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Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel
By Diana Lopez
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When her family visits a cuarto de milagros, a miracle room in a famous church, Erica decides to make a promesa to God in exchange for her mom’s health. As her mom gets sicker, Erica quickly learns that juggling family, friends, school, and fulfilling a promesa is stressful, but with a little bit of hope and a lot of love, she just might be able to figure it out.
Confetti Girl author Diana Lopez returns with this sweet, funny, and utterly honest story about being a girl in a world full of good (and bad) surprises.
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Confetti Girl
A Sneak Peek of Nothing Up My Sleeve
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I spent the entire month of May waiting for summer—for waking up when I felt like it and not when the alarm told me to, for wearing cool skirts and no shoes, for spending time with my friends at the park and pool, and for our family vacation—this year a trip to Carlsbad Caverns, a giant cave system in New Mexico—and on to Roswell, where aliens once crash-landed. Of course, I knew aliens were a hoax, but I looked forward to Roswell anyway, if only to see how many people could be fooled by such a silly story. So when Mom said she was going to shop for bathing suits, I didn't think twice. Sure, New Mexico was a desert, but every vacation spot had pools—not to mention the Texas coast, which we visited two or three times a year. And when she brought home nine bikinis, I thought it was odd, but only for a second, because Mom did funny things sometimes, like making potato chip pancakes or talking in a computer voice inspired by Star Trek shows.
"Come look, Chia," Mom said, waving me into her room. "You too, Carmen."
I stepped in, my nerdy little sister following.
"What do you think?" Mom asked, arranging the bikinis on the bed with the care of someone setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Their colors were bright like piñatas. One bikini top was striped, another polka-dotted, a third checkered. One had tropical flowers, and another, little palm trees.
"They're very pretty," I answered.
"Yeah. Real pretty," Carmen said. "Are these for vacation?"
Mom shrugged. "You could say that. I bought one for each day of the week."
Carmen's finger pointed at each as she counted. Her math brain always counted things. "But there are nine bikinis here," she said. "Does that mean we're having a nine-day vacation?"
Once again, Mom said, "You could say that."
Mom took the bikini bottoms and threw them into the small wicker basket she used as a trash can, then folded the tops and stacked them neatly in her lower dresser drawer.
"What are you doing?" I asked. I could totally understand potato chip pancakes, a computer voice, and buying nine bikinis, but throwing away something new was beyond me.
Before she could answer, my two-year-old brother walked in. "Gimme, gimme, gimme," he said, grabbing a bikini top. When I tried to take it away, we got into a tug-of-war match.
"Let go, Jimmy!" I cried.
"It's okay," Mom said. "Let him have it. He'll give it back after he's had a good look." She ran her fingers through his hair, but he was too interested in the bikini top to notice. Then she lifted him, hugged him tight, and said, "My baby, my beautiful baby," even though he wasn't a baby anymore. When Jimmy wriggled free, Mom grabbed Carmen and me for a group hug, and she said it again, "My babies, my beautiful babies."
"Is everything okay?" Carmen asked.
"Of course. I'm just showing a little affection."
"But you're acting weird. Right, Chia?"
"Maybe," I said.
"What do you mean by 'maybe'? She is acting weird."
Truth was, I did think Mom seemed a bit… off… but there were a lot of things I'd rather do than take Carmen's side—like sleep on a block of ice or drink tomato sauce with crushed Oreos.
"It's not weird," I said. "Mom doesn't need a special occasion to hug us or call us her babies."
Mom said, "You're so sweet," and kissed the top of my head.
Carmen hated to be wrong, but more than that, she hated for me to be right. She glared at me. If her eyes were claws, I'd have a dozen scratch marks on my face.
"Okay, girls," Mom said. "Why don't you go to the other room? It's time for Jimmy's nap."
"Gimme nap. Gimme nap," Jimmy said, climbing onto the bed and grabbing a pillow. Carmen and I left him there and made our way to the kitchen.
A long time ago, Mom and Dad had bought us matching desks and placed them side by side in the den, but we preferred to hang out in the kitchen because it was huge and had a table as big as a stage. Besides, it usually smelled good in there—sometimes like Mom's charro beans or beef stew, other times like biscuits or coffee—and when we were lucky like chocolate cake. Today, though, it didn't smell like anything, but it would as soon as Mom started dinner.
Carmen and I sat on opposite ends, the rest of the table like a long hallway between us. Carmen made a skyscraper of library books about dream interpretation, Egyptology, and renewable energy. I had to roll my eyes. I mean, she wasn't in college—yet. Besides, it was summer. Who spent the summer studying? Only my sister begged for a trip to the library each week. No thank you. I'd rather hang out with my friends or watch TV than read boring books.
Speaking of friends, I flipped open the laptop and spotted an e-mail from Iliana, with "Park?" in the subject line. "Hey, guys," she wrote to me and a few other friends, "want to meet at the park tomorrow?" We all lived in the same neighborhood, and the park was a short walk from our homes. It had lots of shade, skateboarding ramps, swing sets, and a pool.
"Mom!" I called out. "Can I go to the park tomorrow?"
"Sure," she called from the bedroom.
I hit the "reply" button and wrote, "I'll be there."
After checking the rest of my messages, I glanced at the shipping information for the Endless Band Mood Ring, the one Dad ordered for me after I said "please" a dozen times. Mom mentioned having one when she was a teen, and when I learned that mood rings change colors according to your emotions, I had to get one, too. My friends always wanted to know how I felt, and pointing to a mood ring seemed a lot easier than having a whole conversation about my feelings. It was scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Good. I needed to make sure I was here because the last thing I wanted was Carmen stealing my übercool ring, and she'd do it. No doubt in my mind she would.
"Did you know," Carmen began, "that when Egyptians were turning dead bodies into mummies, they sucked the brains out through the nose?"
"I wonder if they used a sippy straw?" I said.
"And then they took out the intestines and put them in jars."
"Imagine seeing that in a pantry—not strawberry preserves but gut jam."
She ignored me. "They put all the organs in jars. Except for the heart. Do you know what those jars were called?"
I took a second too long for a comeback.
"They're called canopic jars," Carmen said, all proud of herself.
"I knew that," I lied. "I was just testing you. Now, quit being a show-off." I crumpled a napkin and threw it at her, but it missed.
Her way of knowing a bunch of useless details really bugged me, especially after I learned that she'd be joining me in middle school next year. She was supposed to be in the fifth grade but she got bumped up to sixth. So when she started acting like the narrator of a Discovery Channel show, I did my best to make jokes or ignore her. I didn't want Carmen to know how dumb she made me feel. She'd never stop teasing me if she did.
Forget her, I told myself. I had my own intellectual pursuits. Carmen liked ancient civilizations and math equations, but I liked to mind-travel—that's what I called it when I let my imagination take me somewhere else, somewhere far from my pesky sister. I loved to visit Google Images. Today, Mom's bikinis made me think of the ocean, so I typed "seaside" in the search box. So many pictures came up—peaceful coastlines with water as blue and clear as marbles, busy boardwalks with roller coasters right over the ocean, resort towns with rows of condominiums, and places where waves splashed against giant rocks. I finally settled on a crowded beach. Every inch seemed full of people in lawn chairs or on blankets, their coolers beside them, their umbrellas providing shade. The sand was dotted with footprints. I mind-traveled and felt the wind, the sun, and the gritty sand. I heard gulls, waves, laughter, and flapping towels. I tasted the salty air and an ice-cold—
"Gimme Chia. Gimme Chia," Jimmy said, interrupting my "vacation." He had walked in, dragging a pillow and bikini top across the floor. He dropped them and pointed at the baker's rack. "Gimme Chia. Gimme Chia," he said, reaching for our SpongeBob Chia Pet. Chia Pets are clay figurines with little holes, usually where hair or fur belongs. When you water them, grass grows through the holes. So instead of pies and cookies on the baker's rack, we had green-haired characters. On the top shelf were actual Chia Pets—a cat, a puppy, a lamb. Then we had the patriotic shelf with George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Barack Obama. Below that, we had SpongeBob SquarePants, Scooby-Doo, Homer Simpson, and Dora the Explorer, all with green hair. In the middle of our collection was a picture of me when I was one. I had thick curly hair back then, so for my first Halloween, Mom and Dad painted it green, put me in a Onesie the color of terra-cotta, and told everyone I was a real live Chia Pet. That's why they call me Chia now. It isn't my actual name. My actual name is Erica. Erica Montenegro. By the time I was three, I had long straight hair, but the family called me Chia anyway. In fact, I didn't know I was Erica till I started school.
I never asked for a Chia Pet, ever, but after Mom and Dad framed that Halloween picture, my aunts and grandparents, and later my friends, bought them for me as Christmas or birthday gifts. So the surprise wasn't what I was getting, since I knew a Chia Pet was in the box, but which one. When I complained that I was getting too old for Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer, they started to buy me historical figures, even though I really meant "no more Chia Pets." Then I said, "I'm not really into politics," so they started buying animals. I didn't bother to complain because I knew they'd just discover another Chia Pet category. In fact, I absolutely loved my collection. In a way, the Chia Pets were like a timeline of my life, a happy timeline since they mostly came gift wrapped at a party.
"Gimme Chia!" Jimmy said again. He looked so cute with his wide, innocent eyes. I almost forgot how destructive he could be until I noticed a blank spot on the shelf.
"Gimme!" he insisted.
I tried to break the news gently. "I can't. You'll break it. Remember what you did to Garfield last week?"
"But I wan' it! I wan' it!" He started to cry. Jimmy didn't know about sniffles or sobs. When he was upset, he went straight to bawling.
"Sorry," I said. "I don't want you to get in trouble."
This time, he added stomping to the tantrum.
Carmen whined. "I can't concentrate with all this noise. Where's Mom? She's the only one who can handle Jimmy."
"I can take care of him, too," I said, heading to the pantry because a snack was a great way to calm him down. I offered him a cookie. He slapped it away from my hand.
"No cookie!" he yelled.
"Will you be quiet?" Carmen said, scolding him. "Where's Mom? Can't she hear him?"
I wondered too, especially since pep rallies were quieter than this.
"Maybe she's sleeping," I guessed.
Just then, Dad got home from work.
"What's going on?" he said as he stepped into the kitchen. "I can hear Jimmy from outside."
"He wants to play with SpongeBob," I explained.
Dad stooped down to Jimmy's level. "Is that right, little buddy?"
Jimmy nodded and stomped again. "Gimme Chia!"
"Okay, okay," Dad promised.
"Dad, don't!" I warned. "He'll break it."
"We're just going to touch it, right, Jimmy? We're not going to play with it because it's not a toy."
Jimmy nodded again. Then Dad picked him up and let him pat SpongeBob's hair. After a minute, Jimmy said, "Down now." He was perfectly quiet again. He picked up the bikini top and the pillow and headed to the hallway. I made a mental note: when cookies don't work, just give Jimmy what he wants.
"Where's your mother?" Dad asked.
"Asleep," we said.
He looked toward their bedroom. "Okay. We'll let her rest awhile longer."
He took off his coat, tie, and buttoned-up shirt. His undershirt looked funny with his pressed slacks and shiny black shoes, but we were used to seeing him like this. He worked at USAA, a giant insurance company and one of the biggest companies in San Antonio, so he had to wear a suit every day, what he called his straitjacket. He couldn't wait to take it off when he got home, especially in the summer when it was so hot.
After he got comfortable, he opened the fridge and took out ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. Then he opened the pantry and took out a package of corn tortillas. After that, he pushed aside all the cans and boxes and reached way back into the pantry. He scratched his head a minute, then opened all the cabinet doors, even beneath the sink where we kept cleaning supplies. Then he peeked on top of the fridge, behind the microwave, and under the toaster.
"What are you looking for?" I asked. "You look like a kid on an Easter egg hunt."
"I'm looking for that packet of spices for the tacos," he said. "I want to start dinner."
"We ate tacos last week," Carmen answered. "Mom hasn't been to the store since then."
His shoulders slumped. "I guess we'll eat migas instead."
Migas was our favorite Tex-Mex dish—a mix of corn tortillas, eggs, tomatoes, onions, and cheese. We loved the recipe. Thing was, migas were for breakfast, not dinner.
In a way, it made sense for Dad to make them because he always cooked breakfast. After all, my parents believed in "division of labor." Dad made breakfast, Mom made dinner, and Carmen and I cleaned the kitchen at the end of the day. We used to wash dishes together, but since we kept fighting over who washed and who dried, who cleared the table and who swept the floor, Mom and Dad came up with a new "division of labor" plan. Carmen would clean on the odd-numbered days, while I cleaned on the even-numbered. Sounded great to me. Of course, Carmen quickly pointed out how unfair it was since months like January had thirty-one days, which meant she'd have to clean two days in a row because the next day was always the first. So to make things exactly equal, Mom or Dad cleaned when the last day of the month ended with an odd number.
"We can't eat migas," Carmen complained. "That's for breakfast."
Dad took out the cutting board and started to chop an onion. "The only dinner recipes I know are tacos and barbecue. Anyway, who says breakfast is just for the morning? We might have to get used to eating breakfast at night now."
"Why?" Carmen asked. "Is Mom going on strike or something?"
Dad stopped a moment, closing his eyes tight. I thought he was going to cry, but that was silly. Dads didn't cry. Must have been the onions he was chopping.
"Well?" Carmen said.
Dad didn't answer. Instead he said, "Jimmy's too quiet. Go check on him."
When Carmen didn't move, I said to her, "He means you."
"No, he doesn't," she sassed back. "It's your job to babysit. You're the oldest. Whoever heard of the second oldest taking care of little kids?"
"Girls," Dad said. "Not now. Why don't both of you check on Jimmy?"
We still didn't move.
"One, two," he began.
"Okay, okay," we said. The last thing we wanted was Dad to hit three. Once he hit three, we hit some kind of punishment. Usually he took away our iPods or computer privileges for a day. But we never knew. Punishment could mean pulling weeds or dusting baseboards. It could mean writing a five-paragraph essay about the possible consequences of our bad behavior. Like, what if we didn't check on Jimmy? What's the worst kind of trouble he could get into? I'd heard stories about little kids sticking their fingers in sockets and getting electrocuted or swallowing small toys and choking. That was the last thing I wanted for my brother, even if he was a pest sometimes.
I bolted from my chair and sprinted past Carmen, who hadn't budged an inch. Once again, I had to look after Jimmy, while Carmen got to stay with her precious books.
I searched all over the place, even called his name. He never answered back. I finally discovered him in the coat closet where we kept our tennis shoes and hiking and work boots. He'd taken out all the shoelaces, so now they were in a giant tangle. How could he make such a mess in fifteen minutes?
I picked up a shoelace, and it was wet with saliva. "Gross!" I said to Jimmy. "Did you put all these in your mouth?"
He laughed. Then he said, "Gimme!" as he opened and closed his hand.
I didn't hand it to him. Instead, I ran the shoelace over his face, tickling him.
"Let's clean this up," I said.
He shook his head to say no, and then he ran back to the kitchen. That brat!
I grabbed my cell phone from my pocket and wrote to Iliana. "Can we trade bros?" A few seconds later, she replied, "Let's." If only it were that simple. Iliana had twin brothers in high school. They were super cute and athletic. They were smart too, and polite. And they were exactly identical. Sometimes I wished I were their girlfriend because if the first one couldn't take me to the homecoming dance, I could ask the second one. It'd be like having two iPods with the same playlists. That way, when the battery ran out on one, I could switch over to the other. My dad always said it was good to have a backup plan. Twin boyfriends and twin iPods sounded like good backup plans to me.
I shook the wishful thinking from my mind as I untangled the shoelaces and threaded them through the tennis shoes and boots. Then I returned to the kitchen and found Jimmy tearing paper towels into tiny pieces, while Dad spooned migas onto our plates and Carmen set the table.
"Thanks for helping," she told me, all sarcastic.
"No, thank you for helping me." I could be sarcastic, too.
"You're the one who snuck off to text Iliana so you wouldn't have to work in the kitchen."
"Well, I'm the one who had to clean up Jimmy's mess after Dad asked you to check on him."
"He didn't ask me. You're the oldest, remember?"
"¡Por favor!" Dad said. He still had the spoon in his hand and was clenching it so tight. I could see the muscles and veins in his forearm. "I just want to have a nice dinner for Mom. A nice, peaceful dinner. She had a really hard day, understand?"
Carmen and I glanced at each other. Why did Mom have a hard day? As far as we could tell, she went shopping and got a good deal on bathing suits. Something was up, and we both knew it. We'd never admit that our brains were hooked on the same idea, but they were.
"Take your seats," Dad ordered. He picked up Jimmy and placed him on his booster chair. "All of you stay put. And don't say a word till I get back."
We obeyed, but it was tough. Staying quiet was impossible for my little brother and sister. Jimmy kept blowing bubbles through the straw of his sippy cup and Carmen kept tapping her fork against her glass. I could see her lips moving, which meant she was counting. Later she'd tell me exactly how many times she tapped her fork, plus whatever else she'd counted. She couldn't help herself, and Jimmy couldn't help making a mess, even with his spill-proof sippy cup. I loved them, but I couldn't stand it sometimes, couldn't stand them.
Finally, Mom and Dad stepped in. As soon as she saw the table, Mom said, "What's this?"
"I made dinner," Dad announced.
"And I set the table," Carmen added.
"But I could have made dinner," Mom said. "I was planning to. I always make it, don't I?"
"Just wanted you to have a day off," Dad said, all cheery.
He pulled out her chair. He could be a real gentleman, but since he pulled out Mom's chair only at fancy dinners or weddings, this was weird. Mom must have thought so too, because she hesitated before sitting down. Then Dad went to his seat and told us to dig in. We did. Quietly. For once, Carmen wasn't acting like a know-it-all and Jimmy wasn't begging for something to hold. It was a perfectly quiet dinner like Dad had wanted, but it sure wasn't peaceful.
Finally, Jimmy broke the silence. "Gimme juice!" he said, holding out his sippy cup.
Mom scooted back her chair, but Dad said, "I got it."
"That's not…" she tried.
"It's my pleasure," Dad said. "You get Jimmy's juice every night."
She crossed her arms. "That's right. I do."
"So let the rest of us help," Dad said. "There's no need for you to do everything."
"And there's no need for me to do nothing at all."
I felt totally confused. Dad was acting super nice, but Mom was acting mad. "What's going on?" I had to ask.
"Your father's treating me like an invalid," Mom said.
Carmen jumped in. "Chia doesn't know what that is. You have to define it for her."
"I know what 'invalid' means," I protested.
"What does it mean then?"
"An invalid is what you're going to be after I break your legs because you're such a brat all the time."
"Quit fighting, girls," Dad scolded. "You're upsetting your mother."
"They're not upsetting me. I'd rather see them fight than see you cater to me. Their fighting is normal. It's… it's energetic."
That was a strange thing to say. My dad thought so too, because he stared at my mom for a long time—she stared back—whole paragraphs passing between them. The entire time, Jimmy kept saying, "Gimme juice. Gimme juice." But Mom and Dad were motionless. Finally, Mom stood up, and then—she pulled off her shirt! She was wearing a hot-pink bikini top, and she straightened her shoulders to show it off.
"You can't walk around like that," Dad said.
"You're not going to make me cover up."
"But we're not at the beach!"
Mom laughed. "Well, I can pretend. I've got nine days to pretend."
"Mom? Dad?" Carmen's voice cracked a little, and then Jimmy started to cry. Maybe he was tired of waiting for juice, or maybe he was scared like Carmen.
"Is this how you want to tell the children?" Dad said. "While they're all upset?"
"Tell us what?" Now my voice cracked. Once again, my parents stared at each other. This time, whole chapters passed between them, while a dozen scenarios ran through my mind. Were they getting divorced? Were they going bankrupt? What secret were they keeping from us?
"Your mother is sick," Dad said calmly.
"What kind of sick?" I had to ask because I knew this was bigger than a stomachache or the flu.
Mom took Jimmy's cup and refilled it. I could tell she was stalling. When she handed it to him, she kissed the top of his head. Then she returned to her seat, grabbed her fork, and pushed the remaining migas around her plate. And finally, without looking at us, she said, "I have breast cancer. I'm going to have a mastectomy in nine days."
The next day, Iliana stopped by my house so we could walk to the park together. Like me, she was skinny and had brown eyes, but Iliana wore gobs of mascara, so sometimes her eyelashes looked like spider legs. Our hairstyles were different, too. I had long brown hair, usually in a ponytail, while Iliana had short hair with lots of curls.
"OMG," she said (she loved to speak text sometimes), "my brothers' friends are so cute."
"Your brothers are cute," I said.
"To you, maybe. To me, they're a pain. They are so protective. I have to tell them everywhere I'm going to be and when I'll be back and they'll probably still check up on me. They're stricter than my parents. And they torture me!"
"How?" As far as I could tell, they were the nicest brothers in the world. At least she didn't have to live with a walking encyclopedia.
"First, they invite their friends over to play video games. Did I mention how cute their friends are?" She didn't let me answer. She just kept going. "Then, they shut me out. Literally. They close the door to their bedroom and tell me to stay out. So there I am standing with my ear to the door, just listening to all the video game sounds and to these really cute guys cheer after shooting some monster or who knows what, and then…"
I didn't mean to tune out. Normally, I loved hearing about Iliana's brothers, but how could I get excited about video games and cute boys when Mom was scheduled for surgery next week?
Suddenly, Iliana yanked me off the sidewalk, seconds before a skateboarder whizzed by.
"What planet are you on?" she said. "Didn't you hear the skateboard? Didn't you hear Chad call 'Sidewalk!' right before he almost bumped into you?" She held up two fingers to show me how close he'd been. "You have to pay attention because knocking a cute guy off his skateboard is not the best way to make a first impression, even if it is a close encounter of the fourth kind."
"Close encounter" is how we describe our relationships with boys. We got the idea after Iliana did a report on space aliens and learned that scientists call UFO sightings "close encounters." They even have different categories depending on whether you saw a vague shape in the sky or an actual life-form. Since boys seem as strange as aliens, Iliana and I decided to invent our own categories:
- Close encounter of the first kind—boy knows you exist.
- Close encounter of the second kind—boy talks to you, but only at school and only about boring school stuff like "Can I borrow a pencil?"
- Close encounter of the third kind—boy talks to you and sends you text messages about interesting stuff like favorite video games or funny YouTube videos.
- Close encounter of the fourth kind—actual physical contact!
I still hadn't experienced a close encounter of the first kind with Chad, which was disappointing because, with his blond hair and perfect tan, he topped my Boyfriend Wish List, along with Forest Montoya, Alejandro Guzmán, Lou Hikaru, Jamal Grey, Derek Smith, and Joe Leal.
I shrugged. "Chad's never going to notice me," I said. "I'm like that crack in the sidewalk that he jumps to avoid. I'll have to become a skateboard ramp or a pair of Vans before he notices me."
Iliana punched my shoulder. "Stop it, will you? Of course he's going to notice you. You've got nice, silky hair and a cute figure."
I had to disagree. "A lamppost has more curves," I said, pointing to one.
Praise for Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel:A VOYA Top Shelf for Middle School Readers Pick2nd Place Winner of the 2014 NACCS Tejas Award for Young Adult FictionA Bank Street College Children's Book Committee Best Book of 2014 Selection"A funny and heartfelt story...Balancing the heavy subject matter with generous doses of humor and an authentic young teen voice, López crafts a story that blends family and middle school drama successfully."—Kirkus Reviews
- "López (Choke) skillfully balances emotional moments with humorous ones, offering an honest portrait of a family under strain. Chia's clever, cheeky voice and a strong cast contribute to an inspiring story about developing "a special kind of bravery."—Publishers Weekly
- "The many characters in Chia's life are individually and lovingly drawn...Readers will feel like Chia's family and friends could do anything as long as they stick together-and they may be right."—Booklist
- "Chia's voice shines...A fast-moving, absorbing read about how one person's illness can affect the whole family in many different ways."—School Library Journal"An honest, sometimes uncomfortable, but always hopeful look at how cancer affects family....Erika's story is full of the healing power of love."—Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Summer of the Mariposas and Pura Belpre Award winner Under the Mesquite Tree
- "There is much substance and a powerful story here."—Library Media Connection
- Praise for Confetti Girl:
"This debut novel puts at its center a likable girl facing realistic problems on her own terms."—Booklist
- "An appealing coming-of-age novel set in a traditional Mexican-American town."—Kirkus
- "López delicately displays the power of optimism and innovation during difficult times."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Jun 11, 2013
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers