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Copyright Page

For my Isabelle—

seed collector, bug inspector, creature protector.


As usual, my deepest gratitude to my hand-holding, confidence-boosting, never-tiring writing group members: Anjali Banerjee, Carol Cassella, Sheila Rabe, Elsa Watson, and Susan Wiggs. How I would manage without them is beyond me.

Once again, heartfelt thanks to my editor, Jennifer Hunt; her assistant, T. S. Ferguson; and my literary agent, Michael Bourret, for their continued enthusiasm for my work. They do all the mysterious “business” stuff that I am happy to avoid.

And finally, thanks to you for venturing into this story about Isabelle and her magical journey. I loved every minute of writing and I hope you find her journey as fun and as satisfying as I did.

Isabelle stood beneath a sky as gray as a pair of filthy socks. A horde of factory workers pushed past her, eager to get home to their suppers. Having eaten only half a cheese sandwich for lunch, Isabelle ached with hunger, but she needed to run an important errand before going back to the boardinghouse—a secret errand that couldn’t wait.

“I can’t come with you,” said Gwen, who knew all about the secret errand because she was Isabelle’s best friend. “I’ve got stupid dish duty tonight. See ya in the morning.” She wiped her runny nose on her sleeve, then disappeared into the crowd.

“See ya,” Isabelle called, zipping her yellow rain slicker all the way to her chin. Poor Gwen. Dish duty was never fun, though secret errands almost always were.

Clutching an empty water bottle, Isabelle hurried away from Runny Cove’s Magnificently Supreme Umbrella Factory, where she had spent the entire day standing at a conveyor belt pressing labels onto boxes. Not the way most ten-year-olds would choose to spend the day, but Isabelle had no choice. Even though the work left her fingertips raw and made the soles of her feet ache, she never complained. Her boring job was the only reason she could buy half a cheese sandwich and a rain slicker. Without the umbrella factory, Isabelle would have nothing.

She followed the gravel road that led from the factory to the village of Runny Cove. Raindrops drummed against the sides of her plastic hood, a sound so commonplace that she barely even noticed. It rained every day in Runny Cove. It had for as long as Isabelle could remember. Sometimes the drops were as fat as thumbprints; sometimes they were almost invisible, forming a veil of mist. Sometimes they beat down so hard that they stung Isabelle’s skin, while other times they dropped lazily from the sky like parachutists.

Because the clouds never parted in Runny Cove, the village was perpetually cast in a depressing shade of sludge—the same color as the gunky stuff that clogs up bathroom sinks. Never had Isabelle basked in the sun’s warmth or strolled in the moon’s light. Never had she known what it felt like to be completely dry. That was the cruel reality of Runny Cove and that is why no one ever moved there. Isabelle couldn’t blame them. Who would want to live in a gloomy place by the sea where it never stops raining, and where everyone’s skin is puckered and pale and covered in mold?

While most of the villagers chose to sit around and complain about the mud, acting all dreary about the rain as if it had seeped inside their skin and had drowned their spirits, Isabelle’s spirit refused to be extinguished, no matter how waterlogged it got. Ever heard the saying that if you’ve got lemons, you should make lemonade? Well, when you’ve got mud you might as well make mud pies, or mud forts, or mud slides. And that’s exactly what Isabelle and her friends did. A lowly substance, mud, but with the right outlook it can offer up endless possibilities.

While the rest of the workers headed into the village, Isabelle took a sharp turn off the road and started across the sand dunes. Dusk was falling, but like everyone else in Runny Cove, she was accustomed to dim light. Up and over the dunes she went, her mind fixated on her secret errand. She needed to get it done quickly so she could get back to Mama Lu’s Boardinghouse for supper.

Up and over, over and up she hurried, slowing only to cough. People who spend their days in damp undershirts and wet socks tend to get colds, which is the reason why most everyone in Runny Cove had a runny nose and a rib-splitting cough.

Though the crisp evening air tickled Isabelle’s congested lungs, she kept her pace until she reached the driftwood forest. The logs lay in chaotic piles, some with sharp jutting branches, others with rotten patches that could break a leg. Isabelle had never seen a tightrope walker but she resembled one as she held out her arms and tiptoed across, still clutching the empty bottle. She didn’t feel a bit scared, since she had ventured to the beach many times by herself to explore or collect treasures. Excitement drove her onward. Her errand meant doing something different, something interesting, and she was one of those people who always managed to find bits of interesting in places where other people never looked.

As she crossed the driftwood, she sang one of her little songs at just the right tempo to match her careful steps. She sang loudly because there was no one around to yell, “Hey kid! Stop making all that racket. Yer giving me a headache!” Here’s what she sang.

The Nowhere Song

Beyond the town, beyond the mill

beyond the river, beyond the hill

lies the land of Nowhere

and Nowhere lies there still,

for no one goes to Nowhere

and no one ever will.

It was a song she had made up about the mysterious place of her birth. At least that’s what her Grandma Maxine had always told her whenever she had asked, “Where did I come from?”



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