For Ages
8 to 12

For fans of Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers comes a story about mothers and daughters and magical trees that Rebecca Stead calls “an utter delight.”
All Molly wants is to be normal like her friend Ellen Palmer. Ellen, with her neat braids and a tidy house and a mother and father who are home for dinner every night. But Molly’s mom spends her mornings tramping through the woods, looking for ingredients for her potions. Their house is not neat, and their rooster, the Gentleman, runs wild in their yard. And it is the Gentleman that angers their grumpy neighbors, the Grimshaws. So Molly’s mom makes a potion that will grow a tree between their houses.
When Molly’s mom accidentally drinks the potion and turns into the tree, Molly is determined to get her back. But with the Grimshaws planning to cut down the tree branches that reach onto  their property, time is of the essence. With the help of her mysterious classmate Pim Wilder, Molly sets out to save her mother and discovers the wonder that lies in the ordinary.
Praise for Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars:
“Open-hearted and magical—an utter delight.” —Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me and Goodbye, Stranger
“A beautiful, magical story, full of surprises and brimming with wisdom.” —Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

An Excerpt fromMolly & Pim and the Millions of Stars




Chapter 1



A Prickly Day



When Molly woke up, she could tell it was one of those days. She sniffed to make sure. Then she sat up straight and called out in her most thunderous voice, “Hey, I’m awake.”


Just as she suspected, there was no answer. The house hardly creaked. The Gentleman didn’t even crow. On a day like this, when the morning was making white, shimmery patterns on her wall and the birds’ singing was sun-drenched and giddy, her mama would already be gone into the woods.


Molly was the only girl whose mama went into the woods, and Molly didn’t like it. She turned over in her bed and thought: I just won’t get up at all, today is a prickly day.


A day arrives with a certain feeling about it, and this one was a brimming and giving-forth day, a day when the wild herbs would be just right for collecting. The vibration in them was the best at dawn. Molly didn’t like to think about plants vibrating or emitting or sensing, as this was all part of the strangeness of things, and she objected strongly to strangeness and tried to pretend it wasn’t there.


Yet something had woken her; something had let her know today had arrived with its own prickly plans. She suspected it was vibrations. Terrible, secret, mysterious, and uninvited vibrations.


Molly blocked her ears with her hands and imagined that her mama was just like Ellen’s mother, who drove a nice clean car and gave Ellen muesli bars in plastic wrappers and let her watch whatever she liked on television. Molly flexed her toes to let them know she would soon be depending on them. Everything was bound to be in a contrary way this morning; even her toes might misbehave. At least, she comforted herself, at least while her mama was gone, she could eat crumpets from the packet, with blackberry jam. Molly liked things that came in packets. Packets were what Ellen’s mother had.


At this happy thought, Molly sat up again and called to Claudine the cat, but Claudine didn’t come. Claudine never came when she was called. Molly found her curled up like a croissant on the piano. Claudine was fat and black and glossy with white paws, one of which she glamorously extended beyond her nose. She glanced at Molly and appeared to be thinking lofty, superior thoughts about Molly in her mismatched pajamas: spotty on top and stripy on the bottom. Molly’s mama would say, “Claudine thinks we are slobs!” Claudine was not French, but it was as if she thought she was. It was as if she should have been fed tarte aux pommes (which is French for “apple tart”) all day long.


“Well,” said Molly, climbing onto the stool so she could stroke Claudine’s nice fat tummy, “no one really loves you, Claudine, anyway. We just tolerate you.” Then she spelled out the word, t-o-l-e-r-a-t-e, as if this might help Claudine understand. But Claudine, as usual, didn’t care about words or love. She only raised her head to look around the room for sunny spots, and then, finding none better than where she was, she closed her eyes again.


Molly spread butter and blackberry jam onto two crumpets and squished the jam into the holes so she could put even more on top. Balancing the plate on her hand above her head, she danced an Egyptian dance of the seven veils at Claudine. Claudine ignored the dancing, so Molly put down her plate and picked up her ukulele and sang “The Drunken Sailor” very loudly until Claudine stood up, arched her tail stiffly, and slunk out into the kitchen.


Molly went back to bed with her crumpets and ate them by herself. Once they were gone, she let herself feel sorry for Claudine. It was a shame that she didn’t appreciate Egyptian dances and nice old folk songs, or get to eat crumpets. Molly went and fetched Claudine and plonked her on the pillow so she could lick away the crumbs and blobs of dripped jam. This way her mama wouldn’t notice that she’d eaten crumpets in bed.


Claudine stood and licked in an elegant fashion. She was quite partial to blackberry jam. It must be what cats eat in Paris, thought Molly as she pulled on her boots. Then she marched outside to let out the Gentleman and the chickens and set off toward the woods to find her mama.


The woods were not far, just over a bridge and a little way up the dirt road. The deeper Molly went into the woods, the thicker and darker they became. The tops of the trees crowded the sky and let the light filter down and spread in patches on the ground. Molly was not scared of the woods with their moments of darkness--she had followed her mama in there lots of times.


The birds were noisy, and Molly felt sure that if she listened well enough, they would tell her where her mama was. But Molly also knew that if she kept stomping along, her mama would find her, as her mama was always quiet and watchful and listening, almost as if she was a creature herself.


Sure enough, it wasn’t long before her mama appeared, landing silently on the path. With her was Maude the dog, a black-and-white collie with slightly too-large, black, hairy ears and a freckled nose. Maude dropped a stick at Molly’s feet. Molly picked it up and threw it, and Maude dashed off after it. She was so easily pleased.


Molly’s mama smiled and pulled off her straw hat with the red ribbon. A patch of sun made her mad curly hair shine like a halo. Her legs and feet were bare except for her scuffed white sneakers, and she wore an old, faded sundress with a cardigan. She wound her hair up and stuck a wooden pin in it and bent down to kiss Molly’s cheek.


“Molly,” she sighed, “you’re not even dressed. You’re wearing pajamas.”


“And you’re not even at home,” declared Molly. “And I’m meant to be at school.”


Her mama smiled. She was not fussed about school. “Really? Is it already that time? I was distracted. Did Claudine show you the note I left? I made you a fruit salad.” She put down her basket of herbs, and Molly peered into it. Miner’s lettuce, purslane, rose hips, and saltbush berries.


There was a time when Molly had known a lot about herbs, but she had recently decided not to know anything about them at all.


“Claudine didn’t even say good morning. I had to make crumpets.”


Molly could tell her mama’s thoughts were elsewhere. She hardly seemed to register that Molly had eaten crumpets instead of fruit salad.


Molly tugged at her mama’s hand as they walked along the track. Her mama looked at her, with surprise. It always surprised her when Molly noticed things. In fact, most things surprised her: it was as if she never suspected anything would happen, but things always did. She pulled her cardigan close.


“It’s the neighbors,” her mama said with a shudder. “They’re complaining again.”


The neighbors were staunch, zipped-up, sneering people who glanced away when you went near them, but were always peering over fences and squinting into everyone else’s lives. They despised unruly back gardens with dogs or birds or noisy children, and they had appointed themselves the neighborhood watchdogs of all things overgrown, out of bounds, or against the rules. Their house was a grim brick house with a pebble-mix garden, in which sat a white turtle made of clay. There was a flagpole in the front, and on certain days they raised the nation’s flag. It made Molly feel mutinous every time she saw it.


Prudence Grimshaw had a long, narrow head and short, colorless hair, which rose upward and hovered above two stabbing eyes and a short line of lip. Ernest Grimshaw was rarely seen, though when you did see him, mostly all you noticed was a very prominent chin and an even more prominent stomach, which thrust him forward at a determined pace toward his large black car, whose doors he slammed with gusto.


On a day like today, complainers complained even more loudly. They complained all over the blue sky. Life’s quiet hum rattled them because they couldn’t hear it, but they sensed it in others, they sensed it in Molly’s mother, and they shouted it down. As far as Molly could tell, the only thing the Grimshaws liked was each other, and Molly found that endlessly perplexing, as they were the most unlikable people Molly had ever met.








Chapter 2



Ellen and Pim



“You were late again, Molly,” Ellen Palmer said at recess.


Molly didn’t like the way Ellen stated the obvious, but she was prepared to overlook it because Ellen Palmer was her best friend, her always-there, dependable best friend. Also, Ellen had an enviably normal life, and Molly believed that if she stayed close to Ellen Palmer’s normal life, it might rub off on her. Molly tried hard to hide all the not-quite-normal parts of her own life. Having a mama, for instance, who had no respect for the rules that others lived by and who appeared to be always muddled and dreaming and in the midst of many projects, which included poetry, fermentation, and animal rescue, and who went collecting wild herbs at dawn was something Molly thought best kept to herself.


Molly glanced at Ellen’s morning snack. It was in a packet. An apricot muesli bar. Molly had a pomegranate. She chewed resentfully at the dark pink pips. What she wanted most of all was not to stand out one bit.


Ellen had plaits and a mother who helped out at craft class and a father who could fix shelves and a brother with a football. And they all lived in a redbrick house with a dishwasher and a trampoline. Molly’s house might look like a normal house from the outside, but on the inside it was quite different. As soon as you walked in, instead of a pleasantly regular feeling, there was an airy, open space with not one proper corner or straight line. Scatterings of large, brightly patterned cushions, Persian carpets, billowy curtains, and low-lying beds covered in sequined rugs made the room feel like a Gypsy caravan. The walls were lined with shelves of books, bottles, candles, little statues, carvings, potted plants, and trinkets from faraway places. Molly’s older twin brothers had moved out of the house, first into an old caravan in the garden, and then they had gone farther, to faraway places with exciting names like Morocco, Madagascar, and, lately, Cuba. Most older brothers got normal jobs. Freya Mitchum’s older brother worked at the pie shop. But he was grumpy and had turned pudding-like in his body.


“I slept in,” Molly declared, and blew a pip out of her mouth toward the sandpit, only it didn’t make it that far. It landed quite near Ellen’s foot in its brand-new lime-green sandal. Ellen squished it with her toe.


“What’s that?” she said. “It looks weird.”


“Pomegranate,” said Molly.


Ellen showed no further interest in the pomegranate and twirled her lime-green sandal admiringly.


“The Egyptians buried their dead with pomegranates,” Molly elaborated. Sometimes Molly was disappointed by Ellen’s lack of interest in interesting things. She stood up quickly and pointed at Pim Wilder, who was the oddest boy in the school.


Pim was bent in a suspicious way over the school vegetable patch, as if he was talking to the silver beet. Pim Wilder was always worth watching. He was either up to something or getting in trouble for something. And if he was getting in trouble, he never showed any shame. Instead, a smile played across his eyes. Rules just seemed to limit him. It was as if he could hardly bring himself even to consider them, let alone obey them. But facts about the world sprang him to life. In class he offered up the strangest sorts of knowledge--about birds, planets, outer space, music. He once told them of the now-extinct elephant bird of Madagascar, which laid an egg that weighed as much as a small child. And a homing pigeon in World War II who lost an eye and a leg while carrying a message, then won a medal and had its leg replaced with a wooden one. He said that Earth is the only planet not named after a god, and that each winter about one septillion snow crystals drop from the sky.


“What’s a septillion, anyway?” sniggered Bruce Layne.


“A trillion trillions,” replied Pim.


Bruce Layne sniggered again, because he had to hide the fact that he didn’t know what a trillion was either.


Pim Wilder wasn’t talking to the vegetables. He had pulled off a seed head and was examining it in the palm of his hand.


Molly was secretly fascinated by Pim Wilder. He didn’t move with the pack. He wasn’t drawn by the cool talk and the latest fads. And this made him interesting, and a little intimidating too. Ellen was afraid of him. But Ellen was easily afraid. She would never walk in the woods on her own or rescue a spider from the bath. If Molly told Ellen about her mama’s herbs and potions, Ellen might even find this too strange and scary. Molly never told anyone about her mama’s potions. Already, everyone thought it was funny that her mama rode a yellow bike with two seats, one for Molly, and that when it rained, she fastened umbrellas to the handlebars. Pim Wilder would probably love her mama’s bike.


As if he heard her thinking, Pim turned toward them. Ellen clutched at Molly’s hand as he walked over, with his shoulders happily bunched upward. He was brimming with a secret joy.


“I’ll tell you something,” he said. “When you see the seeds of a plant, you see something that’s been there since the Roman times. The Romans had those same seeds growing. That’s historical. That’s like . . .” He trailed off and turned his face to the sky, as if he might see something there, something historical. But perhaps he saw something else, because, without even a beat or a nod, he walked away.


Ellen shook her head. “He’s strange.”


Molly nodded. Even though Ellen found a lot of things strange, it was important to agree. Because Molly liked Ellen. Because Ellen wasn’t a sniggerer, and she wasn’t a boaster either. Molly had been best friends with Ellen from the very start of school, when Ellen had wept because a frog got cut in half in the sandpit by Toby Nottingham’s spade. Ellen could sing like a canary, and often you could hear her coming because of the little song that floated ahead of her. Her world was like a nest, comfortable and safe and just her size. And Ellen was like a little bird, in fact. Molly did always like those little birds the best in her own garden. The littlest birds sang the nicest songs.


But Pim, with his outer-space dreams, was way too big to make sense to Ellen.


If Molly was going to be a part of Ellen Palmer’s world of songs and pop stars--that glorious, up-front world that trembled with starlike explosions in pink, in plastic, in homely razzle-dazzle--then it was important that no one knew she was curious about Pim Wilder.