For Ages
8 to 12

Benny Ramírez can see dead people . . . Well, one dead person, anyway. A hilarious and heartwarming story about a boy who can suddenly see the ghost of his famous musician grandfather!

After moving cross-country into his late grandfather’s Miami mansion, Benny discovers that the ghost of his famous trumpet-playing abuelo, the great Ignacio Ramírez, is still there . . . and isn’t too thrilled about it. He’s been barred from the afterlife, and no one can see him except his grandson. But Benny’s got problems of his own. He’s enrolled in a performing arts school with his siblings, despite having no obvious talent.
    Luckily, Abuelo believes they can help each other. Abuelo has until New Year’s Eve to do some good in the world and thinks that teaching Benny how to play the trumpet and become a school celebrity might be the key to earning his wings. Having no better ideas, Benny finds himself taking Abuelo's advice—to disastrous and hilarious results.
    Benny and Abuelo will find that there’s more than one way to be great in this unforgettable, laugh-out-loud tale of family, music, and self-discovery.

An Excerpt fromBenny Ramírez and the Nearly Departed

Chapter One

If there was a worse way to wake up than crammed into the backseat of an SUV with your brother and sister at the end of a fourth straight day on the road, then I never wanted to experience it. One minute I was dreaming about accepting an award for . . . well, something. The next I was getting shoved rudely by my younger brother, Manny.

“Stay on your side, bro,” he said. “You drool when you sleep.”

“I do not,” I replied, wiping my chin off with my T-shirt.

He ignored me and went back to studying his Little Shop of Horrors script. Other people read books. Manny memorized scripts. For fun.

“I’ll be so glad when I’m not stuck with you two cavemen,” my sister, Cristina, said without glancing up from her phone. She had such an attitude ever since she turned thirteen, even though she was still only a year older than me.

“Benny, Cristina, basta,” my mother said. “We’re almost there.”

I peered out the window. When did we get off the inter­state? At some point while I slept, the billboards, mile markers, and rest stops had been replaced by palm trees, traffic lights, and pastel-­colored buildings.

I looked at the GPS up front. ETA: sixteen minutes! We really were almost at our new home.

Everything was going to be different. New house. New town. New school.

The GPS lady told us to turn left, and within a couple of blocks, the traffic and businesses gave way to massive trees that covered the road in a canopy so thick it felt like night underneath, though it was only late afternoon.

This . . . looked nothing like the pictures of Miami I’d seen online. Where were the pink-­and-­aqua buildings? Where were the high-­rise towers? Where was the beach? Instead, it seemed like we were driving into an urban jungle. The sidewalks wound around the gnarly tree trunks like they’d lost a turf war, and even the street had bumps where the roots had managed to lift the asphalt. Joggers and bicyclists dodged each other on the roller-­coaster pavements, and I peered past them at massive houses, wondering if the people who lived inside were all famous like Abuelo had been.

We’d never visited Abuelo at his home. The few times I’d seen him were awkward meals when his tours or television appearances brought him out to California. Somehow, I’d imagined he spent all his days on a sandy beach and all his nights in neon-­lit clubs dancing to rumba, merengue, and cha-­cha-­cha. Now I stared hungrily at the passing walkways, trying to mentally put him into the picture I was seeing, as though then I might know him better than I did when he was alive.

A few more turns brought us to a fancy black gate with gold-­colored musical notes set between iron bars. Papi pulled up to a keypad mounted on a stand and typed in the code Guillermo had sent last week. The gates swung open. Was this the entrance to his subdivision?

The street turned from asphalt to reddish brown bricks laid in a crisscross pattern. My eyes widened as I looked ahead. The driveway dead-­ended at a single enormous building with beige walls and a tiled roof the color of saffron. This wasn’t Abuelo’s neighborhood. This was his house.

Papi pulled in next to the single car in the driveway, an old green compact with rust spots on the hood and roof. Once the SUV rolled to a stop, Cristina pushed the door open and we hopped out. Somehow it was more real without a window separating me from this . . . mansion.

I bounced on my toes. “We’re gonna live here?”

Papi had told us the house had five bedrooms, so I expected it to be a little bigger than our three-­bedroom home in Los Angeles. You could fit at least three of our old house in here, though. Plus, it had an ocean view straight out of a swanky travel ad. My first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, and it was from the driveway of my new home!

I turned back toward Manny, who had staggered out behind me. “Check it out!”

He shrugged.

Cristina came around the other side. “It’s a bit extra, no?”

I stared at her. “What?”

Mami slammed her door and popped the trunk. “Vamos,” she said. “Ayuden.”

I followed Cristina and Manny to the back, where we each grabbed a piece of luggage. While Manny and I grunted with effort, Cristina swung her suitcase out of the trunk with ease. Her suitcase outweighed both of ours, but she was taller than us, and strong from all her dancing.

The sun touched the tops of the trees, and the light pouring out through the large windows of the house made it dazzle like a jewel. It resembled a Spanish castle, with round turrets flanking a tall door.

Papi stretched beside the SUV’s front grille, and then trudged up the driveway. “I swear, Ignacio’s house must be a half hour from the nearest grocery store.”

Since I could remember, Papi called his father by his first name. I tried to imagine calling my father Félix but could not even form the word in my mouth. It was too weird.

The door opened as we approached, and an older man I had not seen since Manny’s First Communion stepped out. My grandfather’s buddy, Guillermo.

“Bienvenidos,” he called.

“Hola, Guillermo,” my father replied.

My throat dried up as my family and I climbed the steps to the house. I’d been so preoccupied with the move, I’d hardly thought about the fact that my abuelo, my father’s father, had died just last month. In my defense, there hadn’t even been a funeral. According to Abuelo’s lawyer, he had left instructions for what should be done in the event of his death. Abuelo hadn’t seen the point in making funeral arrangements—­why plan a party he couldn’t attend? Instead, he’d skip the wake and the funeral and take his final bow at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn North Cemetery, where he would be buried alongside the likes of Fernando Bujones—­one of the greatest Cuban American ballet dancers that ever touched the stage. So that’s what happened after Abuelo died.

Before that, I’d met him only about three times in my life. I’m pretty sure even though my middle name was Ignacio, after him, he would not have been able to pick me out of a group photo. Papi hardly ever talked to him after Abuelo and Abuela divorced.

But for Guillermo, who’d known Abuelo since before I was born, this had to hurt more.

“Lo siento,” I said as he held the door open for me.

“Huh?” he asked. “Sorry for what?”

“Your loss. I know you were close to my grandfather.”

“Um,” he said. “Sure.”

Poor guy. He was so sad, he couldn’t talk about it.

Barely two steps into the foyer, I practically crashed into Manny, who stood gawking like we were in the Grand Canyon. Which, fair, the room was immense.

“Hello!” I called out, listening to my own voice bouncing back off the ceiling twenty feet above me.

“Oh wow!” said Manny. Then, in what I guess he thought was a deep voice, he added, “ ‘To be . . . or not to be—­that is the question!’ ”

“Niños, ¡ya!” Mami interjected. “¡Cállen—­”

Her voice fell off as the echo of her own words practically deafened us. “Oh my,” she conceded. “That is something!”

Cristina did a silent soft-­shoe in her sneakers on the marble floor. “I can’t wait to dig my old tap shoes out of storage! They would sound amazing here!” She finished with a flourish, grabbing the rail of the humongous staircase and dipping herself.

I followed the staircase up with my eyes. Hardwood steps with a purple carpet running down the center curved around marble columns to an open loft looking down on us. In the middle of the wall above the stairs hung a gigantic painting. I recognized Abuelo’s face, but this was a different Abuelo than the one I’d barely known. I was used to seeing the posed studio pictures of him that ended up on magazine covers, but this seemed like a candid moment. He was younger, around Papi’s age, and stood on a stage wearing an iridescent purple tuxedo decorated with a silver floral pattern. He held a trumpet against his lips, his cheeks puffed up and his face flushed. Behind him, contrasting sharply against a bright red curtain, were three other men in tuxedos—­plain black ones with white shirts, not purple like Abuelo’s. One man blew a saxophone, one plucked a guitar, and the third hammered on some kind of xylophone thing. In front of each musician was a lit music stand stamped with the letters IR. To Abuelo’s left was the curved end of a piano, hinting at even more musicians just out of view. All the men’s faces were blurry and indistinct. Only Abuelo was in sharp focus, leaning to his left and pointing the horn up like he was totally lost in the music.

Under the Cover