Friday, June 26, 2015

Free First 5 Pages Workshop with author Ava Jae and agent Patricia Nelson opens July 4!

The First Five Pages June Workshop has come to an end.  What a great group of talented writers! The participants worked so hard, and did a great job with their revisions. A big thanks to our guest mentor, Shaun Hutchinson and our guest agent, Tina Schwartz, both of whom provided terrific comments and suggestions, and of course to all of our fabulous permanent mentors!  

Our July workshop will open for entries at noon, EST, on Saturday July 4, 2015. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements.  Click here to get the rules. I will post when it opens and closes on Adventures in YA Publishing  and on twitter (@etcashman), with the hashtag #1st5pages.

In addition to our talented permanent mentors, we have Ava Jae, author of the forthcoming BEYOND THE RED, and Patricia Nelson of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. So get those pages ready!

June Guest Mentor – Ava Jae

Ava Jae writes YA and NA paranormal, Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels because she loves writing about self-discovery and the complicated worlds of young people. Her debut novel BEYOND THE RED will be published in hardcover and e-book by Sky Pony Press in March 2016. She is also an Assistant Editor at Entangled.  You can find her online here:  tweet/blog/tumbl/post/vlog/instagram 

A feud on a distant, crimson planet with established nanite technology creates a violent uprising that threatens the reign of a teenage queen and forces her to turn to her rebel half-blood bodyguard for help, before the planet's human population is destroyed at the hands of her power-hungry twin brother.

Add it to your shelf on Goodreads!

June Guest Agent – Patricia Nelson

Patricia Nelson joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2014. She represents adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction, and is actively looking to build her list. In general, Patricia looks for compelling, well-written stories featuring complex characters that jump off the page. On the adult side, she is seeking women’s fiction, historical fiction, and accessible literary fiction, as well as contemporary and historical romance. For YA and MG, she is open to a wide range of genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic, magical realism, mystery, horror, and fantasy. She is interested in seeing diverse stories and characters in all genres.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Manning Revision 2

Name: Katharine Manning
Genre: MG contemporary

Chapter 1 - Hailey

Hailey tore down the field, soccer ball bouncing in front of her. Her cleats made divots in the soft grass and threw mud behind her as she ran.

Ebi came at Hailey, challenging her for the ball.

“Not this time,” Hailey said. She faked right and went left. Ebi fell for it. Hailey smiled and kept charging the goal like a freight train.

Next up was Jessie, the last defender.

Grace called to Hailey, giving her support. She was open, but there was no way Hailey was giving up this ball.

Hailey slowed, waiting for Jessie to come at her.

Slow. Slow.

There. Jessie jumped at the ball. Hailey popped it past her. Now it was Hailey and a wide-open goal. She tapped it into the net, easy likeSunday morning, as her dad would say.

“Yes!” Hailey whipped her head back and forth in an Egyptian lady dance, her beaded braids clattering in her ponytail. With a huge grin, she high-fived Grace.

Coach Shulman blew his whistle and clapped, with his clipboard tucked under his arm. “Nice practice, girls. I like that ball control, Hailey, but don’t forget to use your teammates. Grace was wide open.”

“That’s okay,” Grace said quickly to Hailey, as they headed back to the sideline. “You had an awesome run.”

The team gathered around Coach Shulman. “Take a knee, everyone,” he said. Jessie was the only one who did. Grace and Hailey sat on the ground leaning on each other, and Skyler actually lay down on her back with her knees bent, her long brown hair circling her on the grass like a halo.

“So, you know we’ve been short a player since Megan moved to Ohio. I’ve got some exciting news. We have a new player coming in and she is something. Her name is Alexandra. She’s been the star of her league in Florida, and her dad just got transferred up here.”

Hailey and Grace exchanged looks.

“What position does she play?” Hailey asked.

“She’s a center forward, Hailey.”

Hailey’s eyes narrowed. That was her position.

“But hold on,” he said, raising a hand to stop her argument before she even got it out. “I’ve got a great idea. We’re moving to a four forward offense.” He looked around as if he expected them to gasp, or cheer. They all looked back blankly. “Two center forwards! Four players scoring goals instead of three!”

Hailey’s mouth dropped open. What?

“It’s a much more offense-focused style of play, but I think you girls are up to it,” Coach went on. “Hailey and Alexandra will be unstoppable!”

“Wait,” Ebi said, from the other side of the circle. Her pink barrettes sparkled in front of the two little puffs she always wore in her hair. “Where’s the other player come from? How do we get four on the front line?”

“Well, we go from four defenders to three.”

Ebi and the other defenders spoke up instantly. “Three defenders?”

“What? How?”

Coach Shulman chuckled, the afternoon sun glinting off his Harry Potter glasses. “Hang on a minute, girls! You have to let me finish! You know we’ve been without a keeper. I think I know just the person for that job.” With the smile of a magician revealing his best trick, he turned to Jessie.

Jessie eyes widened. “But-” she started. “I- I can’t.”

“Of course you can,” Coach Shulman said heartily. “You’ve been a fantastic sweeper for two years now. Goalie is basically the same position, but you get to use your hands! You’re going to be a stellar keeper...”

Hailey tuned him out. He expected her to share center forward? Center forward was not meant to be two players. Hailey hoped it wouldn’t cut into her goals. Rocky, her older brother, had twenty-five in one season when he was in the under-12 league. Hailey was still in the under-11s, and if she kept at it, she could catch him by next year. This Alexandra girl better not mess her up.

Coach blew his whistle again. “Nice job today, everyone. All in!”

They all scrambled to their feet and reached in a hand. “Go, Wildcats!”


Hailey walked off the field with Grace. “Coach Shulman is crazy.” Hailey said. “How are we going to have two center forwards?”

“I don’t know,” Grace answered automatically. She shot Hailey a sympathetic look. “I’m sure it’ll be okay. See you at school tomorrow?”

“Unless Rocky gets me first!” Hailey headed to her family’s minivan, where Mom sat in the driver’s seat grading a paper.

“Hello, Harriet,” Mom said. “How was school, sweetheart?”

Hailey winced at the use of her full name. “It’s Hailey,” she said under her breath as she climbed into the backseat. “Fine,” she said, louder.

“How did your Time Test go? It was the sevens, right?”

“It was okay.” Hailey hated Time Tests. She never won those things.

“And Harriet, I really wish you could be more proud of your name. Harriet Tubman was such an amazing woman. Talk about brave! When I think about her, after she’s already free, going back into slave territory--”

“I know, Mom,” Hailey interrupted. “She went on thirteen missions and saved seventy people. She led the uprising at Harpers Ferry and was a spy during the Civil War. I know all of that. But Harriet isn’t the best name, Mom. I like Hailey.”

“Humph,” her mom said. Hailey started asking to be called “Hailey” last year in fourth grade. No one called her Harriet anymore, except her parents.

“Is Rocky home?” Hailey asked, to change the subject.

“He should be. He got a ride home from football with Denny.”

“What’s for dinner?”

Mom pursed her lips. “I don’t know, Harriet. We’ll have to see what I can come up with.”

The Xbox was blaring from the den when they walked in, so Hailey went back to see Rocky. He was fifteen, and enormous. His long legs stretched halfway across the living room, and he somehow took up almost the whole couch with his top half. The video game controller danced in his huge hands, and he didn’t look up as Hailey walked in.

“Hi,” she said. He ignored her. “I said, hello.”

“Hey, dork.” His eyes never left the screen. He was shooting some aliens.

Hailey sighed as loud as she could, but didn’t leave. As much as she told her friends that Rocky was always bothering her, the truth was that he hardly paid her any attention at all. She kicked his legs.

“Cut it out, squeak.” He still didn’t look at her. She wasn’t going to get anywhere with him. Rocky was a star football player, already on the varsity team even though he was only a sophomore. He was a big shot now and ignored his pipsqueak little sister.

With another sigh, Hailey got up and ambled to the kitchen, where her mother was dashing from fridge to cabinet to stove like a pinball.

“What’s for dinner?” Hailey asked.

“Can you hand me that box?” Mom said, pointing to the pasta on the counter. “Spaghetti and meatballs.” Hailey passed over the box and Mom ripped it open and poured it into the boiling water. “Can you set the table, sweetheart?”

Ugh. Hailey knew coming anywhere near Mom just before dinner was going to get her a job. She started collecting silverware and plates. “Is Daddy going to be home?”

“Not tonight, honey. He’s got a big brief due this week.” Of course.    

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Wagoner Revision 2

Name: Traci Van Wagoner
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Dragon Dilemma (may change to: Outside of Normal)

I pushed the cart along the overgrown road and mimicked Gran’s storytelling voice, “Once upon a time,” I said to the crows flying in a black cloud above me, “a tragically misunderstood girl trudged alone on an empty road in the boondocks of a protected community of humans, perhaps the last humans on Earth, hidden in the majestic Rocky mountains. She hauled a cart of manure toward home with only one goal in mind, to keep her big mouth shut.”

The crows caw-cawed at me. Some of them dove in to peck at the cow pies. I wondered if Mom meant I shouldn’t even talk to crows. I shrugged. Who were they going to tell?

Before leaving me with the cart of dung, Mom had said, “Please just promise me you’ll keep your mouth shut, Adeline. It’s safer that way.” She had traded eggs we weren’t supposed to have for the manure to fertilize her seedlings. She shouldn’t have had to, but we were docked credits because of the damage I caused at the pickle plant yesterday. Another apprenticeship interview failed. I’m pretty sure I had failed at more interviews than anyone in the history of Hidden Lake. But it wasn’t my fault, most of the time. I couldn’t help it if animals did weird things around me. It’s not like I asked them to follow me around.
One of the crows looked up from its pecking and tilted its head at me. I wondered what Mom would think of this new batch of birds I was apparently bringing home. At least the chickens gave us eggs. I thought about shooing the crows away, but I had to admit I liked their company. Just me, the crows, and the flies on the South Road, empty all the way to the Mouth Wall visible as a smudge of blue at the end of the valley.

All I had to do was get past the farm between me and home.  My heart beat faster with each step I took, each step bringing me closer to my ex-best friend Sara’s house. For a second I forgot how to breathe. Seeing her dark bedroom window was like a punch in my gut even though I knew she wouldn’t be there. She hadn’t been there for six months now. Six months with no best friend to talk to.

I sighed, remembering last Planting Day, and every one since we could walk,  Sara and I worked side-by-side digging in the dirt, planting the seedlings, and telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets. She always listened and never judged. I never once thought I shouldn’t tell her about the strange things that happened around me. Or that she’d betray me. Even though every one of us in Hidden Lake was trained since birth to protect the human race. To report anything out of the ordinary and uphold the high standards of our protected community. For the good of humankind. I trusted her.

But then she took an apprenticeship with our enemy and abandoned me. Her apprenticeship with the tailor offered her a room, a new home in the Craft District of the lower city. She was too good for me now. Soft clothes. Shiny shoes. Clean fingernails. New snooty friends.

I turned away and pushed the cart past her lane. Who needs her anyway with her mousy voice and wide eyes as if everything was a surprise. She never had to worry about the guardians coming to cart her off to the CMP, The Center for Mutated Persons. She was normal as normal could be. She was able to get an apprenticeship on her first try. I only hoped she kept my secrets. Hers would go with me to the grave, even though none of hers were dangerous.

Giggles rose in the spring afternoon. I glanced behind me and my heart flip-flopped. It was Sara. And she was with none other than our once upon a time arch enemy, Gabriella Taylor, the tailor’s daughter. Little Miss Gabs-a-lot herself.

Digging in my toes, I pushed the cart as hard as I could. Must go faster. Please go faster. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me. It didn’t help having a black cloud of birds circling overhead.

“Adeline!” Sara shouted. “Addy, wait!”

Ka-thunk, bump! One of the wheels hit a hole. Out bounced manure. All over my hand-me-down boots. Right then and there, I wished I was a witch like Mom feared so I could turn myself invisible. I squeezed my eyes shut. Turn invisible, turn invisible.

“Hey, Adeline, you know we can see you even with your eyes closed,” came Gabsy’s snotty voice.

Nope. Not a witch. Not invisible.

I peeked through my eyelashes. Sara stood touching shoulders with the girl who had once called us both stink-pots.

She wiggled her fingers in a little wave. “Hi Addy.”

I didn’t wave back.

“I heard you caused quite the ruckus at the pickle plant yesterday,” Gabsy said. She nudged Sara who laughed along with her. They both mimicked what I must've looked like after the cat got tangled up in my legs, their arms waving and legs kicking while spinning in circles.

My face burned, and I focused on shoveling the cow pies back into the cart. I did make a mess of things yesterday, but this time it was for sure not my fault. It was that dumb cat’s fault. I said “hello cute little kitty,” and it followed me around and twisted in and out of my legs, tripping me and causing me to stumble into the control panel which sent the entire pickle factory into a chaotic mess of blaring beeps, broken bottles, and workers shouting and ducking flying pickles. The more I tried to fix it by pushing the flashing red buttons, the worse it got, until I was hauled out of there by my collar with a stern glare and a warning to never come back. The cat was thrown out after me. Serves it right. But then it followed me home. Another animal added to my collection.

“Oh come on, Addy,” Gabsy said, “that was funny.”

It was not funny, I was in big trouble. The biggest I’d ever been in. Mom didn’t lecture me, instead she muttered, “We better hope he doesn’t report this. Report you.” Before I could argue, she said, “It’s always something, Adeline. And it usually involves an animal. That’s not …”

She didn’t finish the sentence, but I knew what she was thinking. That’s not normal. 

“Well,” Gabsy said, “I bet you can’t get an apprenticeship because you stink.”

My teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached. I would not let her get to me. I shooed a bird away and shoveled the last cow pie back into the cart.

“Yeah, you stink because you are scooping poop,” Sara said. I glared at her.

“Addy the Pooper Scooper,” Gabsy said, smiling at my ex-best friend as if they had always been the best of buds. “But then, being a pooper scooper is better than being a witch, right Sara?”

Every part of me froze. How much had Sara told her? Sara shrank further behind Gabsy and threw me an apologetic look. I threw it back. I couldn't breathe.

Gabsy and her family could easily call the guardians and have me locked away as a mutant in the CMP with even the hint of anything out of the ordinary.

“Oh, come on Addy, we're just teasing,” Gabsy said. 

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Bell Revisions 2

Name: Terry Bell
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Merciful Crow
Pa was taking too long to cut the boys’ throats.
Near ten minutes were run out since he’d vanished into the quarantine hut, and Fie had spent the last seven of them glaring at its gilded door and trying not to pick at a stray thread on her ragged black robes. Taking one minute meant the Sinner’s Plague had finished off the boys inside already. Taking three meant Pa had a merciful end to deliver.
Taking ten was taking too long. Ten meant something was fouled up. And from the whispers sweeping the courtyard, their throngs of onlookers knew it too.
Fie gritted her teeth and stared at the tiled ground until the queasy pinch in her gut retreated. As the only caste that survived handling plague bodies, the Merciful Crows were duty-bound to answer any summons. And as Pa’s chieftain-in-training, she was duty-bound to keep her head steady now.
These were no different from the hundreds of bodies she’d burned in her sixteen years. No matter that only a few dozen had ever been from the capitol. No matter that fair fewer had been this high-caste.
No matter that Crows hadn’t been summoned here, to the royal palace, for nigh five hundred years.
But the crowds of soldiers and aristocrats packing the quarantine court said it mattered to the high castes tonight. It wasn’t easy to search their faces by torchlight, and it only got harder if she found family in the audience, but Fie had kept the habit since the first time an angry next-of-kin had trailed them out.
From the looks of it, the latticed galleries were all Peacock-caste courtiers, fluttering in mourning paints and ornamental woe as they gawked from a safe distance, hungry for scandal. Fie relaxed a hair. If any of the sinners’ kin were there, their shame would be the Peacock’s main attraction. Instead they were transfixed by the spectacle of thirteen Crows below, awaiting a show.
The Hawk-caste warriors ringing the red walls weren’t likely relations, but Fie eyeballed them anyhow, taking no chances. Their hands had anchored on their sword hilts the moment the Crows had dragged their cart through the gate, and hadn’t budged since. There was no grief in their stony stares. They weren’t waiting on a show. They were waiting for the Crows to foul up.
The queasy pinch came back; Fie kept her eyes nailed on the door. It stayed damnably shut.
There was a slip of a movement to her left. Hangdog, Pa’s other trainee, had shifted by the cart. Torch-flame charred his silhouette, edging it in vivid orange where the light caught tattered robes or the long curve of his beaked mask. From the tilt of his head, he was eyeing the patchouli burners squatting around the hut.
Fie wrinkled her nose. She’d stuffed a fistful of wild mint into her own mask’s beak to ward off the plague-stink; she couldn’t fault this fine palace for trying to daub it over as well. She could, however, fault them for their terrible taste in patchouli.
Hangdog’s fingers curled. His shoe idly inched toward the burner.
Anywhere else and she’d have ‘accidentally’ punted the patchouli herself. Hangdog was likely itching under so much high-caste attention, and the sneering arcades above were begging for some nasty surprise.
But not here, not now. Fie tugged at the hood of her robes, a sign only the other Crows would ken. Don’t make trouble.
Hangdog’s foot slid another half-inch toward the burner. Fie could practically smell his grin behind the mask. Pa called him two-second clever: too fond on making fools of others, never catching that his purse got cut while he ran his mouth.
Fie looked at the soldiers, then at Hangdog, and resolved to scalp him if the Hawks didn’t do it for her first.  
There was a squawk from the hut’s rare-used hinges as Pa stepped outside, a broad damp streak down the front of his robes. There had been mercy killings after all.
Fie’s relief lasted half a heartbeat before metal rasped horribly behind them.
Any Crow knew the song of quality steel being drawn. She’d missed kin in the crowd after all. But Pa only turned toward the sound, torchlight flashing off his mask’s glassblack eyes. And then he waited.
A hush iced over the courtyard as even the Peacocks froze at Pa’s silent threat.
In the city streets, in millet fields, anywhere from Abharin’s western merchant bays to its cruel mountains of the east, a higher caste could cut the Crows down like a harvest for any invented slight.
But plague bodies could rot a town to stone before year’s end. Here in the quarantine court, with two dead boys that could bring the palace down in less than a half-moon – here was where the Crows could not be touched.
There was another rattle as the blade returned to its scabbard. Fie didn’t dare look back. Instead, she fixed on the rumble of Pa’s rough voice: “Pack ‘em up.”
 “I’ll handle the moppets,” Hangdog said, starting forward.
“Not on your own.” Pa shook his head and motioned for Fie. “They’re bigger than you.”   
Fie blinked. She’d expected tots, not lordlings near grown.
She followed Hangdog inside. The second the door swung shut she cuffed him upside the head. He cursed in the hut’s thicker darkness.
“What in the twelve hells were you thinking, fooling like that?” she hissed. “The Hawks near gutted Pa for walking out a door, and you’re aiming to try their patience?”
“Aiming to make you mad.” This time she heard Hangdog’s grin. “They can’t afford to cross us anyway.”
“You’re the only one keen to test that,” she snapped, then stopped cold.
Her eyes had adjusted to the little torchlight filtering through canvas window screens. The overgrown lordlings were already cocooned in tight linen shrouds on red-stained pallets, a blot seeping through at the throat of each.
Bundling up the dead was their job, not Pa’s.
“Maybe he didn’t trust us to get it right.” Hangdog didn’t sound like he was grinning anymore.
Something was off. “If Pa’s got reasons, he’ll tell us,” she lied anyway. “Sooner these scummers are on the cart, sooner we clear the damn patchouli.”
There was a short, muffled laugh as Hangdog picked up one body by the shoulders. Fie took the feet and backed through the door, feeling every gaze in the courtyard alight on her – and then slide to the bloody shroud.
Quiet shrieks ruffled through the Peacock ranks as Fie began to swing the body up onto the cart. Hangdog gave it an extra heave. It toppled onto the wooden boards with an unceremonious thud. A collective gasp swept the galleries.
Fie wanted to kick him.
Pa cleared his throat, muttering pointedly, “Mercy. Merciful Crows.”
“We’ll be nice,” Hangdog said as they headed back inside. He’d just picked up the last body by the feet when he added, “Wager someone faints if we drop this one.”
Fie shook her head. “No ‘we’, halfwit. Pa can sell your hide to a skinwitch, not mine.”
The second body was met with another round of sobs. Yet once it was loaded and the Crows began to haul their cart toward the hall leading out of the palace, the Peacocks overcame their sorrow enough to jostle at the lattices for a better look.
Fie’s skin crawled. Of all the bodies she had ever dragged off to burn, she decided she hated these two most of all.

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Simon Revision 2

Margaret Simon
Middle Grade Fiction

Chapter One: Missing Egg     

In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.  My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine.  And she lays the most precious light blue eggs.  Every day.

But not today.

I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.  I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.

 “Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. Here you go, come to me.” 

Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders.  She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers.  She trills and shifts.  Tucking her under my arm, I rub her soft golden down hoping to settle her. I’ve never seen her so nervous. 

When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs.  A little shiver runs up my spine.  Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked.  I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night. 

I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year.  Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed.  I left the gate open.  She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor.  I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs.  But that doesn’t make any sense.  A hawk couldn’t get into the coop.  What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I?  

“Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”

I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed.  She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.

I look over toward our neighbor’s house and see the shadow of a child moving across the screened porch.  That’s weird.  I thought the house was empty. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. I wonder who could be there.  A new friend? An egg thief?

Momma opens the door to our double-wide trailer and calls out, “Blessen, come eat your cereal.  The bus’ll be here soon!”  

I hop up the steps still holding Sunshine in the football hold.

“Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll? Put her back in the yard.”

“But, Momma, Sunshine’s all a twitter this morning. Someone’s been stealin’ her eggs.   She needs me to comfort her.” Sunshine purrs and bobs her chicken head up and down like she’s agreein. 

“Listen here, Blessen, Sunshine can take care o’ herself.  She don’t need you coddlin’ and spoilin’ her.  Now let her be.” 

I set my hen free in the fenced yard.  She trots off toward the fig tree, her favorite shady spot, and I follow Momma in to finish my breakfast.  No use arguing this early in the morning.  Momma’s working the four to midnight shift at the nursing home, so she’s some kind of grumpy before she has her coffee.

“Momma, did someone buy the Romeros’ house?  I saw a kid on the screened porch.”

“Not that I heard. I’ll ask Miss Norma at the nursing home.  She’ll know.  She makes it her business to know everything about everybody in St. Martinville.”

I watch Momma run her fingers through her straight blonde hair.  I raise my hand to the mop of curls on my head.  I inherited the unruly frizz of my black father.  I have a hard time thinking of anything good that came from him.  Well, except for my grandma, Mae Mae.

“Am I going to Mae Mae’s after school today?”

“That’s the plan.  Why?”

“Just askin’. I need to investigate the missin’ eggs.”

“You can come home to check on Sunshine, but be sure to call Mae Mae if’n you’re gonna be late. Okay?”

“Sure thing.”

I kiss Momma’s flower-scented cheek.  She smells just like her name, Gardenia LeFluer. 

“Bye, baby.  Be good!” Momma calls, her coffee mug muffling the sound. 

The yellow bus honks as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back.  I lean forward, so I don’t fall over backwards. Sixth grade books are not made for skinny kids.  They probably weigh twenty-five pounds. Momma says I need to eat more to grow some meat on my bones.  She calls me her little bird. 

I lumber into my seat on the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver.  She’s nice most of the time until the kids get rowdy, which happens on a regular basis.  I like to sit there, so I can see out and not smell that diesel-exhaust-smoky bus smell.  It makes me nauseous. 
Pointing my nose in the direction of the open window, I watch the fields of sugarcane flow by. The tall green stalks sway in the morning breeze. In fourth grade I was in 4-H, and I grew sugarcane in the field by my house with my grandpaw, Pawpee. Pawpee is gone to God. Now, it’s just me and Momma.  And Sunshine. 

I told my new science teacher, Ms. Jemima Fullilove, about Sunshine, and she got me all signed up to be in the 4-H club in middle school.   I told Ms. Fullilove I’ll join her 4-H club on the condition that no one could buy and kill my new hen.  She said there are some competitions that don’t involve killing.

After losing Blue, I’m particular about the killing of chickens.  Maybe Ms. Fullilove knows why Sunshine’s eggs are missing. 

Chapter Two: Egg Experiment
First period is science with Ms. Fullilove.  She is standing in the doorway holding a light brown egg in her palm. 

“What’s the egg for?” I reach out and pet the egg as if it’s a kitten.

“This is for our lesson, today, Blessen. Go have a seat.  We’ll get started in ten minutes.  Your Monday Moaning prompt is on the board.”  Each day Ms. Fullilove makes us write in our notebooks for ten whole minutes about a prompt of the day.  She calls them Monday Moaning, Tuesday Troubles, Wednesday Woes, etc.

Monday Moaning: Questions about eggs??

Ms. Fullilove is all about the questions.  She says questions are the driving force of science.  I’m excited about this assignment because I have lots of questions about eggs.  But they probably can’t be answered by science.  Like where did Sunshine’s eggs disappear to?   Will she stop laying eggs if she gets stressed out?

Ronnie Thibodeaux is the first to raise his hand to share his questions.  “How come a chicken doesn’t smash her eggs when she’s sittin’ on ‘em?”
“First of all, female chickens are called hens.  Does anyone know why the hen doesn’t crack her eggs by sitting on them?”

I raise my hand, “The hen is made of feathers. They have air in their bones.”

“Yes, Blessen, the hen is a bird and bird’s bones are hollow. Why don’t we create an experiment?”

Another thing about Ms. Fullilove is she loves to do experiments.  Today she’s prepared with a dozen eggs in a carton from the grocery store.  We gather around the center table as she places the eggs in a square.