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Flor and Miranda Steal the Show
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Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s musical band, Miranda y Los Reyes. Her family has worked hard performing at festivals and quinceañeras. Now, they have a shot at the main stage. How will Miranda make it a performance to remember?
Flor’s family runs the petting zoo at Mr. Barsetti’s carnival. When she accidentally overhears Mr. Barsetti and Miranda’s dad talk about cutting the zoo to accommodate Miranda y Los Reyes’s main stage salary, she knows she has to take action. Will she have the heart for sabotage once she and Miranda actually start to become friends?
It didn’t matter whether we were in Visalia or Ventura, whether it was one hundred degrees out on some baked-grass fairgrounds in the valley or cool and foggy on the coast. It could be Friday, it could be Saturday, it could be Sunday. Did not matter: She was never more than three songs into the show before someone in the audience stood up and danced. Never.
Miranda y los Reyes. There were three of them. A boy with a guitar, a girl with an accordion, and Miranda. She was the one with the microphone.
They wore matching cowboy hats and blue jean vests with silver studs around the collar. I saw them for the first time back in June, at the Kern County Fair. Local talent, same as we had wherever we went. Hometown acts always helped drum up a crowd. Only, Miranda y los Reyes brought in such a big crowd that Mr. Barsetti—he was in charge—said to their dad, “Have you ever thought about going full-time on the carnival circuit? Why don’t you come along with us for the summer, see how it goes?”
And, just like that, they did. Like all along they knew he would ask and knew they’d say yes. Like they were already packed up and ready to hit the road.
At least that’s how Lexanne from the frozen lemonade booth said it happened. And lucky thing for Mr. Barsetti, since the Baker Brothers and their Marionette Theater had just retired and moved away to Arizona, and he needed someone to take over the noon show on the Family Side Stage.
I never missed the noon show, and I can tell you, Miranda y los Reyes had not changed their act all summer. Not by one single note. It started with a couple of slow-swaying love songs, like the kind Grandpa used to listen to while he worked on the truck.
But after that, it was like all of a sudden, they would wake up. The older girl, the sister, she would shout, “¡Uno! Dos! Tres!” She would stretch open her accordion, and her fingers would fly over those little white buttons. Then she’d sort of nod at the brother, and he would start playing too: thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum. Only fast.
Miranda would close her eyes and lean in toward the microphone. She would tap out the rhythm, first with the toe of her boot, then with her hand against the side of her leg, until finally, she would open her eyes and she’d sing.
She was small. Smaller than me, anyway, but she had a voice like fireworks bursting, raining glittery flecks of light all over the audience. And wherever they fell, someone got up and danced. It was like magic had hit them.
To tell the truth, I missed the marionettes.
Miranda y los Reyes wasn’t a bad show. The thing of it was, I did not go to the Family Side Stage for the show.
I went because noon was the only time I knew for sure that Papá didn’t need me at the petting zoo. And the Family Side Stage was the only place I knew for sure I could find some peace and a spot to sit in the shade.
Fairgrounds after fairgrounds, up and down the state, no one went to the Family Side Stage for the show. It was where they parked Grandma and the baby while everyone else got in line for the Turbo Drop. It was where they rested their feet and argued over what kind of food on a stick to buy for lunch. You could always find a few empty seats at the Family Side Stage.
But not lately.
That Sunday in August, the last day of the Dinuba Cantaloupe Fair, the only seat left was a metal folding chair right in the middle of the last row. I sighed. If I hadn’t stopped for kettle corn, I might have found a better spot, somewhere on the aisle where no one would have noticed me coming or going. I would have to remember that next weekend, I told myself. All I could do in the meantime was try to get to the chair as quickly as I could, holding the bag over my head so popcorn wouldn’t spill into anyone’s lap. “Sorry,” I whispered as I squeezed past knees and stepped cautiously over toes. “Excuse me.”
The chair squeaked loudly as I settled into it. I cringed and looked around, but no one seemed to have heard. They were all too busy watching Miranda y los Reyes, which had just started its third song.
Someone in the audience whistled.
Someone stood and clapped.
Everything was right on schedule. Like I said, the show had not changed by a single note. There would be dancing any second.
Instead, the kid sitting in front of me howled. Great. There were always crying kids at the carnival, especially in the afternoon when they should have been home taking their naps. I could not stand crying.
The mom patted the kid’s head—“Shhh”—but kept her eyes on the stage, craning her neck for a better view. “Shhh,” she said again, “let’s settle down now, Gracie. Mama wants to listen.”
But Gracie did not settle down. She stood on her chair and started waving a big yellow balloon animal. What used to be a balloon animal, anyway. By then it was just a sad, lumpy tube. A yellow balloon snake if you were a glass-half-full kind of person, which this kid definitely was not.
She smacked me on the nose with it.
The mom spun around. “I am so sorry! Are you okay?” She took the balloon away. “Gracie, that’s enough.”
Gracie hollered even louder.
Give it back, give it back, I thought. Anything to stop the crying.
As if she could hear my thoughts, the mother gave the balloon right back. Maybe she couldn’t stand the crying either. “All right, all right. Just… settle down. Please.”
Smack. This time on my forehead. So much for settling down. So much for peace.
That was about as much as I could take. I had seen enough screaming kids at the petting zoo to know there was really only one way to deal with the situation. I set the kettle corn down between my feet, shook the crumbs off my hands, and reached over to tug gently on the little girl’s wisp of a ponytail. She turned, and I pointed at the balloon.
“Can I see it?”
She looked at me, looked at the balloon, and shook her head.
“Come on, just for a sec? I want to show you something.” She hugged the balloon to her chest, but she was curious, I could tell. She didn’t take her eyes off me. “I will give it right back. Promise.”
Finally, Gracie stretched out her arm, all covered in temporary tattoos, half peeling off, and laid the balloon in my open hand.
Before she could change her mind, I grabbed it, folded one end over the other, and twisted.
Gracie gasped. “No!”
“Shhh,” her mom said.
I held up a finger. “Just wait. You’ll like it.”
Gracie gulped down her doubt. There wasn’t much else she could do. I had her balloon, after all. But as each twist revealed ears! A nose! A tail! She smiled and squealed and finally calmed down.
I mean, I was no expert—I couldn’t twist an octopus or an elephant or anything fancy like that—but I had spent enough time with Cordelia Cornflower, the Roller-Skating Balloon Fairy, to learn the basics.
“Here you go.”
Then, just as I was handing Gracie her good-as-new yellow poodle, the audience roared.
For a split second, it seemed like the applause was for me, but that was impossible. The poodle was all right, but it wasn’t that good.
Up onstage, where Gracie’s mom was pointing, the girl with the accordion and the boy with the guitar were still playing. But Miranda wasn’t with them anymore.
She had hopped down and started dancing with the audience. That’s new, I thought.
“That’s new,” a voice behind me echoed, loud and a little surprised. “What is she doing? We never rehearsed this.”
I looked over my shoulder. Mr. Barsetti was standing a few feet behind me with another man. The guy’s hat and eyebrows told me he was with the Reyes family. The dad, if I had to guess. He crossed his arms over his chest.
“She’s a natural performer, really knows how to work a crowd,” Mr. Barsetti said. “I hope you’ve been happy here at Barsetti and Son All-American Extravaganzas, Reyes. Those kids of yours have a real future.”
Mr. Barsetti was the son in Barsetti & Son, and we all worked for him at All-American Extravaganzas, a traveling carnival. Towns would hire us to put on their fairs, and our caravan would come rolling in with just about everything they needed: rides and games, food and entertainment. Plus the petting zoo, of course.
“They have a future, but it isn’t on the side stage,” Mr. Reyes said. “You can’t keep her here forever, Barsetti. That girl is main-stage material. You can’t tell me she’s not. Look at this crowd. On a Sunday! If it wasn’t for Miranda, this place would be empty. I know it, and you know it.”
Mr. Barsetti crossed his arms too and said, “Hrrrmmm.”
Mr. Reyes took off his hat and fanned himself with it. “All we’re asking for is a chance. Listen, I hear you need an opening act for tonight’s main-stage show. The band you booked got sick?”
Mr. Barsetti made a noise like a growl that got stuck in his throat. “Stomach trouble.”
So the rumors were true. It was the pickles. Had to have been the pickles. No one liked to admit it, but there were some foods you just shouldn’t deep fry.
“So put Miranda on.”
I turned toward the stage again. She was back up there, clapping out the beat. Her cheeks were pink, and the silver studs around her collar twinkled. Except for Gracie and me, everyone in the audience seemed to be clapping along with her.
Ms. Alverson—that was Lexanne’s mom—she was always telling me, “Go on and make friends. She’s just about your age.” But I only ever saw Miranda at the show. The Reyes family did not leave their motor home much. They did not stop for the cookouts we had at state parks and public beaches to break up long drives between towns. They didn’t even come out to the Food Pavilion after closing two nights ago when we all sang “Happy Birthday” to Maria Bean and she blew out eight candles on the special seven-layer strawberry-and-whipped-cream funnel cake Mrs. Perez made her.
Onstage, Miranda took off her hat, flicked it up with her fingertips, and caught it on her head.
More whistles. More cheers.
Even if I had gotten to know her, that wasn’t the same as making friends. I didn’t care what Ms. Alverson said, Miranda did not look like the kind of girl who would want to be friends with me. She was main-stage material, after all. She had silver roses stitched onto the sides of her gleaming white cowboy boots. I had silver duct tape holding my sandal together after one of the pygmy goats chewed through the ankle strap.
“All right, all right,” Mr. Barsetti said finally. “Miranda y los Reyes can open the main-stage show tonight. Just three songs, Reyes. We’ll see if she has what it takes.”
“Oh, you’ll see,” Mr. Reyes said. “You’ll see she’s outgrown this side stage, and you’d better start treating us like a main attraction before we find someone else who will. And that means a main-attraction paycheck. The kids’ll need new costumes, new equipment—”
Mr. Barsetti coughed. Good luck, Mr. Reyes, I thought. You’ve been here all summer, maybe, but obviously not long enough to know what happens when you ask Mr. Barsetti for a raise.
I remembered when Mamá and Papá asked for just a little extra money so we could keep on buying premium feed for the silkie chickens. “Well, you know, we’re only just squeaking by as it is and, and…” Coughing the whole time like the idea had gotten caught in his lungs or something.
Mr. Reyes tried again. “It’s only fair.”
Cough. “Fair is fair,” Mr. Barsetti said. “But all that rain in July—it was a real blow to attendance, you know. No one saw it coming.” Cough. “And, of course, there’s always the rising cost of gas to keep up with. And insurance. Insurance!” Cough. “You would not believe…” His voice trailed off. He cleared his throat. “I’d love to pay you more. Really, I would. But it’s just not possible, you understand. Not without cutting someone else.”
That was when Papá and Mamá had stopped arguing with him, when Papá put his hand on my shoulder and we turned around and walked back to our trailer.
Not Mr. Reyes.
“So you cut someone else. How much funnel cake do you really need out there? How many roller-skating clowns?”
First of all, there was only one Cordelia Cornflower, and you could not get rid of her. Barsetti would never go for it.
“Or why not cut the petting zoo? I can’t believe those things aren’t against the law, anyway. Can’t be good for the animals. Can’t be clean.”
I nearly spit out a mouthful of half-chewed kettle corn. I wished I could take back Gracie’s balloon and smack Mr. Reyes on the forehead with it. Or at least that I was brave enough to turn around and tell him myself how well we took care of our animals. How we were a family, all of us at Barsetti & Son. We were supposed to look out for one another. Mr. Barsetti knew it, though. He would say so for me.
Except he didn’t.
Instead, he made that growly noise again. “I don’t know about against the law,” he said. “But I do know Maldonado isn’t bringing in crowds the way he used to. Maybe it’s time to make some changes.” He coughed one more time. “I’m putting your kids on the big stage tonight, Reyes. Let’s see how they do. Then we’ll talk.”
I stood right up. I put my head right down, and sweat-sticky curls tumbled into my eyes. Lucky for me I didn’t let Mamá trim my bangs when she tried to three weeks ago, since I wouldn’t have wanted everyone at the Family Side Stage to see me so red-faced and almost about to cry. Then, holding on to my bag of kettle corn like it was the only thing keeping me from flying away, I ran right out of there.
Well, it wasn’t like no one had ever left in the middle of a show before. “You can’t take it personally,” I mumbled, shrugging off my vest and passing it to Ronnie.
I set my cowboy hat on the shelf, trading it for my Bakersfield Outlaws ball cap. I was seven the first time I sang the national anthem at their stadium. We hadn’t missed the home opener in the four years since.
Next year, though? Well, I had no idea where we’d be next year. Either back home or out on the road someplace. It all depended on how well we did this summer. Lately it seemed like everything, our whole lives, depended on how well we did this summer. How well I did. And there were only a few weeks of summer left.
I shook my head as if I could shake all the worry out, and tried not to think about it. I pulled off my boots and laced up my old Keds.
“Take what personally?”
“Nothing.” I ducked as Junior tossed his vest over my head. It landed right on top of mine in Ronnie’s arms.
Cold, hard fact: Audiences did not always give us their full and complete attention when we performed. Sometimes they ate in the middle of our shows.
Okay, it wasn’t just sometimes, it was more like always. Corn dogs. Cotton candy. Whatever. Once, in Salinas, this lady and her kids sat right up near the stage, where people liked to dance, you know? Well, then she opened her purse and pulled out a blanket and—I’m not even kidding—spread out a picnic with little plates and cups and everything. Well, I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t like Ronnie. Ronnie could’ve kept on smiling if that lady had brought a whole banquet to the show instead of just a picnic. Mom always said Ronnie had poise. But not me.
“You know, looking at all your food is making me kinda hungry. So, unless you plan to share, could you save it till after the show?” Everyone laughed. Even the lady with the picnic.
Dad didn’t think it was very funny, though. “Mija, you need to focus,” he had told me later. “You’re a performer. You can’t let the distractions get to you. Ignore them.”
But it was hard to focus when people made phone calls during our shows, not to mention when they changed their babies’ diapers. And it was almost impossible to ignore it when someone walked out, let alone when someone ran.
“Hey, what?” My sister had taken the vests to the back of the motor home where Mom and Dad slept, to hang them.
“Did you see that girl? The one who ran out of the show? Curly hair? Green-and-white shirt? It was in the middle of ‘Esta Rosa Roja’?”
The closet door closed with a soft thud, and Ronnie came back out to the middle of the motor home. Wicked Wanda’s belly, I liked to think, since that was where the kitchen was.
Ronnie tapped her knuckles against her forehead like she was really thinking hard about it. “Mmm… Nope. Didn’t notice anyone. All I noticed during ‘Esta Rosa Roja’ was Junior playing too fast again.”
“Not my fault if you can’t keep up.” He was slurping Spaghetti-Os straight out of the can.
“Gross,” Ronnie said. “Use a spoon at least.” She reached around me, into the drawer under the sink. “Here.”
It probably wasn’t such a big deal. I wouldn’t have even noticed her if she hadn’t run right by—practically right into—Dad and Mr. Barsetti.
Dad was trying, yet again, to talk Mr. Barsetti into paying us more. If it didn’t work, I had heard Mom whisper to Dad a few nights earlier, we would just have to accept that it was time to go home. Cold, hard fact.
I slid into the L-shaped booth next to Junior. You wouldn’t believe it to see it, but the booth and table pulled out into a bed with enough room for Ronnie and me to share. Junior’s bunk was right over the steering wheel.
He handed me the can, and I scooped up a big bite of Spaghetti-Os.
“Ooh, with hot dog!” I thought we were out of those. I shoveled another bite into my mouth before Junior grabbed the can back.
“You guys!” Ronnie screeched. “So gross. So gross. We still have a microwave. We still have bowls.”
She pulled a box of cereal off the shelf and took it to the driver’s seat.
So someone ran out of our show. No big deal. Just forget it.
Except it was kind of like a mosquito bite. The more I tried to ignore it, the worse it itched. “But why would she run out right in the middle of a song? It’s a good song. Everyone loves the ‘Rosa Roja’ song.”
At least I thought they did. By the end, there was always a bunch of people singing along. There was always a moment when I couldn’t tell my voice from their voices anymore, or even from Ronnie’s accordion or Junior’s guitar. It was just one big, bright sound that rocketed up into the sky like fireworks, leaving a trail of sparkles behind.
- "[A] lively, fast-paced adventure."—Publishers Weekly
- "Readers will enjoy getting to know both protagonists and will root for them till the last page."—Booklist
- "A wide range of middle grade readers are likely to see aspects of themselves in both Flor and Miranda."—School Library Journal
- "Fans of Torres' Stef Soto, Taco Queen will delight in this pleasing mix of friendship story, Latino culture, and carnival milieu."—BCCB
- "Readers cannot help but root for both heroines, who feel like two regular girls with universal struggles despite their uncommon circumstances. Feelings of summer fun and smells of funnel cake with follow readers home from this engaging story of family and friendship."—Kirkus Reviews
- Praise for Stef Soto, Taco Queen:
- On Sale
- Jun 12, 2018
- Page Count
- 192 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers