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Authors: Carol Weston

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BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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1/18
right after school
Dear Diary,

Taco is back!! Dad picked him up while we were at school. Taco must have missed us too because he started purring the second I hugged him and kissed his little snout! Poor Taco! Was he afraid he would never get to see us again? I was afraid I might not get to see him again!

He greeted me by rubbing against my leg, then he jumped onto the arm of the sofa and settled in under the warm reading lamp. I petted him, and he purred, and I blinked at him, and he blinked back.

We also bought him a get-well present: a small plastic fountain with a pump so he can always have fresh running water.

I called Maybelle and told her Taco was better. She sounded happy for me.

Weird that one month ago, I hadn't even met Taco, and now I sometimes get sad or happy or scared because of him.

Weird that one month ago, I hadn't really noticed Zara, and now she affects my moods too.

I've been thinking: Zara is not a terrible person. And it's not terrible that she is
outspoken
(just like it's not terrible that Pip is
soft-spoken
). It is, however, hard to get used to Maybelle having a close friend besides me. But maybe there's enough of Maybelle to go around?

Ava, Attempting to be Accepting

P.S. Since Zara messed things up with Chuck, it's not like I'm 100 percent accepting either.

1/18
bedtime
Dear Diary,

Pip kept pressuring me to write the Y and Z poems. I didn't feel like it, and it's only Monday. But Pip wouldn't stop asking, so I finally wrote them. Here they are:

Y is for yellowtail.

The pretty yellowtail swims with speed and grace;

If you ran and it swam, it would be a close race.

Z is for zebrafish.

Zebrafish have stripes that are shiny and blue;

A zeal of zebras are black, white, and furry too.

I hope Jerry Valentino likes our book even though, as Dad might say, it finishes with a whimper and not a bang.

Frankly, I'm glad the English alphabet has only twenty-six letters. Pip says the Spanish alphabet is longer because of
ñ
(as in
mañana
) and
ll
(as in
llama
) and
rr
(as in
guitarra
) and
ch
(as in
mucho
). Mrs. Lemons once said that the Japanese language has
three
different alphabets.

Anyway, my part is done. Z is for zebrafish and now Z is for zzzzzs.

I wish Taco would sleep with me instead of going prowling around at night.

At least he's back home. Tonight he rolled onto his back asking for a tummy rub, so I rubbed his tummy. Fifteen seconds later, he wriggled upright as if to say, “How dare you rub my tummy?”

He definitely has a mind of his own!

Just now, I took a bath and the door creaked open. I thought it was Pip or Mom or Dad and was about to yell, “Don't come in!” but it was Taco! He put his paws on the rim of the tub and stared at me. I went to pet him, but my hand was dripping wet, so he ran away.

Ava in a Towel

P.S. Tonight's Meatless Monday was bulgur wheat and pea pods. Worst yet!!!

1/19
before school
Dear Diary,

Last night, I was almost asleep when I heard a sound in my room. What was it? Could it be? Yes! It was…Taco!! He came padding over and jumped right up onto my bed. I could hardly believe it!

At first, he stayed near my feet. I didn't want to scare him away, so I stayed stock-still. Then I drummed my fingers to invite him to come a little closer.

He crept up and stopped just above my knee where I could pet him. He was almost out of reach, but I stretched out my arm and brushed his fur with my fingertips. He crept a smidge closer and stayed there for a few minutes. I thought he might let me curl up with him, but he turned around and faced my feet—in case he wanted to make a speedy getaway.

Which he did, right as I was about to drift off.

At breakfast, I told everyone that Taco had come to visit me. I was afraid Pip or Dad or Mom would say, “He sleeps with me every night,” or “I was wondering where he went.” But they didn't. Mom said, “One night in a vet's cage, the next in a bedroom. He's no fool.” Dad quoted Charles Dickens who said, “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” And Pip just said, “You're lucky.” I admitted that Taco stayed for only a few minutes, and by my knee, not in my arms. Pip said, “You're still lucky.”

I know I am. Taco is a good cat—and maybe he finally realizes that I'm a good kid.

Ava, Lucky

P.S. I have to hurry and get ready for school! Funny that today in the world, I'll see lots of people, but the only people Taco will see are us. We
are
his world.

1/19
right after school (using my tiger pen)
Dear Diary,

I decided I should try harder to talk to Chuck, so I asked if he finished the book. He looked confused. I added, “The boxer one. The one you got at the bookstore.”

“Oh right,” he said. “Yes, it was good.” He asked if I'd been using the tiger pen I'd bought. Well, that broke the ice, and I said, “Yes,” and then we both looked right at each other and smiled for, like, two seconds. Maybe even three.

I was glad that just as a bad question can mess things up, a good question can fix things up. Or start to, anyway.

“You'll appreciate this, Ava,” Chuck said, opening his spelling notebook and digging out the test from last Friday. “I got a 75—but I got one of the bonus words right: ‘illiterate.' So I'm
not
illiterate! I can read and write!”

I laughed.

“Is your 100s streak still going strong?” he asked.

“It is,” I said, and might have blushed a little.
Do
I like Chuck a teeny bit? Or am I just relieved that we're friends again?

He showed me two words that he got wrong. He'd spelled “sophomore” “soft more” and he spelled “self-esteem” “self a steam.” I laughed, and the good thing was that he knew that I was laughing
with
him, not
at
him.

Ava, Smiling

1/22
Friday after school
Dear Diary,

I was starving, so after school, I heated up some alphabet soup. I love alphabet soup. I always spoon out one A and eat it first.

In school, when it was time to grade our spelling tests, we had to pick a partner. Chuck and I looked right at each other at the exact same time and switched papers without even saying anything. He got another 75 and I got another 100.

One of the words he got wrong was “caterpillar.” In front of the whole class, he asked Mrs. Lemons, “What are caterpillars afraid of?” She hesitated, so he answered “
Dog
erpillars!”

Mrs. Lemons laughed. The funny thing is that our math teacher, Miss Hamshire, never thinks Chuck is funny. She thinks Maybelle can do no wrong and Chuck can do no right.

In the library, Pip and I gave our book to Mr. Ramirez to give to Jerry Valentino. I hope he can help us get it published!

I wonder if Jerry Valentino has already started reading
Alphabet
Fish
. If so, I wonder what letter he is up to?

ABC Ava with Hopes and Dreams

1/24
4:21
Dear Diary,

It's still light outside because the sun is staying out longer now than it did last month. I like long summer days more than short winter ones. Maybe everyone does?

Dad made us all little Sunday sundaes. Even Taco was hanging out in the kitchen.

Mom gave Taco his last dose of medicine (she's way better at squirting it into his mouth than Dad is). Then she started taking photos of him.

Dad said, “The cat as
muse
!”

“Taco
mews
!” I said, as if we were playing the Homonym Game.

“You guys are a-
mus
-ing!” Pip chimed.

Taco pushed his forehead against my shin as if asking to be petted in return for all his posing. Mom took more photos, including one of Dad and Pip and me, and then stretched out her hand and took one of all four of us. It was not a selfie; it was a family-ie.

Question: Has Taco made us more of a family??

Ava, Musing and Amusing

P.S. I think having Taco
has
helped us all be in a good mood. (Except on weekend mornings when Mom and Dad say he wakes them too early.)

1/25
after dinner
Dear Diary,

In the library today, Mr. Ramirez handed me an envelope from Jerry Valentino. I have to confess: when I opened it, I was expecting something very different.

Mr. Ramirez could tell from my expression that Jerry Valentino didn't think our book was about to take the world by storm.

I'm going to staple the letter in here, even if it means I have to cut it in two. (Note: I might enjoy cutting it in two!)

Dear Ava Wren,

I was glad for the opportunity to take a look at
Alphabet Fish
, particularly because I remember meeting you at Misty Oaks Library last October and reading your unusual story about the queen bee. I am pleased to see that you are still writing and that you and your sister have been able to work together. It is clear that you both have talent and have gone to considerable effort. I applaud you for that.

If Mr. Ramirez had asked for just a quick reaction, I might have said, “Bravo!” and “Well done!” and that would be that.

But since Mr. Ramirez asked me about “the possibility of publication,” I feel I should let you know that the marketplace for picture books is very tight, and most editors are not keen on rhyming books.
The Cat in the Hat
aside, successful rhymes are deceptively difficult. There's also the question of the audience for
Alphabet Fish
. Do most children care about mudskippers or queen triggerfish? Can they relate? (A stickler might question whether a jellyfish is a fish at all.)

I'm looking forward to working with your grade next Tuesday and Friday, and we will talk more about writing then. For now, Ava, think about what inspires
you
. Is it fish? Or might there be another subject closer to your heart? And can you come up with a real story someday, one with a beginning, middle, and end? Is there something you are ardent about?

I hope you don't find my candor discouraging. I like the way you use words, and I admire your ambition.

Respectfully yours,

Jerry Valentino

I showed the letter to Mr. Ramirez. “Aren't I too young to get a rejection letter?” I asked.

“He's an author, not an editor, so technically, it's not a rejection letter,” he said, reading it. “And it's very respectful, even though, okay, he doesn't think you hit a home run your first time at bat.” (Mr. Ramirez was using a baseball metaphor.) “Look, maybe he should be taking
me
to task for putting thoughts into your young heads.”

“Pip
was
excited,” I confessed. “And his ‘candor'
is
‘discouraging.'”

“Can you break it to her gently?” Mr. Ramirez said. “Or do you want me to?”

“I will.”

At home, I showed Dad the letter. He was making
ratatouille
, which is a hard spelling word as well as a gross vegetarian dish. Dad read the letter all the way through. “Publication at this stage probably wasn't a very realistic expectation,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “But hard work is its own reward. And you and Pip had fun doing it, right?”

“Most of the time,” I said and made a face.

Dad smiled because he knows that Pip and I don't allllllways get along any more than he and Uncle Patrick allllllways got along. “You're talented, Ava,” he said. “And you're disciplined. If you want to write a book or a play someday, I have no doubt you'll do it.”

“I don't want to write a play,” I said, because Dad's the playwright, not me. I almost added, “But I
do
want to write a book.” I didn't though, because I'm not ready to say that out loud, not even to Dad.

“Want to slice veggies with me?” Dad asked.

“Sure,” I said, and he showed me how small he wanted the pieces. I swear, sometimes it seems as if Meatless Mondays come way more than once a week!

We chopped and chopped, and when I cut into an onion, my eyes got teary, and I pretended it was because of the rejection letter.

Dad knew I was kidding, but when Pip came home, I showed her the letter, and it was obvious that she really was disappointed. She tried to hide it, but at dinner she was almost as quiet as she used to be. When I think about it, Pip
had
spent way more time on the fish drawings than I had on the rhymes.

Just now, we were brushing our teeth, and Pip said, “I wish he'd liked it.”

At first I said, “What?” (Actually, I said, “Whaaa?” because my mouth was full of toothpaste.) But then I said, “Me too.”

“And I wish we could reject his rejection letter,” she added.

I nodded and spat and said that at least Jerry Valentino hadn't said anything bad about her illustrations, just about my words. Which was true, but also nice and unselfish of me to point out.

Ava, Altruistic (that means nice and unselfish)

1/25
in bed
Dear Diary,

Pip knocked on my door and said, “I might make a flower alphabet book called
Z
is
for
Zinnia
. It could be all pictures, no rhymes.”

“Great idea!” I said because I didn't want her to ask me to write twenty-six flower rhymes.

Truth is, I think Pip likes working by herself as much as she likes collaborating. In school, I often like working by myself more than doing “teamwork” or “group work” too. (Exception: I like when Chuck and I switch spelling tests.)

Anyway, I just read an Aesop fable, but it was so scary that I feel like knocking on Mom and Dad's door. But I haven't done that in a long time.

The story is called “The One-Eyed Doe” and goes like this:

A
deer
that
had
lost
an
eye
was
grazing
on
a
high
cliff
near
the
sea. She liked grazing there because she could keep her good eye toward the land and be on the lookout for hunters, and keep her blind eye toward the sea where she assumed she was safe. One day, however, a sailor on a ship noticed how beautiful she was and took his bow and arrow and shot her dead. As she drew her last breath, she realized (and this is the moral): “Trouble can come from where you least expect it.”

After reading that unhappy ending, I did
not
want to turn my light off, so I reread Jerry Valentino's letter one more time, and it got me thinking: What subjects
are
close to my heart? What
am
I “ardent” about? (“Ardent” is when you care a lot about something.)

Ava, Ardent

BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
3.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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