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Downside Up

It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been looking down. I think about that sometimes, what it means. Down. I was looking down, all right.
I walked out of school bouncing Casey’s old tennis ball, like usual. Until Lance Levy kicked it out of my hand and I ran after it.
“Yesss!” Lance called. “See that? See the way I kicked Berdit’s stupid tennis ball right out of his hand? Yesssssss!”
His voice chased me across the playground, then passed me, fading into the distance as Lance raced away down the street. He was the fastest kid in sixth grade. Yesss he was.
I was holding onto the ball when I came up to Velma Dudding, who was on the sidewalk in front of the school. I thought about saying hi to her. Or bye. Or see you tomorrow. But I didn’t. Her mom drove up and Velma slipped into the front seat of the SUV. I walked on.
Izzy was waiting for me at the top of Sorauren Park. 
“Hey, Fred,” she said.
Now that I was closer to home I was bouncing the ball and catching it again.
“I changed my screen saver. Wanna see it?” said Izzy.
My eyes were on the ground. Cracked pavement. Weeds. Ants. Dirt. The tennis ball made a flat, hollow sound when it bounced.
“Come on, take a look. Harry has a new hat.”
She’s my big sister. Isabel. We both go to Sir John A. Macdonald Public School. She’s in eighth grade, two years ahead of me. We cut across the bottom of Sorauren Park, crossed Wabash Avenue and headed down toward Wright Avenue. I bounced my ball off the paved path and caught it. Off the grass. Caught it again.
Izzy walked ahead of me. Her runners were broken at the back. The red heels flapped up and down. They looked like little mouths, opening and closing.
“Race you home, Fred!” she said.
“Race you! Come on. From here to the back door. Ready . . . set . . . go.”
I gave up after a few steps. She stopped, turned back for me.

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Very Rich

Rupert Brown came from a large family. They lived in a very plain small house on the edge of Steelville, Ohio. Rupert had so many brothers and sisters that it was like living in a small city-state. They crawled over the furniture. They ran in and out of doors. They were big and small and male and female. They all had sandy-brown hair, pinched noses, high cheekbones and narrow lips. They were all thin.
There were so many children in the Brown family that Mrs. Brown claimed not to be able to remember all their names. She often addressed them by “Hey you.” Rupert had siblings he rarely talked to and hardly knew at all. There were many different alliances within the family, many secrets, many separate lives. Close proximity does not always make for coziness. Sometimes it is just crowded.
Rupert was ten, and he moved among his family largely unnoticed except by his favorite sister,
six-year-old Elise. She, like Rupert, was quiet and shy and spent a lot of time trying to keep out of everyone’s way.
One day before Christmas, Rupert’s teenage brothers John and Dirk came home with a cat. Because they were often bringing home stolen cats, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about the origin of this cat. It was not a stray. Perhaps they secretly longed for a pet and this is why they did it, although what they told the family was that it was sport.
“Catch and release. Like fly-fishing. Only with cats,” explained John as he held the new one up for his mother to see. There was a wistful look in his eyes. Rupert wondered if he was hoping that his mother would fall in love with it and let them keep it.
“Did I not tell you to stop doing that!” shrieked Mrs. Brown, just home from her job cleaning the offices in the steelworks.
She tore across the room, grabbed the cat, and threw it into the backyard. Then she slammed the door.
Elise looked out the window in concern. “The cat isn’t moving,” she whispered as Rupert joined her.
“I’ll check,” Rupert whispered back. Their mother had gone to the kitchen to make the thin gruel of oatmeal that, along with other people’s kitchen scraps that their father collected every day, passed for dinner nightly.
All the Brown children tiptoed around their mother. Sometimes she lashed out. Sometimes she hoisted one of the younger Browns onto her lap to watch television and cuddled them as if this, this soft and comforting jolly person, was who she really was. Because you never knew which mother would emerge, it was better to err on the side of caution.

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also available: Hardcover
tagged : friendship, dogs, foxes
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by Anna Humphrey
illustrated by Kass Reich
also available: Hardcover
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Daniel Misumi hated his new house. He hated the vines that crept up the redbrick and the way the peaks over the upstairs windows looked like angry eyebrows. He hated the creaky floors and the weird wallpaper… but most of all, he hated his new attic bedroom—especially when he discovered a ghostly creature was living there.
Daniel’s first clue about the creature was the mysterious puddle at the top of the stairs.
“Oof!” he said, landing on his bum. It was moving day, and he’d been carrying a box of Lego. Pieces crashed to the floor and skittered under the furniture like beetles afraid of the light.
Daniel stood up and examined his wet shorts. “Mom!” he called. “There’s a puddle on my floor!”
Daniel found his mom in the bathroom. She was busy unpacking her bottles of relaxing bubble bath. “Just what we need.” She sighed. “A leak in the roof on our first day.”
Daniel’s father was summoned. He made grim faces at the ceiling and said things like “Welllllll…” and “Let’s see…” but no hole or crack was discovered.
“Maybe it’s not water,” Daniel said as they mopped up the puddle. “It could be corrosive liquid leaking from a rusty pipe.” In such an old house, he wouldn’t have been surprised.
Daniel eyed the ceiling suspiciously, but his dad just said they’d deal with it later.
So Daniel tried to put the puddle out of his mind, but later that night, when he was drifting off to sleep…
“Gots buttermelons? Hmmm?”
His eyes shot open.
“Buttermelons? Nope? None?”
The voice was small and quivering, and if he hadn’t been so terrified, Daniel might have noticed how filled with sadness it was.
He pulled the blankets over his head. At first it seemed to work. The room stayed silent for a long time. So long that Daniel almost convinced himself he’d imagined the whole thing.
“Buttermelons? Peeze! None? Nooooooooo.”
The voice came again, even more quivery than before. Plus, now there was a strange flapping sound.
Daniel sat up, turned on the bedside light and raised his arms in a fierce karate move. He looked around the room.

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