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A Piece of the Sky
     

A Piece of the Sky

by David Patneaude
 

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Russell’s summer seems doomed. He’s stuck in small-town Oregon without a movie theater, a baseball park, or a pizza parlor. Then a legend about an old meteorite envelops him—and connects his grandfather’s special rock and old map to a nearly blind ex-con who did time for manslaughter. Eventually Russell, along with his new friends Phoebe and

Overview

Russell’s summer seems doomed. He’s stuck in small-town Oregon without a movie theater, a baseball park, or a pizza parlor. Then a legend about an old meteorite envelops him—and connects his grandfather’s special rock and old map to a nearly blind ex-con who did time for manslaughter. Eventually Russell, along with his new friends Phoebe and Isaac, makes a dangerous trip into the mountains to find the meteorite, rumored to be rare and valuable—and perhaps the same “piece of the sky” discovered by Russell’s great-great-great-grandfather. When the dangerous Full Moon Mullins, also on the hunt for the meteorite, overtakes them, the expedition turns into a matter of life or death.   

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Janet L. Rose
Russell and his mother are spending the summer in Oregon sorting through the belongings of his grandfather who has lost his memory. Russell wants to connect with him, but he is not sure how. Maybe he wants to connect with him to find the meteorite that fell to one of the mountain tops near their town. An old friend of his grandfather's, Leggs, also wants to find the meteorite before the ruthless Moon Face Mullins exploits it. When Leggs is found near death, Russell, his friend Phoebe, and her older brother Isaac (who is still in shell shock from a recent war), backpack up the mountain to find the legendary meteorite. After climbing for two days, Moon Face catches up with them and forces them to the edge of the cliff. In the tussle that follows, Isaac dodges Moon Face, who falls over the cliff to his death, and Isaac lands on a ledge. This realistic story is full of suspense and based on a legend about a rock sample that was found in 1856 near Port Orford, Oregon. Although many explorers have tried, no one has found the original meteorite.
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8 - Fourteen-year-old Russell and his mom are spending the summer in Port Orford, OR, to help transition Russell's grandfather into an assisted-living situation. While Californian Russell is unenthusiastic about being there, he does manage to develop a friendship with Phoebe, the daughter of his grandfather's new caregiver. Russell and Phoebe uncover a 100-plus-year-old mystery concerning a large meteorite lying somewhere in the wilderness (based on an actual historical account discussed in an author's note). Several historical chapters interspersed in the narrative cover the initial discovery. Russell, Phoebe, and her older brother head off into the woods to find it, pursued by Full Moon, a villain also looking for the large rock. After a dramatic fight, Russell must continue off-trail alone, in spite of all rules of outdoor safety and common sense. He ultimately finds what he is looking for, but any sweetness that might come with this discovery is clouded by the extreme danger of his decisions. However, kids won't mind the safety issues, and fans of Gordon Korman's "On the Run" series (Scholastic) will enjoy the sense of danger and the self-sufficiency of the main characters.-Kristin Anderson, Columbus Metropolitan Library System, OH

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Following the discovery by Dr. John Evans of a valuable ten-ton meteorite in a remote area of mountainous Port Orford, Ore., in 1856, the modern consequences swing from attempted murder motivated by greed to natural wonder born by scientific curiosity. Fourteen-year-old Russell is interested in the meteorite because his great grandfather was with the team who originally found it. He has developed a love for geology, and he's in town to help close up his sick grandfather's home. No one knows where the meteorite is except Legs, a harmless blind man, whose research in better days and foolish tenacity has kept his map secret for seven years. There is high melodramatic tension because a dangerous man is stalking Legs and his friends. This exciting treasure hunt has all the elements of a thriller, and the gun-wielding bad guy on the trail of the friends rocks the plot into hyper-mode. An entertaining light summer read. (Fiction. 11-14)
From the Publisher

"An entertaining light summer read."

Kirkus Reviews

"Set in Oregon, this old-fashioned adventure story has contemporary appeal."

Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781480466524
Publisher:
Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date:
01/14/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
184
File size:
322 KB
Age Range:
10 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Piece of the Sky


By David Patneaude

ALBERT WHITMAN & Company

Copyright © 2007 David Patneaude
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6652-4



CHAPTER 1

Matthew: July 20, 1856

Hard ground, morning chill, and mule smells woke Matthew before sunrise. Stiff, cold, and hungry, he longed for his own bed, his mother's voice, her warm, sweet bread. He even missed his brother James's endless questions. But Matthew was far, far from home.

While stars faded into brightening sky, he walked into the deeper woods and relieved himself. When he returned to the campsite, Dr. Evans was sitting up, facing a bald, round-topped mountain in the distance. The night before, when the party had arrived, the mountain had been part of the darkness. Now it looked like a black sun rising over the lumpy horizon.

"How do you think it lost its cover?" the doctor said.

"Its trees, you mean?" Matthew asked.

The doctor stood. His feet were bare, but he still wore the ankle-length housecoat — a banyan, he called it — that he slept in every night. "Yes. Why are the trees infuriatingly abundant everywhere but on that skull of a mountain?"

Matthew considered the possibilities. Too much sun? Not on the south coast of the Oregon Territory. Too little rain? No. Rain — buckets of it — fell regularly here. The thick growth everywhere, from the carpet of grasses and flowers and mushrooms and moss, to the tips of the tallest firs, was testimony. Suddenly he had a thought: "Indians."

"Indians?"

"Indians set fires to keep brush and trees down. It helps them in their hunting."

"Yes." The doctor's gaze returned to the mountain. "We've seen evidence of that practice on the lower prairies and meadows. But I don't believe Indians are responsible for what we're observing here."

"Rocky ground?" Matthew guessed. "Perhaps the mountain is one giant boulder. The trees would have no place to root and settle in."

"A thoughtful theory, young Matthew. But I think not. These trees seem to grow in the most inhospitable of places. A spoonful of wet dirt is all they need."

Matthew thought hard, searching Dr. Evans's face for clues. Did this man, who had long studied the earth and its many inhabitants, who had more education than all the settlers of Port Orford combined, expect the answer to come from a thirteen-year-old caretaker of mules? The thought warmed Matthew's insides.

Dr. Evans cleared his throat. His two assistants, Lemieux and Poirier, stirred in their blankets, one of them mumbling sleep-drowned words in unfathomable French. Their slumbering shapes, close by the fire pit, emerged like phantoms in the gathering light.

An answer came to Matthew like a flying ember of burning cedar. "Wildfire?" He looked at the doctor and saw the beginnings of a smile.

"You're learning, Matt. You've looked around, you've taken some cues from nature, you're approaching the solution. But you're not there yet."

Matthew shrugged. He was out of ideas.

The doctor changed the subject. "How many hours until we reach that mountain?" he asked.

Now he expected Matthew to be a guide, a surveyor, a mathematician. But Matthew had spent time in the coastal mountain range. He recognized distances, the encumbrances of undergrowth and terrain, how long it took to navigate them. "I would say this evening, Doctor. If the mules don't balk."

"And we don't waste this fine day standing here and guessing." The doctor went to Lemieux and Poirier and shook them awake. When he looked at Matthew, there was a flame of excitement in his eyes. "Ready the mules, son. We have ground to cover and a mountain with secrets to share."

CHAPTER 2

Kick Me, I'm in Port Orford: July 20, Present


I stepped through the front door, soaked with sweat and ocean mist. My lungs felt alive and clean, and I had to admit I liked the feeling. Back in California you never knew what you were breathing. But aside from unpolluted air, I couldn't think of much good to say for Port Orford, the shrimp-sized town on the Oregon coast I'd be calling home for the rest of the summer.

I heard Mom unloading the dishwasher, stacking plates. I peeled off my shoes while my nose filled with the smell of baking. My eyes wandered around Grandpa's living room and I tried to think of a top ten list of good things about Port Orford. I got to five — the air, the scenery, the library, meeting Phoebe, seeing Grandpa.

But even the seeing-Grandpa one had some holes in it. His memory was fading, and fast. He was Grandpa, but not the Grandpa I remembered. He'd lost some of his fire when Grandma died four years earlier, but now the flame was barely flickering. Was there a way to get it rekindled?

Mom had already gotten rid of a lot of his stuff, but across the room, in the center of the mantel, next to his wedding photo, sat one of his untouchables: a shadow box framing a half-drab, half-shiny, bell-shaped chunk of rock the size of a baby's fist. I wasn't sure why the keepsake was so precious, although I'd heard stories. True? Not true?

I walked over to the fireplace and touched the rock. It was hard and cool, just like any ordinary rock. I lifted the case from its spot, leaving a shiny-clean rectangle bordered by dust. The box was sturdy, but most of its surprising weight must have owed to the rock itself.

My fingers brushed up against something, and I turned the frame around. Taped to its back with brittle-looking yellowed tape was an old yellowed envelope. Matthew's was written on it in cursive letters that I could barely read. Grandpa's writing, I decided.

"That you, Russell?" Mom called.

She looked up as I walked into the kitchen. "It could have been anybody," I said. "I thought you were gonna lock the door after I left."

"I know Port Orford — I grew up here, remember. The door doesn't need to be locked." She'd gotten thin enough in the past month to pass for a high school kid, except for the dark shadows around her eyes. She was on the worrying-about-your-dad diet, the one where you spend all day not eating much and trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff collected over seventy years of someone's life. And what to do about that life itself.

I gave her a reminder, something Dad had said when we left him behind in Santa Rosa: "'Small towns have big mysteries. And big trouble.'"

"Your dad's words. I remember them. But firefighters face life's tragedies every day so they tend to be worriers. Your grandpa's never had a problem in this house."

"Dad would want it locked."

She grinned. "Okay, okay," she said. "From now on. But I'm certain you could chase away any Port Orford bad guys."

I shook my head. I was half a head taller than her now. I'd passed her up two years earlier, almost magically, on my twelfth birthday. But no bad guys would be afraid of my skinny self.

"How was the run?" she said.

"Phoebe can fly." I grabbed clean glasses from the dishwasher and began stacking them on a shelf. "But I kept up." Phoebe Page, the daughter of Grandpa's caretaker, was my age — fourteen — but I could already see she was going to be a star.

Mom turned and hugged me, pressing my wet shirt to my skin. "You're getting so big," she said into my shoulder.

"Bigger than you."

"I can still take you."

I had to smile. Mom hadn't given up on the idea of experience and technique winning out over size and strength. But we hadn't had one of our legendary arm-wrestling matches for a while. "In your dreams," I said.

She leaned back and looked at me. "Why don't you jump in the shower? I made some killer cookies you can deliver to your grandpa while they're still warm."

"No chance he's moving back home?" Stupid question. The steady departure of his stuff, the simple fact that we were here, should have been answer enough. But I could hope.

"Grandpa can't be on his own, Russell," Mom said. "Becky's a nurse, and a good one, and a good person, and that's why he's living with the Pages. But even if we cared for him ourselves and kept him from wandering off or burning down the house, it would only be temporary. When summer ends, we'll have to leave Port Orford and go back to California. Then what?"

"Take Grandpa with us."

"He'd get worse. Faster. At least here he still knows where he is. Most of the time, anyway. He's getting used to being with the Pages. He'd hate leaving Oregon. In a couple of weeks, I'll list the house with a realtor. When it sells, there will be money for his care."

Why? I wondered. If I had to come up with a top ten list of reasons to leave Port Orford, I'd have zero trouble filling it. Besides being a place where my grandpa had lost his wife and then his mind, Port Orford practically wore one of those Kick Me signs on its rear end. It had no movie theater, no music store, no video game arcade, no running track, no baseball park, no pizza place. The weather was good for one thing: running. The ocean water was so cold I couldn't go in past my knees without threatening future generations of Nolans. Cell-phone service was almost nonexistent unless I stood on my head on the top of a tree on the top of a mountain, which meant my California friends — or I — might as well be on the moon. Our web access was dial-up, e-mail was sketchy, the nearest radio stations played music for old folks and cowboys. And I no longer owned an iPod. Ten reasons? No sweat.

All those things were bearable in small doses. I'd always liked coming to Port Orford to visit Grandpa for a weekend or a week, especially when I was younger. But I sure wasn't happy when I found out we were going to be here for a whole summer. I complained. I argued. I whined. I suggested (futilely) that I stay behind with Dad, who of course had to work. Mom and Dad suggested (successfully) that Mom needed my help.

I turned to head upstairs. "He might thank us for taking him."

She ignored my comment. "I remember what he was," she said. "Strong, with a mind that never stopped and legs that carried him all over this coast."

"The other Grandpa." Just a couple of years before this, when he was approaching seventy, he could still run me into the ground, he was still tutoring high school kids in math. But that was then.

After my shower I locked the front door and took off for Phoebe's, trying to get there before the temperature of the cookies matched that of the cool, foggy air pushing in from the Pacific. My legs still tingled from my run. I loved the feeling. I loved being a runner.

Had my parents known something when they decided to name me Russell Ulysses? Did they guess that the initials for those names, added to the N for Nolan, would turn out to be some kind of weird prediction? I figured not. I figured it was just a coincidence, especially since neither Mom nor Dad was a crystal-ball gazer, and Ulysses was an old family name.

I stretched out my stride, munching on a warm cookie, wondering where Grandpa's dreams would take him today. Somewhere in the past, for sure. Maybe to the mountains when he was young, and ancient trees stood tall and water ran clean. Maybe to the times he sailed his first boat or went off to war or got married or became a dad.

Maybe to not so long ago, to the summer of my ninth birthday, when he and I and nobody else backpacked into a small secret beaver pond high in this coastal range. Grandpa had his own trail, but it was somewhere in his head, so he showed me how to read a compass and we bushwhacked through dense woods to get there. And when we finally did, hot and tired but wide awake at the same time, we caught trout as big as torpedoes and roasted marshmallows and waved them through the dark like torches. And later that night, when we got ready to sleep under the stars like wolves, he spread out my sleeping bag close to his and close to the fire because we'd seen fresh bear tracks. I was afraid a bear with paws the size of mud flaps and teeth like daggers would come sniffing around looking for fresh and tender boy-meat.

I loved wandering the wilderness with Grandpa back then. But I hated it when he wandered away now. These days when he took off, his destination wasn't some real-life beaver pond high in the hills. Now his journeys took him to the past, where I couldn't go — no matter how well I read a compass, how diligently I swung a machete and chopped out a trail through the thick woods.

Grandpa had pretty much checked out of the present. He could remember the long-ago as if it had happened yesterday; it was the actual yesterday — or moments ago — he couldn't recall.

I broke into a jog. Maybe I could catch him at a good moment, one of those rare times when his head bobbed to the surface of another pond — a dark mysterious pond — and he seemed to be himself again.

CHAPTER 3

Nice to See You: July 20, Present


When I got to Phoebe's house, Grandpa was on the front porch, wrapped in his blanket, rocking in his high-backed rocker, gazing out toward the ocean, a short three blocks away. From where he was sitting, anyone facing west could look past a scattered collection of houses and other low buildings and watch white surf roll and crash.

"Hi, Grandpa," I said, climbing the steps, hoping for some kind of reaction. He blinked, didn't turn, resumed staring.

I waved to Phoebe, busy with something behind the open kitchen window. Dishes, I guessed, as a rainbow bubble the size of a ping-pong ball escaped through the gap. Her dark wavy hair was shower-wet and pulled back in a ponytail. She looked recovered from the run — five miles on Port Orford's streets, the beach, the highway. She'd made it look easy. I tried to make it look easy.

She was tall, nearly my height. I'd heard from her proud mom that Phoebe could outrun any boy in her eighth-grade class. I wanted to believe the boast; it would make me feel better whenever (all the time, pretty much) I struggled to keep up with her.

From the window, Phoebe could watch Grandpa. If he decided to wander, she could head him off. Even in Port Orford, there were places — the highway, the cliffs, the ocean — where an old, confused person could stumble into trouble.

She pointed at her eye. According to her, this was Port Orford sign language for "Nice to see you." I had a feeling she'd made it up — the country kid trying to put one over on the city kid. But I'd gotten used to going along with it. I pointed at mine, then bent down, gave Grandpa a hug, and handed him the bag of cookies. "Chocolate chip," I said. "Your favorite, Grandpa. Warm from the oven."

"Hildie's making me a cake," Grandpa said. "She'll be here in a bit."

"Great," I said. "But have one of these in the meantime."

"Don't mind if I do," Grandpa said, and I breathed out a sigh of relief. Grandma Hildie wasn't going to appear out of the past, carrying a cake.

I pushed through the half-open front door into the cool darkness of the entryway and a cloud of breakfast smells. I heard the shower clank on upstairs, rattling the old pipes in the old house. Isaac, Phoebe's brother, was beginning his morning ritual. Lately, he came down for breakfast. When he'd first come home from the naval hospital, zombied down on painkillers and antidepressants, he rarely made it downstairs. We'd arrived in Port Orford about the same time, but for weeks I heard only rumors of the big brother home from the war, his leg mending, his spirit lagging.

By the time I finally saw him, I had this vague image in my head of what he'd look like — grim battle-worn face, buzz cut, Marine's muscles, big limp. But I couldn't have been much further off. Aside from his eyes, which seemed too old, too jumpy, his face was still a kid's. He had a nice smile and long straight hair that reached down to the collar of his T-shirt. His handshake was firm but friendly. He had muscles, but they were basketball-player muscles, long and lean. His limp was subtle. Phoebe told me that in high school he'd been a star — a six-foot-three-inch leaper, twenty points a game and unselfish.

I walked into the kitchen. Phoebe smiled an understanding smile, taking away some of the sting of Grandpa's sad condition. I'd known her less than two months, since Mom and I moved into Grandpa's place at the end of the school year, but it seemed like longer. Between me visiting Grandpa and our running, we'd spent a lot of time together. And she wasn't at all like the standoffish girls who seemed to run my school back at home. "Where's your mom?" I said.

"Getting groceries. Our new guest shows up today."

"Another Alzheimer's?"

"No," she said. "He's got other problems."

I wondered what other problems could make someone give up his independence. "You have time to hang out?"

"I don't know," she said. "Maybe later." Phoebe had to help her mom a lot. Now she plunged her hands into one side of the double sink. Laundry, not dishes, floated in the murky rinse water. She wrung out a piece of clothing and threw it into a plastic bucket. "It figures — as soon as Dad leaves, the washer goes ka-ploo-ey."

I was tempted to remind her that I was without a dad for the whole summer. Phoebe's was gone for only a couple of weeks, teaching a writing course in Iowa. "Let me help," I said instead.

"You don't —"

I'd show her how to really wring. I reached to pick up something, but saw what looked suspiciously like ... women's — or girls' — underwear.

I froze.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from A Piece of the Sky by David Patneaude. Copyright © 2007 David Patneaude. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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.

Meet the Author

When David Patneaude was a youngster, his favorite story was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a tale of adventure, suspense, mystery, and best of all, buried treasure. David never found pirate plunder of his own, but now he digs for a different kind of hidden loot—story ideas. David lives in Woodinville, Washington, with his wife, a junior-high-school librarian. They have three grown children and two grandsons.  
 When David Patneaude was a youngster, his favorite story was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a tale of adventure, suspense, mystery, and best of all, buried treasure. David never found pirate plunder of his own, but now he digs for a different kind of hidden loot—story ideas. David lives in Woodinville, Washington, with his wife, a junior-high-school librarian. They have three grown children and two grandsons.  

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