Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Cover design or artwork by Stephanie Graegin
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It's summer at the Heartwood Hotel, and everyone is in a flurry getting ready for Ms. Prickles's wedding to Mr. Quillson! Meanwhile, a new mouse guest named Strawberry comes to stay. She's sweet and soft-spoken like Mona, and gifted in the kitchen just as Mona's mother was-could Strawberry be a long-lost relative?
But when lightning strikes part of Fernwood Forest and starts a fire, all thoughts go to the guests and staff hurrying to leave to make sure their homes and families are safe. Mona works to protect the Heartwood from harm, but as the fire rages on, it's becoming dangerous to stay. Can Mona and her friends save their home before it's too late?
These heartwarming stories will delight newly independent readers.
Copyright © 2018 text by Kallie George
Copyright © 2018 illustrations by Stephanie Graegin
Cover illustration © 2018 by Stephanie Graegin
Designed by Phil Caminiti
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 my growing family
There was no place like the Heartwood Hotel. It was the biggest tree in the whole of Fernwood Forest. At one end lay the Foothills, at the other the village, and in the very center grew the grand hotel, with the stream winding its way around it like a long curly whisker. Everyone loved the Heartwood—especially in the summertime. Mostly it was a resting spot for animals, but for staff, like Mona the maid, it was home.
A very poky home!
Sunshine and spines filled the hotel as everyone, staff and guests alike, prepared for a porcupine wedding. Not just any porcupines—Ms. Prickles, the cook, was marrying Mr. Quillson, a former guest who had swept her off her paws.
Today was the big day. Mona and her best friend, Tilly the squirrel, had been excused from their maid duties. They were in Mona’s room getting dressed up. Tilly could be a bit of a grump, but even she couldn’t be grumpy when they put on new heart-patterned dresses instead of their aprons, then ran upstairs to help the bride get ready.
They found Ms. Prickles tucked in a corner of the salon on the second floor. The room was packed quill-to-quill with her porcupine relatives primping and preparing. It was almost impossible to move without being poked. Luckily, the salon was run by a possum who could hang from the ceiling by his tail.
That’s what he was doing now, busily shining quills upside down. Mona had never been properly introduced. Perkins liked to keep to himself. And it was no surprise, considering how bossy everyone seemed.
“Make sure you cover up my gray ones with soot polish,” an old porcupine ordered the possum.
“Am I finished sitting under the fur-fluffer?” asked another. “It’s hot enough in here without added heat. And besides, I don’t even HAVE fur!”
It was very hot. The whole summer had been. Anxious guests were beginning to lose their tempers.
“Don’t tug so hard!” complained the old porcupine.
One of her quills flew out and stuck in the ceiling, narrowly missing the possum and drawing everyone’s attention. Perkins gave Mona a wide-eyed look.
Mona winced. Being the smallest of the staff, she had managed so far to avoid being poked.
But not Tilly. She’d been poked twice. Make that three times….
“Ouch!” Tilly cried. “Mona, you do it!” She handed Mona the wedding dress.
As Tilly soothed her sore side, Mona tugged the dress over Ms. Prickles’s spines. Two quills ripped through the fabric.
“This will never do!” Ms. Prickles moaned.
Mona was about to agree, when she realized the porcupine wasn’t talking about her dress. She was consulting a list clutched in her paw. “If one more guest shows up, I don’t know what will happen!” she said under her breath.
“But I thought everyone had arrived,” said Mona.
“As if,” said Tilly, rolling her eyes.
“More keep coming!” replied Ms. Prickles. “I wish weddings weren’t so full of surprises. I prefer my seedcakes stacked where I can see them. I can’t count the number of aunts and uncles and cousins here.” She glanced around the room, then said, in a hush, “And you’d think, with so many relatives, one of them would be able to cook.” She sighed. “My aunt can barely boil a barley seed, and she’s in charge of the cake. Goodness knows what will happen!”
Truthfully, Mona couldn’t imagine anything better than having a big party with so many relatives. This was the first wedding she’d ever attended. But Tilly, who had overseen a number of them at the hotel, said that wedding parties were weird. “You never know who might start crying.”
Indeed, it looked like Ms. Prickles might right now.
“Don’t worry,” Mona said. Usually Ms. Prickles was the voice of comfort. “Let’s get you dressed.”
Together, she and Tilly tugged on the dress. RIIIP! It split right in half. Just as Ms. Prickles burst into tears, Henry popped his head into the salon. “There you are!” he cried.
Henry was Tilly’s younger brother and also a bellhop at the hotel. He scurried around the porcupines to get to Mona and Tilly. He got poked a few times but didn’t seem to mind. Mona could tell he was excited because his red tail was puffed up as big as his body.
“Guess what! Guess what!” He didn’t wait for them to answer. “Someone’s here!”
Ms. Prickles’s sobs grew louder. “Another guest?” she cried.
“Another porcupine?” groaned Tilly.
Henry nodded his head vigorously—then shook it. “Yes. No. I mean…it is a guest. But it isn’t a porcupine.” Henry took a deep breath. “And she isn’t here to see you, Ms. Prickles.” He pointed at Mona. “She’s here for you!”
Mona couldn’t believe it. Now that was a surprise!
Who could be waiting for me? Mona wondered as she hurried down the staircase that circled the center of the tree, from the star-gazing balcony at the tip-top to the hibernation suites in the deep dirt. The majestic old oak could accommodate all types of guests, from feathered to furred.
Still, Mona wasn’t expecting a visitor of any kind. She didn’t know anyone, other than the staff and a few guests she’d made friends with.
When she reached the lobby, she paused. It was just as full of porcupines as the salon! The poky guests were hustling and bustling about, paws full of packages and decorations.
The whole lobby was decorated for the wedding. Prickly purple thistles were strung along the front desk. Blue ones hung above the front door. Thistles were even blooming in the fireplace. Mr. Heartwood had given strict orders not to light any fires, as they could be dangerous during hot, dry summers. (Only the kitchen was allowed one, but even so, the menu had been featuring mostly salads.) So the fireplace was filled with a giant bouquet of flame-colored thistles instead. And there, in front, stood a guest who was definitely not a porcupine.
It was a mouse!
In all the months that Mona had worked at the Heartwood—three whole seasons—she had never encountered another mouse. Her parents had stayed there long ago. Her dad had even carved the heart on the front door. But Mona had yet to meet one of her own kind at the grand hotel. Why was a mouse here? To meet her? Did it have something to do with her parents?
The new arrival wore a large straw hat with a fancy pink bow on the back. In one paw she clutched a suitcase made from a box that said MATCHES. Mona had never seen a suitcase like that before. Tucked under the mouse’s arm was a rolled-up Pinecone Press. She was staring at the sign above the fireplace mantel: WE LIVE BY “PROTECT AND RESPECT,” NOT BY “TOOTH AND CLAW,” and she was nodding.
“That’s our motto,” said Mona, coming up behind her. “I was told you were looking for me?”
The mouse turned and, upon seeing Mona, smiled. Mona was sure she’d never met the mouse before, yet something about her seemed familiar. She was much older than Mona. Her fur was graying but still glossy, and her eyes were kind. She had white gloves on, and around her neck hung a little seed, carved into a heart. Her jacket was embroidered with the letters IB. Mona didn’t know what it stood for, but the effect was very stylish. Mona was glad she was dressed up, too.
“Mercy me, you must be Mona,” said the mouse, in a slow, sweet voice, putting down the suitcase and pulling off a glove. She extended her paw. “I’ve heard all about you.”
“You…you have?” stammered Mona, shaking the mouse’s paw.
“Yes.” The mouse studied Mona from nose to tail. “I…well…” For a moment, she seemed lost for words, then at last she said, “You look so…so young. I expected…But no, of course you’re young,” hurried the mouse. “Were you always a maid?”
“No, actually, I started working at the hotel only a year ago,” said Mona.
“Oh, and you were living with your parents before that?”
“No,” Mona said again, feeling a little confused by the questions. “My parents…they died a long time ago. I don’t have any family.”
The mouse touched her necklace. “Oh, sugar, I am…so sorry,” she said. She really meant it. Mona could tell.
“It’s okay. You didn’t know,” said Mona. “I have a great home now here at the Heartwood.”
The mouse nodded. “Word has it, you are a marvelous maid.”
Mona blushed. “But…who are you?”
“My name is Strawberry,” the mouse replied. “I’m from the Inn Between.”
“The Inn Between?” questioned Mona.
“Yes. You haven’t heard of us?” Strawberry looked disappointed.
“Of course we have!” burst a voice. Gilles, the front-desk lizard, popped out from between two porcupines and straightened his green bow tie. “The Inn Between is only the best hotel for mice and small creatures in the village! What a wonderful idea, to repurpose the in-between floors of a house and turn them into a specialty hotel. Mind you, I must say I’d be quite concerned about being sighted living amongst the large.”
“I make sure our staff are very well-trained—and very careful,” said Strawberry.
“What a pleasure to meet one of the owners. Is it true you have over a dozen of the best mice maids working for you? So, so impressive.” Gilles’s tongue flicked in and out.
Now it was Strawberry’s turn to blush. “Yes, well, I actually thought all the best mice maids worked for me, which is why I was surprised to hear about Mona.”
Praise for ATrue Home (Heartwood Hotel #1):
"[A] warm, winning tale."
- "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, 2018
- Page Count
- 176 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers