Sirens! A scary sound, especially to Siria, whose brave pop is a firefighter. Siria loves everyone at Pop's city firehouse. She also loves to study the stars. Her mother named her after the brightest start in the winter sky.
When Siria hears sirens, she sneaks out to chase the trucks, to bring Pop and the other firefighters luck. She'd be in big trouble if she ever got caught. Good thing her best friend, Douglas, is always by her side.
As Christmas approaches, Siria suspects that someone in the neighborhood is setting fires. She has to find out who's doing it. When clues point to a surprising suspect, she realizes that solving this mystery will take all kinds of courage.
Patricia Reilly Giff, the author of many beloved and award-winning books, is at her best in this action-packed story. In Winter Sky, friends, family, and a very special dog help Siria see how brave she really is.
Nominated to the Arkansas Charlie May Simon Children’s Book Award
An Excerpt fromWinter Sky
A blast of sound: the clang of sirens, the rumble of fire engines. Siria heard it clearly, even from their seventh-floor apartment.
She ran her fingers over Mom’s star book, then tucked it under her pillow. Tonight was like the beginning of that coyote story: no moon, no stars, only flakes of snow rushing through the darkness.
She tiptoed across her room and opened the door an inch. Yes. Mimi, her sitter, was dozing on the pullout couch in the living room, her glasses still perched on her nose.
Siria grabbed her jacket off the desk chair and shrugged into it. She pushed up the window without a sound, bracing herself against the freezing air. The fire escape was slippery with ice. She imagined tumbling through the open stairs all the way down to the bottom floor. Dead as a doornail.
Toughen up, Siria.
She ducked outside and leaned over the edge. On the avenue below, a traffic light turned red, and a minivan screeched to a stop. The store windows were dim except for those at Trencher’s Market, where red and green Christmas lights flashed on and off. Beyond the avenue, the sledding hills rose like pale pillows.
The sirens grew louder as the engines turned the corner onto the avenue. The minivan screeched again as it veered out of the way.
Siria slid down the icy steps, holding hard to the railing. Down one flight, her friend Laila’s window, where she must be asleep by now. At the fifth floor, she stopped for a breath. Inside, Mr. and Mrs. Byars were watching the late-night news. A surprise. They were usually fighting.
On four, she angled around a pile of cracked flowerpots, then took a quick look into three, where Douglas lived. Douglas, with curly red hair he hated and kept hidden under a falling-apart baseball cap. Douglas, who loved working with his hands and said he’d build roads and houses one day. Douglas, her best friend since kindergarten.
She tapped on his dark window. “Hurry,” she whispered, and there he was, jacket on already, ratty blue baseball hat on backward.
He climbed out the window. “Yeow, freezing out here.”
“Let’s go,” she said.
They raced down the last flights to the snowy sidewalk. That afternoon they’d jammed their bikes in behind the apartment-house fence, and now, in a moment, they wheeled them out and brushed off the snow.
They followed the fire truck, bent over the handlebars, splashing slush against the wheels. The truck turned and Siria pedaled faster, right behind Douglas, almost careening into Jason, the Trencher’s Market delivery boy. He leaned against the store window with the teenage kid who followed him around like a shadow. Mike? Yes, that was his name. She could see the tattoo on the back of his neck, a dark M against his pale skin.
Siria’s bike skidded, but she righted herself and called “Sorry” over her shoulder. They hadn’t seen who she was. Lucky! If anyone knew what she was doing, she’d be in huge trouble.
Chasing Pop, a firefighter who rode high up on the ladder truck.
Following him to keep him safe. If only she could.
Look out for your pop, Siria. Had Mom said that long ago? Maybe it was a dream. She couldn’t remember Mom, who had died when she was little. She had only the star book to remind her.
Pop was her whole family. She could picture him bending over his ship models, showing them to Douglas, who spent hours watching and sanding. Pop, who’d painted her room Easter-egg purple because it was her favorite color, and spattered gold on the ceiling for stars. Pop, who loved to laugh. He’d never been hurt at a fire, but still, Siria worried.
Ahead of them, the fire truck pulled to a stop. Wheels grazed the curb; lights flashed red against the snow.
Pop climbed down and rushed up the path of the old linen factory, Izzy right behind him. Danny and Willie, almost like twins in their turnout gear, began to work with the hose at the fire hydrant.
Siria leaned against a telephone pole, staying back with Douglas, hidden. She couldn’t stop shivering. Snow had edged its way into the holes in last year’s leopard boots, and wind blew her hair into her face. Next to her, Douglas waved his hands, trying to warm them. “No time to grab my gloves,” he whispered.
She glanced around to see who else might be there: a few older people and four or five teenagers. One of them was Douglas’s cousin, Kim, whose hoop earrings dangled almost to her shoulders. Cool. Siria had earrings, too: tiny star studs that Pop had given her.
A stray dog stood on the corner. Siria had seen him around lately, sometimes even in her building’s basement. He was fierce-looking, with matted hair, trailing a chain behind him.
Upstairs, a roaring sound! Windows shattered; sheets of glass flew out and smashed onto the street. One of the firemen ducked even though he wore his helmet and mask. Greasy black smoke poured from the openings, and orange-red flames shot out from the jagged glass. Siria clenched her fists deep in her pockets.
Piece of cake, Siria. Pop said that after every fire, hugging her to him, his eyes bloodshot from smoke and his dark hair smelling of it.
Pop, tall and rubber-band skinny, was a hero with two or three medals for bravery thrown in his dresser drawer. One was for rescuing a woman trapped in her car. The firefighters had used a set of instruments they called the Jaws of Life: cutters and spreaders had pried the doors apart and Pop had set the woman free. He never talked about the medals, though, except to say, “Rescue is the heart of firefighting.”
He climbed the ladder now, while below, it took three others to hold the hose as water pumped through it, hitting the flames.
At last it was over. The fire sizzled and disappeared; smoke hung in ragged wisps. Siria could almost feel Pop’s arms around her, his face filthy with soot.
Piece of cake.
He jumped back on the truck with the others, although she couldn’t see Izzy, her favorite. The sirens were silent, but lights flashed as they pulled away.
People were leaving now, and Siria turned her bike to head for home with Douglas riding next to her, whistling, his red hair hidden under that backward cap.
She was glad she wasn’t alone on the empty streets as they pedaled past houses and old factories, past the lots with rusted pipes and engines, past the old shed that tilted against the trees.
In a few hours Pop would be home, bringing warm cinnamon-raisin bagels from the all-night diner. His voice would fill the whole apartment. Where’s my girl?
They’d sit at the table, sipping hot tea and buttering those crusty bagels. Pop would tell her about the fire while Siria leaned forward, listening, as if she didn’t know about the red-hot flames, the smoke, and Pop on the ladder.
Now she looked toward their seven-story apartment house, its red bricks soft in the darkness, the bushes in front covered with snow. Home. Almost there.
It began to sleet; sharp bits of ice stung their faces.
She yelled to Douglas, “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Love fires,” he called back, grinning.
Siria couldn’t wait to get home to snuggle under her quilt. Then she remembered that she’d left her window open. Her bedroom would be as cold as it was outside.
A coyote night.
Head tilted, the mother stood on her balcony, watching the constellations.
The midnight blue above reminded her of her new daughter’s eyes. And one star stood out among the rest; it glowed with white light, the brightest in the winter sky.
Men had been looking at that star for thousands of years. It gleamed as a perfect blue-white diamond in the collar of Canis Major, the Great Dog.
Its rising in Egypt marked the annual flooding of the Nile River.
Its appearance in the Greek sky announced the hot days of summer: the dog days.
Here, where the mother lived, only a glimpse of it could be caught in August. But in January it shone in the sky, huge and glowing, the month of her baby’s birth.
The star was called Sirius.
“That’s what we named our daughter,” the mother said. “Siria, for the brightest star.”
It was late Friday afternoon, almost dark. Siria huddled on the fire escape with Laila from the sixth floor, her purple wool scarf pulled over her chin. They leaned against the brick wall, Laila’s WIPE YOUR FEET mat pulled over their heads like a roof.
“What luck!” Laila said. “All this snow. No school until after the holidays.”
Siria nodded. She didn’t mind school the way Douglas did. He liked to be moving around, building things. And learning was hard for Laila in her special class down the hall. But during the holidays, Siria missed art and math, and her friends: Patti, who played the guitar, and Jilli, who drew wonderful pictures.
Too bad they all lived in different directions. Siria wouldn’t see them until after New Year’s. Sometimes they texted, but they usually forgot during the holidays.
Siria looked up at the gray sky now. “My twelfth birthday on New Year’s Day!”
Laila nodded slowly. She took time to think about what people said; she took even longer to answer.
Siria grinned. Laila looked a little like an owl, with her glasses sliding down her nose and her mouth popped open to catch a snowflake.
“We’ll see Canis Major, and Sirius, my star.” Siria peered through the narrow spaces in the rusty fire escape. Blocks away were the white sledding hills and the creek that wound its way around them, a thin thread of water that had iced over.
Last summer, she and Douglas had spent days leaning against the picnic house, the creek in front of them with its overhanging branches. Tiny silver fish darted along the edge, and turtles the size of dinner plates sunned themselves on the rocks.
They’d built a sloppy wooden raft even though their feet touched the bottom. They’d stuck their heads in a pipe that hung out over the water, almost hidden in the long, reedy weeds. “Hello in there!” they’d called, their voices echoing back at them.
And they’d fished! Weeks of fishing, but there probably hadn’t been anything big enough to catch since Pop was a boy.
Now, Jason, the delivery boy, and Mike, who followed him around, slid along on the frozen creek. They’d better hope the ice was solid.
“I know what you want for your birthday,” Laila said. “A huge family, like Douglas’s. That’s what I want, too.”
Siria nodded. Douglas, with his four brothers and a mom who made gallons of steaming cocoa on cold days for all the kids in the building.
“That family on TV,” Laila added dreamily. “A mother, a father, a couple of kids, and even a horse.”
And today was the beginning. A knife lay on the fire escape between them—not sharp, but it would have to do.
“Aunts. Uncles. Cousins,” Laila said.
“You and I can join up to make a family,” Siria said. “You have the mother, I have the father. We’ll be the start of the kids. Douglas can be the brother. Too bad about the horse, though. It would never fit in the elevator.”
Laila smiled. “I always wanted a horse.”
Siria glanced up at the sky. “I’ve always wanted a dog. I’d carry her in my backpack. You’d never feel alone if you had a pet like that.” She picked up the butter knife and slashed at her index finger. Not hard enough; no blood, not even a mark. She raised the knife again and plunged. . . .
She’d stabbed the edge of her boot. That didn’t dent, either. “Wait.” She pulled off her Christmas-tree pin. “We’ll just use this.”
“Right above my alley,” Laila said.
“Up my alley,” Siria said absently. They kept poking their thumbs but couldn’t dredge up a bit of red. They stuck their hands together anyway. “Blood sisters,” Siria said.
Just then, the noises began. They grinned at each other. The Byars in 5‑D were fighting again. Plates would fly like Frisbees, glasses shattering.
It was as good as watching TV.
They raced down the fire escape, holding the ice-covered railing. Too bad Almo the super hadn’t bothered with de-icer. How would Mrs. Gold, the old lady in 2‑C, escape in an emergency?
Now came the tricky part.
On the fifth-floor landing, Siria slid onto the railing. With Laila holding her feet, she balanced herself on her stomach. It was very uncomfortable, but a prime way to watch Mr. and Mrs. Byars.
Mrs. Byars was gorgeous, with blond hair to her waist and bulging arm muscles; she was six feet tall, at least. And Siria wanted to be just like her.
Wait. She saw something interesting in 5‑E next door. Siria wiggled out a little farther.
“Careful,” Laila warned her.
Siria felt herself falling. “Help!” she yelled, and scrambled back.
A plate smashed, just missing the window and Mr. Byars. He ducked out of the way and peered outside. “It’s those kids again!” he yelled to Mrs. Byars, forgetting she was trying to kill him.
Laila dragged Siria off the railing, and they raced back up to the sixth floor, sliding on the icy steps.
Siria sank down. “You will not believe what I just saw.” She stopped for a breath. “The Wilsons must be moving out of Five‑E. Most of the furniture is gone. But . . .”
She stopped, shook her head.
“That stray dog is in there, big as a wolf. He stared out the window at me, trying to scrabble outside. Whew. That would have been the end of me.”
Laila poked at her glasses. “You’re safe now. We just have to hope Mr. Byars doesn’t tell our parents. My mother will have a heart attack if she knows I’m out here.”
Siria pointed. “And your mother’s coming up the avenue right now.”
“See you.” Laila ducked inside her window.
Siria made her way up one flight to her apartment. The day was really cold and getting windy.
She took a last look at the avenue. Far down, where the empty lots began, she could see the old shed Pop had helped build years ago. “This was a clubhouse when I was a teenager,” he’d said, laughing. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We all had splinters. The walls were crooked. I can’t believe it’s still standing.”
Siria looked closer. Was it on fire?
Siria watched for a moment. Should she climb inside and call in the fire? Pop was in bed, off today, safe, but she wasn’t sure it was a fire anyway. She saw smoke, but the shed was soaked with snow. How could it burn?
Besides, it was time for dinner. While Pop slept, Danny was cooking at the firehouse tonight.
She leaned against the railing. Even the smoke might be her imagination.
Still, Izzy’s voice was in her head: Small fires become big fires, become dangerous.