Things Are Not What They Seem
Things Are Not What They Seem
by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks
Genre Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure
Tags Magic spells, fantasy, adventure, visions, pigeons, Central Park, New York City, ventriloquist, homeless man, poet, Latin, street performers, hawks.
Release April 25, 2014
Editor Christine I. Speakman
Line Editor Les Tucker
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
What would you do if you were sitting on a park bench, minding your own business, and one of those annoying pigeons suddenly started to talk to you? And what if the pigeon didn’t just talk to you – in a meticulous British accent, no less – but pleaded with you to help untangle a piece of string that had accidentally attached his leg to a wrought iron fence surrounding the playground? And what if, while you are still convinced that this is all a big nasty trick, a hawk swoops down out of the sky and starts cursing at you, also in the King’s English, for getting in his way when he wanted to execute the pigeon?
That is the quandary in which Jennifer (almost 13 years old and probably a bit too smart for her own good) finds herself one sweltering July morning while babysitting her 11-year-old (very precocious) brother James and his mopey, allergy-prone friend Sleepy. She soon learns that the bird is actually a man named Arthur Whitehair, a 19th-century Englishman who had been turned into an eternally-lived pigeon by misreading an ancient spell that was supposed to give him eternal life as a human. Likewise, an unscrupulous colleague of his, named Malman, had been turned into a hawk by Whitehair’s blunder. After years of searching, Whitehair claims (half-truthfully) that Malman has found him hiding in Central Park and is now out for revenge. On top of all this strange business, Jennifer has recently begun having weird dreams in which a crazy-looking man with curly red hair speaks cryptic phrases in Latin. Are they random phrases, or messages? And why would some sketchy guy be sending her messages in her dreams?
Mr. Bags flopped down on top of his adversary as though he were trying to pin him to a wrestling mat. Drescher let out another groan of pain and started kicking his legs and flailing his arms to get Mr. Bags off.
“This way!” Jennifer yelled. About thirty yards down the path, she turned to the right as Mr. Bags had told her to do.
“Goodbye sweet world!” Whitehair wailed. “Goodbye, my England. I shall never see your white cliffs at Dover again! Hello? What’s this?”
A few yards away from the path, they saw that the ground dropped off precipitously over the wall to the transverse road. There was indeed a stairway built into the stone.
“You’re a genius, Sis,” James whispered. “I tell everybody that.”
“We have to hurry. I don’t know how long Mr. Bags can hold him off.”
They scrambled down the stairs, one after the other. Once they got to the street level, they crossed over and hurried along the narrow sidewalk, traveling east toward their end of town, walking quickly in single file along the narrow pavement.
“Can we take a cab?” Kaytlyn asked wearily. “I really can’t walk a step farther.”
“I had faith in you the whole time,” Whitehair said sheepishly. “I know I acted somewhat badly. But, of course, I’m just a little helpless with this string around my leg and all. You do understand, don’t you, Jennifer?”
“Sure she does,” replied James. “You’re a coward.”
“Let me at him,” screamed Whitehair, and started flapping his wings vigorously as though he really did mean to give James a good peck on his nose.
Then, from above and behind them there came a cry of pain and another shout.
“The goose is loose!” called Mr. Bags. “The goose is loose!”
Jennifer started running again with James just behind her. Cars were whizzing past. She knew it would be a very short time before Drescher was down the stairs and racing after them. Then she saw the cross-town bus.
“Hey,” she yelled, waving at the driver. “Hey, we’re here. We want to ride!”
Officially, there is a bus stop in the middle of the Park, but people get on so rarely there that the bus drivers usually ignore it. Jennifer kept waving, smiling her sweetest smile. The bus screeched to a stop.
“Jenny,” James whispered. “I don’t have any money.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll ask Kaytlyn. You go first and don’t let the driver see Whitehair. I’ll carry the backpack.”
They hopped up the stairs onto the bus. James walked directly to the rear, past the driver.
“Where’s your fare?” the man growled.
“Oh, I’ll pay for him,” Jennifer said politely, curtsying at the same time. She fished around in her backpack as the bus driver slammed the accelerator to the floor and the bus started, sending up a gray cloud of exhaust. Out the window, she could see Drescher stamping his size fourteen shoe as he reached the bottom of the stairs.
“It’s here somewhere,” Jennifer continued, unzipping compartments and zipping them again. Checking and rechecking. She found thirty-five cents. They were four dollars and fifteen cents short. “Kaytlyn can you lend me the fare?’ she whispered. “I’ll pay you back.”
“But I don’t have any money,” Kaytlyn said. “I never carry any money.”
“Well, how were you going to take a cab?”
“The doorman would have paid when we got home. That’s what I always do. Then he gets it back from Daddy, with a tip.”
That meant they were over six dollars short! Jennifer thought fast. Then she inhaled sharply as if she had just come to a terrible realization and brought her two fists up to rub her eyes.
“Oh James,” Jennifer said, apparently bursting into tears. “I think I lost our bus fare.”
The bus driver glanced over his shoulder, frowning, and seemed ready to stop the bus and kick them off. She could see Drescher in the distance, his long legs pumping like pistons. Then Whitehair spoke.
“Come on now my good people,” he said in his most upper class British accent. “Can’t we help out the children? The little girl is very nice, I must say. Her brother is a bit of a pill!”
“Hey!” James said, raising his shoulders as if to shoo the pigeon off. “Shut up!”
“Come on, now,” Whitehair continued. “Let’s not be cheap New Yorkers! Give it up!!”
Jennifer was horrified, but as she looked from passenger to passenger, she saw that several were smiling.
“Hey, nice trick, kid. You really had me going there.”
A young man handed him a dollar in change.
“I think you should be on TV,” another woman said. “Here, use my Metrocard.”
“Oh, thank you,” Jennifer said. “Thank you.”
“Yes, thank you very much,” James said, bowing as though he had, in fact, been performing for the crowd.
“Just like the little slinky to take all the credit,” Whitehair said.
James shrugged, smiling uneasily, but some of the passengers started clapping.
“He’s not doing this, I am,” protested Whitehair. But each time the pigeon talked, and James acted annoyed, renewed applause burst out again.
Jennifer paid the fares and asked for three transfers, and the bus carried them away from Drescher.
“You know, Jenny,” Kaytlyn said. “Once you get used to the voice and all, it’s sort of cute the way he does it. I do think James should work on that accent, though—it’s a little over the top.”
“What?” Whitehair said. “Are you mad?”
“Oh, James,” Kaytlyn said, taking a bit of his round cheek between her thumb and index finger. “Maybe it’s okay. I just think you are so cool.”
James’ cheeks turned the color of Kaytlyn’s dress and matching bikini.
“Oooohhh,” Kaytlyn said. “He’s blushing.”
She turned and whispered in Jennifer’s ear.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had such a cute brother?”
“Ohmigod,” said Jennifer. “Ohmigod”
A middle-grade adventure finds a Central Park pigeon who can talk in the care of precocious youngsters.
On a hot July morning, 12-year-old Jennifer Tindal and her brother, 11-year-old James, visit Central Park. While Mrs. Tindal studies at home for the bar exam, Jennifer watches James and his allergy-prone friend, Seth (nicknamed Sleepy because he takes a lot of medication), at the playground. It’s here that a pigeon speaks to her in a British accent. His name is Arthur Whitehair, and he’s tied to a fence by balloon string (“Oh, for a pair of hands!” he cried dramatically. “Mykingdom for a pair of hands!”). “Give me a break,” Jennifer mutters, trying to ignore what she assumes is a prank. Eventually, she unties the string rather than see the bird hurt himself. Then a hawk attacks, yelling, “Give me that pigeon!” Jennifer, James, and Sleepy escape with Whitehair through the vast park, learning that the hawk, Malman, has been after his quarry for 180 years. Can this bizarre situation have anything to do with the dreams Jennifer’s been having about a monk who speaks to her in Latin? After all, Omnia causa fiunt means “Everything happens for a reason.” In this raucous jaunt through Manhattan’s canopied centerpiece, Rothman-Hicks and Hicks (Kate and the Kid, 2016, etc.) educate and entertain. Younger readers learn facts about birds, such as they “are safe in a flock because the whole group of them moving...at once confuses the predator.” The authors’ trim prose often captures the loveliness of specific Central Park areas, like the Ramble, “famous for its many trees and bushes and hills, and trails that twisted around like over-cooked spaghetti.” As the narrative opens up to include Jennifer’s wealthy classmate Kaytlyn and a kind, homeless man, Mr. Bags, the audience benefits from the exploration of as many perspectives as possible. Scenes involving Malman’s awful partner, Drescher, are just menacing enough. The mystery surrounding Whitehair and his nemesis receives a quirky buildup and a heartwarming resolution. Readers should welcome sequels.
A learned, laugh-out-loud New York City fantasy for all ages.