About the Author

Sylvia McNicoll

Sylvia McNicoll is the award-winning author of more than 30 novels for young people. Once a financial clerk earning her English degree at night from Concordia University in Montreal, Sylvia has since been a teacher and the editor of Today's Parent Toronto. Today Sylvia is a full-time writer who also gives her time to the Canadian Children's Book Centre and Access Copyright. Her most recent novel is Revenge on the Fly. Sylvia lives in Burlington, Ontario.

Books by this Author
A Different Kind of Beauty

A Different Kind of Beauty

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Beauty Returns

Beauty Returns

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Body Swap
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1: THE ACCIDENT

“That cellphone will kill you!” a raspy voice warns. It comes from someone standing in front of me on the bus. Someone who smells like dirty socks and stale coffee. A male voice that sounds very definite about phone fatalities.

I ignore him. What’s happening on my little screen is way more important.

Megan is texting me about Chael Caruso, the boy whose name is written in big loops all over the inside cover of my journal, together with mine, of course. Chael loves Hallie. Mrs. Chael Prince-Caruso, Hallie and Chael forever. That one’s in a heart with an arrow through it.

And today, we’re finally going to begin our forever.

A cane knocks hard into my knee. “Ow!” Does the old guy plan to beat me to death with that thing? He coughs a loud fake ahem, ahem.

Seniors’ day at the mall. Why do they have to have it during our Christmas break? The stuffy warm bus heats up all the body odours into a boiled-broccoli-and-wet-dog potpourri. Makes me hot and irritable. I ignore him and lean toward my best friend, Abby, who is sitting on a window seat facing forward.

On the right side of her face, Abby’s hair angles to a pale blue arrow; the left is shaved close, making her look like a techno angel. She alone understands the importance of what’s happening on my phone right now and raises one blond eyebrow in a question mark.

I continue typing.

Did you ask Chael if he likes me? I press send. The answer to that text could potentially cheer me back up. Chael (pronounced Kale, yet nothing like the vegetable) has coffee-coloured eyes and smooth maple skin. A smile that’s as wide as a soccer field. He’s centre forward for our junior team, same position I play on the girls’ team. Our babies could be soccer stars. I sigh.

When I finally lift my eyes from the screen, I see the crepey blue-veined hand that grips the hook of the cane that hit me. Above the knuckles, blue, loopy letters spell Carpe Diem. My eyes raise higher to his face. Watery, grey eyes stare back at me, expecting something. What? With the light from the window, his hair glows a bright silver.

Abby gives me a hard stare, too. “Hallie!” She punches my shoulder.

“What?”

“Give him your seat!”

I don’t get it. There are thirty other places available; I don’t know why he wants this particular one on the front bench facing the centre aisle. Giving it up will mean I can’t talk to Abby as easily because she’s wedged in beside a lady with a walker. That woman smells like Lily of the Valley; the sweetness of it squeezes at my throat. Dirty socks and lilies, what a combo. Gahh!

“If only I had a car,” I grumble to Abby as I rise from the bench and try to shuffle around the old guy.

“And could drive.” Abby grins, a braces-dazzling grin.

“I drive the truck on Uncle Bill’s farm.”

“And your licence then.”

“My birthday’s in April. Fast as I can get it, we will be out of here.” My phone interrupts with a belch, which is how it signals incoming texts and calls. Megan! I check to see what she’s answered. Her words will be crucial to who the father of my babies will be, and I want seven, just like the Von Trapps in The Sound of Music. Strange maybe, but that’s our family’s favourite Christmas movie.

This could be the best Christmas present ever. A cool boyfriend. Holding hands, kissing at our lockers. Smiling, happy. High school sweethearts, we’ll tell our seven kids later.

I sigh again. The bus lurches forward and I tumble against the man who stabs my foot with his cane this time.

“Ow!” I call out and glare.

“See what I mean …” he says, the tiniest bit of a smile lifting up his thin lips, “about cellphones?”

“It’s your cane that’s a lethal weapon!” I grumble and read the screen as I scootch into the seat behind Abby. “Oh, yay! Yesss! ” Leaning forward, I tell Abby, “Megan says Chael likes me!”

“Told ya!”

“But he called me thunder thighs at indoor soccer the other day.” I shake my head at the message on the tiny screen.

“You’re such a great kicker. He’s probably talking about the power in your thigh muscles ...”

“Nah, I think he means I’m fat.”

“You may have fat but you are not fat,” Abby continues, “just pleasantly round.”

I grab my face with my free hand. It’s shaped like a soccer ball, no cheekbones poking through at all. And I’ve conditioned my hair into gentle curls, but they soften my jawline, make me look pudgy. And I’m short — if my legs were longer, they’d look leaner.

Like Abby’s. I glance over at her skinny-jeaned legs. No thunder happening there. She has great bones anyway, a strong chin and cheekbones. I grip my forehead. “Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?”

Just above my eyebrows, my fingers find one of those hard bumps. I push down on it and it hurts. “A zit!”

“Never mind. We’re here.”

The bus begins to pull into the right lane.

Suddenly, the driver leans on her horn and brakes.

One of those new Hurricane SUVs shoots around the bus. It’s as red and shiny as a polished apple. I smile at it. Such a cool car! “Someday, I’m going to drive one of those,” I tell Abby.

“Me too. We’ll race them.”

I grin and shrug. “Probably need to save till we’re a hundred.”

The bus slows to the stop. I stand up before Lily of the Valley can move her walker, but not fast enough to beat the guy with the cane. He blocks me and takes forever to shuffle forward.

Another belch comes from my cellphone. I look at the screen: Chael and Hardeep are hanging out at the food court. “Oh my gosh. What am I going to do? He’s here too!” I touch the zit on my forehead. It seems to have doubled in size.

“Leave it alone! You’re making it worse.” Abby motions as if to slap my hand down, but the woman with the walker stands between us.

Down the stairs I go behind the guy with silver hair moving ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. I text as my feet go down. What exactly did Chael say about me?

In the middle of the steps, the old dude stops to pull on a red woollen hat, but I don’t notice till I bump into him.

He turns and frowns at me. “You are going to miss out on so much of life if you don’t put that thing away.”

“Sorr-eeee.” If only he would move. Quicker. Come on! I want to push him out of the way. I’m missing out on so much of life ’cause of him! Could have texted a Harry Potter novel by now. I finally press send. I need to catch up with Chael.

Or do I? Do I want him to see me like this? With this pumpkin in the middle of my forehead? Another belch and the old man turns to give me a look.

“It’s not me, it’s my phone,” I tell him and read the latest text.

Chael says you’re funny.

Finally, we’re off the bus. As I stumble forward, I key into my phone: Funny ha ha or funny weird?

Abby follows close behind and bumps against me. “Move it, Hallie, if you want to see Chael before he leaves.”

But maybe I don’t. I’m funny. Is he just messing with me? His eyes do always look at me like they’re laughing.

We climb through the snowbank edging the parking lot, and my sneakers get buried instantly. This will be the first white Christmas we’ve had in a long time, but it’s still fairly warm and I’m in winter-boot denial. I lift my feet out of the sticky white and we continue toward the mall.

Squish, squish, my sneakers slog along. “Can we stop at the drug mart? I wouldn’t mind picking up some concealer for this.” I point to my forehead.

Abby rolls her eyes. “Then we’ll miss them for sure.”

A burp sounds again.

“Look at it later.” Abby keeps going.

But my fingers itch; I can’t help myself, I have to see what Megan has to say. Dropping back, I lift the phone closer to my face.

“Hallie!” Abby calls.

I start to run as I read. Chael’s leaving Doughnut Time. Where are you?

“Hallie! Hallie!” Abby calls.

I run without looking up. We can still make it. We’ll skip the cosmetics department.

Abby’s voice turns strangely high-pitched. “Watch out!”

Whomp! A hard force explodes into me.

Time slows down as I get hurled into the air. My cellphone flies from my hand, and I watch it cartwheel through the air, then crash on the ice and shatter into pieces right next to the red Hurricane that hit me.

Then I slam onto the iced pavement headfirst. A coconut cracks and pain splinters into a million scalding-white lights somewhere behind my eyes.

Hot, hot, my head feels like it’s on fire with white pain. Then cooler, cooler, shivering … I’m cold. I lie still as, bit by bit, my body and mind shake loose of each other.

I hear Abby crying, loud at first. “Hallie, no! Hallie! Someone call 911.” But her voice becomes more and more distant.

I can hear myself breathing. In … out … in. Something warm drips from my head, and it feels like the last drops of syrup letting go from the bottom of a bottle.

I see Abby’s black-and-yellow shoes near my face; behind her legs, the dented red bumper. My breathing slows to a last gasp; it doesn’t seem necessary anymore. Instead, I feel myself lifting, floating, a helium balloon suddenly dancing and free. Below me I see my body sprawled on the snow, a white boxy ER truck, and a woman on a stretcher. Faded yellowy hair and a pale, white wrinkled face with a blue tinge. She was the driver? A hot bitter thought scalds me. She’s too old to be driving. My vision fills with a liquid black.

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Crush. Candy. Corpse.

Crush. Candy. Corpse.

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Dying to Go Viral

Dying to Go Viral

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also available: Paperback
tagged : death & dying
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The Artsy Mistake Mystery
Excerpt

DAY ONE, MISTAKE ONE

Renée and I have an arrangement. In the mornings when I walk my clients Ping and Pong, I swing round to her place and pick her up. She then takes charge of Ping, the hyperactive Jack Russell, a former pound puppy Mrs. Bennett pays me to exercise. I continue with Pong, the taller, quieter greyhound she rescued from Florida.
Renée doesn’t like to hang around her house alone, so she doesn’t mind leaving way early, the moment her older brother, Attila, takes off for class — he goes to Champlain High. If I were her, I’d want to leave even earlier.
He’s scary. His name suits him: Attila, like the Hun. Renée says it’s a popular name in Hungary, where her parents were born.
Right now I’m wondering if the arrangement with Renée isn’t a mistake. If it is, it’ll be the first one I make today, though, and not a big one. It’s important to make mistakes, my father tells me all the time. It means we’re trying new things, sometimes outside our comfort zone. Being friends with a girl is, for sure, outside my comfort zone, and Renée forces people to pay attention to her. From her sequined hair barrettes, through to her sparkly glasses, and all the way down to her light-up sneakers, everything she wears catches your eye. She’s also yappy, like Ping, always with one more thing to add or bark about. I’m more like Pong, tall and quiet.
Just not quite as calm.
Both Ping and Pong are white with black markings on the head and a black spot on the body. (Greyhounds aren’t always grey. Renée can explain all that to you.) They scramble ahead of me like mismatched horses pulling a carriage: Ping, a scruffy pony; Pong, a smooth-coated stallion.
This morning I can handle them by myself. It’s a great fall day, leaves swish as we walk, the sunshine feels warm. Even the hundred-year-old jogger, all bent over at the shoulders and back, wears shorts as he runs past us. The dogs give him a friendly bark of encouragement. Neither makes a lunge for him.
“Good boys!” I tell them.
Today, though, I think the route to Renée’s is all wrong for us. Usually, I make the dogs walk to the left of me so that when they go to the bathroom, it’s not on someone’s lawn. But today is junk pickup day. Once a month the neighbourhood gets to put out any objects, large or small, that they don’t want alongside their garbage and recycling, and the city picks them up. Dad calls it redecorating day. He is out walking his five Yorkie clients right now, scouting for a previously enjoyed bookshelf.
This junk slows us down, the large objects attracting the dogs’ attention. Sometimes, they bark at them; always, they like to pee on them. First Pong — with his long legs, he trots in the lead — then Ping. Brant Hills Park would be so much better for Ping and Pong’s exercise this morning.
“Stop that!” I yank Pong back from someone’s recycling bin just as he raises his leg to salute its contents.
Good thing. A banged-up white van pulls up beside us and a dad from our school jumps out to rummage through the recycling.
I want to call out, “Hi, Mr. Jirad.” I don’t know his son, Reuven, super well, but I helped deliver his paper route last week with Renée. Mr. Jirad concentrates on pulling out liquor bottles from the box and doesn’t notice us.
Maybe this is embarrassing for him. I’m going to pretend I don’t notice him, either, then. As he drives away, I see the big dent in the back of his van all caulked in with some kind of filler. A home repair that doesn’t quite work. Over the painted filler, wobbly black letters spell Pay the artist.
“I didn’t know Mr. Jirad was an artist,” I tell the dogs.
Ping growls, eyes intent on a teenager in a black hoodie and bright, flowered leggings. The sunlight glints off the diamond stud in her nose as she pulls the ugliest wall plaque I’ve ever seen from someone’s pile of junk. It’s a large grey fish, mouth open, pointy teeth drawn, mounted on a flat slab of glossy wood. Maybe Ping is growling at the fish, not the girl. In any case, I strain to hold on to both dogs.
She smiles as she admires the fish.
“It looks real,” I can’t help commenting as we get closer to the pile. The fish is bent as though it’s wriggling in a stream.
“It is real! Taxidermy.”
I wince. “And you like it?”
“It’s perfect!” She looks from the fish to me. “Oh, not for me. The plaque is for my prof. They’re redecorating the staff lounge.”
“Perfect,” I repeat, wondering about her professor.
She nods and grins as she walks away with her prize.
“Good dogs,” I tell Ping and Pong as we continue on. So far so good, anyway. Although, it’s not just the busyness of the route to Renée’s house that makes me wonder if our arrangement is a mistake. Does she expect me to share the money I’ve earned? I officially work for Dad’s company, Noble Dog Walking. Noble is our last name.
Also, if she wasn’t hanging around me so much, would I have a chance to make a real friend? Like Jessie. We used to have sleepovers in his pool house before he moved away last summer. Dad’s never going to let me bunk in the same room as a girl.
Ping and Pong pull hard now, Ping wagging his stub of tail like crazy.
A couple houses ahead, I see Mrs.Whittingham loading up all the children in her shiny black van. She operates a home daycare and it seems like she stuffs about ten kids in that van. She slides the door closed and then gives a friendly honk as she drives past us. The kids point and wave at the dogs. The dogs wag back.
That distracts me for a minute, and when Pong yanks toward the house near us, toward Mr. Rupert’s wishing well, I nearly miss what he’s up to.
“Oh, no you don’t! Your wishes won’t come true that way.” I pull him back. Mr. Rupert is the neighbourhood grouch and he got scary mad when Pong went number two in his flower bed last walk, even though I was cleaning it up before he started yelling.
Ping doesn’t like me scolding Pong and starts barking, sharp and loud. Ping, even though he’s a quarter of Pong’s size, likes to defend Pong when he’s not fighting with him himself.
“Don’t worry, I’m not mad at Pong.”
Apparently defending his bigger pal is not what Ping is up to today because he’s not looking my way. Instead, he strains at his leash toward Mrs. Whittingham’s house on the corner. When I don’t move quickly enough toward it, he bounces up and down on his hind legs like they’re bedsprings.
“What’s up, boy?” I ask. “Do you see something?” He can get excited about the slightest thing. A small black bag of dog doo sitting in a tree set him off a week ago. I thought that was kind of weird, myself. As we draw closer to Mrs. Whittingham’s house, Pong pulls, too, and I see what they want to investigate.
From the tree in Mrs. Whittingham’s yard, a yellow plastic swing moves slightly in the breeze.
It looks like there’s something sitting in it, too big for a bird or squirrel, bigger than a raccoon … oh, no … she’s left a kid behind in the swing!
The little boy looks paper white with purple circles under his eyes … like he’s, like he’s … but he can’t be; she only left a minute ago.
I run with the dogs to her house, dash up her lawn, bashing my knee on some stupid bird ornament. Ow. Then I grab for the boy in the swing. I think I’ve seen enough rescue videos that I can use CPR to bring him back to life if I have to.
That is … if it’s not too late.
“Hey, you! What the heck are you doing!” A voice blasts from behind me.
“What …”
“I know it’s butt ugly, but you leave that Halloween display just the way you found it.”
Okay, this is definitely mistake number one of the day, and it’s a doozy. Mr. Rupert catches me rescuing some kind of creepy lifelike doll.

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The Best Mistake Mystery
Excerpt

Day One, Mistake One
At three o’clock in the afternoon, the fire alarm jangles. Mrs. Worsley’s arms startle open like a bird’s wings, but she quickly folds them back down across her chest, hiding her hands in her armpits. Her woolly eyebrows knit and her mouth purls.
“I’ve taught here for thirty years,” she told us on the first day of school. “There is nothing you can do that will shock me.”
But on day thirty, this alarm takes her by surprise. Drills are always planned, which can only mean one thing.
I leap from my seat, wave my arms, and shout, “Fire! Fire!”
No one moves.
Mrs. Worsley’s left eye twitches as she reaches up to grab my shoulders — I’m taller than she is — and squeezes gently. “Stephen Noble, calm down.”
Everyone stares. My face turns hot. Mistake number one of the day.
My mother says I read too much into things. That’s what I’ve done with this fire alarm. Based on Mrs. Worsley’s body language, I decided it was a real-life emergency and jumped to warn everyone. Now they’re all snickering behind their hands or rolling their eyes at silly old Green Lantern, my nickname since grade four.
Back then at least I had a best friend, Jessie, who stood by me when I did goofy things, even when I dropped my jeans to change for gym and had boxers on instead of gym shorts. Of course, they were the Green Lantern specials that Mom brought back from England. Jessie told everyone that I had changed into my secret identity. None of the kids believed him.
“If that’s the worst mistake you made all day, Stephen, you’re rockin’,” Mom had said on her phone the morning after the underwear thing. She works as a flight attendant, so she’s away a lot. To make me feel better, she told me a story about how the pilot forgot to put the landing gear down that day and how that caused a belly landing and quite some damage.
“You could have been hurt,” I told her.
“True, but I wasn’t. Nobody was.” She sighed. “Don’t think so hard about things. By next week everyone will have forgotten about your Green Lantern incident.”
Shows you what she knows. The nickname lingers on. Also my fear of airplane travel.
Yelling out “Fire! Fire!” may not have been as bad as dropping my drawers three years ago, but it’s still the worst mistake for me today and I’m definitely not rockin’. On top of that, Jessie moved away over the summer. There will be no one to stick up for me later when everyone makes even more fun of me.
It started back in that grade four gym class and continues. It would be way easier to make a new friend if I were good at a team sport. If I were any good at soccer, Tyson and Bruno and me might be pals. Instead, I trip when I kick at the ball and let goals go by me. Because I’m tall and have long arms and legs, everyone expects me to be good at basketball, but I can’t sink a basket. Or spike a volleyball. What I excel at isn’t played at school: Wii bowling. I sigh. Jessie is a great Wii bowler, too.
Mrs. Worsley releases my shoulders and faces the rest of the kids. “Grade seven, line up quickly and quietly.”
Renée’s hand shoots up but Mrs. Worsley ignores her. I can’t blame her. Renée’s hand is always up. And if the teacher even looks her way, Renée’s glittery glasses or hairband might blind her. Renée will keep waving her hand until Mrs. Worsley becomes hypnotized into answering her. And the teacher can never answer just one question. There’s always another question and another till it turns into this big back and forth discussion. Which is why nobody wants Mrs. Worsley to call on Renée. It always slows everything down.
“Should we take our things?” Renée yells out when Mrs. Worsley continues to ignore her.
This time Princess Einstein has a point. In about fifteen minutes the final dismissal bell will ring.
Mrs. Worsley shakes her head. “No talking! Hurry!” She shoos us with her hands toward the door.
Everyone lines up.
“Renée, Stephen, you two go ahead and hold the doors.”
She’s pairing us up again like she’s done from the beginning of school, as though she wants to keep us out of her hair. I understand giving Renée keep-busy work; otherwise, she’ll question Mrs. Worsley to death. But me?
Of course, whenever we have to partner up, there’s no Jessie, so Renée’s pretty much my only choice, anyway, and where I’m super tall and bad at sports, Renée is super short and bad.
As we lead the way down the hall, I search for flames and sniff for smoke. Nothing.
“Hurry, Stephen!”
I hustle to catch up to Renée at our class’s set of exit doors and slam my back into the remaining one to open and hold it in place.
“Nice job, Green Lantern,” Tyson says as he passes through.
“Wearing your ring?” his friend Bruno asks.
“Sure is,” Tyson says. “He put out the fire while we weren’t looking.”
Har de har har, I think.
The whole school pours out through three exits. Long streams of students spill over from the blacktop to the field. Finally, when no one seems to be left inside the school, Renée and I let the doors shut behind us.
“Crazy to have a drill at the end of the day,” Renée says. “Something has to be up.”
Mrs. Worsley gives us the glare.
“Shh! We’ll get a detention.” Talking during a drill is a big no-no at our school. Still, I’m glad Renée thinks the same way I do. We walk together to the end of our line. I feel like a gawky giant next to shorty glitter girl.
Teachers begin to count the kids in their lines and, one by one, hold up their clipboards to signal to the principal, Mrs. Watier, that everyone is accounted for.
Mrs. Watier is new to our school and young and hip compared to Mrs. Worsley. She drives a black convertible TZX and wears tall black boots with everything, even jeans. Mrs. Worsley drives a beige, boxy car and wears white sneakers with all her clothes, skirts and dresses included. No jeans, not ever. Today, our cool principal paces and studies the rows of students, eyes narrowed. All the clipboards go up. No students lost in this disaster.
No sirens wail, no fire trucks pull up. Maybe it’s just a drill, after all. Mrs. Watier talks to each teacher, and after she chats with ours, our regular end-of-the-day bell rings and Mrs. Worsley dismisses us.
“But I don’t have my agenda!” Renée protests.
“Never mind. Forget your homework for one night. Go straight home, please.”
I squint at the school doors. If it’s not a real fire, then why can’t we go back in?
Mrs. Worsley is the queen of the agenda. Everything we do in class — tests, runs for cures, videos we watch, all the stuff we’re supposed to do for homework, books or chapters to read, websites to browse, things we need to bring in, every gym or crazy hat or hair day, everything — she wants us to write it down and have our parents sign it so they know about it. “Never-minding” us about the agenda is a weird thing for her to do. I can’t believe this is just a drill. She would make us write that in the agenda. Something way more serious has to be happening.
“Stephen, did you hear me?”
“Yes, Mrs. W.”
“Then be on your way.”
I have another important job starting today, so leaving right on time without homework would be very convenient if it weren’t so suspicious. At the edge of the schoolyard, I turn to look back at the school and scan the building. I’m looking for a sign, a clue, something to let me know why Mrs. Worsley was so anxious to get rid of us.

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The Best Mistake Mystery Teachers' Guide
Excerpt

Day One, Mistake One
At three o’clock in the afternoon, the fire alarm jangles. Mrs. Worsley’s arms startle open like a bird’s wings, but she quickly folds them back down across her chest, hiding her hands in her armpits. Her woolly eyebrows knit and her mouth purls.
“I’ve taught here for thirty years,” she told us on the first day of school. “There is nothing you can do that will shock me.”
But on day thirty, this alarm takes her by surprise. Drills are always planned, which can only mean one thing.
I leap from my seat, wave my arms, and shout, “Fire! Fire!”
No one moves.
Mrs. Worsley’s left eye twitches as she reaches up to grab my shoulders — I’m taller than she is — and squeezes gently. “Stephen Noble, calm down.”
Everyone stares. My face turns hot. Mistake number one of the day.
My mother says I read too much into things. That’s what I’ve done with this fire alarm. Based on Mrs. Worsley’s body language, I decided it was a real-life emergency and jumped to warn everyone. Now they’re all snickering behind their hands or rolling their eyes at silly old Green Lantern, my nickname since grade four.
Back then at least I had a best friend, Jessie, who stood by me when I did goofy things, even when I dropped my jeans to change for gym and had boxers on instead of gym shorts. Of course, they were the Green Lantern specials that Mom brought back from England. Jessie told everyone that I had changed into my secret identity. None of the kids believed him.
“If that’s the worst mistake you made all day, Stephen, you’re rockin’,” Mom had said on her phone the morning after the underwear thing. She works as a flight attendant, so she’s away a lot. To make me feel better, she told me a story about how the pilot forgot to put the landing gear down that day and how that caused a belly landing and quite some damage.
“You could have been hurt,” I told her.
“True, but I wasn’t. Nobody was.” She sighed. “Don’t think so hard about things. By next week everyone will have forgotten about your Green Lantern incident.”
Shows you what she knows. The nickname lingers on. Also my fear of airplane travel.
Yelling out “Fire! Fire!” may not have been as bad as dropping my drawers three years ago, but it’s still the worst mistake for me today and I’m definitely not rockin’. On top of that, Jessie moved away over the summer. There will be no one to stick up for me later when everyone makes even more fun of me.
It started back in that grade four gym class and continues. It would be way easier to make a new friend if I were good at a team sport. If I were any good at soccer, Tyson and Bruno and me might be pals. Instead, I trip when I kick at the ball and let goals go by me. Because I’m tall and have long arms and legs, everyone expects me to be good at basketball, but I can’t sink a basket. Or spike a volleyball. What I excel at isn’t played at school: Wii bowling. I sigh. Jessie is a great Wii bowler, too.
Mrs. Worsley releases my shoulders and faces the rest of the kids. “Grade seven, line up quickly and quietly.”
Renée’s hand shoots up but Mrs. Worsley ignores her. I can’t blame her. Renée’s hand is always up. And if the teacher even looks her way, Renée’s glittery glasses or hairband might blind her. Renée will keep waving her hand until Mrs. Worsley becomes hypnotized into answering her. And the teacher can never answer just one question. There’s always another question and another till it turns into this big back and forth discussion. Which is why nobody wants Mrs. Worsley to call on Renée. It always slows everything down.
“Should we take our things?” Renée yells out when Mrs. Worsley continues to ignore her.
This time Princess Einstein has a point. In about fifteen minutes the final dismissal bell will ring.
Mrs. Worsley shakes her head. “No talking! Hurry!” She shoos us with her hands toward the door.
Everyone lines up.
“Renée, Stephen, you two go ahead and hold the doors.”
She’s pairing us up again like she’s done from the beginning of school, as though she wants to keep us out of her hair. I understand giving Renée keep-busy work; otherwise, she’ll question Mrs. Worsley to death. But me?
Of course, whenever we have to partner up, there’s no Jessie, so Renée’s pretty much my only choice, anyway, and where I’m super tall and bad at sports, Renée is super short and bad.
As we lead the way down the hall, I search for flames and sniff for smoke. Nothing.
“Hurry, Stephen!”
I hustle to catch up to Renée at our class’s set of exit doors and slam my back into the remaining one to open and hold it in place.
“Nice job, Green Lantern,” Tyson says as he passes through.
“Wearing your ring?” his friend Bruno asks.
“Sure is,” Tyson says. “He put out the fire while we weren’t looking.”
Har de har har, I think.
The whole school pours out through three exits. Long streams of students spill over from the blacktop to the field. Finally, when no one seems to be left inside the school, Renée and I let the doors shut behind us.
“Crazy to have a drill at the end of the day,” Renée says. “Something has to be up.”
Mrs. Worsley gives us the glare.
“Shh! We’ll get a detention.” Talking during a drill is a big no-no at our school. Still, I’m glad Renée thinks the same way I do. We walk together to the end of our line. I feel like a gawky giant next to shorty glitter girl.
Teachers begin to count the kids in their lines and, one by one, hold up their clipboards to signal to the principal, Mrs. Watier, that everyone is accounted for.
Mrs. Watier is new to our school and young and hip compared to Mrs. Worsley. She drives a black convertible TZX and wears tall black boots with everything, even jeans. Mrs. Worsley drives a beige, boxy car and wears white sneakers with all her clothes, skirts and dresses included. No jeans, not ever. Today, our cool principal paces and studies the rows of students, eyes narrowed. All the clipboards go up. No students lost in this disaster.
No sirens wail, no fire trucks pull up. Maybe it’s just a drill, after all. Mrs. Watier talks to each teacher, and after she chats with ours, our regular end-of-the-day bell rings and Mrs. Worsley dismisses us.
“But I don’t have my agenda!” Renée protests.
“Never mind. Forget your homework for one night. Go straight home, please.”
I squint at the school doors. If it’s not a real fire, then why can’t we go back in?
Mrs. Worsley is the queen of the agenda. Everything we do in class — tests, runs for cures, videos we watch, all the stuff we’re supposed to do for homework, books or chapters to read, websites to browse, things we need to bring in, every gym or crazy hat or hair day, everything — she wants us to write it down and have our parents sign it so they know about it. “Never-minding” us about the agenda is a weird thing for her to do. I can’t believe this is just a drill. She would make us write that in the agenda. Something way more serious has to be happening.
“Stephen, did you hear me?”
“Yes, Mrs. W.”
“Then be on your way.”
I have another important job starting today, so leaving right on time without homework would be very convenient if it weren’t so suspicious. At the edge of the schoolyard, I turn to look back at the school and scan the building. I’m looking for a sign, a clue, something to let me know why Mrs. Worsley was so anxious to get rid of us.

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The Diamond Mistake Mystery
Excerpt

Day One, Mistake One

“But why wouldn’t you want to walk your reading buddy to school?” Renée Kobai turns to me, her head tilted, her hair held up in two pigtails by sparkly red bows that match her glasses. “She lives right next door.” Those pigtails flip over like puppy-dog ears that listen for my answer.

We’re on our early morning dog walk together, the one we do before school. Mrs. Bennett pays us to exercise her dogs, Ping and Pong. Well, she hires my dad’s company, Noble Dog Walking, and we work for Dad.

Renée squints at me. “Is it because she’s a girl? ’Cause my reading buddy is a boy and you don’t hear me complaining.”

“Yeah, well you don’t have to walk him. Anyway, it’s not because the teacher paired me with a girl. You’re a girl.” Although if I’m being honest, I’d rather have a boy for a reading buddy; maybe he wouldn’t constantly be begging for sparkly fairy unicorn picture books. Also, a friend who’s a boy would make sleepovers easier. “C’mon, Pearl is a kindergarten baby. They slow you down. They forget things. They have to go pee.” As we walk away from Renée’s house, I steer Pong, the rescue greyhound, away from people’s lawns.

“But it’s only for three days, right?”

“I hope so. Her sister Ruby’s on set as a background performer on Girl Power and Mrs. Lebel has to be there with her.”

“And her parents are paying you?”

“Yeah, so? It’s still a pain.”

Renée turns back to Ping, the Jack Russell she walks. “Ping, no! Stop!”

Ignoring Ping on Renée’s part was a tiny mistake. Everyone makes them. Dad tells me if we don’t ever do anything wrong, we’ll probably never get anything exciting right. So I try to take note of mine — and those of my friends and family. I can learn from those, too, after all.

Renée quickly tries to correct her little lapse of attention by tugging on Ping’s leash to get him away from Mr. Rupert’s wishing well. But it’s too late. His hind leg is up in the air and he’s watering it. All she succeeds in doing is getting Ping to bounce on his other three legs while still spraying. As a hyperactive Jack Russell, Ping loves to bounce.

The greyhound I’m walking turns his long, thin nose to gaze wistfully back at the wishing well. “No, Pong, don’t even think it.” The two dogs are a mismatched wagon team, both white with black spots, but Pong is tall, and Ping short. They love to play pee tag. “C’mon, guys, let’s run!”

Distraction works. Both Renée and I jog for a bit to get past Mr. Rupert’s house. He hates dogs going to the bathroom on his lawn, never mind that wishing well. Also, he recently adopted a huge cat named Bandit who attacks dogs and people. Bandit is nowhere to be seen today, nor is Mr. Rupert, so this mistake doesn’t need to count.

“Do you think walking your reading buddy will be more work than these guys?” Renée huffs and puffs as we slow down again.

“Probably.” I shrug my shoulders. “You know Pearl is a flight risk. She went to the bathroom in the middle of reading Dogman and never came back.”

“Oh yeah. Geez, I thought every kid liked Dogman. That half-dog, half-human thing is hilarious.”

“Comics, action, right? Plus, I think I’m a great reader.” We come to the end of a block and stop a moment to herd the dogs close, so we can cross safely over to the Bennetts’ house. “To top it off, she said she had visited with a pirate and his parrot.”

“So she has an imagination. She came back in,” Renée says.

“Yeah, but then she forgot to actually go to the bathroom and peed her pants.”

“She changed herself, though. Not like you had to clean up after her,” Renée says.

“I never got to finish Dogman. Little kids are a pain, I’m telling you.” Pong squats and I take out the last bag on the roll from my pocket, turn it inside out, and grab the long lump of warm poo he’s produced. Not my favourite part of the job. “Remind me to get another roll of bags,” I tell Renée. “I’m all out.”

“Okay.”

“And never mind Pearl, do you remember that time Mr. Lebel yelled at us? Because you looked at his Mustang?”

“Is Mr. Lebel Pearl’s dad? Wow. Okay, he is scary.”

“Scary and hairy. I think he’s really a yeti.” Not only does hair poke out of the top of his shirt, it also springs from his ears, his legs, his hands, and his nostrils, and while I think it’s a mistake to judge someone by his looks — my dad’s kind of furry, too — Mr. Lebel blamed us when paint streaks showed up on his car. Renée had just been bending down to check them out. He never apologized even after we caught the real criminal.

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The Great Mistake Mysteries 3-Book Bundle

The Great Mistake Mysteries 3-Book Bundle

The Best Mistake Mystery / The Artsy Mistake Mystery / The Snake Mistake Mystery
edition:eBook
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The Snake Mistake Mystery
Excerpt

Day One, Mistake One

The air feels too warm and heavy for October. The dogs don’t even want to walk this morning. It’s like they know something.
“What’s wrong with them, Stephen?” my friend Renée Kobai asks as she drags Ping out the door. He’s the small Jack Russell the Bennetts adopted from the pound, and usually, he sproings out of the house.
“Who cares. They’re coming, anyway.”
The Bennetts pay Noble Dog Walking, my dad’s service, to exercise the dogs for two hours most weekdays. Renée and I work for Dad; we even wear uniforms with the Noble paw print logo. Usually, we take the dogs out for an hour before school and another one after, but today is Saturday. First of a three-day weekend. PA day Monday, yay! Four bonus walks this weekend, morning and afternoon Saturday and Sunday, which means bonus money.
I pull Pong, the Bennetts’ long-legged rescue greyhound, out the door. He usually lopes, more often leading us all. But today Pong picks his way through the dry, brown grass, almost tippy-toe.
Ping, the bouncy Jack Russell, digs in with all his strength, mini donkey–style, the whites of his black eyes showing in slivers.
“Move it, Ping. I mean it!” Renée’s short, like Ping, and his match in stubbornness.
“Come on, boy,” I call softly, feeling a little sorry for him now. “You can’t win against Renée.”
Finally, his paws stutter forward and he scampers to catch up to Pong. We all head for Brant Hills Park.
The sky looks bruised on one side but sunny over the park. For a while, everything seems perfectly quiet; not even a leaf twitches. Except for Mr. Kowalski jogging beside the fence, all hunched over as usual. Kids call him the hundred-year-old jogger. Not me, though; Renée yelled at me when I did. Mr. K coached Renée’s brother, Attila, on his art portfolio and application to Mohawk College. His own paintings are amazing. We have one hanging in our guest room.
We walk along the path up toward the community centre. Maybe we can turn the dogs loose in the tennis court and let them chase a ball.
But then suddenly, the wind blows. Mr. K’s black cap flies off, spins in the air, lands, and cartwheels along the ground. It’s a Frisbee-sized hat, and the words across it spin — Pay the Artist, Pay the Artist, Pay the Artist — into a white blur. Ping makes a break to chase it. I don’t know if Renée lets the leash drop on purpose or not. But I drop Pong’s, too, and he flies toward the cap as well.
We run after them.
Ping snatches up the cap just as Pong catches up to him. Pong opens his long snout and latches on, too. As his teeth sink into it, there’s one frozen moment when I expect it to turn into a big snarl-fest. For sure, when I first started walking them, they would have scrapped over the cap. But today a strange thing happens. Together they carry it back our way. Mr. Kowalski jogs toward us.
“Storm’s coming in,” he says as the bruises close over the sky and the bright part shrinks. The wind bends the smaller trees backward till they look like their trunks will snap. Any rusty, leftover leaves get shaken to the ground and tossed around.
The dogs don’t seem to care about the weather anymore. The cap in their mouths becomes their purpose in life, just like art is to Mr. K. The cap comes within grabbing distance now. “Give it!” I command. Pong lets go. My fingers reach and almost touch the brim when Ping yanks it away. He bows to me, inviting me to play.
“Ping!” I snap my fingers. He freezes for an instant till I reach again, then he dodges.
“No, Ping. Give it.”
Ping shakes the cap like it’s a rodent he wants to kill.
I reach into my pocket for one of Dad’s homemade liver bites.
Ping spits out the cap and sits at attention. Pong joins him, one ear up.
Dad’s treats are magic. Dogs will do anything for them. I give each dog a little brown square and grab the leashes.
Meanwhile, Renée snatches up the cap, her nose scrunching in disgust. “Ew. Dog drool.” She hands the cap back to Mr. Kowalski.
“Thanks. It’s an important hat. Have to remind people, all the time.” Mr. K smiles at the wet cap, shakes it off, and jams it back on his head. He taps his brim in a salute. “Better head for cover.” Then he chugs off like a very slow train.
Renée and I look up at the sky. It hasn’t even been half an hour yet, but the dark side rumbles and throws a yellow pitchfork of lightning at the last tiny patch of brightness.
A few giant raindrops plop onto my hands. “Let’s get out of this,” I call to Renée as I begin to run.
“Too late!” Renée shouts as the drops patter more quickly.
“Hurry.” I keep motoring. The patter turns into a steady drum roll.
Although we run hard back through the park, we can’t escape the downpour and quickly go from moist to soggy to soaked. The dogs turn straight into swamp monsters.
Another rumble from the sky ends with such a loud crack that Renée drops the leash to cover her ears. Ping makes a break for it. Pong gallops after him, dragging me along. I drop my leash, too.
The dogs head for the shortcut between the park and the street. Where the path meets the street, the dogs know better than to cross the road. Smart — that keeps them safe. But it also means they turn left and charge toward my house instead of the Bennetts’. Renée catches up to me.
A few people have decorated for Halloween already but the dogs dash past the bloated straw zombies and assorted tombstones, not even giving them a leg lift. They get to my house way ahead of us. Renée and I are not champion marathon runners.
Lightning zigzags across the sky and another rumble ends with a crack.
“We’re not supposed to bring them in. Mom’s allergies, remember?” I tell Renée.
“I’m not going one step further,” Renée answers. Her sparkly red glasses could use windshield wipers. Her dark hair lies plastered to her scalp. Water drips from her nose. Her uniform clings wet to her, a shade darker than its usual pale khaki.
Ping grumbles and shifts on his paws. Then he jumps up and does a scratch, scratch at the door, ending his grumble in a high-pitched yowl. I unlock it and push it open.

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