Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Cover design or artwork by Stephanie Graegin
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Courage, kindness, and adventure abounds in this charming, illustrated chapter book series about a mouse discovering the true meaning of home.When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they'll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn soufflés and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.
These heartwarming stories will delight newly independent readers and send them scurrying for the second book in the series, The Greatest Gift.
Text copyright © 2017 by Kallie George
Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Stephanie Graegin
Designed by Phil Caminiti
Illustrations created in pencil
Cover art © 2017 by Stephanie Graegin
Cover design by Phil Caminiti
Hand-lettering by Sarah Pierson
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To Luke: Home is where the heart is,
and my heart is with you.
For Theresa and Sophia
Home is where the heart is, or so she’d heard. But Mona the mouse had never had a home—at least not for long. A dusty hay bale, an abandoned bird’s nest, a prickly thicket—in her short life she had lived in more places than she had whiskers. And now her latest home, an old hollow stump, was being flooded out by the storm.
When she’d found the stump in the summer, with a mushroom table already in place and the stream nearby, it had seemed too good to be true. Why had no other animal claimed it for its home?
Now Mona knew. She watched, perched on a root in the corner, shivering and scared, as the water rushed in, swirling around her bed made of moss, lapping at her table, threatening to wash away her suitcase.
The suitcase was all she had left of her family. It was made from a small walnut shell and had a tiny heart carved on the front. Mona reached for it now.
Time to move again, she thought with a heavy sigh as, holding the handle tightly, she waded out of the stump and into the storm.
Rain beat down on the trees of Fernwood Forest, which were just beginning to turn the colors of fall. Instantly, Mona was soaked—from nose to tail. Her paws sank into the wet ground with every step.
Which way should I go? she wondered. To the right was a farm, but it was very far, and it had a cat. She knew because she had once tried to live there. So it was either to the left or straight ahead.
She was about to go straight when…CRACK! Lightning flashed and Mona jumped. To the left it was, then. She headed deeper into the forest, hopping from twig to leaf, trying to stay out of the mud.
If only there were a rock to burrow under, or a clump of mushrooms, or a hollow tree. But there wasn’t. There wasn’t even a sign of another animal. Everyone else must be hidden away in their homes, Mona thought, safe from the storm.
Soon rain was collecting in her ears. She shook the droplets of water out of them, but it only helped her hear the frightful storm more clearly. The wind whistled, whipped, and whirled—and brought with it the sound of howls. Wolves!
Mona squeaked, quickening her pace. The wolves howled again. They sounded far away. But wolves were wolves, and any small animal was scared of them. They were hunters and not to be trusted. Nothing was worse than wolves.
The rain fell harder still. Is this how she would go—like her parents, swept away by a storm? If only she had a paw to clutch, or someone to tell her everything would be all right. But she was alone.
And then, at last, Mona spied something: an enormous tree, rising so high she couldn’t see the top of it. And it was hollow! She hurried toward the opening.
But right away she knew this wasn’t a home for a mouse. This was a bear’s den. No bear was in it now, and likely one hadn’t been for a long time. Still, the faint smell of fur, fish, and berries hung in the air, and she knew she would never be able to sleep soundly there. What if a bear did come back? Although she wasn’t as scared of bears as wolves—she had lived near a bear for a while, and it had been more interested in eating berries than in eating her—she didn’t relish the idea of being trapped in a den with one.
So, reluctantly, Mona scurried out, back into the storm.
A stream, swollen by the rain, blocked her way. She looked for a place to cross. A stick had fallen over it. Mona was good at balancing—all mice were—and she was almost across when she looked up and saw, in the dark bushes ahead, eyes!
The glowing eyes of wolves! She was certain. Not just one pair, or two or three, but so many that Mona couldn’t even count them. Her heart leapt into her throat while her paws slipped from the stick and…
Splash! She fell into the water.
Just like that, instead of by wolves, she was swallowed by the stream, which gulped and gushed and carried her away.
Water filled her mouth, and she coughed and sputtered. Clinging desperately to her bobbing suitcase, she was swept along by the current down a hill, past bushes and ferns and rocks and roots, deep into the forest.
Farther and farther the stream carried her. She scrambled up onto her suitcase and watched as the trees grew mossier and more and more twisted. This must be the heart of the forest, she thought—somewhere she had never been.
At last, the stream slowed into a pool made from some large roots. One root reached forth like a helpful paw, and Mona grasped it and clambered out of the water.
She gasped. There in front of her rose another enormous tree. This one, however, was more than enormous. It was…majestic.
Giant branches fanned out around the top like a crown. Golden leaves blocked the rain and wind. In between roots, moss grew so neatly it looked as though someone had tucked it in and trimmed it to fit. Maybe someone had…for in the trunk, just above her head, was a carving.
It was a heart, like the heart on her suitcase, but in the center of this heart were the initials HH.
What could it mean? she wondered.
Mona couldn’t resist. Slowly, she reached up on tiptoe to touch the carving.
The heart pressed inward, and a door in the trunk swung open.
With a squeak of wonder, Mona stepped inside to warmth, light, and the delicious smell of roasted acorns.
The room was large—very large for a mouse—big enough for a group of small animals to gather. Across from the door was a stone hearth, unlit but decorated with a garland of colorful leaves. A mossy rug lay in front of it, surrounded by a couch and chairs made of twigs, which were lined with more moss. To the left stood a large wooden desk with a big book and twig pencil on it. And from the ceiling hung rings of candles, casting a soft golden glow.
Mona had never been in such a fancy place.
Who lives here? she wondered. But there was no one around to tell her.
There was the faint sound of music and laughter, however, coming from behind the hearth. Mona took a few more steps into the room and spied an open doorway near the fireplace. The sound was coming from there. Mona started in that direction, but paused. She was a mouse, after all, and she had to be careful. She sniffed cautiously.
The smell of roasted acorns was stronger now. Surely animals who ate roasted acorns weren’t a threat. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a sign above the hearth. She hadn’t seen it before because it was half covered by the garland of leaves. She could just make out what it said:
WE LIVE BY “PROTECT AND RESPECT,” NOT BY “TOOTH AND CLAW.”
Relieved, Mona followed her nose and ears through the doorway, down a short hallway decorated with more garlands, and to another door—a much larger one with a plaque on it that read BALLROOM. It was slightly ajar, enough so Mona could slip through.
Inside was another marvelous sight, and a much more lively one! Rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, hedgehogs, birds! Even a lizard. And largest of all, a badger! Not muddy or wet like her, but dressed up and dancing, eating and laughing. Mona clutched her suitcase tightly and looked around in awe. She had only ever encountered a few animals at a time in the forest, never so many all in one place.
Against one wall was a table stacked with food: mushrooms, juniper berries, licorice roots, and acorns—oh, the acorns! Mashed, steamed, fried, souped—so many types that Mona didn’t recognize many of them. And in the center of the table, a giant honeycomb with cups beside it to scoop out honey to drink.
Not far from the table, above a small stage, was a banner—THE FIRST ACORN FESTIVAL: CELEBRATE AUTUMN’S ARRIVAL—and on the stage, three beautiful dark blue birds crooned. Their song came to an end and the room filled with applause.
“Thank you. Thank you!” said one of the singers. “We are the Blue Bow Warblers, and we’re honored to be singing our final concert here before our flight to the south. We’re happy so many of you could make it, despite the storm. And now, though it is raining outside, we can make it sunny in here with one of our favorite melodies, ‘Moon Shine, Sun Rise’!”
More applause filled the room, and whistles and cheers, too. As the birds burst into another tune and the dancing started again, Mona’s mind raced.
Were all these animals staying here? Where had they come from? Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice.
“Hello, Miss Mouse.” The lizard stepped in front of her and gave a short bow. “Were you searching for help at the front desk? My apologies. My name is Gilles. How may I help you?”
Mona noticed he was wearing a bow tie around his neck, and a large key, which was made of wood and had a heart-shaped top. He was exceedingly clean—a glistening green, as though his scales had been polished—and he seemed hesitant to get too close to the muddy puddle that had collected on the wood floor around Mona.
“I…I…” stammered Mona.
“I am afraid we are full tonight. Booking for the Acorn Festival took place months ago. Why, we were overrun with messenger jays bringing room requests. You should have sent one yourself.”
Mona found her voice: “I didn’t know. I’ve never been here before. Where…where am I?”
“Where are you?! Why, Miss Mouse, this is the Heartwood Hotel.”
“What is that?” asked Mona.
- "[A] warm, winning tale."—Kirkus
- "This warm series starter is easy to love."—Booklist
- “Charming and imaginative, and full of endearing characters who excel at kindness as only animals can. With stories that highlights the power of friendship, the Heartwood Hotel is sure to leave readers eager to visit again.” —Ashley Spires, author and illustrator of The Most Magnificent Thing
- “If there’s one thing...Kallie George knows, it’s how to create a tale full of whimsy.” —Quill & Quire
- Praise for The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2):
- "Settle in a cozy chair and pass the cheese crumble! Mona’s adventures continue in this critter-crammed sequel that will pull at your heartstrings as well as your funny bone.”—Cyndi Marko, author and illustrator of the Kung Pow Chicken series
- On Sale
- Jul 3, 2017
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers