Author Interview with Diane Gonzales Bertrand by Wendy Martin, Illustrator of The Story Circle
As an illustrator, I rarely if ever get to meet or interact with the authors of the books I illustrate. Sometimes, as is the case with this book, the publisher will introduce the writer and the artist after the book is finished. When I first was invited to illustrate “The Story Circle” I googled Diane. Unlike many of the other authors I know, she doesn’t have a large web presence, so she remained a bit of a mystery to me. After the book was published I was filled with curiosity about Diane’s experience as an educator and her school visits with our book. Below are her answers to my questions.
Wendy: How long have you been a teacher?
Diane: I have been an educator since 1980. I taught middle school, high school, and began teaching college in 1992. I have also taught writing workshops in libraries, schools, and community centers since my first book was published. Currently I am Writer-in-Residence for the English-Communications Studies Dept. at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I teach composition and creative writing to the next generation of readers and writers.
Wendy: How do you incorporate the books you write into the classroom?
Diane: Because my children’s books are written in two languages, teachers use the books in dual language classrooms and traditional classrooms to build vocabulary for emerging readers and to discuss literary elements for older children. For example The Empanadas that Abuela Made and The Party for Papa Luis are told in a sequence of repeating words. Not only do children learn vocabulary, they gain confidence in reading. My storybooks like Adelita and the Veggie Cousins or A Bean and Cheese Taco Birthday share positive messages about making friends and learning from someone who has a different opinion. They are useful in class discussions about ways to relate to others, but they also encourage children to write about their own experiences making new friends or celebrating their birthdays. When I come into a classroom, I rarely read my books; instead I show children ways to understand the writing process and explain how a book is created through my own revision process and through a collaborative effort with a talented illustrator. I encourage the children to become authors of their own stories. I also show them sketches and finished illustrations to encourage the young artists in the audience.
Wendy: How can teachers use the theme and idea behind The Story Circle in the class lesson plans?
Diane: When I have visited schools, children always ask me, “Where do you find ideas for stories?” I wanted to create a storybook for children to be given a sentence to start their story, then let their imagination take over. Some children have vivid imaginations and know how to grab an idea and start writing. Many more need a little help to start writing.
Teachers might introduce the book with “What If” scenarios. What if you knew how to fly? What if the science class had a field trip to the ocean? What if there was too much rain? Questions with no specific answers help children see possibilities. Writing isn’t a math equation with only one right answer, but a string of words that can change meaning and direction that is fun to explore. I love it best when writing goes in a direction I never expected. I want children to know this feeling as a positive thing, and not to worry about mistakes or writing something different than everyone else.
Wendy: You’ve mentioned that you utilize “story starters” during reading events. What are these and how do you use them?
Diane: ‘The Story Circle’ begins with damages after a terrible storm. The children return to school to discover flooding ruined their classroom, including the books on the bookshelves. The teacher uses the routine of their daily story circle to comfort the children, and after she tells them a story, each child decides to tell a story as well. I purposely present only the first sentence in each child’s story with the intention of providing “story starters” for children in the classroom to finish. I always encourage writing when I meet children; this book is a tangible way to keep children writing stories from their imaginations. Wendy Martin’s illustrations also provide wonderful details to complete the story and give an extra “starter” to the children with little confidence in their own ideas. Because technology distracts children from creating from their minds, I hope my words and Wendy’s pictures will brighten up a classroom with imaginative play.
Wendy: Would you care to share some of the reactions you’ve gotten during your recent book readings of The Story Circle?
Diane: I read The Story Circle in Houston, Texas, while the city was recovering from terrible flooding; so the children and their teachers could relate to the story well. As we reached each “story starter” sentence, I paused and asked children for ideas about what happened next. The children spoke about turning invisible if eating “magic candies” or that neighbors might peek through windows when Mrs. Martinez used goats instead of a lawnmower. One boy said an armadillo can roll into a ball, so it would win a race against the roadrunner, and another girl said a shark might come up to a glass-bottom boat, but the children begin yelling and scare it away. After my reading, when I was signing books for the school library, the teacher asked each child to come up to the front of the room and finish their favorite sentence/story from the book. I was reminded public speaking should also be encouraged in children, so this book supports that skill too.
Wendy: Before you saw my art for your story, did you have something in mind? How did my art differ from your imagination? Do you incorporate the book’s illustrations in your lesson plans?
Diane: After publishing a dozen books, I trust an illustrator as a talented artist who deserves respect for his or her own vision. When I saw sketches for The Story Circle, I was happy they were filled with details children might use to build a story of their own. Children who are talented in drawing (and I was not one of those children) can learn from studying the pictures to improve their own work. When I saw the first color illustrations, I felt pleased and couldn’t wait to share the book with readers. I didn’t have any preconceived images, but always hope for a good outcome. In the case of this book, it outshined my expectations.
About Wendy Martin: A transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years. Her love affair with art and illustration began at an early age. She never wanted to do anything else. So, she followed my heart and earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued my art education at the School of Visual Arts, earning a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. These disciplines can still be seen in her work as a children’s book illustrator and fantasy artist in the strong lines, textures and detailed patterns.
See additional art and find out more about her at wendymartinillustration.com
About Diane Gonzales Bertrand: Diane Gonzales Bertrand’s novels include ALICIA’S TREASURE (1995), TRINO’S CHOICE (1999), and TRINO’S TIME (2001) Her bilingual picture books include SIP, SLURP, SOUP, SOUP/CALDO, CALDO, CALDO (1997), FAMILY, FAMILIA (1999), THE LAST DOLL (2001), and UNCLE CHENTE’S PICNIC (2001). Her books are published by Arte Publico.
About The Story Circle: In this charming bilingual picture book, a group of young children revel in the joys of imagination to tell and illustrate stories.
Thank you to Wendy and Diane for your insightful interview about The Story Circle!
Don’t miss out on other stops on The Story Circle blog tour:
Just to recap, the Future Problem Solving Program focuses on the 6-step problem solving process:
First, students read a Future Scene which is a scenario that takes place in the future and revolves around a topic the students knew and researched about before the competition.
Step 1. In groups of four, the team has to pull out 16 potential problems they see that could happen in the Future Scene.
Step 2. They then have to decide which of the problems is the most impactful to the scene and also deals with the charge given to them at the end of the scenario that directs them to focus on a certain aspect of the scene usually based on the topic.
Step 3. As a team, they then have to determine 16 solutions to the underlying problem they identified in step 2.
Step 4. Criteria is laid out to help determine which solution is the best.
Step 5. The solutions are ranked based on the criteria they created.
Step 6. They write an extensive action plan about the highest ranking solution explaining in detail how the solution would work, who would do the jobs, what obstacles they may encounter, how much it would cost, etc.
This finishes the Global Issues Problem Solving portion which is the primary competition, but while the booklets are being scored, the students then prepare and put on a presentation of their action plan for their fellow competitors.
Because of my amazing students’ successes at the state competition, we qualified to travel to Michigan State University from June 2nd to June 5th to compete at the International Conference. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (though I hope we get to go again in the future!).
First, we took part in the Memento Exchange which is such a brilliant way to open up an event with attendees from around the world. During the Memento Exchange, each attendee brings items from their home town/state and exchange them with others so each person ends up with a ton of mementos from all around the world!
Then, we attended the Opening Ceremonies. There were two stand out moments during the Opening Ceremonies. First, there is a presentation of all the flags for each state, province, and country that is taking part in the conference. It is amazing to see everyone that was represented. The keynote speaker was also phenomenal! His name was Alec Manfre. Alec is from Florida and is currently a CEO of company and a Forbes 30 under 30. He is also a FPS alum. He shared some amazing advice:
Things to remember in life: Use the problem solving framework; Be a life long learner; Find your passion!
Don’t be afraid to think big! Challenge the status quo! Solve the biggest challenges!
Challenge yourself! Challenge the norm! Challenge society!
The second day was the competition portion though we wouldn’t find out the results until the final day there. However, it was also the Presentation of Action Plan which my students ROCKED! Their solution had to do with a mechanical, 3-D printed bird that stores energy from the sun, wind, and its movement then transfers it to those in need. If you want to see their skit, stop by our Facebook page and you can view it. They ended up being in the finals for the presentations which means they were in the top 14 of 70 middle division teams!
Three of my students also chose to take part in the FPS IC Choir which performed at the Variety Show. The choir, along with the variety show which featured talents from participants from all over the world, was another amazing way to showcase the variety of people taking part in IC. It is so beautiful to see people from around the world sing together. I shared a video of one of their songs on our Facebook page as well.
The last day in Michigan, we attended the award ceremony. Although this isn’t all about winning, it is about thinking and growing, award ceremonies are always so nerve-racking! I am already so proud of how far we’d gotten, and I already had a top 14 team! But we had one more surprise coming! Victoria, my 11th grade participant who has been with me from the very beginning, won first place in the Senior Division Multi-Affiliate Global Issues Competition! FIRST PLACE IN THE WORLD! I am still in awe of this! I already knew she was brilliant, but now it is recognized!
Then it was time to leave. My poor team beat them up so much for not placing, but they were competing against the best in the world, and we are going to learn so much from their booklet, Victoria’s first place booklet, and my other multi-affiliate participants booklets.
I hope that this was a trip and adventure that these students never forget because I know I won’t!
Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Author: The Brothers Grimm;
Narrators: Award Winning Cast (Various)
Published: May 10, 2016 by Listening Library
Goodreads Summary: Read by a cast of award-winning narrators, this collection contains some of the most timeless and enchanting folk and fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.
The Brothers Grimm collected the original fairy tales that Americans are most familiar with today. Lyrically translated and beautifully narrated by an all-star cast, these 21 tales are selected from The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales and presented just as Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm originally set them down: bold, primal, just frightening enough, and endlessly engaging.
Rapunzel, read by Katherine Kellgren
Cinderella, read by January LaVoy
Little Red-Cap, read by Simon Vance
Little Briar-Rose, read by Grover Gardner
Little Snow-White, read by Kate Rudd
Rumpelstiltskin, read by Jim Dale
The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces, read by Alfred Molina
A Riddling Tale, read by Janis Ian
The Twelve Brothers, read by Graeme Malcolm
The White Snake, read by Scott Brick
The Elves, read by Bahni Turpin
The Six Swans, read by Davina Porter
The Twelve Huntsmen, read by Dion Graham
The Goose-Girl, read by Edoardo Ballerini
Sweet Porridge, read by Jayne Entwistle
The Golden Goose, read by Luke Daniels
Eve’s Various Children, read by Roy Dotrice
Snow-White and Rose-Red, read by Julia Whelan
The Frog-King, or Iron Henry, read by Kirby Heyborne
The Sea-Hare, read by Mark Bramhall
Hansel and Gretel, read by Robin Miles
Ricki’s Review: I particularly loved the variety in this collection. The narrators provide their own personal touches to each fairy tale, and I found every story to be captivating. The audio format enhances the ways the stories are told. The collection contains the more popular fairy tales along with the more lesser known, and I loved listening to the stories that I had never read before. Grimm’s Fairy Tales are a staple of my childhood, and I feel lucky to share these stories with my son. I think he will really enjoy the audio form, and I hope to play them in long car rides. It will be great to stop after each fairy tale to discuss the characters and themes. I will wait until he is a bit older because the fairy tales are a bit more gruesome than the popular renditions. I appreciate the fact that Listening Library didn’t go with the typical, clean, popularized versions of the stories. It gives readers a stronger sense of the true, original works.
Kellee’s Review: I really enjoy fairy tales of all kinds and have read Grimms collections of various types over the years, but this collection is the first time that I found myself completely enthralled in the stories even though I already knew them like they were new to me. The narrators that Listening Library chose are the best in the business. I can’t even pick a favorite because they all make each story shine.
While listening, I found so many opportunities to have discussions. From theme to similarities/differences to changes in popular versions to repetition within and through tales. I think these stories will make wonderful read alouds within my house or in my classroom.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This collection provides excellent opportunities for teachers to ask students to compare and contrast elements across the fairy tales. The could listen to a different story each day (they are brief enough that this would be a great listen-aloud). Alternatively, it might be neat to have students work in groups, select stories of their choice, and share out what they learned. Then the entire class could discuss what they are hearing across stories. It would also be fun to discuss the lesser known fairy tales and why these tales may not have become as popular as the others. Lastly, students might discuss the cleansing of the works of The Brothers Grimm. Robin Kirk’s article “Painted on the Surface: The Marbury Lens and Gore in Young Adult Fiction” in the Fall 2015 issue of The ALAN Review is a great resources for teachers to consider gore in fiction, and it discusses the cleansing of The Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Discussion Questions: Which fairy tales did you find most captivating? Why?; Which common themes across any of the fairy tales? Which themes seem to be unique to specific fairy tales?; Some of these fairy tales are more popular than others. Why do you think that is? Do you wish any of the lesser known fairy tales were more popular?
Read This If You Loved: Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm, Fairy Tale Comics by Chris Duffy, Any Fairy Tales
**Thank you to Katie at Penguin Random House for providing copies for review!**
Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!
100 Things to Know Before You Grow Up
Author: Lisa M. Gerry
Published March 8th 2016 by National Geographic Children’s Books
Goodreads Summary: It’s fun to be a kid, but are you ready for what comes next? Challenge yourself with these 100 things and you will be! Jam-packed with tips, tricks, and skills that every kid should master before turning 18, this is the ultimate guide to becoming a fun-loving, well-rounded, totally competent and confident young person. Complete with expert advice from real life explorers, adventurers, and masters of their craft, it’s perfect for jump-starting an amazing life!
Kellee’s Review: I love books that push students to be more than what they already are. This book is one of those. It has such a crazy variety of things that kids can learn to do and overcome and try throughout their childhood: from making a bed to learning to say no to trying yoga. There were things in the book that I am not even good at, but I wish someone had helped me learn how to do as a kid like how to remember names or how to deal with change. I am always impressed with National Geographic books because they are all so unique and well done, and this one is no different!
Ricki’s Review: Typically, I review books and then donate them. I am hanging on to this book because I think it is a great one to share with my children. I loved that some of the “things to know” were abstract like being brave and some were much more concrete like trying another country’s cuisine. I think it would be really neat to use this book as a bucket list. All of the things in this book are experiences and ideas that I want my children to have.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: 100 Things to Know Before You Grow Up is a great inquiry project jumping off point. Students could definitely take these 100 things and choose a favorite to research then share with the family. The book would also be a good read aloud for the beginning of each day to have a class discussion. It would be interesting to see what students already know how to do, if they think that everything listed is important, and work on learning new things.
Discussion Questions: Which of the things listed do you already know how to do?; Is there anything you would add to the list that you think you need to know before you grow up?; Which of the things do you want to learn how to do first?; Do you think all of the items listed are important to learn?
We Flagged: “#31. How to Be Brave
Everyone feels afraid from time to time, but it’s how you respond to that fear that shows who you are. Being scared is an uncomfortable feeling, so it makes sense that you’d want to avoid it. But the only way to conquer a fear is to do the thing that scares you. As Mark Twain said, ‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.’
People Profile: Malala Yousafzai
Malala is the youngest person to have ever won a Nobel Peace Prize. She won it in 2014, when she was just 17 years old. Malala was born in Pakistan in 1997. She attended a school founded by her father and quickly became an advocate for a girl’s right to get an education. However, the Taliban, a violent political group in her country, believed that girls should not go to school…” (p. 80-82)
*Disclosure: This quote cannot share the entire feeling of the book without the photos. See the published book to see the amazing photographs.
Read This If You Loved: 31 Ways to Change the World by Candlewick Press, Mastermind by National Geographic, Weird but True series by National Geographic, Be Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson, Almanacs, World Record books
**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing copies for review!**
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.
Today’s Topic: Ten Reasons to Read
1. It passes time.
Long plane ride? Long waiting room wait? A book should fix that. 😉
2. It helps us sleep.
Dreamland wouldn’t be so sweet without the books to carry us there.
3. It’s calming.
Whenever we feel stress, we read. It brings us back to what is important.
4. It connects us to other people us may have never met.
We find that some of our closest friends are other readers/bloggers/authors. We value those bonds highly.
5. It connects us to characters and takes on amazing adventures.
We consider many characters to be close friends, and we cherish the journeys they take us on.
6. It teaches us about history…and perhaps, the future.
Reading transports us to other times (both before and after us).
7. It teaches us about other places.
Reading also transports us to other parts of the world.
8. It brings together family and friends.
There’s nothing better than a dinner conversation about a great book or bedtime with a favorite picture book.
9. It helps us navigate life.
When we are in tough positions, we often think of characters and stories to help inform our decisions.
10. It completes us.
We consider reading to be a large part of our identities. Without this reader identity, we would not feel as complete.
What did we miss? We are sure there are more!
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!
It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!
Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.
We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.
for winning a copy of Can You Canoe? by the Okee Dokee Bros!
Last Week’s Posts
**Click on any picture/link to view the post**
Last Week’s Journeys
Before I start talking about books, I wanted to talk about Orlando. Orlando is my home and has been for 16 years. What happened here over the last week+ is terrible. More than terrible; it is horrific. And too close to home. One of the young men who passed away went to my middle school my first and second year of teaching (though I didn’t know him), and another was a boyfriend of a friend’s friend. Too close to home. But please know that this does not define Orlando. The Pulse attack happening here actually shocked me because we are such a diverse place that overall is open-minded and loving. This does not represent who we are. I also want to thank any of you that prayed or sent healing thoughts or wrote a message or helped in any way. We are wounded, and everyone’s positivity after the massacre shows me that there is hope. And I want to take this time to send my love and thoughts out to anyone who was affected by any of the events that happened over those terrible five days.
This week, I primarily focused on getting through my picture book and nonfiction TBR pile! I read 12 picture books and 3 nonfiction texts, all that I will be reviewing at some point on the blog. All worth putting on your TBR.
My teacher friends and I also decided to have two book club meetings during the summer (YAY!), and we are focusing on reading the Sunshine State Young Reader Award (SSYRA) titles, so we choose to read The Neptune Project as our first summer read. It was such a unique dystopian title, and I cannot wait to read the sequel!
I couldn’t put it better than Kellee. The Orlando attacks are horrifying, disgusting, and saddening. I have spent a lot of time emotionally thinking about this awful tragedy. I can’t quite express my feelings because I am still in such disbelief.
This week, I read two great National Geographic books. My son is obsessed with the NG texts because the photographs are eye-appealing and the facts are fun and interesting. As an adult, I also love reading and learning from them, too!
I finished listening to Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor. What a neat, neat book! The second half really captured my attention, and I had difficulty leaving my car! I found myself listening to it while I played with my son on the floor. I only do this with audio books that I really, really enjoy!
This Week’s Expeditions
In addition to the summer book club choices, I am focusing on trying to read all 15 of the SSYRA list and some books from my #mustread2016 list. I started Dave Barry’s The Worst Class Trip Ever, and so far it is quite funny. I look forward to finishing it then I am not sure what I will pull from my bag of books.
I have about 50 pages left of Gae Polisner’s A Memory of Things, and I am excited to share more of my thoughts about it. I want to see how it ends first. It could take so many different directions!
I was asked to review Jonathan Todre and Sarah Higinbotham’s Human Rights in Children’s Literature for an academic journal. I am very much looking forward to this text and think I will learn a lot. It discusses law, and I am interested to see how these ideas apply to education.
Upcoming Week’s Posts
Tuesday: Reasons to Read
Wednesday: National Geographic’s 100 Things to Know Before you Grow Up
Thursday: Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, Audio Book Collection by Listening Library
Friday: Future Problem Solving International Conference Update
Sunday: Author Guest Post!
So, what are you reading?
Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!
“A Magical Location”
Any English teacher will tell you the importance of a story’s setting. Although I’d read books that took place in wonderful places, I never understood how a magical location could inspire a tale until I moved to a high country station in the North Island of New Zealand.
In my back yard is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest cavern, dramatic limestone cliffs and mist that floats up the valley and snags on the trees. There are far more sheep than people. There are no lights on our horizon at night and no traffic noise. The land soars in huge hills and then plummets down to seven streams that crisscross the valley in front of our house. After rain we are surrounded by the sound of water trickling down to meet the river.
30 million years ago the whole area was under the ocean. Limestone outcrops jutting from the land reveal ancient scallop shells and oyster fossils. Huge caves have been carved out over time, and there are deep sinkholes. On frosty mornings the air is warmer underground, and mist rises from the caves. It looks like these are the lairs of sleeping dragons.
Living in such a dynamic landscape is a gift to the imagination. Inhabited by people for only a hundred years, I often wonder if the trees and rocks are looking at us sideways, wondering what we’re doing in their territory. It is wild country, where new holes in the earth can open up overnight, requiring sheep rescues when the poor animals discover them before the farmer.
New Zealand’s official history states that people arrived about 1350AD in waka, canoes, from the Pacific Islands. But there are many stories that don’t fit with the official version. Some of them are fantastical. Some of them might be true. One of the most intriguing involves Arabian sailors travelling beyond their established trading routes in the ninth century down into the cold Southern Ocean.
The story of Sinbad the Sailor features a tale about valleys ringed by mountains, patrolled by giant birds. New Zealand was home to the largest bird ever to have lived, the Haast Eagle. It could lift small animals and children up and carry them away. Another Sinbad story tells of him sailing through a jewel-laden cave. Down the hill from our farm is the world famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, where visitors float under thousands of sparkling glowworms.
My imagination set to work with these rich ingredients. Just one question was needed to gel everything together – what if Sinbad had left behind treasure? From there, the next steps were obvious – what if it had been hidden? Who would find it?
I dove straight into the rabbit hole and came up with a story that could be described as Famous Five meets Treasure Island, a mystical adventure set in an incredible landscape. I am grateful to the hills and the high winds, the isolation and the rugged charm of this farm, for it was the start of my story.
About the Book:
Nat Sheppard is devastated when her father announces on the first day of the school holidays that the family farm is going on the market. Nat’s little sister Kathleen climbs onto the roof to see the view one last time and falls into the attic. Nat and her brother Jack race up the stairs to find her but she has disappeared…
“Jack poked his head in the door. ‘Is she okay?’
‘I think she’s trapped in some kind of secret room.’
‘You heard me. Can you pace out the length of the house from the kitchen to the back porch, and then compare it to up here?’
‘All right.’ Jack disappeared, and soon Nat heard even steps and counting. Then he reappeared. ‘Twenty. And upstairs it’s – hold on.’
‘Hurry up!’ yelled Kathleen.
‘Just a second,’ called Nat.
Jack reversed to the edge of the landing and then paced again, scrambling up into the attic and continuing to the wall where Nat waited. ‘Eighteen.’
‘Then we have to find a way in.’
‘Dad’s going to love that.’
Nat examined the walls again. There was no sign of an entrance. Jack banged on the plaster in a couple of places.
‘This stuff is really solid,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should get a hammer.’
‘Find something up here,’ said Nat. ‘Kathleen – can you see any way to get out? Is there a door?’
‘No!’ called Kathleen. They could hear the tremor in her voice.
Nat looked at Jack. ‘We have to figure this out. She’s starting to get scared.’
‘I’ve found some tools,’ said Jack. He brandished a hammer and a splitter axe.
‘You tap the wall over here, top to bottom, left to right,’ said Nat. She grabbed the hammer. ‘I’ll do this part. There has to be a way in somehow. What’s the axe for?’
He shrugged. ‘To hit Kathleen over the head when she gets out.’
Nat glared at him. ‘Can’t you be nice?’
‘She’s learnt what to expect from me. It’d be rude to change now.’
Methodically, Nat tapped the plaster, but the returning sound was dense, not hollow. She worked her way down to ground level – nothing. Jack finished his section with the same result. They moved along.
‘I could barge it,’ said Jack. With the most energy Nat had ever seen him use, he threw his shoulder against the wall. He bounced back so hard he flew against a hat rack and landed in a tangle on the dusty floor. ‘Or not,’ he muttered.
‘What was that?’ yelled Kathleen.
‘Nothing,’ said Nat. ‘Hold on.’
She tapped the wall while she flicked through different solutions in her head. If Jack couldn’t force it, they were in trouble. Tap-tap-tap. The hammer flaked off pieces of plaster. Tap-tap-tap. She bent down and tested the last stretch, just above the floor. Tap-tap-donk. The hammer fell through something new – a thin board. Nat wiggled the hammer back and forth and it fell out easily.
‘Jack – I’ve found it.’
With the splitter and the hammer they cleared out all the board until the space was big enough for one person to wiggle through on their belly. Nat slithered in. It was a close fit.
Inside, Kathleen was covered in dust, sitting in a nest of rafters and torn hessian.
‘I’m okay,’ she said, wriggling her legs.
Nat inspected the hole in the roof. Thankfully, it wasn’t very big, and the rotten material had broken Kathleen’s fall.
Jack wormed his beanpole frame into the room. ‘What is this place?’ he said.
Every wall in the secret room had been reinforced with planks of solid wood.
‘This is rimu,’ said Nat. ‘No wonder you bounced off.’
Jack rubbed his shoulder. ‘Whoever built this didn’t want anyone to find it.’
‘They obviously had something valuable to protect,’ said Nat.
‘Then what are we missing?’ asked Jack. ‘If they went to this much trouble to keep people out… Hold on.’ He helped Kathleen up and pushed the debris against the far wall. They scanned the floor. Nothing.
‘What about up?’ said Kathleen.
‘Up?’ repeated Nat. Her gaze flashed over the walls.
‘Holy,’ whispered Jack.
At the peak of the roof, just in front of the gaping hole, sat a single shelf. On it rested a small wooden box. Jack lowered it to the floor. It was covered with cobwebs, and fastened with a padlock.
‘The key could be anywhere,’ said Nat.
Jack grinned. ‘Don’t worry about that.’ He lifted the hammer and bought it down on the padlock. It smashed instantly. Jack offered the box to Nat. ‘Would you care to do the honours?’
Nat opened the lid. Inside was a yellowed envelope with a name on it:
Contact Brydie: brydiewalkerbain at gmail.com
Thank you to Byrdie for sharing this magical setting with us!
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