Ryder Holmsby is the same age as Rory, the popular TV cartoon character her animator parents created. Ryder and Rory are alike—bold and brave! But Ryder is a bit lonely: Mom passed away a couple of years ago, and Dad is dating a woman with snooty teenage daughters. Ryder doesn’t fit in with them at all.
And then: Shazam! Rory jumps out of the TV into Ryder’s bedroom to tell her that the TV studio behind her parents’ show is trying to turn Rory into a dopey princess—no more adventures. She needs Ryder’s help! The two girls team up with a crew of animated and real-life friends to save the day in both worlds.
Kathryn Lasky, bestselling author of the Guardians of Ga’hoole series, the Wolves of the Beyond series, and the Horses of the Dawn series, delivers a whimsical tale in which inner strength is the greatest form of magic.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The sun slides like a dull copper coin behind a sky filled with dust as Granny and I ride our horses through the valley. All you can hear is the squeak of our saddles and the horses’ hooves on the hard-packed dirt.
“Dust storm coming up the valley,” Granny says. A minute later two whirlwinds peel off from the storm. Granny tugs her scarf up to cover her mouth and keep the dust out. Skinny as a split rail, my grandmother sits tall in the saddle. I tug up my scarf too. “Let’s pull a Calamity,” she says.
Calamity, the sorrel mare that Granny rides, is named for Calamity Jane, the most famous person who ever lived in Deadwood, South Dakota. She was a master of terrific escapes from everything from bad guys to weather. I am behind Granny on my pinto pony, Delbert. The human Delbert was a leading citizen of Deadwood. He and his wife, Delberta, invented the Delbert ice cream bar, chocolate and vanilla all in one. Delbert and Delberta became very rich and my mom went to art school on a D&D scholarship.
Granny digs the heels of her boots into her mare’s flanks and gallops down into a steep gorge to escape the marauding dust devils that have multiplied into four swirling cones. By the time we’re safe in the gorge, it starts to rain.
“Over here, Ryder!”
Granny finds a ledge with an overhang to protect us. The rain is bucketing down, and when I reach her, my flat-brimmed cowboy hat is spilling sheets of water down my neck and face.
“Why, you’re wet as an old wet hen.” She chuckles. Granny has a funny little gap between her front teeth that makes her smile extra sweet. She whistles through that gap.
I’m so happy to be riding with Granny on the prairie. Dad was right; this visit was a good idea. Every time he calls, he sounds brighter. Last night he said he had been out to dinner a few times with a lady named Bernice, who is the director of the Radiance place. He said it to me gently, as if I might be worried that he was dating someone. But it’s okay. For the first time in almost two years, Dad and I are both sort of happy.
“You know, it was right here that a rattler dropped down on your mom when she was a kid,” Granny says.
“Yes siree Bob, right over there.” She nods toward a rusty patch of stone.
“What did she do?”
“Took her piggin’ string and whupped the daylights out of it.”
“Piggin’ string? But that’s what calf ropers use to tie up calves’ feet.”
“Works on a rattler too. She gave it a few mean swats, then, Lord knows how, but she looped that string round his head and slip-knotted it. Nearly took his whole head off. His rattles are hanging up in the living room--the very ones.”
“The ones with the little decorations painted on them?”
“Yes indeed. There wasn’t anything your mom couldn’t paint or draw on. What an artist! And everything she touched with her paintbrush or her pen--every piece of her art, including all those lovely hats she made with the chicken feathers--they all had soul. Just pure soul.” She sighs. “And you, Ryder, were as much of an inspiration as any old bad-butt rattlesnake.”
“Granny, I’m not sure that’s a compliment.”
“Believe me, it is, dollin’.”
Nobody says “darling” the way Granny does. Granny’s other term of endearment for me is “chicken.” Not that she thinks I’m chicken like being afraid of stuff. No, she has a sweet spot for chickens. She raises the prettiest ones--Rhode Island Reds, New Zealand spotted guinea hens. That’s where my mom got all the feathers for her hat designs. I have two of the spotted guinea feathers in my hatband. Granny has a Golden Polish in hers.
The rain lets up after about ten minutes and we ride out into the newly rinsed world. It’s always beautiful after a downpour. A soft mist rises from the river and curls like a ribbon through the valley. Birds sing, and golden light washes out of the sky. The air is clean and the grass has a tangy sweetness. I bet the earthworms are doing little jigs under the ground.
It isn’t long before we see the house crouching under the only grove of cottonwoods on a huge plain. I love Granny’s house. A bunch of Mom’s things are here. Granny lets me take anything I want. But I don’t like taking things back to our house in California. I’m afraid they’d get homesick. Like the patchwork quilt Mom made that I always sleep under here.
Mom was a wonderful quilter. I love the small patches of cloth that she picked out and carefully stitched together into what’s called a crazy quilt, with odd shapes colliding, unexpected fabrics next to each other, like velvet next to plain gingham, and all sorts of stitches, from curlicue embroidery to delicate feather stitches. There might be fun things besides fabric--beads, lace, ribbons, buttons, medals, and maybe a feather or two. She did many patterns, but crazy quilts were her favorite. And they’re mine too.
In our house in Bel Air, outside of Los Angeles, things are too bright, too perfect. There’s a swimming pool where the water looks like blue Jell-O, and the air-conditioning thrums all day and all night. The grass is too green and has no smell. The ice maker in the refrigerator sounds like bones crunching. But it was Mom and Dad’s dream house. Once I asked Mom how the Bel Air house could be her dream house when she also said that about Granny’s little stone house. She said, “Nothing wrong with having a lot of dreams, sweetie.”
But you can only live in one dream, I think. Granny’s house is mine. It’s all on one level with a wraparound porch. The porch has what they call out here a brush arbor roof so the sun doesn’t broil you during the day and the moonlight can trickle through at night. No lawn. Granny says it’s immoral to feed a lawn when children are starving all over the world. But the best thing is she has a garden growing right out of her roof. She has a sod roof, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder did in Little House on the Prairie. All kinds of stuff sprouts from that roof, and it’s my job to tend it. We don’t plant anything, the flowers just come--oxeye daisies; dame’s rocket with its soft purple bursts of blossoms; Queen Anne’s lace; beardtongue, which doesn’t have a beard or tongue but looks like teensy-weensy trumpets for mice to toot. We don’t mind the weeds. We like to go up there for star watching.
When we get home from our ride, we unsaddle the horses and brush them down. Granny gives them each a groat cake. Calamity especially loves groat cakes. It’s time for our supper, but first I want to see Mom’s painted rattles again.
In the living room, I look at the picture of Granny presenting my mom with her diploma. Mom looks slightly embarrassed. It must have been weird to have your own mother be the principal of your school. And there they are--eight rattles. “Holy moly, they’re huge!”
“Yep,” says Granny. “Look how pretty she painted them. They might be huge rattles for a rattlesnake, but they’re kind of a small canvas for a painter. And she did it so delicate-like. That gal could have crocheted a sweater for a hummingbird.” I giggle picturing it.
There are merry little pictures of flowers and things. And one . . . I blink. “Hey, that’s me!” I pause. “I think. But it looks more like Rory, maybe.”
“Neither one of you was around then.” Granny gives my shoulder a squeeze. “I’m going to miss you, chicken.”
I’ve been here over a month and have to go back to Bel Air tomorrow.
“I’m going to miss you too, Granny.”
I look down at my cowboy boots. I don’t want her to see my eyes with their wet twinkles.
For dinner I eat four pieces of corn on the cob and a pile of tomatoes, all from Granny’s garden. We don’t eat Granny’s chickens. They’re just for laying eggs. For dessert Granny makes us tin roof sundaes: vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and peanuts on top.
“The ice cream and the peanuts count for protein,” Granny says.
While we eat dessert, we turn on the television and Rory’s face fills the screen. She’s on a pirate ship rescuing some kids who were kidnapped because the pirates thought they could help them find a buried treasure. While balancing on the rail of the ship, Rory is swinging and jabbing with her sword. She snips the buttons off the pirate’s waistcoat and then his britches, which fall down, leaving him in his underwear.
Rory does stuff I could never do. She makes Robin Hood look clumsy with a bow and arrow. She always hits the bull’s-eye. I squint at her. Something seems a little off about Rory. Maybe it’s the reception. Granny puts her glasses on and leans closer. “She looks different, Ryder. A little older.” She grabs my hand and gives it a tight squeeze, then tucks it under her arm as if she’s scared I might skedaddle. She turns to me. Her pale blue eyes are wobbly behind the magnification of the lenses. “Love ya, chicken.”
When I get in bed, I text Penny. Can you get the Rory show in London? Take a look. Is anything weird about her?
I wonder if she’ll text me back. She never calls anymore and only sometimes answers my text messages.
At about two in the morning, a little ping wakes me up. Penny!
Hi, Ryder. I’m off to a garden party today. Guess who’s going to be there? A royal princess!
I text back: Did you read my text about Rory? Do they have the show there?
Then she texts: No idea about Rory or show. Mum’s letting me wear heels today! Talk later.
Mum? Heels? What’s with Penny?