raisins. I felt that if I stayed in there long enough, I'd grow a tail — a glistening green-and-purple tail, complete with fins. Dad let me have my way until his patience went down the drain, and he airlifted me into a towel, kicking and screaming.
I felt a special connection to all princesses. I had no doubt that I, Bernice Baransky, would grow up to be exactly like them — beautiful and charming. I would marry a prince. I would live in a castle. And I would live happily ever after.
But that was then.
This is now.
Now, I'm twelve. Practically a grownup. I'm not beautiful or charming, and I'm totally over the princess thing. So, I have to wonder: Why is there a princess hanging out in my yard, and why does she have her shiny silver slipper planted on my skateboard?CHAPTER 2
Three Time's the Charm
Truth is, I have a pretty good idea who this princess is. Three days ago, while I was cruising around on my skateboard, I saw her drive by in a pink convertible. Usually, I don't notice the traffic that zips past me. I'm a sidewalk skater, thanks to Mom's rule about street skating. But a pink convertible is hard to miss! My first thought was: Cars come in pink? My second thought was: Who IS that?
A girl about my age, maybe a year or two older, sat on top of the convertible's backseat. She wore a ridiculous gown that swirled around her in a cloud of fuchsia. Sitting on her golden hair was a tiara, and its jewels sparkled in the sun, practically blinding me. Her lacy gloves went clear up to her armpits, and she waved enthusiastically, like a beauty queen in a parade. I resisted waving back. Skaters don't wave. To anyone. Her car disappeared around the bend and I was left with an open mouth, wide eyes, and a brain full of questions.
Two days ago, the rest of the parade showed up — a humongous moving van with the words CASTLE AND COMPANY painted on the side, a double-wide horse trailer complete with a double-wide horse, four big cars, and a white designer SUV. The pink car brought up the rear and the same girl was in the back, only this time she had on a blue gown and a queen-size frown. I copied that frown the second the parade parked in the driveway of the old Miller mansion across the street. I wasn't in love with the idea that a princess look-alike was moving across the street from me.
An old woman climbed out of the SUV and gave me the once-over. To avoid her eyes, I quickly bent down and tied and retied my sneaks, twice. Then I turned to bolt for my front door. Just before I went inside, I heard, "Hello! Hellooo, Bernice."
It was not an old woman's voice. This voice was clear and musical. It had to be coming from the princess. I turned and sure enough, it was Princess Pink Car.
"You are Bernice, are you not?" she asked, flashing a toothy smile.
I had no idea how she knew my name. I didn't answer, but instead ducked inside and spied on her from the window in my door. She waited there for a second with one hand on a hip, then she glided gracefully into the mansion.
When I was little, a princess sighting would not have been a big deal. She would've been imaginary — the result of my overactive imagination. I probably would have asked if she wanted to join me for a tea party. But I was older and wiser now. A better explanation was necessary.
I decided I was smack dab in the middle of a brain fart. A brain fart makes your brain numb and nothing makes sense, according to Matthew, a kid from school. And so, I explained away my princess neighbor as a big, fat brain fart. No princess arrived in a pink convertible. No princess moved in across the street from me. No princess called me by name. Brain. Fart.
I held on to my brain fart theory until today. Today, the princess is here, standing two feet from me. She seems real enough, and I'm sure brain farts don't last three days. She's checking out my skateboard, using her glossy slipper to push it forward and back. She hasn't noticed that I'm standing here, staring. She hasn't noticed that I am not smiling.
I take in her shiny hair — blonde like mine only straight, less frizzy, and way nicer. Her perfectly plucked eyebrows arch over rose-colored eyelids. Her eyes are blue. Her cheeks are peachy. She's wearing a light- pink gown with a matching tiara.
Part of me — that teeny part that has never outgrown princesses — wants to know all about her. The other part wants to hold on to brain farts. I rub my eyes and blink a long, hard blink. Dang. She's still there! I wrack my muddled brain for something to say. One of us is crazy, and you can't have a conversation with crazy. I stumble backwards and attempt to leave.
The princess touches my shoulder. "Oh, Bernice! Hello, again!"
I turn to face her, and gulp out a weak, "Hi."
The princess sighs, steps away from my skateboard, and comes closer. She's only an inch taller than me. She presses her palms together and says in a formal voice, "Careful. Young ladies should walk with grace."
With what? I can't be hearing straight. Whether she's real or not, I can tell by the way she's bossing me around that she's already a royal pain in my butt. I want to tell her to get lost. I want to shout loudly and obnoxiously that I am not "young lady" material. I am a semi-fearless and often unladylike skateboarder, and I walk just fine. But before I get out a single word, she sashays her silver-slippered self home. I didn't get the chance to defend myself. Not that I would out loud, anyway.
I kick a stone off the driveway and watch it sail in her direction. Then I shimmy my ungraceful self through my back door.
In the kitchen, I find Mom busy in the walk-in pantry. Dad built her a mini craft room in there. She's seated at a long table that Dad made out of a plywood door. Canned soup, fruit, pasta, and other stuff lurk in the background. It's the beginning of July, but she's making a Christmas wreathe that she'll sell at the Porchtown Craft Fair in December. "Come on, work with me," Mom yells at a roll of red ribbon. "Get your act together. I may have to use brute force to get you tied nice and neat. I kid you not."
Mom talks to herself. Or to ribbons, pine clippings, colored straw, dried flowers, glue sticks, and any other material she uses to create the craft of the day. Dad says she's quirky and pretends it doesn't happen as often as it does. He'd love her even if she talked to animals on a regular basis.
"Um, Mom?" I say. "Did you happen to notice a prin —"
"Bernice! I'm glad you're here. Pinch this piece of ribbon so I can retie it. It's not cooperating with me."
I pinch and decide this is the perfect mother-daughter moment to tell Mom that either, one, we've got a crazy neighbor, or two, I'm the crazy one and my warped, brain-fart-filled mind has produced a princess in our backyard. Mom listens and doesn't once hint that I should be committed to the local loony bin, which I appreciate. One of the perks of having a quirky mom. I'm also not surprised when Mom's reaction to my situation is, "Maybe you and she can be friends."
That's when I realize the glue's finally gone to her head.
Mom is wrong.
The princess and I won't be friends.
There's not a skater on the planet who wants a princess for a friend.
The Princess and the Plan
I haven't thought about princesses, read about princesses, or talked to imaginary princesses since third grade. By the time a kid reaches a certain age, it's no longer cool to be into princesses. I learned this the hard way via a prissy princess named Kylie Brooks. Kylie showed up in Ms. Light's class with an angelic face — one perfectly proportioned to her long neck, petite body, and cute feet. No one could walk past her without coming under her spell. I had to meet her. "Hi," I said. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Snow White?"
Kylie didn't take that well. "Snow White?" she asked, tilting her button nose in the air. "What are you, like five years old?"
Her comment made my toes curl. I turned six shades of pink and pushed back a drippy tear that threatened to slide down my cheek. My best friend stepped in to save me. "Hey, Kylie," Roxanne said. "Bernie only meant that you look unreal."
Kylie smirked, not sure whether Roxanne had complimented her or made fun of her.
Then Roxanne yanked me aside and whispered, "What are you doing? We're too old for princesses."
Somewhere between that day and today, I changed my obsession from princesses to skateboarding. I got interested in skating after stumbling on the X Games on TV one Sunday afternoon. I had to try some of those tricks! Dad got me a cheap skateboard at Sports Mart and there was no turning back. Now, every chance I get, I pop ollies, ride the ramps, and practice tricks at the Porchtown Skate Park. Any birthday bucks or bits of cash have gone into equipment, like a cooler helmet or a better board. Given the choice between new clothes, new music, or shiny skateboard trucks — the metal pieces that attach to my deck and help my board steer — well, it's not even a choice.
The board I ride, an Optical Ellipse, is six months old. It's almost worn out already. I want a custom skateboard, one where I pick out the deck, the trucks, the wheels — everything, and Porchtown Sports puts it together for me.
For the last week, I've been weeding gardens to earn money for that new skateboard. That's why I'm here in our neighbor's garden. Mrs. Martin pays me five dollars an hour to get rid of onion grass, dandelions, and other stuff that smothers her precious perennials. I don't mind. This job is better than Roxanne's. She's a babysitter and there's no way I'm watching somebody's smelly kid. I have a hard enough time keeping myself injury free and smelling decent.
"Poor Bernice, must you toil the day away in the dirt?"
I don't have to look up. I know it's the princess. A chill works its way up my spine because her voice reminds me of the high-pitched violin music you hear in the dentist's office while they're scraping the living daylights out of your teeth. I stand and turn to face my new neighbor. "Toil? What? What are you talking about? And how do you know my name?"
The princess chuckles. "What a silly-willy you are." A singing sparrow appears out of nowhere and lands on her shoulder. Seriously. A sparrow.
The princess holds her fingers to her lips to shush me. She whispers, "My godmother, Serena, told me your name. She sent me to officially meet you." The bird pecks at her perfect hair. "I think that the salesperson who sold us the mansion told her about the people on this street, including you." The princess sweeps open her arms as if she's a queen waiting for her servants' attention. In a flash, her royal expression takes a hike, and she says, "One day I was napping in the woods of our beautiful European estate, and the next I was told we had to move here — Station Street, USA. Our new property lacks both acreage and a view."
A smirk sneaks out. "Let me guess, you're Sleeping Beauty and Serena is your fairy godmother?"
"No, I'm not Sleeping Beauty," the princess says, irritated. "But I do love that story, and I am, of course, a princess. My name is Odelia, and Serena is not a fairy, but she is my godmother. I've lived with her since my parents died." Odelia then turns to me with a curious stare.
I chew on my lip. It crosses my mind that I should bow or kiss her hand or something. Or maybe say that I feel sort of sorry for her. But down deep, I'm stuck for words. Mostly, I feel sorry that she's a freak who dresses like a fairy-tale character.
I take in the whole princess picture. Odelia's twisted bun looks as if it's from a hair magazine that advertises fancy up-dos. Her sparkling tiara sits squarely on that bun. Odelia's complexion is milky. No zits have ever planted roots there. Her nose is the ideal size and shape for her face. Not scrawny and slightly bent, like mine. And she has a Barbie doll shape — again, the opposite of mine, which resembles Barbie only from the ankles down.
"Are you for real?" I poke her shoulder. "You feel real."
"What an odd question." Odelia presses her lips together. "Yes, Bernice. I am real. And please, don't let me keep you from your household chores. Is there a mean stepmother in your life who makes you weed gardens?"
"No, I have a nice mom. What I'm doing here ..." I pause and yank up a stubborn dandelion, "is not dreadful. It's something I do to help out my neighbor, and she pays me. I bet you wouldn't be caught dead doing any kind of job." I pound the dirt with my garden shovel and don't look up at Odelia. I can't believe I'm having this awkward conversation.
"Don't assume things about me!" Odelia says. She takes a big breath. "I do have a job — one that is better explained as a royal responsibility. If I do what's expected of me, I'll earn the respect of my godmother and be rightfully rewarded."
I shade my eyes from the sun and gaze up at the princess. Her chin is tilted ever so slightly upward, like she's so much better than me. "A royal responsibility?" I ask. "I'm not buying it. What exactly is 'expected' of you?"
"Haven't you figured it out, Bernice?"
"Nope," I say. "Not a clue."
Odelia sighs. "I'm expected to befriend you."
I'm pretty sure I'm the only kid who comes with a neighbor who has to be my friend because of a royal proclamation. "You've got to be kidding. How old are you, anyway?"
"I am thirteen," Odelia answers. "And one-half." She picks at her manicured nails, as if our conversation is a total waste of her time.
"You act much older."
Odelia twirls a strand of hair that has escaped from her bun. "I don't know how to act any other way."
"If you're a princess, there must be a prince around here somewhere. Is there?" I ask.
Odelia's peachy cheeks turn apple red. She studies her reflection in her shiny slippers. "Yes, there is a prince nearby. He moved here shortly after we did. But I don't want to talk about Prince Chancellor Pomegranate."
"Chancellor Pomegranate?" I say, giggling. "You're kidding! That's a ridiculous name!"
Odelia scoffs. "Do you have a prince?"
"Of course not!" But Wyatt, a cute skater I've seen at the park, crosses my mind. He's totally prince material.
Odelia raises her left eyebrow, keeping the right one glued in place. "Don't be rude, Bernice. You would benefit from what I know of the social graces."
"What?" I ask, copying her tricky eyebrow thing, hoping she'll laugh off the princess act, tell me this has all been a joke, and suddenly be normal.
"Everyone should be aware of the basic social graces — appropriate hygiene, posture, manners, etc." Odelia's face is stone. She's dead serious.
I need to get away from this weirdo. I back away, and go over to the shed to dump the garden tools. Inside it's cool and damp. My head is swimming, probably from hanging out in the hot sun for the last two hours. Thinking about Odelia, I've decided she must've camped out in the hot sun her entire life.
As I lock up the shed, I say, "I'm going home now."
But the garden is empty. Odelia's gone.CHAPTER 4
The Pied Piper and the Pipe
The last couple of days I've gardened my butt off, and Mrs. Martin's gardens are finally done. My wallet is twenty-five dollars heavier, and once I get cleaned up, I'm heading to my favorite hangout — the skate park, a few blocks away. Once upon a time, a group of high school kids successfully petitioned the Parks and Recreation Council to build the Porchtown Skate Park in two of the three unused tennis courts. Mom didn't let me skate there by myself until this summer. After a couple of years practicing in my driveway on plywood junk, I couldn't wait to try out the ramps, rails, bowls, and quarter-pipe. And they've added an eight-foot half-pipe in the third unused tennis court. So scary. You can bail on every other trick in the park, but once you drop in on that thing, you're going nowhere but down. My goal is to get up enough nerve to try it before the summer's over. Maybe even land a trick on it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Beauty and Bernice"
Copyright © 2018 Nancy Viau.
Excerpted by permission of Schiffer 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 Long, Long Ago in a Land Called Pennsylvania, 7,
CHAPTER TWO Three Time's the Charm, 9,
CHAPTER THREE The Princess and the Plan, 12,
CHAPTER FOUR The Pied Piper and the Pipe, 16,
CHAPTER FIVE One Day My Prince Will Come, 19,
CHAPTER SIX Beauty and the Butthead, 22,
CHAPTER SEVEN Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble, 26,
CHAPTER EIGHT Practically Not Perfect in Every Way, 31,
CHAPTER NINE Awesome is as Awesome Does, 37,
CHAPTER TEN The Wicked Truth, 44,
CHAPTER ELEVEN There Once Was a Caveman, 52,
CHAPTER TWELVE The Big Bad Bug, 56,
CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Wimpy Dragon Slayer, 60,
CHAPTER FOURTEEN Once Upon a Style, 65,
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Princess's New Clothes, 69,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN A Classic Failure Tale, 73,
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN In a Small Village Park, 78,
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Queen for a Day, 81,
CHAPTER NINETEEN An Invitation to the Ball, 85,
CHAPTER TWENTY Be Our Guest, 89,
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE A Damsel in Distress, 92,
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO You Shall Have a Daughter, 96,
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE The Maiden's Lost Mojo, 100,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Dressed for the Part or Partly Dressed, 103,
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE The Sporty Dorkling, 109,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX The Three Little Bigs, 112,
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Mirror, Mirror, 116,
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT Roxanne, Roxanne, Let Down Their Hair, 121,
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE Hi Ho, Oh No, to the Skate-Off We Will Go, 126,
CHAPTER THIRTY Just Keep Skating, 130,
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE The Never-Ending Beginning, 136,
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO And They Lived Happily Ever After, 139,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I absolutely loved the marriage of story and illustrations in this middle grade novel. JUST ONE THING! reminds us how easy it is to overlook our own strengths and specialties when we use those around us as a measuring stick. Viau also expands that same concept of self worth through out the book. She shows the reader that what a person does, isn't always WHO they really are. Often those who challenge us the most are searching just as frantically to feel like they matter and fit in. JUST ONE THING! will leave readers with much more than just one thing after they close the cover.
With tons of humor and lots of heart, this story jabs into the core of middle grade insanity and the question of whether or not a kid can ever make it out with even a little bit of self-esteem intact. Ant, otherwise known as Anthoni Pantaloni, has managed to maneuver his way from being stuck underneath a dark cloud. . .until he hits the fifth grade. Thrust into the new nick-name 'Antsy Pantsy', Ant struggles to find his identity while dealing with a frustrating cousin, his father's new romance and a mom who appears to be fading out of existence in some far away place named Paris, France. This book had me and my son smiling and giggling the entire way through. Ant is an average boy stuck in an unfortunate situation, but not one that surpasses reality. His problems are fairly normal, but mount from one moment to the next. Most of it isn't his fault but still, he has to deal with the fall out. It's easy to feel for him and understand the problems he's going through. Although many situations are giggle worthy, the meaning and reality behind them still hit home. Life isn't easy and problems aren't always simple to solve. Still, there's a lovely dosage of hope and the encouragement that help sometimes comes from the most unexpected places. It's these moments which bring forth those fuzzy warm feelings and make it a read to enjoy. One of the best things about this book are the illustrations/doodles. Simple sketches decorate every few pages, illustrating what Ant is doodling himself. They're funny and chucked full of imagination. As an extra bonus, there's a blank page at the end of some of the chapters, which invites kids to leave their own doodles. The messages in this book are clear (learning to love yourself, friendship, understanding, never giving up, etc) but they are weaved masterfully into the story insuring that they never feel preachy. Summed up, this is a fun read for kids ages 8 to 12 with tons of good things. The illustrations and invitation to add own doodles catches the attention and draws in. And the short length of 144 pages is just right to catch the eye of reluctant readers too. I received a complimentary copy and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to leave my thoughts.