Author: © Claire Datnow
Series: Adventures of the Sizzling Six (Book 8)
Publication Date: July 2017
Social Media: Twitter, Amazon author page, Facebook, Goodreads, Pinterest, Eco-fiction, Enslow, YouTube, Instagram
Excerpt: Middle Grade 42,317 words
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus): Named for its distinctive, melodic call and charismatic nature makes it a favorite of birdwatchers. Unfortunately, it’s a rare find for birders. The Piping plover is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and has a worldwide population of about 8,000 birds. In the summer, the Piping plover breeds on Atlantic coast beaches, the Great Plains, Canadian prairies and in a small area of the Great Lakes. However, the major wintering ground of the plovers remains a puzzle.
Sophie Price stood on the misty hilltop overlooking the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, her brown hair streaming in the wind, the newspaper in her hand flapping like a wild bird struggling to go free. Through breaks in the swirling mist, she glimpsed the valley below flushed with the first green leaves of spring.
Sophie found it hard to believe the incredible chain of events had begun just a year ago with the arrival of exchange students from the Bahamas.
Turning her back to the wind, she stared at the photo on the front page of the Bahamas’ Dispatch. It captured her and Abbie with their arms around one another. They were gazing at small, sand-colored birds scuttling along the shore.
What an experience Abbie and I had! Sophie thought. In her head, she was back in the Bahamas, speeding through sparkling waters, the silver-gold early morning sky rising above them, Abbie grinning and turning her face away from the salt spray kicking over the sides of the skiff.
I never ever imagined we would become best friends all because of a mystery that’s puzzled scientists for years. She closed her eyes and felt the wind and mist swirling over her. Despite the cold, a warm, agreeable sensation flowed through her, a sensation much like the satisfaction that comes from finding the last piece of a complicated puzzle.
Chapter 1. Birds of a Feather
Sophie sniffed the air. A jolt of exhilaration fizzed through her like an ice-cold soda. Any trace of sleepiness from being woken up at the crack of dawn evaporated. Airports excited her. Even the peculiar smell of diesel fumes invading the airport signaled the start of a new adventure.
Sophie and her friends, a.k.a The Sizzling Six, from Stone Middle School’s Eco Brains Club, had come to welcome the exchange students arriving from the Bahamas.
An hour passed by. Another half hour dragged by.
“I’m tired of waiting. Who wants to go jogging on the moving sidewalk with me?” Rose said.
“You have to be crazy to—.” An announcement interrupted Sophie.
“May I have your attention please? Pegasus Airlines regrets Flight 179 from Nassau has been delayed due to bad weather. We will inform you of the new arrival time as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.”
“Wouldn’t you know it,” Mrs. Green, the science teacher sponsoring the student exchange, said.
“We’ve been planning this for months, and now the weather has gone bad on us,” Sophie’s mother said.
The girls let out a collective groan and slumped down on the airport seats.
“There’s no telling how long the delay will be, so why don’t we go get some breakfast?” Clara, the practical one, said.
“Good idea, Clara,” Dr. Amy said.
Clara and Grace stood up. The others didn’t budge.
“C’mon, cheer up,” Grace said. “Let’s go get something to eat.” When they didn’t respond, she launched into her infamous joke-telling routine. “What do cats eat for breakfast? Mice Krispies. What is a cheerleader’s favorite cereal? Cheerios. How did Reese eat her cereal? Witherspoon.”
“Okay, okay, Grace. We’ll join you for breakfast, if you promise to stop!” Rose playfully wagged a finger at her friend.
When the Bahamas’ students arrived, everyone cheered and waved banners saying: Welcome Emerald Cays Eco Club.
A tall, slender girl with a neon-green streak of hair tucked behind one ear and lively green eyes the color of sea glass stood in the middle of a group of teens. She stuck out like a giant beanstalk. The others all wore orange T-shirts with “Emerald Cays Middle School” printed in blue letters across the front; she wore a bright green shirt, which matched the streak in her raven-black wavy hair.
Wow, she really stands out from the crowd, Sophie thought. But why does she want to look so different?
Then she noticed the girl’s eyes darting around the crowded airport. Her thumbs were looped tightly around the straps of her backpack, and her hands were clenched into fists. Sophie understood. She would be just as nervous so far from home for the first time.
Sophie watched her mother rushing forward to welcome the students, but she hung back, observing the girl. The tall girl flashed a brilliant smile, and broke into a happy dance. Pumping her arms and swaying her hips, she drew all eyes to her.
Definitely a show off, Sophie thought. She remembered her mother saying, “The better you feel about yourself, the less you feel the need to show off.”
Maybe she’s showing off to hide her nervousness, Sophie told herself.
She walked over to greet the exchange students from Emerald Cays.
“Hi, I’m Sophie Price. Welcome to Mortaburg.” To be polite she extended her hand.
The girls shook hands in the usual way, and then to Sophie’s surprise, Abbie clasped her fingers, gave her a fist bump, snapped her fingers three times and twirled around. Grip, clasp, bump, snap, snap, snap, snap, twirl!
Sophie tried to follow Abbie’s moves, but ended up looking clumsy and feeling embarrassed. Is Abbie just nervous or is she showing off—again? Sophia asked herself.
“Introduce me to your friends.” Sophie steered Abbie toward the group.
As the Emerald Cays students greeted her, Sophie caught a fleeting first impression of each one.
Tay: Slim, tall, blue-eyed. Golden hair brushed back into a side ponytail. A mocking smile. One hand on her hip cocked gracefully to the side as if she were modeling a ball gown. Beauty Queen.
Mario: Thick black hair, curling at his neck. Warm cinnamon-brown eyes. Strong handshake. Reliable. Handsome Dude.
Sabrina: Braces, mousy brown hair, black-framed glasses. Silver pendant necklace with math symbol for Pi. Nervous smile. Nerd.
Julian: Muscular. Crew cut hair. Slouched over. Hand shoved into the pocket of his shorts. Chewing gum. Voice low and dangerously smooth. Macho man.
Sophie thought, They seem really cool and different. Maybe it’s because I’ve been friends with the same group of kids since kindergarten. I’ve got to find out more about them! Later she would learn how deceiving first impressions could be.
Before leaving the airport, the Emerald Cays students pulled the names of Mortaburg students out of a hat. By sheer serendipity, Abbie was assigned to stay with the Prices.
Sophie had an unsettling thought: Just my luck, I get the big show off!
After the exchange students had settled with the families hosting them, they all gathered at the Price’s house for supper. They had good ‘ole Southern favorites: fried chicken, BBQ ribs, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, corn bread, and pecan pie.
“Oh, man that was tasty! But maybe not as tasty as our Bahamian dishes.” Abbie grinned.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sophie saw Rose stick out her tongue at Abbie. Fortunately, Abbie didn’t see the rude gesture because Rose was standing behind her.
Dr. Amy tapped on the glass pitcher. “Mrs. Green and I will go over the schedule for the Youth Eco Conference you’ll be attending tomorrow.” She handed out copies. When they’d finished going over the plans for the next day, Dr. Amy said, “How about sharing stories about why you joined your school’s ecology club?”
“Good idea,” Mrs. Green agreed. “Now, I’m going to get a little shut eye.”
Dr. Amy said, “I’ve got some papers to grade.” She taught biology at the local community college. Before she exited the room, she advised the students.
“Remember you have chosen to come together because you all care about protecting birds—as the old saying goes ‘birds of a feather flock together.’”
After the women left, awkward silence followed with sideways glances, tied tongues, and squirming in chairs. Sophie noticed they were sitting close together, but they didn’t know how to reach out to one another. We’re supposed to be a team, but we don’t know how to work together—not yet.