The Map of Me

The Map of Me

by Tami Lewis Brown

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Overview

The note Momma left on the fridge says only: "I HAVE TO GO." But go where? Twelve-year-old Margie is convinced that Momma's gone to the Rooster Romp at the International Poultry Hall of Fame, in search of additions to her precious flock of chicken memorabilia. And it's up to Margie to bring her home. So she commandeers her daddy's Faithful Ford, kidnaps her nine-year-old sister, Peep, and takes to the open road.

As she navigates the back roads of Kentucky with smarty-pants Peep criticizing her every move, Margie also travels along the highways and byways of her heart, mapping a course to help understand Momma—and herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374356866
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/30/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
File size: 174 KB
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Tami Lewis Brown is the author of the picture book Soar, Elinor!, illustrated by François Roca. She holds an M.F.A. in writing for children from Vermont College and lives in Washington, D.C. The Map of Me is her first novel.


Tami Lewis Brown is the author of the novel The Map of Me and the picture book Soar, Elinor!, illustrated by François Roca. She holds an M.F.A. in writing for children from Vermont College and lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

The Map of Me


By Tami Lewis Brown

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Tami Lewis Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-35686-6


CHAPTER 1

My pencil scraped a skinny gray line across the newsprint, then a square, then a triangle on top. A house. A teeny-tiny house for teeny-tiny little—

"That's ugly," Peep said. But her voice was the ugly thing, as high-pitched as a kindergartner's, even though she'd had her ninth birthday last October.

Still, I threw my pencil down. I was no good at drawing, especially drawing a Map of Me.

"Homework!" Momma said, like one word was threat enough. Okay, it was. I picked up my pencil and started again. And Momma flipped through a catalog of teeny-tiny-house plans, keeping watch, one eye on me, the other out the kitchen window. She'd have a two-minute warning before Daddy walked through the door. Plenty of time for a smear of Coral Sunset lipstick and a splash of eau de cologne, which was the mannerly way to say toilet water. And the good and proper way to say "Welcome home!" to Daddy.

Momma was not the only one watching me. The biggest chicken collection in the state of Kentucky winked and grinned from every surface. Poultry potholders and pitchers, hen's-nest holders and rooster racks, all staring down at me.

Plus there was Peep. "My map is finished," she said. "I turned it in yesterday."

Peep did everything before it was due. She'd kept quiet through kindergarten, first grade, and second, too, pretending to be normal. Then last fall she blabbed, spilling smart right and left, learning stuff before any teacher mentioned it, before she saw it in a book, probably before scientists, and professors, and mathematicians invented it. She sat in third grade for three weeks, until her teacher begged for mercy. They tried her in fourth (week and a half), then fifth (less than an hour). Finally they shoved her up to Miss Primrose's sixth grade.

My grade.

My class.

No fair.

Momma was oh-so-proud. Daddy said they'd have put her in high school but she was too short for the desks.

I hoped she'd grow soon.

Or something worse.

My tennis shoe thumped against the rail of the hard kitchen chair as I scribbled some more. A bird on top of that triangle roof, a little rooster weather vane, like the one Momma had just ordered.

I hated homework.

I double-hated the Map of Me.

During quiet time after lunch, Miss Primrose read to us from a book called The Hobbit. Lots of kids were happy because teachers didn't read out loud to sixth graders, not usually. It meant we wouldn't have silent-at-your-desk work. But I didn't listen to Miss Primrose's boring words. I just heard the rumble rumble of her voice, the buzz of the fluorescent lights, and Jimmy McDonald's steady breathing in the row behind me. And a million different thoughts chitchattering inside my head.

Then Miss Primrose turned the whole story time against us, using that book to justify her Map of Me assignment. Because J. R. R. Tolkien, that author, he imagined Hobbitland and wrote the book about it. Then he let his son draw a map for the front. Not just a map of Hobbitland, it was a map of Mr. Tolkien's insides, his brain, and his heart, too. He let his kid stick his nose into every private place. And print it down on paper.

That was not going to happen to me.

Not for everyone to see.

I shoved my pencil into the page and added another bird. And when I pushed my pencil to draw his triangle beak, the paper ripped in a row of mini-pleats.

"That's really ugly now," Peep said.

Shut up! I wanted to say back, but "shut up" was a cussword in our house, and I was on probation. Instead, I wound my arm around my page, to make it private.

"Hush, girls," Momma said. "Your daddy's home."

The front door jangled. Daddy-size footsteps clomped through the living room, and quick! Momma rolled her catalog into a little bat and slapped it behind her hen-and-chicks cookie jar.

Peep grabbed the placemats.

I rubbed my eraser across my messed-up chicken and made a bigger mess.

Then Daddy was in the doorframe, right in front of us. His white work shirt was still starchy-crisp and his tie was still knotted tight. The very picture of Mr. Super Salesman. Daddy had a talent for tires, that's what they said. There wasn't a rim or a hubcap he couldn't tick off, manufacturer's suggested retail price and everything. Daddy knew his tires all right. And he knew me. At least he thought he did.

"Hi, Daddy," I said, sitting up good and straight.

"Get back to work, Margie," he said.

He pecked Momma on the cheek as she wiped invisible spots from the counter with a sponge. "Sell a lot of tires today?" she asked.

He grunted and leaned toward the cookie jar, and Momma practically threw her body between him and those chickens. "You'll ruin your dinner," she said.

"Just a little snack." Then Daddy took a step, his eyebrows twitching like a pair of fighting caterpillars. "What is this?" he asked, pulling the booklet from behind that cookie jar. "'Backyard Chicken Coops for Fun and Profit'?"

Peep gripped a placemat. Momma put down her sponge. I stopped erasing. All of a sudden the kitchen smelled like singed feathers.

"Live chickens?" A vein strutted up and down Daddy's neck, and Momma's shiny black eyes darted left, then right.

"Live poultry is where I draw the line," Daddy said.

He'd drawn the line lots of times. No more roosters in the dining room, because their staring put him off his feed. No more chickens on the refrigerator door, because you couldn't pull out a bottle of pop without the whole flock dropping all over your feet. "My collections make our house a home," Momma had said. "More like a barn," said Daddy. But Momma'd waited and Daddy's lines had faded, until they evaporated out of sight. Now our dining room had a brand-new Randy Rooster wallpaper border to show for it. Daddy didn't look up when he ate.

But this was different.

"No live poultry in the backyard, Helen," he said, so loud the chickens rattled on their racks.

Wipe.

"I'm just talking reasonable," he said.

Swish.

Then Daddy stomped out of the kitchen and out the front door.

Gone.

CHAPTER 2

Days went by, till it was practically Valentine's. But I wasn't feeling so lovey-dovey, walking home from school, wind skittering between my jacket buttons, mean and frisky. I was hot inside. Overheated.

Peep skipped beside me, cool, cool, too cool. She jingled like one of Santa's elves, pockets stuffed with dollars changed to dimes, two bucks for every A. Sixty dimes rattled with every step, like she was one big A+.

"Why didn't you turn in your map? Now it's too late," she said, cheerful, like me getting an F made her the luckiest sister in the world. Sometimes I wanted to grab that golden ponytail and snatch her bald-headed.

Momma claimed she called her baby Peep because she looked like Little Bo Peep from our Mother Goose book—golden curls, rosebud lips. Daddy said she never made a peep when they brought her home from the hospital. But now she wouldn't hush.

I knew the truth. With that yellow blond outside, Peep was a candy chick in an Easter basket. Fake sugar sweet, with an alien brain whipped out of weird chemicals and marshmallow cream unknown to the natural world. She made me sick to my stomach.

"I got an A on my map," she said, as if I hadn't heard, twelve times at least, since Miss Primrose handed back the papers. "You're just lucky you didn't break Jimmy McDonald's ankle in that unfortunate square dance accident," she added, like she thought my small situation in the gym wasn't any accident at all.

This morning Miss Primrose had announced our class Valentine's party would be Appalachian Ethnic Dancing, which was prissy-pants schoolteacher talk for a square dance.

Most of the sixth grade moaned, but Jimmy, eyes so green he looked part Martian, he didn't seem to mind.

After lunch we marched to the gym for practice. We took off our shoes so we wouldn't mark the gym floor. I curled my toes up so nobody could see the almost-holes in my socks.

Miss Primrose put on the music, and when the man sang out "Take your partner," she picked Peep, even though she wasn't a boy. Peep was her little pet.

Jimmy McDonald scooted in front of me.

Me?

Oh.

Jimmy McDonald had never noticed I was alive. Not until today.

But I had noticed him.

My mouth went dry and I hoped I wouldn't throw up, and all through "Slide, slide, and dance just so" his fingers tingled my wrist. Not just my wrist. All the way up my arm and across my shoulders.

Jimmy's eyes flashed, as bright green as a traffic light. Go. Go. Go. But I couldn't look. I stared at his socks. White, with a stripe across the toe almost as red as my face. No holes.

Breathe. Jump. Breathe. Jump. Breathe.

When the man sang "Take another partner and you Jump Jim Joe!" Ellie Moore pushed. Jimmy gripped. I squirmed. Then she shoved, but he held, so I yanked.

And he flew ...

like a cyclone,

across the floor,

into a heap.

Jimmy limped and Ellie cried.

Peep put the blame on me. "I bet he'll never pick you again," she said, jingling across the Martins' driveway. "And I bet his ankle is broke."

"Then you bet wrong," I said. "Step on a crack, break your momma's back." And Peep almost fell on her face, stumbling at the join between curb and sidewalk.

I tried to run ahead, but she caught up. "You should be the one worried about Momma," she said. "Momma'll break you when we get home."

No.

Momma would be quiet. Momma would be sweet. Momma wouldn't even notice. "Good thing for you Daddy's working late," she said.

Good thing for me.

"Peep, Peep, what a creep," I chanted under my breath, and she smacked me, knocking my binder to the ground, spilling math worksheets across the sidewalk.

C Needs Improvement.

2xy

Two x 's are less than a y.

M

Margie is less than Peep.

Correct.

Peep shoved the papers practically up my nose and rattled on down Pine Street, me trailing past the Madisons' yard of weeds ("town menaces" according to Daddy), by Mrs. Bell's prize-winning lilac ("just right for a widow woman"), past the Rogerses' crooked mailbox ("not one scrap of pride"). Their windows were lit up like the Kountry Kollectible Koops Momma kept on the dining room buffet. $14.99 each! Kollect the Entire Barnyard!

All up and down our street, families got ready for dinner. "You wash your hands, baby?" "Who's saying grace?" They ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes in kitchens that smelled like cinnamon toast. They smiled and told funny stories. After dinner they played Monopoly or Go Fish. All together.

The kids were cute. The daddies were happy. The mommas had fun.

They didn't have evil genius sisters.

Finally, I stomped into our yard, across Daddy's carpet of green needles, my big feet crunching a size-eight path of destruction.

Our porch light wasn't on.

There was no car in the driveway.


* * *

Momma's car must have been parked somewhere else for the afternoon. Oil change. An eighteen-point valve inspection. No problem.

"She's probably at school," Peep said. "Meeting with Miss Primrose. About you."

Breath slipped from my mouth in cloudy puffs. Cumulus. Stratus. Cirrus. Nimbus. All the formations I missed on the last science quiz.

Momma's latest crafty creation welcomed us from a nail on the front door: her Valentine's wreath, a million pink feathers hot-glued and stapled into a fluffy "I Love You." I tried the door, but it wouldn't open, so I pulled at the string twined around my neck and took the house key, warm from my own heart. Momma said this key was for just in case, but just in case was not supposed to happen.

I twisted my key into the lock and swung the door open, and Peep rushed past, running through the living room, headed for the kitchen.

I leaned against the doorjamb, cold, cold, cold against my cheek, closed my eyes, and whispered to myself

a secret—

no, a wish—

no, a prayer:

"Just once let me be as good as Peep."

CHAPTER 3

"Margie, come in here." Peep's voice echoed through the dark house.

I stumbled past the living room, busting my shin on the coffee table. Olde English Rose air freshener stung my nostrils. Momma was a big one for scent.

Peep stood in the middle of the kitchen, hens and chicks watching and waiting. "Momma's gone," she said.

"No." Momma was here. Okay, lots of times she was good as gone, rearranging her chicks into cute little scenes, dreaming of one last figurine to complete her set. But Momma was always home, in body if not in soul. She cooked. Peep did her homework. I pretended to. After dinner, Momma wiped the kitchen clean while Daddy yelled at the ball game or the news on TV, like the team and the president needed his advice.

Peep pointed at the magnets on the refrigerator. A fat momma hen plumped her nest, a rhinestone rooster pounded a tiny plastic piano. Magnets covered every inch of the freezer and most of the fridge.

These were fine collectibles. The mail order catalog promised they would rise in value. Momma's fancy magnets didn't work for a living, holding dumb family pictures or boring school notices—

Until now. A ratty scrap of paper dangled behind a cannibal chick, waving a sign for Frank's Barbecue.

"What's that?" I asked.

Peep peered at the paper. "It says 'I HAVE TO GO.'"

Something tightened inside me, wrapping around my guts, twisting like wet shoestrings tied in double knots.

"Momma signed it." Peep snatched the sheet from the refrigerator, waving the page toward my face. Her voice was squeaky, more babified than ever. "She wrote her whole name: Helen Marie Tempest."

"Give that here," I said.

Peep twisted her arm behind her back, but I was stronger. I pulled until I had the paper clenched in my fist. It just ripped a little.


I HAVE TO GO.

Solid as words carved on a tombstone.

This was crazy. Momma did not "go."

The second hand tiptoed around her Three French Hens wall clock. Quiet. Not a tick.

"She's gone for a walk," I said, even though the only place Momma walked was down the grocery aisle.

Peep blinked. Her eyes said, This is all your fault, but her mouth kept still. It might have been better to have Daddy home stomping around than to be surrounded by all this silence.

I turned to the stove. A pan of mushroom soup sat on the back burner, little brown floaters bobbing to the surface. Momma was not exactly a super-great cook. She went more for presentation. I stirred the soup, around and around and around, until it swirled into a foamy gray whirlpool. "Maybe she's out buying crackers," I said. That explained it. I was the Queen of Reasonable Explanations.

Peep pulled the cabinet door open and slammed a box of saltines next to the sink. "We have plenty of crackers," she said, loud, way loud. Maybe quiet was better after all.

"She's just ..." I started to say. Just what?

Peep began shoving stuff across the counter, like she expected to find Momma hiding behind her hen-and-chicks cookie jar. "If she's here, where are her canisters?" She pointed to the corner by the fridge, home base for the Little Red Hen flour, sugar, and whatnot jars. $29.95 per month, with Clucky Lucky FREE to the first hundred callers. Momma had collected those jars, one at a time, over four years. She'd just needed one more, the Henny Penny Coin Canister. Then everything would be complete. But now Momma's cupboard was bare. They'd flown the coop, every one.

I had no reasonable explanation for that.

Peep trotted upstairs as I opened the refrigerator, matter of fact, like all I wanted was a snack. Like it was normal for a lady to go for a stroll with her canisters, leaving her family with nothing but an I HAVE TO GO. And a pot of rubber soup. I stared at the refrigerator shelves. Burnt sugar pudding, sour cream ambrosia. All in tidy rows, wrapped up tight. Crushed pineapple, chipped beef, diced ham, neat, in alphabetical order, practically.

Before I could pull out a plate, Peep lunged back into the room, cheeks pink, breathing hard, like she'd run the Field Day 50-yard dash. "Her suitcase is gone."

Momma wouldn't haul out her Samsonite on a whim. You did not take luggage and an armload of canisters for a trip to the grocery store, or to a parent-teacher conference.

Peep was right. Momma was gone.


I slammed the refrigerator door and chicken magnets hailed down. Beaks and claws clattered around my feet, spraying across the linoleum. Tears welled in my eyes, sharp as vinegar, but I couldn't let Peep see. I bent to the floor, pretending to herd the chicks back into the fold. When Momma got home from wherever she'd wandered off to, she'd be fit to be tied if her poultry had a chipped feather or a broken wing. I gathered a handful of magnets and placed them on the counter, careful.

In a trance, I pulled bowls from the cabinet and moved to the stove. "Have some mushroom soup," I said. That sounded responsible. Soup calmed people down. They ate it in movies, after disasters. Movie stars with blankets wrapped around their shoulders ladled soup into their mouths. Then the hero came to the rescue before the whole universe exploded.

We needed that hero here, right now.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Map of Me by Tami Lewis Brown. Copyright © 2011 Tami Lewis Brown. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

Reading Group Guide

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

- Describe Margie and then describe Peep. What would it be like to have Peep in your class?

- What's it like when Daddy comes home from work? Why does his presence create tension in the family?

- Margie thinks "M

- When Margie and Peep come home from school and find their mother gone, what do they do? In what ways does Margie try to act "responsibly" given the situation?

- How does Daddy react when Margie and Peep arrive at the store to tell him Momma has left?

- Why does Margie believe that Momma has traveled to the International Poultry Hall of Fame? Do you think that's where she's gone?

- Why does Margie decide to drive Daddy's car? Why does she bring Peep with her? Does Margie feel in control behind the wheel? Why does she throw the map out the window?

- Describe Margie's visit to the rest stop. How does she feel about the family she encounters there?

- When the car skids to a stop, Margie wishes she could have one "do-over" in her life. If she got it, she vows: "I WOULD NOT LISTEN TO ANYONE BUT MYSELF." How would this change her life and her character? Later Margie says, "But there was no such thing as a do-over. Not in real life. There were just mistakes. And my mistakes came back around again and again, no matter how hard I tried to move on." What does this tell you about how Margie sees herself?

- What happens when Margie and Peep finally arrive in Flench and the International Poultry Hall of Fame? Does it match their expectations?

- How does Aunt Blanche try to help Margie see the positive aspects of her journey to find Momma? What does Margie come to realize about why Momma may have left?

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