Lost Flower Childrenby Janet Taylor Lisle, Satomi Ichikawa (Illustrator)
Motherless Olivia and Nellie go to live with their elderly Great-Aunt Minty, who knows little about children, but a lot about her overgrown garden. Then one day, Olivia finds an old teacup in a flowerbed-and, later, an old story about eight children transformed into flowers. Only the person who finds their teacups can bring them back. Now the two sisters know what they must do.
The Horn Book Magazine
- Penguin Young Readers Group
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.02(w) x 7.69(h) x 0.37(d)
- Age Range:
- 8 - 12 Years
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The Lost Flower Children
By Janet Taylor Lisle, Satomi Ichikawa
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Janet Taylor Lisle
All rights reserved.
It would never have been Olivia's idea to go live with Aunt Minty. If anyone had asked her, she would have said:
"That's the worst idea I ever heard of. Nellie will hate it. You can't send us there."
But their mother had died during the winter and no one seemed to want to ask her anything anymore. When Olivia tried to explain what a mistake it would be (for Aunt Minty was a very, very old lady!), Pop looked at her with tired eyes and said:
"The trouble is, Livy, I'm always on the road. And there's nobody here I can get to look after you. Just try it for the summer and see how it goes, and I'll call every chance I get, I promise."
So at the appointed hour of the appointed day, they set out on the two-hour drive to Aunt Minty's house with a great bundle of possessions. Nellie brought twenty-three stuffed animals—her entire brood—which she needed in order to get to sleep at night. She packed them into the back seat before anyone could stop her.
"Now this we cannot have," Pop said when he came out and saw what Nellie intended.
"She needs them," Olivia explained. "She absolutely does."
"Not all of them, no she doesn't. That is pure silliness," Pop said, while Nellie glared at him through angry tears. She spread her arms far out to prevent the animals from being taken back in, and her whole mouth began to tremble. Olivia couldn't bear it.
"Yes, she does need them!" she cried to Pop. "All of them! They are her family, you know. Nellie would never think of leaving them behind."
It came out so fiercely that Pop was shocked and turned away, and they all climbed into the car without another word.
Nellie gazed straight ahead over the back seat and didn't say thank you to Olivia or even glance at her as they drove away from the house. She didn't have to. With Mama gone, Olivia was the one who watched out for her now, and they both knew it.
The sisters had visited Aunt Minty before, though never to stay. Olivia remembered her house very well from when they used to come with Mama for lunch. She remembered Aunt Minty's garden. It lay off the side porch, a big horse-shoe-shaped garden surrounded by hedges. A stone wall with a stone bench set into it was down at the end.
There must have been a time when the flower beds were elegant and well tended, but they weren't anymore. Aunt Minty had grown creaky and less interested in the fine arts of weeding and pruning, and so the flowers had crept together into dense, tangled clumps, and vines and wild grasses had pressed boldly in around them.
Stepping out of the car, Olivia caught a glimpse of this tangle and press through a hedge. It seemed to her that the garden was more neglected than ever, and she was certain that this was not the right place for them to stay. She was about to tell Pop that they must leave immediately and he should put their things right back in the car, when Aunt Minty appeared in a shabby straw hat.
She looked as small and fine-limbed as a bird and spoke in such a soft voice that Pop had to keep bending over and saying, "Excuse me? I didn't quite hear that."
Olivia caught his eye and scowled desperately, but he pretended to ignore her.
"Please do come into the garden," Aunt Minty said in a wrenlike chirp, so everyone went and Pop shouted out:
"Beautiful! Hasn't changed a bit. Did you girls know that your Great-aunt Minty was once a famous gardener? Stand over by that stone bench, I want to take your picture."
Nellie refused to move at first. She was still angry about the threats against her animals. Then she looked at Pop's face and saw how things were going to be, no matter what, and changed tacks.
"I'll do it if Livy does," she said. "Come on, Livy. Well, come on !" She was in the bossy fives that year and liked nothing better than to order people around.
"This is going to be a before-and-after picture," said Pop, squinting through the camera while he tried to focus the lens. "Here you are before, thin and wan and—"
"What is 'wan'?" Nellie asked.
"It means pale," Olivia said, without looking down. She had the sort of mind that took in words like a sponge.
"Well, I'm not!" Nellie said, deciding now to be insulted.
"You wait till you taste your Aunt Minty's hot apple pie and ice cream!" Pop bellowed from behind the camera. "Not to mention her blueberry muffins! You girls are going to be two happy stuffed chickens by the time I get back."
This was so much the opposite of anything anyone could expect that Olivia glanced over to see what Aunt Minty thought. She was standing off to one side pressing her hands together as if she were praying, which she most likely was because she hadn't wanted them any more than they had wanted her.
"The whole summer? Glory!" was what she had said on the telephone when she first heard Pop's idea. Olivia had listened in on the conversation; she was an expert phone bug and could lift up so nobody ever knew she was there.
"Oh no, Gerald. It's much too late for me to be taking on that kind of responsibility. How old did you say little Nellie is now?"
"She's five and a half, Olivia is nine, and no it isn't too late. And never will be," Pop declared in his best salesman's voice. "You took care of me one time when I was a sprout." (Minty was his aunt really.) "And anyhow, you've just got to take them, Mint. Honest to God, you're my last resort!"
Olivia looked over at Aunt Minty again. Her old straw gardening hat had holes in it. Wisps of yellowy-white hair straggled through, as if they were part of some overgrown plant too.
"Come on, smile!" Pop yelled. "Say Chunky Chopped Cheese."
"Chunky Chopped Cheese," Nellie and Olivia murmured together.
"Now don't let me forget when I come to pick you up at the end of September—"
"At the end of August," Aunt Minty said softly.
"I mean at the end of August, don't let me forget to take the 'after' picture. I want to see the big difference. I want to see how you grew three inches and learned to tango!"
Nellie began to snuffle at this because it was what Pop always said when he was about to leave on a long trip. But he swooped down and gave her and Olivia big bear hugs and was in the car backing out the driveway so fast that she didn't have time to start up a real roar. Then Aunt Minty, looking as shaken as both the girls, said in a doubtful voice, as if it might have galloped off in the meantime:
"I believe I saw a plate of chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen a while ago."
Olivia took Nellie's hand and marched her into the house, and that was that. They were there, stuck, dumped at Aunt Minty's in such a way that even Aunt Minty herself felt left behind.CHAPTER 2
It was clear to Olivia from almost the first minute that Aunt Minty was in no way prepared to deal with Nellie. This was not her fault. It was Pop's fault for badgering her into having them and then for leaving them there without a word of warning, but that didn't change anything.
Nellie was little but she was very complicated, and it took a kind of genius to figure her out. If you couldn't figure her out, or didn't do it fast enough, she went into a raging howl that froze dogs in their tracks and drowned out the civilized world for miles around. (Pop had said this.)
Poor Aunt Minty knew nothing about this howl as, gentle as a gray dove, she led them into her old-fashioned kitchen. She did not know that there were certain ways of doing things that were right in Nellie's mind, and others that were wrong, and that you must never make a mistake and stumble into the wrong way.
For instance, Nellie must always put her socks and shoes on first in the morning, then step into her underwear, then her pants, then put on her shirt, because she believed, like the tide, in rising from the ground. This rule was engraved in gold in her mind. You did not want to suggest, however nicely, that there might be an easier way.
Another of Nellie's rules was that she must always walk upstairs facing down and walk downstairs facing up. It took extra time, but everyone had to wait. If you didn't want to wait, like Pop, the whole morning could be wasted while Nellie screamed like a red-eyed baboon and refused to go anywhere at all.
There were a hundred other golden rules like these that no one except Mama had ever known. Now that she was gone, they were impossible for any other person to learn completely, although Olivia was trying. At home, she had been teaching Pop, who often lost his patience and did not always see the importance of rules that came out of anyone but him. But at least he was Pop and knew what to expect.
A whispery old aunt is a very different matter. Olivia saw that she would have to be constantly on guard, ready to leap forward and steer Aunt Minty away from pitfalls that, once she fell into—who knew what she would do? Drop down dead? Run away? Lock Nellie in a closet and call the police?
Indeed, hardly two minutes had passed in Aunt Minty's kitchen that first day before pitfalls began to open like volcanic craters on all sides of her.
One of Nellie's rules was that she could not eat any food that had more than two identifiable things in it. When she was graciously offered a chocolate chip cookie by Aunt Minty, she naturally expected it to be the right kind. Unfortunately, lurking like evil beetles inside where no one could see were nuts as well as chips.
"No!" Nellie screamed, spitting out a big bite onto the floor. "I hate you!" she yelled down at the half-chewed lump, and kicked her foot so hard that her shoe shot off and landed on top of the refrigerator.
Aunt Minty looked very alarmed by this. Olivia thought for a moment she might even faint, but she recovered after a minute and offered Nellie a little dish of chocolate pudding that was going to be for supper.
"Would you mind having it now?" Aunt Minty asked, so sweetly that Nellie was pleased and agreed to eat it. Though she wanted her real pudding later of course, otherwise ...
"Of course," Aunt Minty said quickly.
They ended up having a surprisingly pleasant talk about a strange smell that was in her kitchen—not like home at all. ("Old wood, I'm afraid," Aunt Minty said.) And about a cricket that appeared suddenly on the counter and hopped down the sink drain. Nellie was upset when it didn't come up again.
"Don't worry. Aunt Minty won't turn the water on till after supper," Olivia said.
"I won't?" said Aunt Minty, who had been about to rinse out their milk glasses.
"That will give him time to escape, one way or the other," Olivia said.
"Or give her time," Nellie said. "What if the cricket's a girl?"
"In that case, we could let her have till tomorrow morning," Aunt Minty offered generously, catching on at last. Olivia gave her an encouraging nod.
Aunt Minty then suggested that the sisters go upstairs to look at their room, and immediately broke another golden rule by trying to help Nellie down from her high kitchen stool. This was the sort of thing no one was permitted to do anymore, so they had to live through another earsplitting scream. Aunt Minty received a sharp push as well.
"Nellie hates help," Olivia explained. "She has to do everything herself, unless she tells you."
"I'm sorry. I didn't think," Aunt Minty said. Nellie didn't look so ready to accept her apology this time, and gazed at her with icy resentment. When they went upstairs, Nellie took an especially long time going up backwards.
"How did this rule get started?" Aunt Minty asked Olivia in a low voice, while they waited at the top for her to arrive.
"We don't know," Olivia murmured. "And don't ask Nellie or you'll break another rule."
"Which rule is that?" Aunt Minty whispered.
"The one that says no one can ask her why any rule is a rule."
By bedtime, Aunt Minty had broken so many rules and plunged into so many of Nellie's pitfalls that she began to look rather wan herself. Olivia told her she could go downstairs if she wanted and she would take over getting them both ready for bed.
"I know how. I've been doing it at home," she assured Aunt Minty, who went away immediately. This pleased Olivia. She had been afraid that Aunt Minty might try to interfere with the way they did things. They'd had some bad times with a number of very stupid sitters during the last few months.
The rest of the evening went quite well, although getting twenty-three stuffed animals and Nellie into the half-size child's bed that Aunt Minty had provided for her was impossible. Someone was always falling on the floor, which made Nellie shriek with frustration and despair. Finally Olivia gave her her own big bed, and took the little one for herself, though her legs were too long for it when she stretched them out.
Aunt Minty said nothing about this change when she came to say goodnight. Olivia saw her looking thoughtfully at Nellie, though.
"Wouldn't you like to stay up a bit later and come downstairs with me?" Aunt Minty asked Olivia as she was about to leave, since it did seem rather early for a nine-year-old to go to bed.
"Oh no, she can't!" Nellie exclaimed.
"Well, I could if I wanted," Olivia said carefully, "but I like to stay with Nellie. It's the way we've been doing it."
Aunt Minty nodded and said, "Goodnight, my dears," and turned out the lights.
When she had clumped away down the hall, Nellie fell asleep instantly. Olivia lay awake listening to her sister's deep-sleep breathing while her own eyes roved about sharp as flashlights in the dark. She examined their strange new room: the little couch with their clothes draped over the arms, the bright spray of light that came in through the partly closed door, the aqua-colored walls with their odd texture of hardened oatmeal.
The ceiling had a network of cracks running all over it, like boundary lines on a map of heaven. Only it was a map of heaven that no one had ever seen before, and needed someone to fill in if it was going to be real. After she had thought out the route she would take to the bathroom, in case Nellie had to go late at night in the dark, Olivia began giving names to some of the heavenly countries—Cloudlandia, Angelmark, Darkestonia. She was just starting to feel a little sleepy when Aunt Minty appeared at the door of their room and asked:
"Is someone crying in here? I thought I heard someone crying."
Olivia sat up. "No, you didn't."
"I thought maybe someone might be homesick," Aunt Minty said, coming forward and peering down at both their faces. Nellie's face looked especially peaceful, lying in the middle of all her animals in Olivia's bed.
"No, no one is," Olivia said scornfully. "That is pure silliness." Aunt Minty nodded and went quickly away down the hall.
But after she left, her question rushed into the place in Olivia's head where she kept her sadness. The face and feel of her mother came achingly out and tears began filling her eyes and running down her cheeks onto the pillow. For a while, she almost wished Aunt Minty would come back and ask her the question again. She was even thinking of calling out, when Nellie shouted something in her sleep that sounded like, "Give me my rattle!"
This was so ridiculous, and at the same time so bossy and maddeningly like Nellie, that a laugh rose like a big bubble inside Olivia's chest. Ha-ha-ha! Olivia burst out laughing right through her tears. At this, the sadness, which was also a kind of fright, sealed itself away in her again and she closed her eyes and went to sleep.CHAPTER 3
The next week was a very hard one for poor Aunt Minty. There was so much for her to learn. It was not only that she didn't know any of Nellie's golden rules, and so was frequently being howled at or glared at or causing a flood of tears. It was also that she knew almost nothing about children in general.
"Or she has forgotten," Olivia confided to Nellie. "She did once take care of Pop. I heard her say so."
"Did she never have any children that were hers?" Nellie asked.
"She never got married. She is an old maid," Olivia said severely.
"I guess that's why she doesn't know about us," Nellie said, sounding sympathetic toward Aunt Minty for the first time.
"But you'd think she would have more common sense," Olivia declared, which was what their mother used to say about people she disapproved of.
Olivia did not feel so sympathetic toward Aunt Minty after some of the things she had done. For instance, she gave Nellie a sharp knife at dinner to cut her meat, which Nellie might easily have stabbed herself with if Olivia hadn't taken it away.
Excerpted from The Lost Flower Children by Janet Taylor Lisle, Satomi Ichikawa. Copyright © 1999 Janet Taylor Lisle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I loved this book. I am only 11 years old but it could capture the interest of child and adult alike. The story tells of two sisters doomed to staying with their aunt for the summer. She keeps trying to get them friends and still obey 5 year old, Nellie's rules. They must free the Flower Children from the tea cup set before they leave to go home.This is the kind of book anyone could enjoy.