Clara lee and the apple.., p.1
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       Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream, p.1

           Jenny Han
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Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream

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  Copyright Page

  In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  For my Grandpa, from your best girl—J.H.

  To Mom, Dad, and Susie Lee—J.K.

  When I woke up that morning and saw the red and gold leaves swirling around my backyard, I just knew it was gonna be my kind of day. We started collecting leaves early in the morning, and by afternoon, we had three very nice, fat piles. My best friend, Shayna; my little sister, Emmeline; and me, Clara Lee. Clara Lee is my name, first and last. All the kids at school call me Clara Lee and not just Clara. It just sounds better that way. Like peanut butter and jelly, like trick-or-treat, or fairy and princess, those words just go together. Just like me, Clara Lee.

  Later on, we would jump in our leaf piles, but first, we were playing a game I made up called Fall Royalty. Shayna is Queen, Emmeline is Prince, and I am the King of Fall.

  “Why do you always get to be king?” Emmeline complained. She loves to complain; it’s her favorite hobby. She is six. She’s small for her age. A runt, like Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web. I call her that when no one’s listening. It really makes her mad. She has chubby cheeks and round button eyes and everybody thinks she is just the cutest thing ever. But not me. I can see through her like plastic wrap.

  “It’s not fair,” she whined.

  “I’m the one who made up the game,” I reminded her. “If you don’t want to play, you can go and help Grandpa—”

  Emmeline pushed her bottom lip out a smidge but didn’t argue. She scooped another leaf off the ground and added it to her pile.

  I picked a brownish leaf out of the pile. “Not bright enough,” I declared, in my best King of Fall voice.

  Emmeline put her hands on her hips. “Just because you’re the king—,” she started to say. Then she looked over at Shayna. “Shayna, do you think it’s fair that Clara Lee gets to be king?”

  “I would rather be queen any day,” Shayna said, fixing her crown of leaves so it set just right on her head. “Why don’t you be princess instead of prince this time?”

  “Princesses are boring,” Emmeline said. And then she threw her handful of leaves in the air and danced around our pile. She bounced around like a kangaroo, shook her hips from side to side, and moved her arms like she was doing the backstroke.

  Shayna and I looked at each other and shrugged. And then we threw our leaves in the air too, and we danced like Emmeline danced.

  After all the dancing, it was time for me to make my toast to fall. I had already practiced it that morning when I brushed my teeth. “Ahem. Now the king will make a toast.” I paused dramatically. I lifted the jug of apple cider that my mom had brought out for us.

  “A toast? But we already had breakfast,” Emmeline whispered to Shayna.

  “A toast is a speech,” Shayna explained.

  “Then why didn’t she just say speech?”

  “Quiet, the both of you!” I boomed. Shayna glared at me, and I mouthed, Sorry. Then I cleared my throat. “Fall is a time of change. The seasons are changing. Soon it will be cold. But we will always, always remember the fall, because it is the best time of year. Amen.”

  Emmeline crossed her eyes at me. She learned that talent very recently, and now she does it every opportunity she gets, because she knows I can’t. Emmeline said, “I like summer the best.”

  “Do not disrespect fall,” I told her, taking a swig from the jug. Then I passed it to Shayna, who sipped it in her ladylike way. Then she passed it to Emmeline, who drank almost half of it.

  Our leaf piles were looking good, so I said, “Ready?”

  Shayna and Emmeline yelled, “Ready!”

  We all jumped into our piles at the same time. It was like jumping into a cloud of fall. Leaves floated in the air like snowflakes. We three couldn’t stop screaming, it was so fun.

  After a lot of jumping, we laid down on our leaf piles. It was getting dark. We would have to go inside soon. That was the only bad thing about fall. It got dark so darned quick.

  “Clara Lee?” Shayna’s leaf pile was in the middle, right in between Emmeline and me.


  “Apple Blossom Festival is coming up really soon. Are you going to try out for Little Miss Apple Pie?”

  “I don’t know. Haven’t even thought about it,” I lied.

  “That’s a lie, Clara Lee!” said Emmeline. “I saw you practicing your wave yesterday.”

  I told her, “You shouldn’t spy on people.”

  She was right though. I’d thought about it plenty.

  Apple Blossom Festival was right around the corner. It was always at the beginning of October. It kicks off the whole holiday season. We’ve got Apple Blossom Festival, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. We’re so lucky.

  I’d say Apple Blossom Festival is a pretty big deal in Bramley. There’s apple bobbing in the town square, and at the booths, they’ve got caramel apples and candy apples and just about every kind of apple you can think of. Plenty of Bramley Seedlings, which is what our town is named for.

  One of my favorite things is the apple dessert contest. Usually it’s good stuff, like Mrs. Kollmann’s German apple cake, and apple turnovers, and apple cider doughnuts. Last year, Mrs. Novak made an apple pie with a cheddar cheese whipped cream, and it made me nervous on apple pie. Grandpa liked it though. He even had seconds. I think he was the only person in the whole town who had seconds on that cheesy pie.

  There’s even a parade, with floats. Only Very Important People get to ride on the floats. Like Mr. Cooper who owns Cooper’s Drugstore, he has a float. The YMCA has a float. The mayor is on a float. The firemen too. But most important of all is Miss Apple Pie and Little Miss Apple Pie.

  Miss Apple Pie is pretty much a dream come true. Only when you’re a high school girl can you be Miss Apple Pie; the whole high school votes on who gets to be her. You wear a red sash and a tiara with little red apples on top. You wave, and you throw apple candy at the crowd. Everyone cheers for you. Little Miss Apple Pie gets to stand next to her and hold the bag of candy. She gets to wear a sash too, and a tiara that is less fancy but still beautiful.

  Last year, Trudie Turner from the fifth grade was Little Miss Apple Pie. Since I’m only in the third grade, I don’t know her, but she looked pretty good up there on the float. Her hair was curled and tied back with red ribbon. Miss Apple Pie was a high school girl with long blonde hair and she wore a red dress and red high heels. She looked like a girl in a commercial.

  If I won, I knew just what I’d wear. The dress Grandpa bought me in Korea last year. It’s Korean style, with a skirt the color of fruit punch and a white jacket with rainbow-striped sleeves and, best of all, a long bow. I’ve only ever worn it on New Year’s Day, and I felt like a Korean princess from long ago. Emmeline has one too, but hers is a navy jacket. I could almost picture it: me, in my Korean dress, on that float.

  The way you get chosen is this: You make a speech during a special assembly in front of the whole school. Even if you’re only a second grader, you have to compete against the fifth graders. It’s the rules. Last year, I was too scared to make a speech. Getting up in front of everybody and making a speech just isn’t my cup of cocoa. I wanted to win Little Miss Apple Pie so, so bad, but it was that darned speech that
held me back. I’m brave in other ways, like I always jump off the high dive at the pool, not the baby dive. I’m not scared to raise my hand and answer questions in class. In fact, I love it. But speaking up in class is not the same thing as making a speech in front of the whole school. It’s not the same at all.

  When it started to get not just a little but a lot dark, Grandpa called us in for dinner. “Clara-yah,” he called. “Emma-yah! Time for dinner.” In Korean, adding the “yah” when you’re talking to somebody is kind of like saying, Hey there, Clara. I know hardly any Korean, but I know about that.

  For dinner, we had chicken soup with lots of garlic and ginseng root. Mom made it. She served it up with her big silver ladle. “Eat up,” she said, and her glasses were foggy from the hot soup.

  Emmeline took one look at her bowl and said, “What’s this tree doing in my soup?”

  I could tell Daddy was trying not to smile. He has dimples that always peek out even when he tries to hide them. He said, “Em, it’s not a tree. It’s ginseng and it’s good for you. Tasty too!”

  “Ginseng is like medicine. Very powerful,” said Grandpa, picking up his bowl and drinking from it. “Keep the doctor away.”

  “It smells weird,” said Emmeline.

  “No, it doesn’t, you’ve had it before bunches of times,” I told her.

  “I have?”

  “Yeah, and you loved it.”

  “I did?”

  “Yeah,” I said.

  I’ll do anything to keep the doctor away, so I ate two bowls. Plus, it’s yummo. Emmeline only ate it after Daddy put in a bunch of hot sauce so her soup was bright red.

  After dinner, my mom quizzed me on my multiplication tables while Emmeline colored harvest fruits and vegetables on her worksheets. It looked fun. Way funner than math.

  When we were on the sixes, I said, “Why does Emmeline get to color while I have to do math?”

  “Coloring is her homework,” my mom said, looking over at Emmeline. “When you were little, your homework was coloring too, you know.”

  “I don’t think coloring should count as homework,” I said. Emmeline looked up at me and smiled a sneaky little smile. I ignored her. “Where’s Grandpa, anyway? We were going to read together.”

  My mom yawned. “He went to sleep early. He overdid it in the garden today. Now, six times seven.”

  “Forty-two. What do you mean, overdid it? Is Grandpa sick?”

  “No, buddy. He’s just getting older. When you get older, your body gets a little creaky, that’s all.”

  My mom calls me buddy when she’s loving me especially much. She calls me kid when she’s loving me not so much. Some days, I walk a fine line between buddy and kid. But that night, I was buddy.

  I snuggled in closer to her. In a little voice, I asked her, “Is Grandpa really old?”

  “No way, buddy,” said my mom. “He’s a tough guy. He’s gonna be with us for a long time.”

  “What do you consider a long time?” I asked her.

  “What do you consider a long time?” she asked me right back.

  I thought it over. “Six years,” I said. Six years was how old Emmeline was. She’d been getting on my nerves for six whole years. In my opinion, six years was a long time.

  “Well, then I think Grandpa is going to be here for a long, long time,” my mom told me. “Now, seven times eight.”

  I could tell my mom was telling the truth, the way her voice was steady and the way she looked me right in the eyes. I have a talent for lie detection. I am a lie detective.

  That night, I dreamed about the Mustache Man. I dream about him every once in a while, ever since I was little. We know each other well, but trust me when I say he’s no friend of mine. The Mustache Man is a cartoon man with a huge head and a huge mustache and he chases me around with a big can of bug spray. He is a truly frightening fellow.

  This time, Grandpa and I were walking to the barber shop, and then, suddenly, the Mustache Man was coming behind us in a chariot. “Clara Leeee,” he called. Grandpa and I held hands and tried to run, but because of Grandpa’s bad leg, we couldn’t run fast enough. The Mustache Man caught up with us. He sprayed his big can of magical bug spray in Grandpa’s face, and Grandpa started coughing and then he fell right over. I shook him and shook him, but he wouldn’t wake up. The Mustache Man’s magic was just too strong.

  When I woke up, I could still smell the bug spray. I was so scared I almost ran to my mom and dad’s room. But seeing as how I’m eight now, it didn’t seem right.

  Instead, I woke up my sister, Emmeline. Emmeline and I have a bunk bed. She is on top, I am on bottom.

  I called out, “Emmeline, are you awake?” knowing full well she wasn’t.

  She didn’t answer, so I said, in an even louder voice, “Emmeline, are you awake? Wake up! I just had the worst dream of my life!” And then I climbed up to her bunk and poked her in the back until she woke up. When she finally did, I told her all about my dream. About how the Mustache Man had a curly brown mustache and how he wore overalls and how he had pretzel breath. How he finally caught up with Grandpa and me and sprayed Grandpa with his poison.

  “In my dream, Grandpa didn’t look so good.” I didn’t want to scare her, but she had to know.

  She said, “Grandpa looks fine to me. And anyway, I like pretzels and I like scary dreams.”

  I said, “No you do not. Nobody likes scary dreams.”

  “I do. I like being scared. Scary movies are my favorite thing.”

  “You’re not even allowed to watch scary movies!” By that time, I wasn’t even scared anymore. I was annoyed because my sister can be very annoying.

  “That’s why I like scary dreams. They’re like a movie, but better, because I’m the star.”

  And then we played thumb war until we got sleepy again.

  Whenever I have an interesting, scary, or fabulous dream, I tell Grandpa about it the next morning. It’s because my grandpa is a dream genius. He knows what it all means; he can make sense of anything. That’s because he comes from Korea, where they know all about those kind of things.

  I am Korean American, which means I was born in America but my blood is Korean, so those secrets are inside me too. They’re just hidden real deep so I can’t always get to them. But Grandpa can, and he’s teaching me how. One day, I’ll be as good as him. Better, even. Grandpa says that because I am a girl I am more in touch with this kind of thing. He says that in Korea, women used to speak to gods and spirits, and people would pay them money to hear what they thought about things. They were called shamans, and everybody listened to them and gave them lots of respect. That sounds pretty good to me!

  I wanted to tell Grandpa about my Mustache Man dream, but I was worried I’d scare him. So I made up my mind not to say a word about it.

  Trust Emmeline to mess things up as usual. The next morning at breakfast, she said, “Aren’t you going to tell Grandpa about your dream, Clara Lee?”

  I glared at her. “Mind your own beeswax.”

  “But you always tell Grandpa about your dreams,” she said.

  “Clara, you had a dream last night?” Grandpa asked, sitting down next to me.

  Instead of answering him, I said, “Um. Will you braid my hair in the French way, Grandpa?”

  He said, “Shore, Clara. No problem.” And then, like he was a mind reader, he said, “So. Tell me about your dream.”

  I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to scare him. So instead, I said, “Did Daddy eat all the Rice Krispies, Grandpa?”

  “Yes. You can have Trix.” Grandpa passed me the cereal box. “Clara-yah, why you don’t tell me about your dream?”

  I bit my lip. “Because, Grandpa, it was too terrible.”

  “Terrible?” Grandpa perked up. “Tell me more.”

  I shook my head. “I can’t. It’s too terrible to repeat.”

  “Repeat? What you mean, repeat?”

  “It means to say again,” I explained.

  “Ohhh. Rep
eat! I know repeat. So repeat, Clara-yah. Tell me!”

  “Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” I said, pouring some cereal into my favorite bunny bowl. “You were in my dream, Grandpa.”

  “I was? Tell me more.”

  “In my dream, we were walking to the barber. You know, the one by church?”

  “Yeah yeah, I know the one,” he said.

  “Well, we were walking, and then… the Mustache Man came after us in a chariot—”

  “What is cherry-it?”

  Hmm. How to describe a chariot? I said, “You know those wagons that are pulled by horses? Like in Egypt, in the Bible?”

  “Ahh. Spell it, please.” Grandpa whipped out the little red notebook and pen he keeps in his shirt pocket. He likes to write down words he doesn’t know and look them up later with his special Korean dictionary.

  “C-H-A-R-I—” I hesitated. “E-T.”

  Grandpa jotted it down and said, “So? Keep on telling your dream.”

  I sighed. “So, we were walking to the barber, and the Mustache Man came after us in a chariot, and he caught up with us. And he took out his big can of bug spray and he sprayed you right in the face.…”

  “And?” He leaned forward eagerly.

  I whispered, “And then you fell asleep and you wouldn’t wake up.”

  Grandpa clapped his hands together. “That’s a good dream, Clara-yah! Don’t you know?”

  I couldn’t believe it. “No I don’t know!” I said. “What I do know is that it was so scary that when I woke up, I still felt scared. That is not what I call a good dream.”

  “Ah, Clara-yah, but death in a dream means change. Good change. It’s Good Luck.”

  I perked right up. “Really?” I asked him. “Really, really?”

  “Oh yeah,” he said, nodding knowingly. “You gonna have some Good Luck coming your way, you’ll see. Maybe Grandpa will buy a lottery ticket today. I gonna use my Clara’s birthday numbers.”

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