The GraciePress Newsletter

By J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Learned Dreams Have Risks and Rewards (Chapters 13 to 16)

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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie Learned Dreams Have Risks and Rewards (Chapters 13 to 16)
Happy weekend, everyone! In this edition of our newsletter, we are sharing the next 4 chapters of our current writing project, a novel for middle grade and older readers.
When we last left off, a wren who was hiding in the azaleas had been listening to Nate and Gracie. What he had heard prompted him to find The Robin.
In these chapters, you will learn a great deal more about the world of the songbirds and a new threat to Gracie and the garden she and Nate love so much. The new threat has a name that is too dreadful to speak without shivering — The Absence of Love.
Hopefully this will prompt readers to consider what that means for them personally and for the world as well.

After what had happened their first day in the backyard, Gracie no longer danced except for a quick leap or a turn on one leg when no one was looking. She never wanted to be laughed at again.
Although all chickens dance from time to time, chickens do not dance the way Gracie danced. It felt right and good for her to dance as she did, and Bessie had enjoyed it too. They had danced however their hearts led them.
Life has a way of sending the blessings we most need when we least expect them. Life’s next blessing for Gracie came in the form of a friendship.
While Nate was working on their new permanent outdoor home, The Robin hopped over to the play fence where Gracie had just sat down to rest in a shady spot under the camellias. Gracie’s eyes were tracing the lines made by the sunshine and shadows where the others were playing. She didn’t know The Robin was there.
Gracie imagined dancing along those twisty lines the way she had danced along the straight lines made by the shadows of the window mullions across the sunroom floor. Those fun days seemed like they had been so long ago, and they had been. They happened practically half of her whole young life ago.
“I saw you just then, when no one else was looking,” said The Robin.
Her voice startled Gracie to her feet. She had been lost in her dreams.
“You were doing a ballet leap before you sat down, weren’t you? I am certain that is what you were doing because I know a ballet leap when I see one.”
Gracie felt embarrassed, but her curiosity about this new word kept her from running away.
“Is that what it is called in Paris? Ballet?”
“Yes, I have seen the pictures on posters downtown, and I have heard the people reading the words aloud. It is called ballet, and you are a ballerina.”
Gracie was excited to share her dream with someone who understood and who did not laugh. She was even more excited to learn her special kind of dancing actually had a name. 
“I love to dance. I told the one who tends this garden, ‘PeeP! CheeP!’ And then I asked, ‘PeeP? CheeP?’ That was my Big Scary Thing. But I dared to ask anyway, and the answer was that I could do anything my heart dreams here.”
“Then why are you not dancing?” asked The Robin. “Is your heart no longer dreaming?”
A shadow troubled Gracie’s brow.
“Some of the others made fun of me,” she said. “If you teach me what you know, then maybe they would understand it is serious and not silly, and maybe, just maybe, they might not laugh at me.”
Gracie took a deep breath and asked the question building in her heart. “Last night I dreamed I was dancing along the streets of Paris with The Gardener. Only I don’t know enough to do that. And here you are today. Will you show me how to dance like the people in the posters?”
“I was waiting for you to ask that question. Songbirds love questions. Those pictures do not move, not even a little. They are like how we birds play The Frozen Statues Game when we see a cat who does not see us. But I will show you how to make the frozen statues. You will have to figure out how to move from one frozen statue to another. I do not know that part, but I will share all I know with you.”
The sunlight danced in The Robin’s eyes as if there was a secret waiting to be told. Then she added, “It is what we songbirds do.”
“I can figure out the joining up parts myself,” said Gracie. “I have dancing in my heart.”
“Then that will be the easy part, but you must also face The Bigger Scary Thing. That may not be so easy.”
“What is The Bigger Scary Thing?” asked Gracie hesitantly. “I thought there was only The Big Scary Thing. Once I was able to say I was a dancer and wanted to dance, then The Big Scary Thing became just The Gardener.”
“You must perform your ballet dancing for all the others. That is The Bigger Scary Thing. Then perhaps it will become something else as well—perhaps even The Ballet Troupe destined to travel to Paris.”
“I’m not certain I can.”
“Then maybe you are not really a ballerina,” said The Robin, and she turned as if to fly away.
“No, wait! I am. I know I am. I can do anything my heart dreams here. The Gardener told me so. I will simply have to take a leap of faith when the time comes.”
Gracie could hear the desperation in her own voice. But she could not help herself. She could not miss this opportunity.
“There is something I need to let you know before we make these promises,” said The Robin.
“All of us who are birds of any kind have something even greater to face—The Air Shadows.
“That is what we songbirds call them because they travel through the air like our songs, and like our songs, they are as weightless as a shadow. When they assemble together, they can open a gate for something more frightening than a shadow and with a name too dreadful to speak without shivering—The Absence of Love.”
Gracie and The Robin shivered.
“That is why we call it The Biggest Scary Thing. What could be worse than living your life without ever being loved?
“Air Shadows are drawn to anything beautiful and out of the ordinary. They are drawn to the extraordinary like wolves to a lost lamb.
“We have seen how Air Shadows can influence cats and other creatures with paws or even hands,” said The Robin. “If you ever see a songbird lying dead on the ground, it was likely the work of Air Shadows. 
“Songbirds must always be careful because our songs exist in the air, just as the Air Shadows. Our songs protect places we love like your garden home, but our songs also enrage the one who would turn all this to ashes and decay—The Absence Of Love.”
Again they both shivered.
“I must warn you. As a chicken who dances ballet, you would be extraordinary. That with a name too dreadful to speak wants either to take advantage of or to destroy the extraordinary.”
“What do these Air Shadows look like? If I know, then I can watch out for them.”
“No songbird I know has ever seen them, but some have heard them deep in the brambles and in holes under tree stumps nearby. That is how we know they are real.”
“Maybe this is a safe place and we should not worry here. Have they ever been heard in this garden?”
“Only once in all of this garden’s history. It was thirteen spring seasons ago when The Mother, as rare and beautiful as a white peacock, and The Man With The Shadow Face, as skilled at hunting along the river’s edge as a black heron, brought The Grandson here. But a mockingbird’s song chased the Air Shadows away. Since then a family of wrens has been watching over him.”
This was almost more than Gracie could comprehend — a hidden world that existed alongside the world she had hatched into but which she had never known existed.
“So if you want to,” The Robin said, “You can choose to continue your life exactly as it is, and you will likely go unnoticed.” 
“But that means never doing what I love most. I do not like that choice.”
“If you want, you can choose to dance beautifully, but the Air Shadows will notice you because chickens do not dance ballet. If enough of them assemble in one place, they will open a gate and let through that which has a name too dreadful to speak. Then your heart will begin to change. It will no longer be filled with extraordinary love, only ashes and decay.
“Afterwards, this garden, this wondrous place, would slowly change as well because you are a part of this garden.”
“I do not like that choice either.”
“Is dancing as important to you as you say it is?”
Gracie knew in her heart the only answer she could give.
“If I had never been afraid to dance because the others laughed at me, I would have never felt as if I was dying each new day. Dancing is my life. If I can not dance, then what is the purpose of my life? What more can the Air Shadows and The Absence Of Love do to me that hasn’t already been done to me?”
“Did you notice that you did not shiver when you said the name too dreadful to speak?” asked The Robin.
“And neither did you,” said Gracie. “But more important than any of that, I have made a promise to The Gardener about dancing. I have promised to remember my first stage was his shoe when I am one day dancing on the grandest stage in all of Paris. I must learn to dance as well as the ballerinas in Paris to keep that promise.
The Robin looked at her quizzically. “You feel this strongly about making a promise to keep a promise to someone with hands and without wings or feathers?”
“Perhaps keeping a promise with you will be the only way to keep my promise to The Gardener. A chicken is supposed to do all a chicken can do to keep a promise made in love. 
“The Gardener has never done anything to hurt me, and I can not do anything to hurt The Gardener. And so I will face the Bigger Scary Thing after you teach me all you know. And then, if The Biggest Scary Thing comes to this garden, I will defend it and all who love it. Those are my promises made in love to you.”
“There is nothing stronger than a promise made in love,” said The Robin. “So let’s get started.”
And that is exactly what they did.
To everyone else, it looked like a game called Follow The Leader that Gracie was playing with her new friend every day during outdoor play time. To Gracie, it was not a game at all.
Some of the others thought it was a little silly since they were doing many things birds don’t normally do. They would bend down on both of their knees. They would hold their wings up over their heads and jump. Not only that, but they would point their toes while flying through the air with one foot in the front and one foot in the back.
“Chickens don’t fly like that,” laughed Lefty. “No birds in the world fly like that.”
But he still studied everything they were doing when his own best friends were not looking. Once he even tried to play along with them, but when he couldn’t copy them, his young comb flushed with embarrassment.
“You two princesses are a joke, and so is your crazy jumping,” he said.
The Robin shooed him away. “This is serious,” she said. “And it has a name. It is called a grand jeté.”
“I will bet you don’t have a name,” he called back to her as he went off to play with the others.
“Do you have a name?” asked Gracie. “If not, it is fine with me, but I would like to know what to call you.”
“I do not have someone like The Gardener to give me a name,” she said, “Unless that is what people mean when they say, ‘Look at The Robin.’ Maybe that is my name. The Robin. But then again, they do say that to a lot of us, so it may not be my name at all.
“We can simply call each other Friend because that is just about the most special name anyone can be called. Now let’s get back to your ballet lesson, Friend Gracie.”
One day, not long afterwards, The Robin said, “You have learned every pose from every ballet poster I have ever seen. You have even learned the up-in-the-air poses. The other songbirds know of no others. It is time for our fun games of Follow The Leader to end.
“I have found a pigeon who likes to roost on the second floor window ledge of the ballet school downtown. She came and secretly watched us practicing. She told me your joining up movements from one frozen statue pose to another are almost exactly like what she has seen the people doing inside the school and are often better.”
Gracie beamed with gratitude.
“You know what all this means, don’t you, Friend?” said the Robin. “It means you will need to show everyone you are a dancer, a very special kind of dancer, a kind of dancer no chicken has ever been before—a ballerina.”
“I am not sure if I am ready.”
“If you are not ready now, then you will never be ready.”
The Robin paused as Gracie thought about what would happen if she never tried. Gracie knew she could not go backward. The only way was forward, just like with The Worm Olympics only with more to lose.
“You must take a leap of faith,” said The Robin.
Gracie nodded.
“And I think you should know something about the one named Lefty.
“I have been watching him from up in the magnolia tree where he cannot see me. While everyone else is busy scratching and pecking, he has been hiding behind the straw bales and practicing what he has seen us doing.
“He has even been jumping and leaping around with one foot in front and one foot in back, just like you. He has gotten very good at it too because his mind and his body are strong. He may never admit it, but I believe he enjoys dancing almost as much as you.”
“He always likes to be the first and the best,” said Gracie, and they giggled.
“He is more than what he lets his friends see—just like you. But listen, if you ever need anything, just let one of the wrens in this garden know. They will find me, and I will come to help or send other help to you.”
The next day, Gracie faced The Bigger Scary Thing right in the middle of their little playground. She was nervous at first. She had not even told Bessie what she was going to do.
The Robin was nowhere around, but a group of wrens had gathered in the wild rose brambles and had begun to sing. When their different voices blended into a single melody, it was the signal for Gracie to take her daring leap of faith.
“I have something to show everyone,” she said, “This is what is in my heart.”
She looked at each of them in turn, and she knew her love of dancing was stronger than her fear.
Slowly she began to dance to the music of the songbirds as if she was waking up from a mysterious enchantment. None of the other chickens said a word. They were all mesmerized by what they saw and how each movement Gracie made matched the music of the songbirds so perfectly.
Gracie was making visible what before had only been invisible. It was the purest of all art, the kind that connects one heart to another. On and on she danced as a gentle breeze made the iris blossoms sway in time to her steps.
Bessie began to flap her wings in excited applause. As the others realized it was possible for them to do more than simply dance like chickens had always danced before, they began to applaud Gracie as well. Even Lefty flapped his wings at this new revelation.
When Gracie began her flying leaps, Lefty joined her. For perhaps the first time in his life, he did not try to be better than someone else. He matched Gracie’s steps, and she matched his. Together, they made a perfect pair.
Then one after another, the others joined the two of them. For most, it would take practice, but even though they were not as graceful as Gracie or as athletic as Lefty, they felt the same joy in their hearts. That was what really mattered.
As soon as the dance was over, Mayflower hurried over to Gracie, and then the others followed after her.
“Please teach me how to do more of that kind of dancing. It is amazing, and you are a BröcK if there ever was one.”
The others huddled around and said the same thing, Even Lefty himself asked her to teach him everything that she knew, not just the parts he had seen and practiced in secret.
And so, The Bigger Scary Thing was scary no more while we, the songbirds who love the gardens of the world, began to wonder if Gracie might be the one we have been waiting for—The Key To The Living Library.
Something has happened with Gracie. Maybe sharing pictures of Paris was the right thing to do. She seems much happier now and she had begun to play that game of Follow The Leader with the other chickens. Mayflower and Lefty have become almost as good as Gracie. A robin no longer plays it with her, but a pigeon now does. 
While I was working in the garage on their new outdoor home, I saw three of the chickens and Gracie lined up and all doing the same hops and leaps and turns together. This did not surprise me. I have come to accept that this garden is special and to expect the unexpected, including a dance troupe of chickens.
When they finished their dance sequence I sat on the ground and called Gracie over to me. “Sweetie, I need to let you know that in two days, I will have your new home finished and my uncle will be here to help me move it out of the garage and into its new spot. He may be bringing some of the men from his shop to help. The more hands, the better. You need to make sure everyone understands no dancing whenever anyone visits here.”
She looked up at me and tilted her head to the side as if she did not understand. “BuH-HuB?” she asked.
“When I was young, my grandparents and I went to visit my uncle Eddie who has his own worm farm for the local fishermen.”
“Ÿawk-Bück?” she asked.
“Yes, he is a worm farmer, and his place is called Uncle Eddie’s Worm Farm, but as tasty as it sounds, that’s not the point. While we were there, we visited a traveling circus. Most of it was fun, but there was one thing that made me very sad—the side shows. In one of the booths, there was a chicken in a large glass box. People could put a quarter into a slot and that would ring a bell. When the chicken heard the bell, it went to a toy piano and played a song with its beak. Then a little door opened and the chicken got a tiny cup of food.”
“Hã-ŸÅ(h)-bwük!” said Gracie.
“Exactly right. As dark and as evil as could be. There was nothing good about it, and no chicken should have to do tricks to get food. If people didn’t want to pay to hear the chicken play the piano, then the chicken didn’t get anything to eat.”
“Nã-GüK-GüK? Nã-WüK-WüK?” asked Gracie.
“That’s right. No seeds or grain. No leafy green vegetables. I don’t want something like that to ever happen to you or any of the others. “Gracie, you have to believe me. When I saw that, I was ashamed to be a person. 
“Sometimes people want what they want more than to be kind. They see something extraordinary, and they want to take advantage of it or to destroy it. A chicken playing the piano is extraordinary, but chickens dancing ballet are even more extraordinary.”
She looked as if she was thinking over all of these things like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
“Mük-Mük?” she said hopefully.
I shook my head, and then she quickly hurried off to tell the others. 
Until Next Time…
These four chapters work towards creating a picture of Gracie as a protagonist or hero and The Absence of Love as an antagonist or villain. Hopefully it does not appear too contrived, but grows naturally from the events in the preceding chapters. In a way, these chapters are an exploration of the nature of good and evil.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this read through our current project. I appreciate any and all feedback because I want to make the best story possible for our readers and for my chickens!
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
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J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter brings you the latest news, stories, illustrations, special offers, and free gifts from Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia. They are the inspiration behind all of the books published under The GraciePress imprint.

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia