Hi! My name is Harper Miller, and I want to be an author when I grow up. I live with my very old dog, Oscar, my Mom and Dad, and my little brother, Theo (with me in the picture above), who is three years younger than me. I started my book on May 11, 2017, when I was 10 and finished on November 27, 2017, and now I am 11. I worked a lot on this book, and I want to say thank you to my Mom and Dad, who helped make this possible. Also, thank you to my editor (and close friend), Mackenzie. You might wonder why I wrote about a girl going through a drought. Here is my answer. I wrote this book to show that a child can make a difference in the world, even when things might be looking pretty bad. Writing this book was one of the many highlights of my life so far. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This book is dedicated to
my little brother Theo,
for encouraging me to try.
Chapter 1: The Beginning
I let the curtains wrap me in their warm embrace. I was watching the rain. I mean, who wasn’t? The time was around midnight, and I was shivering from the air conditioning that was cranked up all the way. It was late June, and I would turn 12 this summer. Next year, I would be going into the big sixth grade. First year of middle school.
All of a sudden I felt the urge I had been having these last few hot, rainy nights. Not bothering to pull on my raincoat or rain boots, I ran straight out of the curtains and burst out the front door. I ran out into the front yard. I let the cool rain melt down my body, and let the hot, misted air mix with it. I collapsed, and let all my worries, pain, and grief be washed away.
And then, the joy came. I leapt up and jumped for joy. I let myself forget the things that had been on my mind for the last couple of days. I danced, and danced, and danced until the sun began to rise just the slightest bit. Then I crept back inside, and back up the stairs. I stepped into my bedroom, and I stood there shivering, until my senses jolted back to me, and I crept back into my bed.
The next morning when I walked down the steps and into the kitchen, the first thing I heard was, “Ayita, were you dancing again!? I can tell because your hair and nightgown are soaked, and you are covered in mud!”
“Papa, you know I like to dance. My name means first to dance,” I replied in my best-little-girl-in-the-world voice.
My father sighed. “What am I going to do with you, Ayita?” he said softly. “Please go take a shower and wash your nightgown.”
“Okay Papa,” I said, equally softly. I turned around and headed back upstairs. An hour later, I was back downstairs. I walked back into the kitchen, and sat down at the table. A bowl of cold gray mush sat at my spot. A little note was slipped underneath it. It read: “I have decided to work in my study for the rest of the day, so please leave after breakfast and don’t return until dinner time. Don’t get into any trouble or you’re grounded.”
I sighed, picked up the bowl of gray mush, carried it over to the sink, and dumped it out. Next, I got down one of my mother’s old cookbooks and began to flip through it. Just a few minutes later, I had decided on a good breakfast meal. Soon, I had a hot, steaming bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal.
Just 10 minutes later, I was walking down the sidewalk all the way on the other side of town. I was heading to what was (in my opinion) the best place ever. When I reached my little hideaway, I began to have some fun. The place I liked to hang out was a big clearing of grass that was set back from the road and hidden by a thick blanket of trees. There was even a swimming hole. But what I liked the most was the big, wire fence that surrounded the place. It was not made of barbed wire, so it was safe to climb up. It made me feel as though it was just my place. It made me feel like home.
Chapter 2: I Go to a Forbidden Restaurant
If someone were to go to my secret place right now, they would see a girl in jean shorts and a tank top, and that girl would have dark skin and long, straight, black hair. She would have bright-green eyes, just like her mother. That girl would be me.
I thought about this for a moment, and then jumped up and raced over to the basket that I had brought along. I had already devoured my picnic lunch, and I was now looking for my kite. When I pulled out the kite, I felt a pang of sadness go through my body, because as I looked at the kite, a rush of memories flooded my mind. And I saw in my mind a little scene playing out.
I saw a little girl sitting on the floor of our kitchen. Sitting next to her was a young woman who looked exactly like me. We were decorating a bright-red kite, and on the kite we had written my name in multicolor sparkle glue and markers. I knew that little girl was me, and that young woman was my mother.
I sighed, picked up the kite, and began to unspool the thread. When the kite was as spread out as it could be, I began to run.
As I walked home, I began to listen to the other conversations people were having inside their homes. Their voices drifted out the open windows, and I listened. There were a bunch of different topics: the weather, work, school, bills, phone calls, parties, and friends. I wondered what it was like to have a meal with at least one other person. I always ate alone.
* * *
My father worked in his study during the day and in a taco truck at night. He would drive around in a brightly colored van, selling tacos till around 10 o’clock at night. There were no seats in the taco truck, and even if there had been, my father would never have a long enough break to have a meal with me. So, I usually went somewhere else to eat dinner. By myself. Even when my father was off from work, he would always grab his food, and then head up to his study. Anyway, when I got home, my father was already getting ready for work.
“Ayita, I trust you didn’t get into any trouble?” my father asked, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, Papa,” I replied.
“Then here are some pesos to spend down at the bar. They should be enough to treat you to a tamales combo and some champurrado,” my father said as he handed over a handful of coins and pulled on his coat as he did.
“Gracias, Papa,” I replied, trying to sound happy and grateful, even though I wasn’t.
I try really hard not to complain, but every night my father either has the neighbor come over to feed me the same cold, gray mush my father makes, or I am given money to go “treat” myself to some champurrado and tamales at the bar.
So, tonight, I was going to do something else. Ten minutes later, I was climbing off the bus. Then I looked up and saw the little restaurant I had picked out. It was a perfect restaurant for this occasion. I paid the bus driver, who tipped his hat at me.
“Have a good evening, miss,” he said.
“You too,” I told him.
And then the bus doors closed and it rumbled off, back to the town of Austin, Texas, and I was left walking towards the restaurant.
Chapter 3: My Story
The restaurant was in the middle of nowhere, but the bright lights coming from inside were very comforting. I walked up the steps and through the front door. I took a seat at a table and ordered up. As soon as I had ordered, I took out a small pocket notebook I had been given when I was very little, from my mother. I wrote down lists, ideas, quotes, stories, poems, songs, notes, or sometimes just little thoughts or memories I wanted to capture on paper. I flipped to a blank page and began to write a little story.
Once there was a girl. She lived with just her father. Her mother was gone. It was raining when she was born. She loved to dance and loved the rain too. But the girl had a problem. Her world was turning upside down. And even the bravest of souls was scared.
That seemed like a good start to a story. If only something dramatic would happen to me. That was all I could think of at the moment, which was perfect timing because just as I put the little book down, my food arrived.
As I began to eat, I looked around. The restaurant was called Diego’s Acogedor Cafe (Diego’s Cozy Cafe), and it was cozy, with its glowing lamps, comfortable chairs, and slightly dusty curtains. There was even a wild boar’s head mounted on the wall! I loved it. I ate as much as I could, and then tipped the waiter with the little extra money I had. I had used all of the money I had been saving up the last few months combined with the money my father had given me that day.
When I climbed off the bus and crept inside my house, my father wasn’t home from work. So I went straight to sleep, and I dreamed about Diego’s Acogedor Cafe.
Chapter 4: The Drought
Something weird happened today. I was taking a walk when I saw an old tree, which had been there as long as I could remember, dying. Or at least I think it was dying. The leaves were singed, and the grass around the tree was brown. In fact, I saw many trees like that on the rest of my walk. And the rest of the week, and the following weeks after, there was not a lot of rain, and a lot of hot weather. The plants began to wilt and then die. And the days seemed to grow hotter every day.
But the main thing was this: the sink had a knob that you could twist so you could get either hot or cold water. Well, only a trickle came out. And all through the town of Austin, Texas, the same thing was happening to everyone. I knew something was up with the weather. And I knew exactly how to find out what.
I stood in a T-shirt and shorts, sweating in the hot summer sun. My plan was ready to go, and I was excited. I pulled out a tiny scrap of paper on which I had written down:
- While Papa is getting recorded, I will sneak into the school.
- Find janitor’s closet and get changed into outfit.
- Pretend to be cleaning and get into trailer.
- Find notecards, read them, and put them back.
That’s right. My papa was getting recorded to go on TV. But actually that was quite normal. My papa had a show called “Taco Tips.” It was exactly what it sounded like. Since he worked at a taco truck, my papa took advantage of that. He got recorded once a month. And usually I stayed out of the way, but today I wanted to be part of it all.
So, I put my plan in action: I waited until my papa had started being recorded, and then I crept into the school doors. The filming was always done right outside of the elementary school. And the director’s trailer was behind the school. The director always had his trailer cleaned, so I was going to sneak into the school, dress up as a janitor, and get inside his trailer.
I set off on my journey. I snuck around the entire school until I reached the janitor’s closet. Then I dressed up and set on my way to the back of the school. I sauntered up to the director’s trailer and tried the doorknob. It was locked. I looked around. A muscular man was standing a few feet away.
“Sir, could you please give me the code to the director’s trailer?”
“Um . . . no,” he said uncertainly.
“But I’m the janitor. Have you ever heard that the director has his trailer cleaned every time he visits?” I asked slyly.
“Yes, I have heard that, but every time the janitor comes, they know the code!” he told me.
I had to think fast.
“Um . . . I am the janitor’s daughter. My dad is sick today,” I told him.
He eyed me suspiciously.
“You do kind of look like him.”
I gave him my best-little-girl-in-the-world face, the face that I gave to my father.
“Fine,” he grumbled. I smiled as he told me the code: “1694, that’s the code.”
“Thank you!” I chirped happily.
Once I was in the trailer, I pretended to clean until the muscular man went away. Then I began searching. When I finally found the notecards, I sat down to read them. These were the radio weatherman’s notecards. He always forgot where he put them, so the director just kept them in his trailer until it was time for him to go on. I began to read. The notecards said: “The weather forecast is a severe chance of drought this summer. Plants are suffering and water supplies are running short. We will update you as we have more news.”
I set the notecards down, and stared out the window. If the drought persisted, it would mean no rain. Or water. Or dancing. And there would be a lot of hot weather. And sun. And dying plants, animals, and trees. And hard, hot, cracked ground. I was terrified.
Chapter 5: I Babysit a Demon
My father thinks I’m old enough to babysit. I agree, but that doesn’t make me want to babysit anymore than I usually do. I HATE babysitting. But it’s been a month since the day I crept into the director’s trailer. The drought has gotten worse, and everyone is worried. Tonight, the usually quiet houses scattered through the neighborhood are ablaze with light. The grown-ups are hosting a big meeting, and my father is invited. And he is going. And since I’m the oldest child out of all the people attending, I’m the sitter for the night.
Luckily for me, there was only one child I had to take care of. And her name was London. I had never met her before, but I had heard about her. The things I had heard were all different. My old teacher told me that she was a darling, beautiful child. That was the same teacher who had given me a D on my report card, so I paid no heed to her. I instead thought about what the kids had said. The kids who had London in their class. “She’s a monster. A real teacher’s pet. Horrible! Just horrible!” they said. But I decided to take my chances.
I walked over to London’s house. I gulped when I saw it. It was more of a mansion then a house. I bet they still had completely clean water. (Most houses had not-so-great water.) I walked up the front path and knocked on the door. The door swung open at once. A girl with blonde hair put into pigtails and light blue eyes stood there. She wore a flowered dress and a pair of pink, sparkly party shoes. And to complete the look, she had a skull-and-crossbones-patterned Band-Aid on her right cheek. She scowled up at me. “Are you Ayipa? The babysitter?” she asked skeptically.
“My name is Ayita, not Ayipa. And, yes, I am the babysitter.” I told her. “Are you London?”
“Yes. And we’re going to play dollies until my mommy and daddy get home.”
Her parents left in a hurry, and I was left with the little monster. I sighed. “So where are your dollies?” I asked.
“In my room. Come on, slowpoke!” she said, already climbing up a spiral staircase.
I followed her, and she led me down what seemed like a never-ending hallway. Finally, we reached a set of double doors, which led into the biggest bedroom I had ever seen. It was like a dining hall, and everything was entirely sparkly pink and black. Striped walls, polka-dot covers, and plaid furniture. All in pink and black. The biggest chandelier I had ever seen hung above the enormous bed.
London pointed to a dollhouse the size of me. Barbies and other dolls were set up inside. I gulped. We spent the next two hours playing dolls. We were about to do something else, when London shouted “TAG! YOU’RE IT!!!!” She tore out of the house and into the dark night.
“LONDON!!!” I screamed.
I ran around searching for her until I finally heard some shuffling coming from the playground at Ms. Friar’s house. I peeked around the corner of the house and saw a shape moving. It was London. I carried her kicking and screaming back to the house.
After that, I sat through the movie Animal Friends Rescue. Finally, London had some milk and cookies and got ready for bed. I tiptoed out of London’s dark room and read my book until London came downstairs.
“Can’t sleep?” I said, smiling slightly. No reply. “London?” I asked. That’s when I saw her eyes were wide open. It looked really freaky. I asked again, “London?” Nothing.
My natural instinct was to tap her on the shoulder, so I did just that. Suddenly, she thrust her arm at me and punched me in the stomach. That was when I realized she was sleepwalking. I carefully carried her upstairs, to her bed. Then, her parents came home. And even though they paid me well, I know I will never sit for London again.
Chapter 6: Breaking out the Books
I was having an okay week until Papa told me some pretty horrible news.
“So, Ayita,” my papa said, taking his favorite seat in our living room.
“Yes . . . ” I said, sucking in my breath.
“I got a call from your teacher. She said you didn’t do so well in science this year. Care to explain?”
I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about. My science grades had been horrible all last year. “I’m not so good at science.” That was all I could say.
“Clearly,” my father said, sighing. “Your teacher said she’s signed you up for science tutoring. It starts tomorrow.” And with that, he left.
I slumped down in my chair. Science tutoring! What was I thinking! Well, there goes the rest of my summer . . .
* * *
The fan was blowing, but it wasn’t doing much. I was positive we were baking. By we, I mean me and the six other kids who were being tutored.
“Now turn to page 312, to learn about, um . . . I forgot,” the teacher said. The other kids and I groaned and turned to page 312.
I sighed, and looked outside. Despite the hot weather, it was still a good day to play outside. The air smelled kinda weird, though, like a storm was brewing.
Something happened right after our water break. Something I would never forget. The ground began to tremble and was jumping up and down. The desks were thrown from one side of the room to the other. Children scrambled around. And then it was calm and quiet. It had ended just as soon as it had begun. Kids were crying, but no one was hurt. The teacher hurried from kid to kid, making sure we were okay.
We switched on the TV. A news reporter was standing in the town square. “Scientist believe that the earthquake was caused by the effects of the drought. Luckily, no major damage was done, and only a few injuries. We have just witnessed a small earthquake, folks,” the man was saying.
While the other kids kept watching, I crept into the back of the classroom to the phone. I dialed my father’s phone number and prayed he would answer.
“Ayita?” my father asked.
“Papa . . . ” I whispered. I began to cry. I hugged the phone tight.
“Come home right now. I want to make sure you aren’t hurt.” I didn’t argue.
“OK, Papa.” I hung up. Every story has a problem. And this drought was mine. I burst through the door. My father swept me up in his arms. I had missed this. Then my father went to go find the first-aid kit, while I made a batch of crema catalana (a popular Spanish dessert). We went around the neighborhood, making sure people were okay, and giving out crema catalana.
* * *
We passed through the town square, and I gasped when I saw a house that had been wrecked. I wasn’t sure what I expected with an earthquake, but I was startled. It was a nice house, too, with architecture beyond compare.
An old woman was talking with some firefighters.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” my father asked.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. But the house my husband built is ruined,” she replied, hanging her head. My father had a thoughtful look on his face.
“Now, I am not a great architect, but I do like building,” my father said.
“Oh, I would pay you a lot to come fix it!” the woman said happily.
“I will come here tomorrow at 10:00 am. Because I must first walk my daughter to her tutoring class,” my father said.
“Oh, Papa!” I cried, and hugged him tight.
We walked home, and I then watched my papa call the taco truck and told them he would be quitting. Then he called the newspaper to tell them he would no longer be doing the taco tips. I smiled because it seemed all my little problems were solved.
Chapter 7: A Sign of Hope
It was now August, and my tutoring was done. My father was still working on the old lady’s house, whose name was Ms. Kemp. Everything seemed to be alright. So I was back at my special place.
I admit, it wasn’t the same, but I was still determined to have fun. I was going to camp out here, just like I had before the drought. I first took a walk in the woods that surrounded my special place. When I got back to camp, it was time for some dinner. I glanced down at the watering hole. Normally, I would catch a fish and cook it, but it was still all dried up. Luckily, I had packed my own dinner tonight.
I was just about to start a fire, when I saw something in the base of the watering hole. I scrambled down, cutting my knees as I went. I squatted down, and fingered the small treasure. It was a small, green seedling, growing out of the hard, cracked ground. I scrambled up the bank and grabbed my water bottle. I carefully trickled water on the seedling. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to brighten.
I ate my dinner and roasted marshmallows. I even went on a star walk. And as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, I realized what I could do. I could help stop this drought.
* * *
“Hey, you’re back!” my father said when I walked in the door.
“Hello, Papa,” I said.
“Want to maybe go out for some dinner?” my father asked. He had been trying to spend more time with me lately.
“Sorry, Papa, but I have to work on something,” I said apologetically. He nodded. I headed into the study and sat down at the computer. I first googled my question. Then I started writing. I was writing a song. A simple chant, in Spanish:
Los problemas que enfrentamos son
grandes, pero seguiremos luchando!
I know some people do not speak Spanish, so I will translate. “The problems we face are big, but we will keep fighting!” That was the plan. It was a good plan. And I was ready to put it into action. Soon.
Chapter 8: Saving the World
“Los problemas que enfrentamos son grandes, pero seguiremos luchando!” I chanted. I was standing outside of one of the most popular restaurants in the city. I had started out with nothing except a foldout table, a handmade sign, a chant, gallons of water, and a sign that read:
HELP SAVE THE WORLD!
Water for the earth!
Water your plants, so they can survive
PS: Do not drink the water!
My first visitor was a mom and her son. They stopped to read the sign.
“We will take two gallons,” the lady said.
“Thank you!” I called after her as she walked away with her two gallons of water.
An old couple came out of the restaurant. They heard my chant and took a gallon. I was just starting to have a lot of business when a man asked, “Hey kid, where are you getting all this water?”
“There is a watering hole, but it is not super clean water, so it is for the plants, not to drink,” I replied. It was all true, too. I had dug with my father’s shovel and had made a crack in the surface, and water had spurted out! Now the watering hole was full. Or at least it used to be. I had filled every last gallon with the water, and now the hole was empty again. If people watered their plants, they could all make it through the drought! Maybe.
The line was getting long now. More people kept joining the line. When the sun began to set, I packed up my table. As we pulled into the driveway, I saw my neighbor watering her plants. With a gallon of water she had taken. I smiled and waved. She waved back. Maybe doing my part wasn’t too hard after all.
Chapter 9: The End
It is late August, and it is still hot, but that’s no surprise. I woke up this morning and realized that it was my birthday. I am 12. I slipped into shorts and a T-shirt. I cook our breakfasts now, and I don’t mean to brag, but they are all super delicious. Today was no exception. I searched through the cookbook, and my eye landed on the apple-cinnamon oatmeal recipe. I prepared it, but this time when I ate it, I wasn’t alone.
After that, my father headed off to work, and I took a walk. I headed down the streets and to the old woods. I wove through the blanket of trees, and I ended up in my special place. I stood in the grass and let the sun beat down on me. I looked down at the worn-out flipflops on my feet and wondered if maybe my father would take me shoe shopping. Yep, this summer had changed me. Maybe I would take some sort of dance class this fall.
I stepped into the cool canopy of the trees and kept walking until I reached the dried-up creek. I walked along the bed and stared up at the sky. I wished I could fly. But I can fly, I realized. I can dance with all my heart, and if that doesn’t feel like flying, then my name isn’t Ayita. Or something like that.
I finished my loop, and found myself back at my special place. I fished around in my backpack and pulled out a chocolate cupcake made by my father. Truthfully, it looked more like a chocolate brick with chocolate frosting as the cement. There was a candle on top. Make a wish. I thought.
“I wish for my Mama,” I whispered.
I sniffled and wiped away the tears as I ate my cupcake. As soon as I finished, I felt a tear plop on my arm. I looked down. I wiped my tears away again, but after that I felt another drop. And another. It was raining.