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Wanda Seasongood and the Almost Perfect Lie
By Susan Lurie
Illustrated by Jennifer Harney
Cover design or artwork by Jennifer Harney
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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A Box of Air
It was two weeks after Wanda Seasongood’s eleventh birthday, and she was about to set off on a frightening mission. She stood on her porch for a moment, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun. The air felt enchanted and dreamy. Nothing bad can happen on a day like today, she thought. Then something fell from the sky and hit her on the head.
Wanda stumbled backward but caught herself. She quickly gazed up to see a fly zigzag above her, then zip away. Just a fly.
She waited for her head to stop throbbing, then picked up the object. It was a fist-sized rock with very sharp edges. Someone had written a message on it in bold letters: See Attached.
See Attached? Tied to the rock was a box. How could anyone possibly miss this? Wanda thought as she studied it. It was slender and wrapped with plain brown paper and the thinnest twine. She lifted it close to her ear and shook it, trying to guess what was hidden inside. The package was as light as a tissue and just as silent. A box of air, she imagined.
What a mystery this is.
How did it suddenly fall out of the sky?
Who sent it?
Wanda wondered if it might be a birthday present. Her parents had completely forgotten her birthday, which, at the time, had been fairly upsetting. But Wanda wasn’t the sort to brood about such things. Still, she’d welcome a gift from them, no matter how late or strange its arrival.
Her eyes squinted behind her brown eyeglasses as she tried to read the small writing on the package. Her name appeared on one side, but the wrapping held no other clues.
She turned the box around and around, then gazed into the trees, searching for her best friend. He was a bluebird, and as odd as it might sound, she liked talking things over with him.
Now, before you judge Wanda as weird or eccentric, you should know that this was no ordinary bluebird. His name was Voltaire, and he could speak.
Long ago, in the 1700s, there lived a man named Voltaire, a well-known French writer. But the bluebird insisted that he was the real Voltaire, and since he could talk and quote the famous writer, it seemed somewhat petty to object to his claim. Besides, even though the bird was often befuddled, he was very wise… at least Wanda thought so.
I wonder where he is? Wanda sighed. He had told Wanda he’d be back in a minute, but that was half an hour ago. I hope he hasn’t forgotten about our mission. Which she knew was entirely possible, since he was terribly absentminded. But a fluttering through the trees quickly put her mind at ease.
“Ah! There you are!” she said as the bird landed on a nearby shrub.
“Sorry for the delay!” he apologized. “I returned just as soon as I remembered that I had forgotten where I was going.”
“Well, you came back just in time!” Wanda said. “This fell from the sky and hit me in the head.” She held up the rock and the box.
“How exciting, Wanda! You’ve received a special delivery. Let’s open it up and see what it is!”
Wanda studied the box and the pointy edges of the rock, now convinced that it wasn’t from her parents. “I don’t know…” Her voice trailed off. “What if it’s dangerous?”
“Then I will open it, dear Wanda!” The bird flew from the bush and settled on her arm. He started to peck at the twine’s knot to loosen it. “There’s no time to waste. We will do this quickly so we can be on our way. We must…” The bird raised his head. “Please remind me: What is it that we must do?”
“We’re going to save my sister, Wren, who has been kidnapped by Raymunda, an evil witch.”
“Exactly! An unforgettable mission of the highest priority!” The bluebird inflated his chest to match the enormity of the task. “And frightening.”
Wanda nodded. Frightening, indeed.
It was still hard for her to believe that witches were real. And that they lived in the woods so close to her home. And that she had actually fought one of them just weeks ago.
But it was true.
Wanda and Voltaire had ventured into the Scary Wood, searching for clues to uncover a family secret. Her parents had been acting strangely, especially when it came to Zane, her horrible, beastly eight-year-old brother, whom they seemed to prefer over her. She was determined to find out why.
In the forest, Wanda had made an amazing discovery—Zane wasn’t her brother! He was Raymunda’s son, and even more powerful than his mother, which Raymunda could not abide. So she’d turned him into a beast-boy, bewitched the Seasongoods to accept him as their own, and stolen Wanda’s older sister in a trade.
To set things straight, Wanda had battled Raymunda and escaped with a potion that would break the spells and cure Zane and her parents. When the curse was lifted, Wanda discovered that Zane wasn’t a child of eight, but a young man of eighteen, and she was very relieved to see him return to his home in the woods.
“Wanda, I now recall that I was supposed to tell you something about this mission,” Voltaire said, shaking Wanda from her thoughts. “I do wish I could remember what it was.”
Wanda wished he could remember what it was, too. Earlier that morning, he had mentioned it. He said it was something important that she should know before they left to rescue Wren. But at the moment his memory held no more than that.
“I’m sure it will come back to you.” Wanda hid her disappointment with a gentle smile.
“Now, as for this package…” Voltaire began to peck at it again.
“Voltaire, wait.” Wanda lifted her arm so she could speak eye to eye with the bird. “I don’t think we should open it. Raymunda might have sent it, which means whatever’s inside could possibly kill us.”
“We cannot allow fear to rule our lives!” Voltaire stood firm. And before she could stop him, he pulled the string free with his beak. Then he ripped the paper from the package.
“Can this really be?” Wanda blinked hard as she held up the box. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” It was made of the thinnest, most delicate threads of silver and gold, braided and shimmering, and tightly woven to form a stiff, sturdy box. She searched for a lid or a latch, but there was none. “There’s no way to open it.”
“Let me try!” The bluebird pecked the top of the box—and his beak sank right through the strong mesh. When he lifted his head, the surface was solid again, with no sign that he had punctured it.
“It’s magical! How marvelous!” he chirped. “Can you believe it? My beak has suddenly acquired new powers!” His eyes crossed as he peered down at it with newfound respect.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with your beak.” Wanda pushed down on the top of the box, and as she expected, it moved under her touch. It was firm enough to hold its shape yet yielded to pressure—and this gave Wanda an excellent idea.
She pressed the top of the box again, harder this time—and her fingers sank inside. She wrapped them around an object and lifted it out.
It was a gleaming silver pen with the head of a horned goat at the top. It was beautiful and seemed practically weightless. Wanda thought that if she released her grip, the pen would float out of her hand. It was very unusual and a perfect gift for Wanda, who loved to read and to write in her journal.
She sat down and slipped her purple rucksack from her shoulders. “I have to try it.” She took out her diary and started to print her name.
The pen didn’t work.
She tried again.
Not a single letter appeared.
And this worried her. If the pen didn’t write, what did it do? Surely, no one who meant well would send her an unusable pen. She stared into the silvery eyes of the goat—and they seemed to stare back at her. Where did you come from? she wondered. Are you an innocent gift or not?
Wanda had known that searching for Wren would bring trouble. But she didn’t expect it this soon, or that it would land on her doorstep.
And this gave her a reason to rethink their mission. “Voltaire, I’ve just decided to put off the search for Wren. We should come up with another way to save her.”
She attempted to use the pen again, drawing inkless whorls and swirls. “My decision is final.” She gazed up at Voltaire, who was perched on the windowsill.
“Wanda, I don’t want to argue with you—but the pen seems to disagree.” The bird nodded toward her diary.
There, on the paper where Wanda had drawn her invisible loops, letters had taken shape. She held her breath as they continued to form. The last letter was completed with a curl and a swish. Wanda gasped as she read the message:
The Work of a Witch
Let’s go!” At the sight of the message, Wanda’s doubts dissolved in an instant. She sprang to her feet, tossed the pen and diary into her rucksack, and leaped off the front steps. She was halfway down the path to the street when she heard her mother calling.
“Wanda! Where are you going?”
Her parents stood in the doorway in their dull red bathrobes. Her mother’s hair, usually bouncy, was pressed flat to her head. Her father’s eyes were still glazed with sleep.
“Oh, no. We have to turn back,” Wanda told the bird. “I’ll make it quick.”
“Where are you going so early in the morning?” Her mother shuffled down the walk to meet her.
“Were you trying to sneak out?” her father asked, puzzled.
Wanda took a deep breath. “I’m going to find Wren.”
“No! No! No!” Wanda’s father dove down the steps and took Wanda by the shoulders. “We’ve already discussed this. Fighting a witch is just too dangerous. And you shouldn’t go into the woods alone.”
Truth be told, Wanda wished that someone else would go save her sister. And who could blame her? After all, would you want to fight a witch who wanted you dead? Not likely.
And besides, Wanda barely knew her sister. Wren had been stolen so long ago, Wanda couldn’t recall a thing about her. But Wanda’s parents were too frightened to battle Raymunda—so that left it up to Wanda. She remembered how proud and surprised her parents had been when she returned home from the Scary Wood the first time. It was just the encouragement she needed to face the witch now.
Wanda’s mother tugged the ends of her belt, tightening her robe, then clasped her daughter’s hand. “Please don’t go. You and Wren are very different,” she said. “We worry about you making it out of those woods again…”
My mother loves me so much. Wanda’s heart swelled with well-being.
“… because you were never the smart one,” Mrs. Seasongood went on. “You might not be as lucky this time.”
Wanda’s shoulders sagged and her knees buckled. Her heart was instantly crushed, her determination pummeled, and she was, quite frankly, too stunned to reply. She took a deep breath and instructed herself to focus on what was important—finding Wren.
“You’re probably right,” Wanda said when the shock had dulled and she could finally speak. “It’s too dangerous.” Then she headed to the garden at the back of her house.
The moment Wanda’s parents lost sight of her, she vaulted over the backyard fence with Voltaire flying closely behind her. She ran through the leafy streets and up a deserted hill. She ran through a small town. She ran as fast as she could to flee from her mother’s insult. She ran until she reached a meadow at the edge of the Scary Wood. Only then did she stop to catch her breath.
“My parents think I’m stupid, Voltaire. I never knew they thought so little of me.” Her mother’s words had cut very deep.
“Don’t be upset.” The bluebird landed on her shoulder. “Your parents want to keep you safe. They simply lack tact.”
“Wait. What are you saying?” Wanda’s head whipped around sharply. Her frizzy reddish-brown hair whacked the bird and sent him hurling into the air.
“Tact, Wanda,” Voltaire said, fluttering safely to the ground. “It’s ‘the knack of making a point without making an enemy’—to quote my good friend Sir Isaac Newton.”
“No. No. Are you saying that I’m not smart?”
“I don’t think I’m saying that at all.…” Voltaire brought the top of his wing to his chin. “Hmm… Is Wanda smart?” Head down, he paced the sidewalk, contemplating the question. “Aha!” He stopped and lifted his head. “I would have to be smart to know the answer to that. Do you think I’m smart?”
“Yes, of course I do,” she answered.
“Thank you, Wanda. Smart of you to say so. There! That settles that! Now, let’s carry on.” He rose from the ground and flew into the woods.
Wanda stepped from a field of bright, cheerful goldenrod into the forest’s black shifting shadows, and a feeling of dread passed through her. Everything about these woods was disturbing—the musty smell that choked her breath, the darkness that snuffed out the morning light, the eerie, evil stillness.…
She thought about some of the creatures she had met the last time she was here. The Groods—horrible beasts who had tried to tear her apart limb from limb. The swamp creature, a gnome who had turned her to smoke. The nixie, a water spirit who had attempted to drown her. She shuddered.
“Nothing good happens in these woods,” she murmured.
“Wanda, come quick!” Voltaire cried out.
She bolted through the trees and found the bird perched at the start of a path. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Better than all right,” he chirped. “Today is our lucky day! Someone has left a trail for us to follow. How kind.”
It was true. Someone had placed a line of stones down the middle of one of the paths. It stretched deep into the forest, as far as she could see.
“We simply have to follow these to find Wren,” Voltaire chirped. The bluebird took to the air, ready to leave.
It did look like someone was trying to help them, but a prickly thought began to claw at Wanda’s mind.
Were the carefully placed stones really an act of kindness?
Would they lead to Wren—or straight into a trap?
When she studied them more closely, she saw that the rocks were similar to the one that had targeted her head.
No, this wasn’t luck at all, Wanda decided. This was most certainly the work of a witch.
Take a Guess
Voltaire, we can’t take this path.” Wanda frowned. “If the witch sent the message, these stones are a trick, and the trail will lead us directly to danger.”
She gazed into the distance at all the other paths that now seemed to beckon her. “Our rescue mission is only one minute old, and we’re already stumped.” What if my mother was right? Maybe I was just lucky last time. She sighed. Maybe I’m not smart enough for this task. “Voltaire, we need to be Wren’s heroes, and we’re not off to a very good start.”
“I must disagree! Someone else could have sent the pen, and this trail could lead to your sister. Probably. Most likely. And that would be an excellent start!”
Wanda stared hard at the stones, as if glaring at them would make them give up their secret. “How do we decide what to do?”
“A simple question, easily answered,” the bird chirped, and Wanda’s wrinkled brow relaxed. She knew she could always count on Voltaire for a sensible solution.
“We should guess,” he said.
“Guess?” Wanda’s brow tightened again. “But what if we guess wrong?”
“Then we’ll guess again, and we’ll be right!” the bird said.
Wanda didn’t intend to insult him, but she let out a long, loud moan.
“My dear girl.” He fluttered to the ground and began to lecture her. “There are occasions for groaning, but this is not one of them. Sometimes life leaves us no choice but to guess.”
“But taking a guess is like giving up,” Wanda said. “It’s failing.”
“Incorrect! A guess is never a sign of defeat. A guess is not an end—it’s a beginning!” The bird stood tall and spread out his wings. “Wanda, ‘no great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.’ Another saying from my clever friend Newton.”
Wanda knelt to study the stones, hoping they’d offer a clue.
“Trust in fate. Dare to think for yourself. Take action,” the bird said. “Or simply put—we can’t stand here all day. Take a guess, Wanda.”
Between a Gurgle and a Snort
We’ll follow the stones,” Wanda declared. And having made the decision, she suddenly felt taller and lighter, and she bounced into the woods to lead the way.
“Well done!” Voltaire fluttered behind her.
“I do think this is right!” she said, content with her choice. “I’m so happy you agree.”
“Oh, but I don’t,” Voltaire said.
Wanda stopped abruptly, and the bird smacked into the back of her head. His wings faltered as he struggled to settle on a nearby bush.
“Then which path should we take?” Her voice cracked with uncertainty.
“Oh, this one is fine,” Voltaire said. “I just meant to say that there’s no right way or wrong way in the Scary Wood. They’re all the same. They all lead to trouble. But at least there’s nothing to fear at the moment!” He propelled from the limb and soared merrily ahead.
Wanda focused on the stones and ordered herself not to worry.
The woods were quiet. No chirping birds. No buzzing insects. No scurrying creatures rustling the leaves. It was an unusual silence, but the stillness also meant there were no lurking beasts, which helped Wanda stay brave.
Her heartbeat sprinted as she traveled deeper into the forest, farther from home. From time to time, she gazed ahead to keep the bluebird in sight. If we need to escape in a hurry, we can just follow the stones back to the meadow. Returning will be easy, she thought—and that’s when she heard the whistling.
“Voltaire, listen,” Wanda called to the bird. “It must be Wren!” She imagined her sister picking colorful wildflowers in a clearing while whistling the lovely tune.
Wanda and Voltaire raced through the trees, following the sound, anxious to reach Wren before they lost her. They moved quickly but quietly, gravely aware that Raymunda might be with her.
“Shh.” Wanda stopped and put a finger to her lips. Her sister was just on the other side of a tall evergreen.
With Voltaire perched on top of her head, she slowly peeked around the tree—and her heart clenched for a beat. Voltaire’s feathers stiffened.
This can’t be, she thought. This hideous creature can’t be the one whistling such a sweet melody.
He was wide and squat, a little taller than Wanda, with a head too large for his body. His light brown skin sagged under the weight of his wrinkles. He was hairy all over except for his scalp, where three lonely strands stood on end.
His bushy brown eyebrows shaded enormous ink-black eyes. His leathery ears were the size of Frisbees. They stuck way out and waved in the breeze. If a strong wind blew, his ears would catch the gust and lift him in flight, Wanda thought, if it weren’t for the weight of his nose, which was broad and high and took up most of his face. His nostrils were huge, like two gaping, dark caves, and Wanda could stare right into them.
Praise for Wanda Seasongood and the Mostly True Secret:
"A solid story with a strong female heroine and interesting supporting characters, making this a good addition to any library's adventure collection."—School Library Connection
- "[Susan] Lurie spins a tale with satisfying twists and turns to keep the reader wondering who, if anyone, can be trusted in this fantastical adventure."—BCCB
- "Wanda is by turns charmingly flabbergasted and persistently practical but ever well meaning; readers are sure to root for her along the journey."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Readers will revel in the fantastical creatures and supernatural elements while cheering for Wanda and her avian sidekick."—Booklist
- "Readers will find it hard to put this book down once they start reading and will be excited to find out what's next for Wanda and Voltaire. A great choice for general purchase."—School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Aug 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers