For Ages
9 to 12

Carolina’s a runaway hiding out at Harmony Farm. Mr. Ray and Miss Latah treat Carolina as their own. For 10 years she lived easy with her parents in the North Carolina mountains. But it feels risky speaking about the accident that claimed them and her baby brother. And Carolina won’t reveal the year of living with Auntie Shen, her surrogate grandma who took ill and was taken away or how she, Carolina, had to live in foster homes. Then Russell, a troublemaker from the foster home Carolina ran away from, secretly comes to Harmony Farm. Believing he’s a friend, Carolina sneaks him food and takes the blame for his pranks, until one night, when something so terrible happens that Carolina runs away again.

Marilyn Taylor McDowell has been bringing children and books together for over 25 years as librarian, storyteller, teacher, and proprietor of a children’s bookshop. This is her first novel. She lives in North Chittenden, Vermont.

An Excerpt fromCarolina Harmony

Chapter 1  
JULY 14, 1964    
Carolina ran, a hot sharp pain stabbing at her side. The path stretched out before her. Tears threatened. She shoved them away, pressing on with fierce determination, sneakers pounding the dirt. Her breaths pulsed hard, fast. Arms pumped. A leg lifted.A leg pushed off. The stitch in her side tightened. She winced. Each gulp of air burned in her throat.   The farm path was well traveled, hollowed deep with ruts and potholes that still held last week's rain. Carolina skirted a length of tractor tracks filled with mud slick as grease and felt stickers tear across her legs as she sprinted through the weedsalongside the hickory trees. She cut through the pasture, frightening the sheep. They trotted away, bleating, but the sound was a distant echo in Carolina's ears, their cries drowned out by the thumping beats of her heart and each gasping breath. The sun scorchedher nose. Her cheeks throbbed from the heat. She had to squint to see the silo and the barn. Almost there, she told herself. Almost there.   She reached the back of the barn and squeezed through an opening at the base of gray ragged boards, falling into the mare's stall. It was black as night. Hurry! She pushed her arms in front of her and felt the wooden rails of the ladder.   Grasping the sides, she climbed ten rickety steps to the ground floor. Sunlight filtered in from an opening high in the hayloft, illuminating flecks of dust in its path. She brushed against hay bales stacked high, nearly to the roof. Scrambling over therusted tractor, she tripped and bumped against a line of shovels, rakes, and pitchforks. She heard them clattering onto the floorboards behind her as she burst back into the light of day. Black and red speckled hens squawked and scattered in the barnyard asher feet beat past them.   Her eyes darted from one place to the next--the garden, the porch, the henhouse. She caught the scent of freshly mown hay, so strong she could taste it. Across the yard towels hung on the clothesline, damp and limp as the humid air. She saw Miss Latah'sskirt moving behind a sheet, saw her reach down into the clothespin bag and reach up to pin the strap of Mr. Ray's long-legged overalls.   Carolina went to yell, but only a hoarse whisper came out.   She gulped in air. She forced a scream.   "Help!"   Miss Latah looked up. The overalls slumped to the side as Miss Latah rushed across the grass toward her.   "Carolina, what is it? What has happened?" asked Miss Latah.   "Mr. Ray . . ." Carolina choked out words between gasps. ". . . In the field . . . under the tractor . . . hurt real bad."   Miss Latah's forehead creased for a moment, fear written all over her face. Her eyes held Carolina's with a fierce intensity. Carolina thought they'd like to bore right through her. Miss Latah squared her shoulders.   "Come with me," she said.   Carolina willed her legs to run again and followed Miss Latah across the yard toward an old pickup truck with round green fenders.   Miss Latah cupped her hands at her mouth. "Lucas!" she called out.   Carolina slid onto the seat at the same time that Miss Latah leaned on the horn.   "Here he comes," said Carolina.   Lucas came into sight between rows of orchard trees. He sailed over the split-rail fence, his hand barely touching down on the post, and sprinted toward them in long even strides. Carolina pushed the door open as the tires rolled forward. Lucas leapedonto the running board and hurled himself up, crashing against Carolina as he hit the seat. The smell of his sweat filled the cab. His T-shirt was damp and stuck with bits of field grass.   Miss Latah pushed the gas pedal to the floor.   "Where's the fire?" Lucas asked. It was an expression he used when someone was suddenly in a big hurry.   Miss Latah didn't answer. She sped around the barn, the truck rattling and screeching. Carolina bounced up and bit her lip as the truck crashed into a rut and made a bang so loud it sounded as if the axle had broken in two. Then they tore down the path,alongside the pasture, down under the shade of hickory trees, and on toward the creek. The slatted boards of the bridge rumbled as they crossed. They were headed toward the back fields.   Carolina wondered how long it had taken her to run this same distance. She wondered how long it took a man to bleed to death. She dragged her arm across her forehead. Her sweat turned the red-clay soil on her arms into tiny beads like blood, and as shestared down at them, she recalled the events leading up to the accident.   They'd been having so much fun. Mr. Ray was telling stories with hilarious endings, contorting his face into the silliest expressions as he acted out one character after another. She'd gotten to laughing so hard she had to hold her belly. Even Mr. Raywas bent in two. All the while, he was teaching her how to drive the tractor.   Mr. Ray said it was not too late to turn this hillside into a field of cabbages, and then he went right into a story about a family of cabbage heads. That got Carolina laughing all over again. They made each other hungry talking about spicy cabbage relishand a crock full of sauerkraut. They agreed they would have a plentiful harvest come October. Mr. Ray said it was certain to be hard planting in this field, what with the rise and all, but you had to make the best of what you were given and appreciate the blessing.Carolina figured Mr. Ray to be the most thankful man she'd ever met.   He let her hold the steering wheel and then he showed her how to use the clutch. Her heart swelled with his praise--"You're a good learner. Aye, you're a natural." She drove at a slow and even speed, dragging the wooden stoneboat over the plowed field.After a while, Mr. Ray hopped down to the ground and let her drive all by herself.   Carolina felt on top of the world as she looked down from her perch on the tractor seat, holding that big steering wheel in her hands. Mr. Ray walked alongside in the furrows, picking up rocks in the overturned soil that were bigger than his fist and tossingthem up onto the stoneboat. She steered the tractor around a large boulder. Mr. Ray began working at dislodging it. As the distance between them grew, she heard him yell, "Drive the length of this row and then stop."   Carolina figured she'd show Mr. Ray what a good driver she was. She knew she could turn the tractor around. Why, it would be simple. Didn't he say she was a natural? She shifted gears and pressed her foot on the gas, heading up the rise. She heard Mr.Ray holler and she hollered back, "I can do it!" Then everything went wrong at once.   A jerk, a bang, the tractor rising, her hands leaving the steering wheel as if a force was pulling it away from her, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. Ray running as fast as he could.   She remembered how strange it was, how at the moment when she flew off the seat, it was as if she was floating in slow motion. First she saw sky, then mountain peaks, then trees and hill and field. She remembered the scream dying in her throat as she sawthe underside of the tractor, thinking she was about to be crushed. But before her back hit the dirt, she was caught in his arms, yanked away, just about thrown. She landed with a solid thump. It knocked the wind out of her. She lay still, as if she'd beenstruck deaf and dumb. She remembered staring up at the soil caked between the wide ridges of the tire and seeing a cloud floating in the blue sky above it. Finally, she rose onto her elbows, uncertain whether ten seconds or an hour had passed.   That was when she saw Mr. Ray.   His eyes were closed as if he was sleeping, as if he was . . . No, she wouldn't let herself think that.   She crawled across the dirt quick as a spider. She shook him gently. "Mr. Ray, Mr. Ray, wake up." He made not a sound. He lay still as a stone. "Mr. Ray, Mr. Ray, please wake up." She saw the blood seep through his skin, saw a slow trickle make its wayacross his forehead.   After that, all she remembered was running. Get help! Every other thought in her head moved out of the way.   Miss Latah downshifted, and as she did, the blue cotton fabric of her skirt brushed Carolina's leg. Miss Latah's jaw was set tight. The space between her knuckles was stretched tight on her brown hands as she gripped the steering wheel. Regret was wellingup in Carolina's heart and filling her throat like a lump of wet sand.   "There he is!" yelled Lucas.   Across the field, the tractor was turned on its side like an uprooted tree after a bad storm. The stoneboat had skidded deep into the plowed ground. Mr. Ray was leaning back against it. He was slouched like a rag doll, but still he was sitting up.   He's okay! Mr. Ray's not . ._.   Carolina pushed the word away.   She took a deep breath and let it out slow.   He's okay.   Her worst imaginings faded. She gulped the lump down but didn't dare try to talk. She had to squeeze her eyes shut to shove the tears away.   Mr. Ray's left arm hung limp and lifeless at his side, but he reached up with his good arm and gave them a tired wave. Then Mr. Ray went and smiled. Carolina thought the wheel of the tractor looked like a big fat halo hanging over his head.   Miss Latah slowed the truck to a crawl and stopped. Both doors opened at once as Miss Latah and Lucas jumped down from their seats and ran up the rise across the bare furrowed ground. Miss Latah kneeled before Mr. Ray, checking him over from head to toe.Lucas reached down and picked up his father's cap. He knocked the dirt off by hitting it against his leg and then took his place at his father's side, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Inside the cab it was hot as blazes, but Carolina was frozento the seat.   She saw Miss Latah look up and say something to Lucas that made him sprint back to the truck. Carolina looked through the window and saw Lucas grab a thin slab of hickory board out of the truck bed. She watched him run back to his mother and saw the wayMiss Latah placed Mr. Ray's arm on the board, using it as a splint.   Carolina figured Miss Latah could mend Mr. Ray as good as a nurse, maybe even a doctor, even though her learning had not come from any university. Miss Latah was Cherokee. The gift of healing had been passed down to her by her grandmother, who'd taughther how to cure all manner of sickness using herbs and roots. It was doctoring that knew what nature provided, and it seemed to Carolina like something magical. She'd heard about certain older folks who could draw a burn out of the skin or suck the whoopingcough out of a baby. Lots of mountain folks, all kinds, still believed.   Miss Latah reached behind her head. As she pulled away her scarf, her long black hair spilled across her shoulders like a shining silk shawl. Miss Latah used the yellow daisy-print scarf for a bandage, wrapping it securely around Mr. Ray's arm and theboard. When she was finished, she sat back on her heels and rested her hands in her lap. Miss Latah and Mr. Ray smiled at each other. It was that special smile that always made Carolina feel happy inside.   Miss Latah took the cap from Lucas. She placed it lopsided on Mr. Ray's head. Then she leaned forward and kissed him--right on the lips. Lucas stared down at his work boots. Carolina couldn't help grinning at his sudden bashfulness.   She climbed down from the cab when Miss Latah and Lucas were helping Mr. Ray to his feet, and as they were walking toward her, a memory of them filled her mind, as vivid as a picture.       Golden light streaming from the heavens and grasses bending in the breeze. An angel with black flowing hair was holding a basket and twirling around, filling her skirt with wind. Another angel had thrown a berry into the air and was catching it in his mouth. A third angel, wearing bib overalls, was playing the fiddle as if a spirit had hold of his hand.       Carolina smiled, remembering how she'd thought she was dreaming and how she'd thought she was seeing angels. Her heart got tender as she remembered the feel of Miss Latah's warm strong hand wrapped around her own and the comfort of somehow knowing shehad finally reached a safe place.   That had been two days after the Fourth of July. She'd awakened in their meadow as scratched-up and scared as a lost pup. Including today, she'd been hiding out on the farm for nine days. Carolina was holding a secret wish that she could stay.   "Carolina, go ahead and hop in the back," said Miss Latah, "Mr. Ray needs some elbow room."   Feeling sheepish and full of shame, Carolina raised her eyes to look at Mr. Ray. Darkened hairs stuck to his ear. A trail of dried blood stained his cheek. He caught her eye.   "Don't fret, child," he said. "I'll be good as new in two shakes of a lamb's tail."   He lost his balance then and leaned on Miss Latah for support.   "Guess I'm a bit light-headed," he said, pulling off his cap and running his hand over his straw-colored hair. A thick clot of blood matted a clump of hair to his scalp. Carolina saw the swollen bump on his forehead. It was already turning purple.   "Hop in the back now. Go ahead," Miss Latah chided her.   Carolina climbed up and over the back of the truck, stepped over some wood and fencing wire, and sat on a bale of hay. Lucas eased down next to her, draping an arm over the bale and stretching his long legs out in front of him.   "What happened?" he asked.   "We were clearing the field . . . going along fine . . . tried to turn the tractor around . . . the rise didn't seem so steep." She fumbled for words, thinking a puny "I'm sorry" wouldn't amount to a hill of beans. "It tipped right over," she said, shrugging,and then blurted out, "I ran back fast as I could."   "You ran all this way?" Lucas turned his head, his eyebrows lifted in disbelief.   Carolina nodded.   "Well, shoot. You're just one surprise after another."   She felt a strand of hair pull away from her lip as he tugged one of her long braids. Carolina forced a weak smile. She was relieved that he wasn't angry, that he didn't blame her. Lucas pulled a blade of grass from the bale, stuck it between his teeth,and sat back to enjoy the ride.