Celebrate the Season: Home for the Holidays


By Taylor Garland

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Celebrate home, sweet home in this cheerful middle grade book series that captures the magic of the holidays.

Christmas is coming, but this year feels different for Alyssa Sing. Not only is she in Florida instead of the snowy Northeast, but Alyssa misses having good friends like she did in her knitting club at her old school. Things seem to look up at the Palm Meadows Holiday Festival when Alyssa meets Rachel, Elle, and Becca, who all show an interest in Alyssa’s homemade scarves. But trouble arises when Alyssa finds out her new friends used to be friends with each other…but aren’t anymore. While Alyssa is glad to have Dasher, a mysterious cat that appears in her backyard, to confide in as she navigates her new school, she can’t help but wonder: Will Florida ever feel like home?


“Do you want some OJ, Cody?” Alyssa Sing called to her brother from the kitchen.

“Nah,” came his muffled reply a moment later.

Alyssa took a glass down from the cupboard and poured herself some juice. Then, just as she was placing the carton back in the refrigerator, her brother’s voice rang out again.

“Actually, yeah, I’ll take some juice.”

Alyssa sighed good-naturedly and poured her brother a glass of juice. After placing the carton back in the refrigerator, she walked into the den, handed Cody his juice, and settled down on the couch next to him. Cody grunted.

“And what do you say when someone does something nice for you?” Alyssa prompted.

Cody pretended to be deep in thought. “Well, when someone does something nice for me, I give my heartfelt thanks.”

Alyssa nodded. “And…”

“And all you did was pour me some juice,” Cody concluded. “I hardly think that warrants heartfelt thanks.”

“You’re hopeless,” Alyssa told him, taking a sip of her juice. She tried fixing him with an angry stare but couldn’t quite pull it off, especially not after Cody did a hilarious impression of her fake angry face. Alyssa laughed so hard she almost spit her juice out.

“Ugh, if that’s what I look like, remind me never to make that face,” she said between giggles.

“You wish you looked this good,” Cody replied, twisting his face into an even sillier expression.

Alyssa and Cody were only a year apart, Alyssa in seventh grade and Cody in eighth. Alyssa thought about how, when they were younger, they were often mistaken for twins. In the past year or two, though, Cody had grown a lot and was now a good five inches taller than his sister. No one really mistook them for twins anymore. Alyssa thought that the height difference could be why, but their vastly different personalities also had a lot to do with it. Cody was confident and outgoing and Alyssa was… shy. She wasn’t shy at home with her mom and brother, but that was because she was so comfortable with them. Cody seemed to attract friends like a magnet, but Alyssa was struggling a little in that department lately. It wasn’t that Alyssa didn’t want to make friends. She really did. In fact, she loved making friends. It was just really hard to do sometimes. Especially after moving to a new town and starting at a new school like they had just a few months ago.

Alyssa’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the kitchen door opening.

“Hey, kids,” Melanie Sing called from the kitchen. She sounded a little breathless.

“How was your run, Mom?” Alyssa asked.

Mrs. Sing strode into the living room and plopped down on the recliner. “It was good, thanks. It’s gorgeous outside—must be close to seventy already! Let’s open up some windows.”

Alyssa got up from the couch and walked over to the nearest window on one side of the room while her brother tackled the windows on the other side. She carefully unlatched the lock and then pulled open the window. Immediately, she was greeted with a warm burst of air.

“December eighth and it’s seventy degrees outside,” Alyssa said. “I’m not sure I will ever get used to this.”

The Sing family had moved to Palm Meadows, Florida, from Massachusetts in August. In addition to having a whole new town and school to get used to, there was also a new climate for Alyssa to adjust to. One where it was warm all year round.

“What’s to get used to?” Cody asked as he settled back on the couch. “The weather here is perfect for soccer all year long. End of story.”

“There’s more to life than soccer,” Alyssa replied. “Like—” She held up her hand to shush her brother just as he was about to ask Like what?

“Like… white Christmases, for example,” Alyssa said finally. “Does it really not bug you at all that we will probably be wearing shorts on Christmas Day?”

“Nope, not one bit,” Cody said.

Just then his phone rang and he ran to answer it from the privacy of his room.

“I know a warm-weather Christmas takes some getting used to,” Mrs. Sing spoke from the recliner as she tugged off her sneakers. “But we will still make this Christmas really special.”

“Oh, I know,” Alyssa said quickly. She immediately felt guilty. Had she made her mom feel bad? “I’m sorry I complained, Mom. I like it here. And I know Christmas will still be great!”

Her mom got up from the recliner and sat down next to Alyssa on the sofa. “Sweetie, it’s okay to be a little bummed about not having a white Christmas. It doesn’t hurt my feelings! And you know that you’re entitled to your opinions and you don’t have to apologize for them—especially to me!”

Alyssa nodded and swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat. She knew her mom was right. In fact, her mom was always reminding her not to worry so much about other people all the time. But Alyssa also knew it had been a difficult decision for her mom to make, picking the family up and moving them hundreds of miles away to Florida. The only reason she’d done it was because she’d been offered a great new job down here. Alyssa knew that having a better job made things a lot easier for her mom, and at the end of the day, that was what mattered most. She never wanted to make her mom feel bad about her decision.

“You’re right,” Alyssa said finally. “Thanks for reminding me. And if I’m being totally honest, it does feel kind of weird that Christmas is just a few weeks away and we’re wearing shorts. And I’ve barely seen any decorations in our neighborhood! Our street back home used to be filled with decorations a couple of days after Thanksgiving. I guess I’m just not feeling in the Christmas spirit yet—” Alyssa cut herself off, realizing she had used the term “back home.” This was her home now. Palm Meadows. She looked carefully at her mom’s face to see if she had hurt her feelings. But her mom didn’t look upset. Her brow was furrowed, which was how she looked when she was deep in thought.

“You are absolutely right,” Mrs. Sing announced, getting up from the couch. “I can’t do anything about the warm weather, and I definitely cannot make it snow, but we need some Christmas spirit around here ASAP!”

“All right!” Alyssa cheered. “Let’s kick off the holiday season, starting now!”

“What should we do for our holiday cheer kickoff?” her mom asked. “Our first trip to the mall to see the decorations and shop for presents? Or should we go get our Christmas tree?”

“Hmmm…” Alyssa thought about it. “Well, we should see what Cody thinks, but I’d vote for mall tonight and tree tomorrow.”

“See what Cody thinks about what?” Cody asked as he walked back into the room.

Alyssa quickly explained that this weekend would be the official kickoff to Christmas for the Sing family. They were just deciding what should happen first.

“Well, I have that sleepover at Ben’s tonight with a couple of other guys from the soccer team,” Cody said. “I’d vote for you guys to go to the mall without me because, no offense, I’d rather be anywhere other than a mall.” Cody settled on the other end of the couch. “And then tree tomorrow. I definitely want to be here for the tree.”

“So it’s all settled, then,” their mom said happily.

Alyssa felt the tiniest pang hearing that her brother had a sleepover tonight. He’d been to at least three since school had started, and Alyssa hadn’t even been invited to one. The truth was, she hadn’t made any friends yet who were close enough to invite her over for a sleepover. She looked out the window and saw the sun reflecting off the bright green grass in their yard. She wondered what her friends in Massachusetts were doing tonight. Probably having a sleepover. During a blizzard. While watching Christmas movies.

Alyssa shook her head to clear it and turned her attention back to her family. Her mom was pulling sale circulars for the stores at the mall from the newspaper. And Cody was on his phone, looking up local places to buy a Christmas tree. In that moment, Alyssa felt her heart swell with love for her mom and brother. She knew how lucky she was to have such a great family. She squelched the pang of guilt she felt for missing her old home so much.

After parking in the very crowded lot of the mall, Alyssa and her mom made their way toward the main entrance. Alyssa took in the red velvet bows adorning the palm trees that were scattered throughout the lot. The overall effect was… different. As if reading Alyssa’s mind, her mom wrinkled her nose and said, “Bows on palm trees just isn’t quite the same thing, is it?”

Alyssa laughed and nodded. “Let’s hope things look more Christmassy inside!”

Moments later, they were delighted to see that the main entrance to the mall had been transformed into a winter wonderland! A display at the center of the entranceway showcased a snowy scene with fluffy snowmen surrounded by a candy-cane fence. A hand-painted sign said THIS WAY TO SANTA’S WORKSHOP!

Alyssa looked and could see Santa’s Workshop in the distance, across from the food court. As she and her mom walked through the entrance hallway, Alyssa realized that Christmas carols were piping over the loudspeakers. Most of the individual stores had their own Christmas-themed signs and decorations adorning their front windows. A big grin lit up Alyssa’s face.

“Okay, it’s definitely starting to feel like Christmas now!” she told her mom, happily linking arms with her.

All around them, shoppers bustled about, their arms laden with packages. A big crowd was gathered at the coffee shop at the end of the hallway, and Alyssa was delighted to see that this shop had the same snowflake cups they had back home in Massachusetts every December. Her friends Ryder and Lauren always used to say it was officially the holidays once the coffee shop brought out the snowflake cups. Alyssa made a mental note to tell Ryder and Lauren about the cups later. They might not have snow in Florida for the holidays but at least they had snowflake cups!

“Look! Bookstore!” Alyssa told her mom, tugging her into the store. Books were one of Alyssa’s favorite gifts to give. She already had an idea of what to get Cody—he was obsessed with video games and she knew there was a new book series out that was based on one of his favorite games.

“Mom, I’m going to head to the back of the store to look for something for Cody, okay?”

“Sure thing, honey,” her mom replied. “I’ll be in the cookbook section looking for a slow cooker cookbook for Aunt Sharon. That seems to be her latest cooking obsession.”

“Ooh, good idea,” Alyssa called over her shoulder as she headed back toward the kids’ section. On her way there, a table of crafting books caught her eye. One book in particular jumped out at her. It was an advanced guide to knitting sweaters. Gorgeous, ornate sweaters, Alyssa realized as she flipped through the book. The patterns were really complex, but Alyssa knew someone who could tackle them—her friend from back home, Ryder, who was the best knitter Alyssa knew. He’d taught Alyssa everything she knew about knitting. Alyssa was a really good knitter, but Ryder was practically professional level—he’d even started the knitting club at Alyssa’s old school. If anyone could manage an advanced sweater pattern, it was Ryder. She picked up the book and added it to the plastic basket she was carrying.

The book series Alyssa had in mind for Cody was easy enough to find—it was on display in the middle of the kids’ section. Alyssa picked up the first book in the series and began reading the description on the back cover.

“Are you into that game?” a girl’s voice asked.

Alyssa looked up and saw two girls her age standing in front of her. She recognized them from school but wasn’t sure of their names. She was pretty sure they were best friends because they always ate together at lunch. The girl who had spoken to her was tall with red hair that she wore in a messy but effortlessly cool-looking bun on top of her head. The other girl had curly brown hair and big brown eyes.

“I’m Elle, by the way,” the red-haired girl added a moment later. “And this is Rachel. Haven’t we seen you at school? Palm Meadows? You’re new? Alyssa, right?”

Alyssa felt a wave of different emotions all at once. Excitement that these girls were introducing themselves. Nervousness because she didn’t know what to say or which question to answer first. And then complete and total awkwardness after she spoke.

“No,” she blurted out. “I’m not.”

“Oh…” Elle said slowly, a confused look flashing across her face. “Sorry, we thought you were this girl from our school. You look just like her.”


On Sale
Oct 9, 2018
Page Count
176 pages

Taylor Garland

About the Author

Taylor Garland has written books for children of all ages. When she isn’t dreaming up stories, Taylor loves giving out Halloween treats.

Learn more about this author