When Violet is summoned by Bogdana to start training to become a real princess, it seems like her life might be taking a turn for the better. But hope quickly fades when Violet's mother is expelled from the castle and they're forbidden to see each other ever again. With everyone's lives in the balance, it's up to Violet to break the spell and reunite her family.
|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Nicoletta Ceccoli is the award-winning illustrator of many children's books, including The Boo! Book by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, Little Red Riding Hood by Josephine Evetts-Secker, and Cinderella by Sarah Thompson. She studied animation at the Institute of Art in Urbino and currently resides in her native Republic of San Marino, Italy.
Read an Excerpt
The Girl in the Tower
By Lisa Schroeder, Nicoletta Ceccoli
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Lisa Schroeder
All rights reserved.
As Violet hovered in that reflective space between asleep and awake, she reached up to feel for her nose. Thankfully, it was still there. Practically numb, but there. She burrowed deeper under the blankets. Not quite ready to face another day in the dreary tower, she squeezed her eyelids shut. Perhaps she could delay the inevitable by drifting back to sleep and returning to the garden of her dreams.
There, sunshine warmed her through and through. There, she frolicked about and admired Mother Nature's handiwork with no walls to confine her. And there, the colorful hummingbirds never left her side.
Merciful sleep did not come, however. The young girl rolled over and squeezed in tightly against her mother underneath the old wool blankets they shared. Her delicate snore soothed Violet's frigid nerves. She fingered the soft leather bracelet she wore on her tiny wrist, and soon her own breaths matched those of her mother. Comfort filled her. As long as she had her mother, she could bear anything. Even the bitter cold.
A while later, her mother stirred and Violet's stomach growled. When had they last eaten? Yesterday? The day before? The cold made Violet's thoughts fuzzy, but surely Maggie hadn't forgotten them yesterday. She made a point to come every day, for she and her husband, George, were the only connection Violet and her mother had to the outside world. Maggie's visits were important, treasured even, and not just for the food.
"Are you hungry, my little princess?" her mother asked, rolling over and kissing her daughter's forehead.
"Aye. Starving," Violet replied. "What did we eat yesterday? I can't seem to recall."
"Boiled eggs. One in the morning and one in the evening."
Now Violet remembered. She detested boiled eggs. She must have pushed them from her mind, so unpleasant was the experience of having to choke them down.
"I do hope she brings something else today. Bread and freshly whipped butter. With fresh strawberries. And cream to drink."
"Strawberries don't grow in the winter, silly girl. You remember, don't you? They grow in early summer, when Lady Sunshine magically transforms the berries from green and paltry to red and plump."
Violet licked her cold, cracked lips. "And bursting with sweet flavor. Oh, Mama, what I would give for just one strawberry. Remember the first time I tasted one, from the plants George grew in the secret garden?"
Her mother sighed. "I do indeed. Good friends, George and Maggie have been — that's for sure. Risking so much to show us kindness. We're forever in their debt."
"Aye," Violet said, deep in thought, remembering warmer and happier days.
"Come on, now," her mother said, sitting up. "Let's not mope about. After all, we have a treasure to find today. Isn't that right?"
Violet sat up, too, a smile slowly spreading across her face. Just like that, the straw beneath them wasn't a mattress at all, but a ship sailing across the rolling waves of the ocean. "Have we almost reached land, Captain Nuri?"
"Ahoy, matey. See there? Land straight ahead!" Her mother pointed across the room. "It won't be long now. Do you have your treasure map?"
Violet reached toward the wall directly behind the mattress and pulled out a loose stone. Hidden away were a quill pen and ink, along with some parchment and a lovely book of artwork. Over the years, Maggie had smuggled various items into the tower for the two prisoners so Violet could learn to read and write and draw. Violet grabbed the treasure map she and her mother had drawn as they imagined an island with warm, sandy beaches and palm trees, and a chest filled with jewels waiting to be discovered.
"The sea is getting rough," Captain Nuri said. "Are you sure you are capable of landing this fine vessel?"
Violet handed her mother the map, then stood up on the mattress turned ship. She curled her fingers, making a small hole with each hand, and put them together before she placed them over her right eye. It was as if she were looking through a spyglass, just like her mother had taught her. She was no longer a girl shivering in a tower, but a pirate, strong and brave, ready to fight battles and locate the buried treasure.
"Captain Nuri, I will have no trouble landing this ship. If I can survive all these years in this tower, I believe I can do anything!"
Nuri smiled proudly. "That's my girl."CHAPTER 2
While a mother and daughter searched for imaginary jewels in the cold, bleak tower, Queen Bogdana, wrapped in layers of fur, walked the castle grounds, searching for a different kind of jewel. A flying jewel.
The queen collected beautiful things the way historians collect books. She had trays of sparkling jewelry; closets of exquisite gowns and robes; and, her favorite of all, acres of gardens where flowers, plants, bushes, and trees grew, producing colorful and fragrant blooms most of the year.
Yes, Bogdana, who wasn't a queen at all but instead an evil witch, was obsessed with beauty. The spells her mother and grandmother had taught her as a young girl provided almost everything she desired: a home and husband fit for a queen, hardworking servants, and riches beyond compare. But every morning for the past twenty years, since she'd cast a spell on the castle and made herself queen, she looked in the mirror with disdain. For there was one thing her heart longed for until it ached.
To be beautiful herself.
She wanted to be rid of the fat, snoutlike nose; the beady eyes; and the splotchy skin. Even her brown hair was coarse and wiry, sticking every which way so that her large, jeweled crown appeared to rest on a bed of dried weeds.
The ancient spell book was clear. Only one act of magic could bring about beauty, and it required two items Bogdana did not have. Yet. She needed a feather from a living hummingbird and a strand of hair the color of darkness plucked from the head of a girl with eyes the color of lavender who had lived at least eleven years but no more than twelve.
All of Bogdana's magic came from spells passed down through generations of witches. It frustrated her at times that she couldn't simply wish for something and make it so. How much easier her life would be, she often thought, if her magic wasn't confined to spells that were oftentimes complex.
Even where her magic was concerned, she was never quite satisfied.
She ordered soldiers to search the country far and wide for a girl the right age and with the appropriate features for the beauty spell. None was found.
And then, one spring day ten years ago, as a band of wandering minstrels made their way along the road in front of the castle, a woman cried out in pain. The king, a kind and gentle man who was under Queen Bogdana's spell, heard the commotion and took pity on the musician Nuri when he learned she was about to deliver her first child. He invited Nuri into the castle, where she could rest and labor in private. The remaining minstrels, including the woman's husband, Marko, were asked to make their way to the nearby village, where they could wait for Nuri to return to them with a swaddled babe in her arms.
When the infant was born, Nuri named her Violet. The queen made a visit to pay her respects and was astonished to find Violet was the girl the queen had been looking for, though eleven years too soon. With dark hair like her mother's and eyes a lovely purplish-blue color, the babe was a sight to behold. The queen decided she must somehow keep the girl in her possession until she would prove to be useful.
Once the minstrel was strong enough to return to her roaming lifestyle, the king asked his wife to help Nuri get on her way toward the village, where her family waited. Instead, without the king's knowledge, the queen ordered her servants to lock the woman and her child away in the east tower with only a straw mattress to sleep on and a small table and chairs for their daily meal. Bogdana gave a tower key to Maggie, one of the castle's maidservants whom she trusted implicitly, with instructions to gather up clothing for them to wear and to do their laundry regularly. Maggie was also told to take food and drink to them once a day, empty their chamber pots, and have her husband, George, provide buckets of water for a weekly bath.
The queen's instructions about the imprisonment were clear: If Maggie, or anyone else, let Nuri or Violet out of the tower, the sentence would be death for all those involved.
With one part of the spell taken care of, the queen turned her attention to the hummingbirds, which weren't native to the land. She read books about the delicate birds with tiny feathers that hover over flowers, and the more she learned, the more she wanted not just a single feather, but an entire flock of the birds. For if many hummingbirds came to live near the castle, she would surely have magnificent gardens beyond compare.
Time and time again, men were sent across the sea on ships, with promises of bags of gold in return for the little birds. Time and time again, the men returned empty-handed, for the journey was long and rough, and feeding the birds sugar water and insects outside their natural habitat proved almost impossible.
Finally, after four years of multiple attempts, a miracle occurred. A handful of hummingbirds survived the difficult trip. They were released into the garden before the queen had a chance to see them. Bogdana was furious at the men, though they thought they'd done her a favor, getting the birds to natural food and water before they perished like the others.
"Tell me about them," she'd said. "Tell me what the birds are like."
"You can't even imagine how small they are," one of the sailors had told her. "Teeny-tiny things, with colors so bright they are surely precious like jewels."
"Flying jewels," the queen had whispered. "Exactly what my garden needs to make it the most beautiful in all the world."
Over the years, she'd had brief glimpses of the birds, but only a few times. She longed to see one close-up — to see it hover above a plant or drink nectar from a flower. But most of all, she longed to hold a tiny feather in her hands, one step closer to the beauty she had dreamed about for so long.
"Where are you, my little birds?" she whispered now as she walked the path, her breath like a small cloud in the cold air. "You can't hide forever. Your beauty will be mine one day soon. Of this I am certain."CHAPTER 3
Tucked away directly behind the tower at the far east end of the castle was a small outdoor space surrounded on all four sides by a tall beech hedge. No one who lived or worked at the castle ever visited the spot, for it was rumored to have been an ancient burial place. Many believed that to disturb the holy ground would be to ask for a lifetime of misery, for the dead would surely haunt those who trespassed.
George, who had worked as the gardener at the castle since the witch had become queen, did not believe this superstition to be true, however. He had always thought it was sad to waste such perfectly good soil.
When his wife, Maggie, told him years ago of the woman and the child who had been banished to the tower, it occurred to him that he could turn the neglected space into something useful for the young girl. And so, despite the queen's wishes that the prisoners never leave the tower, George began the task of creating a secret garden for Violet. He wanted her to have a place outside to call her own, where she could feel the sunshine on her skin, breathe in the fresh air, and experience the beauty of nature firsthand.
For years, in his spare time, after his regular gardening duties were performed, George cultivated the land behind the tower. Once the soil was nice and rich, he planted grass seed and small trees, flowers, and bushes.
The result was nothing less than astounding, and he wasn't the only one who thought so. The hummingbirds that had been brought across the ocean by ship made their way to the secret garden, where George had planted plenty of foxgloves and hollyhocks. He had hoped to lure butterflies to the garden, for Maggie had her heart set on seeing an indigo butterfly. The blue butterfly was extremely rare, but Maggie spoke of it often. Never in a hundred years did he imagine that Violet's garden would become home to some of the loveliest birds he'd ever seen.
When Violet came to visit the garden, as she did most days, it was more than a place to run free. It felt like she truly belonged, for the birds had taken to Violet as if she were one of their own.
As George walked along the garden path on a winter day, making note of the work that needed to be done, he recalled the first day Violet visited her special garden. It was so clear in his mind it was as if it were yesterday.
When he'd told Violet he had a big surprise for her fourth birthday and they would have to leave the tower to see what it was, her pretty eyes had grown big and round.
"Can Mama go, too?" she'd asked.
"Neh. It's not possible, lassie. The hole you'll use to get outside isn't large enough." He'd looked at Nuri with sympathy. "I'm sorry, love."
"'Tis fine. I've had a lifetime of sunshine and fresh air till now. Poor Violet has had only these horrid walls. Just watch yourselves, please. The queen mustn't find her out there."
"She'll be perfectly safe," George assured Nuri. "The beech hedge around the perimeter will keep us hidden. And we'll be sure to speak softly."
After they said their good-byes, George took Violet down the long spiral staircase of the tower until they reached the bottom. On one side was a regular door, and on the other, a narrow loophole in the wall.
"That hole will take you to your surprise," he told his young friend. "As you can see, I can't fit through it, so I'll use the door and come around through a gap in the beech hedge to find you."
"But what's the hole really for, George?" Violet asked him.
"If we ever went to war, an archer could stand to the side of the hole and watch for enemies. If an enemy were to come into sight, he could simply move to the center of the hole and shoot with his bow and arrow."
Violet listened intently. As she began to ask something else, George gave her a gentle push and said, "Not now, darlin'. Just do as I say, and go through the hole. I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
Once he emerged through the bushes, George found the four-year-old standing smack-dab in the middle of the square space, looking straight up, as one of her hands tried to shade her sensitive eyes from the sun. He turned his head to the sky as well and watched as cotton-like clouds moved ever so slowly. What a sight the vast blue sky must be to someone who's been confined to a small, simple room, he thought.
It struck George in that moment how truly small Violet was. He and Maggie had discussed the girl's size, blaming her tiny frame on the lack of sunshine and proper nutrition, for the cook was not generous in the food he prepared for the prisoners. But as he saw her there, in a large, open space, her size really came to light.
When Violet's eyes had adjusted to the brightness of the outdoors, she walked all around the garden, looking at the flowers, touching them gently, as if they might disappear at any moment. When a bee buzzed near her, she didn't run, like most children would, but instead smiled and reached her hand out and said, "Hello. I'm Violet. Who are you?"
With George's help that day, the young girl learned about insects as they studied dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, and bees. She also learned the names of the flowers: lilies, dahlias, cosmos, hollyhocks, and many more.
George recalled it was the hummingbirds that'd really won her over, however. She'd spotted two of them, floating among the bright pink foxgloves, and she watched in awe as one hovered in midair, drinking the nectar from a bloom through its beak.
"What are they?" she'd asked, her eyes the color of joy.
"Hummingbirds," he'd told her.
"The hummingbirds are like me," she'd said, flapping her arms and running around the garden. "They are small, but they can do amazing things. I might be small, but I can be a pirate or a princess or an artist. I can do amazing things, too. We are alike, the birds and me." She'd flapped her arms harder, pretending to fly. "George, we are the same. Don't you see?"
He'd smiled. "I do indeed."
* * *
Over the years, it was quite remarkable how close the birds and the child had become. They were truly the best of friends. Violet could stand in the middle of the garden with her hands extended, and the birds would land on her, resting peacefully while she spoke softly to them.
Excerpted from The Girl in the Tower by Lisa Schroeder, Nicoletta Ceccoli. Copyright © 2016 Lisa Schroeder. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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