Today we're excited to spotlight After The Worst Thing Happens by Audrey Vernick.
Read on for more about Audrey and her book, an excerpt, plus an giveaway!
Meet Audrey Vernick!
Audrey Vernick has written many pictures books, including First Grade Dropout, Brothers at Bat, and Bob, Not Bob, co-authored with Liz Garton Scanlon. She also writes middle grade fiction: Water Balloon and Screaming at the Ump, as well as Two Naomis and Naomis Too, co-authored with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Audrey received a 2019 fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Meet After The Worst Thing Happens!
Left reeling after her thoughtless mistake causes a terrible accident, 12-year-old Army Morand channels her grief to help someone in need.
Army Morand feels like her life has been blown to bits when the worst thing imaginable happens--her beloved dog dies. It was an accident, but it was also Army's fault. She can't seem to stop hiding from everything and everybody including her best friend JennaLouise.
But then Army sees Madison, the little girl who moved in across the way, climbing a tree and walking down the street unsupervised. Her family is not neglectful, just overwhelmed. Army finds herself overcome with the need to help Madison's family to make sure another worst thing doesn't happen--which becomes even more challenging when a big storm threatens her town.
~ Excerpt ~
When I was little and woke from a bad dream, I’d climb out of bed and walk through the dark hallway to my parents’ room. I would push the door open silently and stand there in the blackness, staring at where I knew my mother was sleeping. Before long, she’d wake up and get out of bed and lead me to my room. She’d listen while I told her about the monster or quicksand or swampy lake that had scared me until I fell back asleep.
I never knew how to explain why my mom would wake up just because I was standing there looking at her in the darkness. I guess I thought it was some kind of magic.
These days I’m the one who gets stared awake. By my dog, my perfect dog, Maybe.
He doesn’t make a sound. Doesn’t even move. But in the morning, Maybe stares me awake from his bed. I know now it’s not magic, but what is it? A link, a bond? It must be some invisible thread that connects us.
And as much as I love to sleep, especially under piles of blankets, I never mind being wakened by sweet Maybe. He is a fluffy little white mop of love, who wakes up, stays still, and stares. When I finally look his way, he starts stamping his front two paws with impatience until I swing my feet from bed to floor. Then he bursts from his bed to help me start the day, tail wagging with excitement. Once I reach for the leash, he has a helicopter tail going, full circles. Pure joy.
So even though I wasn’t born a morning person, I love our seven-thirty walks around the block. It’s Monday and early in October. Leaves have just started to fall from trees, but it doesn’t feel like autumn. This year, the warm weather is holding on for dear life and as a summer lover, I am completely in favor of this.
We cross to the other side of the street and I hear Mrs. Rooney calling my name.
“Army, sweetheart, can you come here for just a minute?” Maybe and I meet her on the patch of curb grass in front of her house. She bends down and pets Maybe.
I’ve been helping her and Mr. Rooney pack up their house into boxes. They have so much stuff. There is no way anyone on this earth has as much stuff as they do. “I wanted to give you these,” she says, placing a pair of soft red mittens in my hand. “Though it’s been so warm, it’s hard to imagine it’ll ever be cold in New Jersey again.”
Even before I helped Mrs. Rooney pack, she used to invite me over for tea and cookies and ask me to help ball her yarn. I’d sit facing her, the skein of wool stretched between my two hands, while she rolled it into a ball. Her grandkids live in Maine, where she’s moving now, and she knits for them all the time.
“I thought these were for Addie,” I say.
Mrs. Rooney shrugs in a guilty-looking way and says, “I lied.” And then she laughs.
She pulls me close to her and says, “You think of me when you wear those mittens and promise me you won’t feel bad when you lose one, because that’s the thing with mittens. You will lose one. Just keep the other as a memory of me. And our lovely afternoons together.”
Mrs. Rooney and I already said goodbye yesterday, so this is especially hard. A second goodbye. “Thank you,” I say. “I’ll miss you.”
“And I will miss you, Army. Thanks for being such a good neighbor.”
I might start crying but Maybe tugs on the leash and I really do need to get this walk done so I can get ready for school before the bus comes. We head around the corner to Mr. Hoffart’s house. The newspaper’s waiting, as it always is, at the top of his sloping driveway. I pick it up and fast-walk to his front door, where I leave it for him, next to the giant wire reindeer that has become an all-seasons decoration the last couple of years.
Mr. Hoffart’s kind of old and very wobbly and I’m almost sure he has won an award for walking more slowly than any other person on earth has ever walked. He was a slow walker before he broke his ankle on a patch of ice last winter, and it always makes me nervous to think of the slow walk he has to take all the way to the top of his driveway— which isn’t only uphill, but kind of bumpy with cracks too. And then— even worse— back down to his house. So Maybe and I bring his paper to his front door every morning.
He has no idea it’s me. I like being a secret part of his everyday life.
We head home, where I grab a breakfast bar from the pantry, thinking about doing all the usual stuff— shower, double-check backpack for homework, make lunch, avoid Maybe’s eyes. If it were up to Maybe, I would never leave the house without him. I would be homeschooled, homebound, home-everythinged.
This morning my parents, who have to meet with a subcontractor all the way out in Orangeboro, dropped my nine-year-old brother, Navy, at school early, because he needs extra help with math. So I’m home alone, which doesn’t happen often enough.
I get ready fast so I can do my favorite thing that I will never admit is my favorite thing because it’s something I started doing when I was six and perhaps not the most mature thing a girl twice that age should still be doing. When no one is around, Maybe and I play wild animal race in the hall. I get down on all fours and chase him and let him chase me and sometimes Maybe gets so excited he starts barking and can’t stop and that’s usually when I go grab one of his favorite treats from the orange tin next to the fridge to quiet him. It’s silly and ridiculous and one of the most fun things ever because I manage to not think about anything but being an animal. I wonder if that’s why my connection to Maybe is so strong— because I get down on all fours with him whenever I can.
And now he’s racing with his ropy ZippyPaws dog in his mouth, and he flies upstairs and he’s faster than me, which is ridiculous because how can a body so little move so fast? But I race him into my room and he stands at my bed, drops ZippyPaws dog, and barks.
“What?” I ask. Like he’s going to answer.
He waits for me to understand. I look on the bed. A mess, and a reminder to make it, so thank you, Maybe. What else? I look under the bed, which is so awful that if my mother ever looked there she might . . . I can’t even imagine, honestly.
But Maybe’s never wrong. He barks for a reason. Today’s reason: tennis ball, wedged into an old sneaker under my bed. It barely fits in his mouth, but he trots away and our game is over, no need for orange-tin treats. I get my stuff together and walk to the corner to wait for the school bus.
I watch Mr. and Mrs. Rooney taking pictures of each other in front of their house.
There are things I have to do and things I want and love to do. Today after school is unfortunately one of those have‑to‑do times. Whenever my parents are busy with work, I have to get off the middle school bus near Clay Coves Elementary school to pick up my brother, Navy, and bring him home. It’s not a perfect situation— my bus takes forever, so sometimes I’m a little late, but Navy doesn’t seem to mind waiting in the library.
I’m almost at the entrance when I see two men and three dogs walk into the school. Which is bizarre. My brain quickly thinks about and then rejects some police or bomb thing— those two men were not moving quickly, and there aren’t any cop cars in the lot.
But the oddness of this— the impossibility of it. Dogs! Walking into Clay Coves Elementary like they’re third graders or something.
I should turn left and go get Navy from the library, but I follow the dogs instead. I can’t help it.
They are hilarious from behind. One’s a golden retriever whose tail, with its long, plumy fur, wags very slowly back and forth.
The one in the middle is mostly white with big black spots. She has a boxy, muscly body that doesn’t look friendly, but the way she walks— on her toes, if she could do that— makes her seem like she’s trying out her ballerina skills.
And the one lagging behind is just a bundle of white fur, with these great legs that belong on a Muppet, a much bigger version of Maybe.
The men walk the dogs into the gym, where they are greeted by Navy’s Cub Scout pack leader, Rob. The gym is a buzzing room of energy, with Scouts racing and jumping and screaming like wild things.
Shoot! No one told me about a Scouts meeting today. Or did I forget? I find Navy in the crowd of boys but before I can even finish saying, “Why didn’t you tell me there was a meeting so I’d come later?” he’s whining, “Please? I’m sorry, I forgot! They added an extra one because it’s a special presentation. I need to stay.”
I probably wouldn’t be so nice if there weren’t three fantastic dogs in the gym. In the gym. I don’t have a choice anyway, so I say okay and he rejoins the wild-thing races.
The dogs follow the men to the front and without even being told, sit. It’s hard to believe how calm they are while dozens of boys race around, tagging one another, changing direction unexpectedly, sneakers squeaking, squeaks echoing. I wonder what Maybe would do— I have a feeling he’d be acting more like the Scouts than like the well-behaved dogs: running in circles, mouth open wide in a big panting grin.
“Army?” A girl’s voice? In the ripe-with-Boy-Scouts-smell elementary school gym? Oh God, no. Elsie Jenkins. That’s her all right, dressed completely in tan like she always is. I don’t know her well, just as the girl who never stops talking when she’s called on in Language Arts. For some unknown reason, my best friend JennaLouise and I always use both her first and last names.
“Why are you here?” I ask, before realizing how rude that sounds.
Navy zips by and sticks his index finger in, hard, above my waist, something he figured out long ago bugs me like crazy. I want to put my hand on the back of his head and give it a good push. “That’s my brother,” I say with all the joy you can imagine comes with such a statement.
Rob raises his hand to get the boys’ attention. “Scouts, eyes up front.”
There’s a big groan. Rob whistles. “Our guests are ready. I need you to sit quietly right here,” he says, pointing.
The boys aren’t quiet, but they do flop down in a sloppy-looking blob on the floor.
Elsie Jenkins keeps looking at me. I try not to squirm. “Which one’s your brother?” I ask.
“Huh?” she asks. “Oh. I don’t have brothers. Or sisters. I’m just babysitting Grayson— over there.” She points at the clump of boys.
“Oh, I know Grayson,” I say, because I do. And because it’s the only thing I can think of to say to Elsie Jenkins.
She walks to the chairs set up at the side of the gym. She looks back, maybe expecting me to follow, but I sit down on the floor where I am, behind the Scouts.
“We are from Service with a Wag and we train dogs to help people,” one of the men says. “My name is Bill Chaplain, and this is my head trainer, Fred Jarvison. We’re going to talk to you today about the work we do and the work our dogs do. Basically, we train service dogs to assist people who need help in their daily lives.”
As the man talks, the other shows all the things the dogs can do. These dogs! They are so well trained, doing everything they’re told without even pausing, and sometimes doing things just because they know. Like anytime Fred walks a dog, the minute he stops, the dog just sits. Automatically. Like a robot dog.
Then the men run through exercises where the dogs push a small wheelchair and press a button to turn a light off. They say some of their dogs can tell when people are about to have a seizure and then alert someone. How is that possible?
It’s so impressive even the Cub Scouts are quiet!
The men talk about how rewarding their work is. How not too many people think about training service dogs as a career, but it’s deeply satisfying to help people this way. That volunteers can help by serving as foster families, caring for puppies when they’re little— training and socializing them, taking them to all kinds of places to get them used to different settings. The more specialized skills, like the ones the dogs just performed for us, are taught by certified trainers once the puppies have been returned to Service with a Wag.
When the men and their dogs are done, the Scouts stand and cheer and then, of course, it’s a which-Cub-Scout-can-cheer-loudest contest. Before Navy has a chance to make a case for staying longer, and before I get stuck talking to Elsie Jenkins again, I grab my brother by the arm and lead him out of the building.
We talk about those dogs the whole walk home.
After The Worst Things Happen
By: Audrey Vernick
Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books
Release Date: July 7th, 2020
One winner will receive a copy of After The Worst Things Happen (Audrey Vernick) ~ (US Only)
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