by Kiley Orchard (@KileyOrchard)
Editor: Jay Whistler (@JayWhistler)
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Eleven-year-old Rae loves treasure hunts. Still, nothing could have prepared her for the biggest treasure hunt of her life: to unearth whatever her beloved grandfather and caregiver Daddy Grand hid in the Alabama sand right before he died.
Five weeks after his death, Rae is supposed to be adjusting to her new home in Michigan. But that’s impossible when she discovers the most promising clue of all: the legend of Desiderata. According to myth, the Great Lakes island is home to people’s hearts’ desires. Hopeful that Daddy Grand’s treasure is there—and convinced it is instructions for how to live without him—Rae enlists the help of quirky friend Bern and his dearest dog Clementine to put her treasure-hunting skills to the test.
The problem: no one knows if the island truly exists. Lore contradicts logic. Maps are drawn and disproved. Then, just as Rae is about to lose hope, Clementine runs away—and it’s all Rae’s fault. With the help of an ancient text, a peculiar fudge shop owner, and a boat that holds more water than hope, Rae sets sail to find the island. But she soon comes to a startling realization: the way to Desiderata is through a single desire of the heart, and Clementine has wiggled into hers. If she has any hope of finding the island, she must choose between the dog or Daddy Grand’s message. Otherwise, she’ll lose them both.
FINDING DESIDERATA is a 41,000-word contemporary middle-grade novel with a hint of magic. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed the found family of THE LONELY HEART OF MAYBELLE LANE and the emotional suspense of MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY.
I am a Youth Services Librarian, freelance education writer, and active member of SCBWI. In addition to being a 2021 #RevPit winner for this manuscript, I also earned a spot in Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie’s 2019 Writing With the Stars picture book mentorship contest.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
Daddy Grand taught me a lot of things, but how to find a Petoskey stone was not one of them.
I scan the water’s edge, where Ginny said I should focus my search. The shores of Lake Michigan, at least the ones near Harborville, are nothing like the shores back home. Alabama beaches are wide, flat, and white, with sand that smushes between your toes and little crabs that burrow way down deep before you can catch them. I hear Michigan has shores like that too, but so far, I’ve only seen the kind within biking distance of Ginny’s—narrow and rocky, sand the color of cardboard.
“Petoskey stones are gray, brown, or a combination of both,” Ginny told me this morning. She sprinkled parsley onto my plate, spoiling the perfectly good eggs with her thick, green flakes. “It’s the pattern that makes them unique. Covered in hexagons, like a beehive. Finding one is like finding a treasure, and you love treasure-hunting! It’s all you wanted to do in Broiler Beach.”
I was itching to say, “Yeah, and you wouldn’t let me,” but I held my tongue. Because while Daddy Grand may not have taught me how to find Petoskey stones, he did teach me to respect my elders.
I lift my eyes from the shore and find the distant line where water meets sky. Lake Michigan looks far more like an ocean than a lake. But right now, it’s too calm, too quiet. Like it’s trying to lull me with its glassy surface, to get me to concentrate so hard on finding that one rock—that one “special” Petoskey stone—that I’ll walk farther and farther out until I’m so far in that my feet don’t touch and the lake swallows me up whole. Poof! Gone.
Quick as the heart attack that took Daddy Grand.
Heat rises inside me, and I wipe my tears with my sleeve and turn my back to the lake. Searching for rocks is as about as close to treasure-hunting as eating parsley-peppered eggs.
And I don’t have time for either.
You can’t control the waves, Rae.
I was no bigger than a minnow when he said it. Four, maybe? Five? All I know is I was barely tall enough to lift a pail without dragging it along the beach, a sandy groove in my wake. A wave had just knocked me over sideways. But instead of wrapping me in a towel and rocking me to sleep in the sun the way I’d seen other parents do, Daddy Grand planted my feet right back in the sand. He tapped my knees to bend them; poked me in the belly so I’d tighten my abs. Then he showed me how to time the waves—when to turn, when to duck, when to dive headfirst and come up on the other side, gasping for air… but steady.
He taught me how to feel safe.
Now, I sit cross-legged in Ginny’s attic and stare at the boxes in front of me, the bright yellow labels much too cheery for their contents.
I let out a loud sigh before remembering to be quiet. Ginny still thinks I’m out looking for those stupid stones.
I scooch toward the center of the attic—a small, steep triangle of a room—so my head doesn’t bump against the ceiling. Ginny’s entire house is like this, all sharp corners and pointy edges. Combined with the fancy white trim outside, it’s basically a light blue, real-life gingerbread house, the type of home on the front cover of one of those magazines in doctors’ office waiting rooms, the kind they keep well-stocked so parents forget their kids are sick. Adults are easily distracted.
I pull a box labeled Treasure Hunt Prizes toward me (to check it again for the millionth time) but fall back with a loud thump.
“Rae? Is that you?” Ginny’s voice floats up the stairs. “How did you sneak by me, baby girl? Come on down here! I’m making cookies.”
“Be there in a sec!” I ease a paper from where I’ve stashed it between two floorboards. Floorboards are great places to hide things. Daddy Grand and I used to watch this show Floorboard Finds where families discovered all sorts of treasures hidden in their attics—boxes of cash, priceless jewels. Daddy Grand said if he ever found something like that, he’d buy us a sailboat so we could go on a grand adventure. But I had something less seafaring in mind: two front-row tickets to a Broadway musical. Sloths Go Sailing, in particular. I prefer my nautical adventures with my feet firmly on land.
The paper in my hand is square, folded into fourths. In big, scraggly letters, Daddy Grand’s words pop off the page, clear as the morning he gave it to me.
It’s a life-changing hunt And this might be cruel… But you’ll need to be patient We’ll start after school!
If I’d known we’d never have the chance, I would have demanded we start the hunt right then. “Rae, are you coming down?”
I refold the paper and tuck it back between the floorboards. Looks like I’m done investigating for the day.
Ginny wipes her hands on her apron when I enter the kitchen, then hugs me. “When did you get back? You were hardly gone! Did you find anything?”
“No Plotskey stones.” I wince as soon as I purposely mispronounce the word. I don’t know why I’ve been doing things like this. But ever since Daddy Grand died, it seems I say things to get people’s goats for what feels like no reason at all.
Still, I don’t apologize. I let the word sit heavy in the air and dip my finger in the batter. Peanut butter. Yum.
“Petoskey,” Ginny corrects. And even though I’m pretty sure she knows I mispronounced the word on purpose, she doesn’t say anything. She simply moves the batter out of reach. A real stickler about salmonella, that Ginny. “Did you find anything else interesting?”
“Wasn’t looking for anything else interesting.” I hoist myself onto the counter and swing my legs back and forth, stopping right before my heels bang full force into the cabinets. “You told me to find Petoskey stones.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t discover something else along the way.” She starts spooning the mixture onto a cookie sheet. “Charlevoix stones are also pretty neat. Remind me to show you a picture of those sometime. We could even look together.”
I don’t say anything, so Ginny shifts gears. I can tell she’s trying to be all nonchalant, but her left eyebrow raises a tiny bit. It’s her tell, a movement her body does without her knowing it that shows she’s not as calm and collected as she seems.
Daddy Grand pointed it out to me years ago. “She may seem like a cucumber,” he’d said, “cool and collected. But believe me, she’s got some chili pepper inside her.” Then he’d winked. After that, whenever Ginny’s feathers got ruffled and her eyebrow got to jumping, we’d look at each other and have to hold back the giggles.
I miss him.
Ginny’s eyebrow twitches slightly higher. “So… you were in the attic again?”
“Ginny, he called it a life-changing hunt. Life-changing! How can I not try to figure this out?”
Ginny points her spoon at me, the cookie batter holding tight. “Rae, I was best friends with your grandfather for over 40 years. You and I both know he thought everything had the potential to be life-changing. If whatever he had to tell you was that important, he would have told you right away, not turned it into one of his treasure hunts and made you wait until you got home from school. I don’t think it’s healthy to be so preoccupied with this.”
“But he said—”
“Rae.” Ginny wraps her arms around me again, cutting me off. Though I want to tell her again that she’s wrong, that she wasn’t there, the tension releases from my shoulders. It’s that familiar scent of coconut and coffee. It gets me every time. “I know you miss him, baby girl. I miss him, too. But a treasure hunt won’t bring him back. Promise me you’ll stop worrying about this.”
“Cross my heart,” I say, proud that it’s not a lie. After all, fretting isn’t the same as… focusing.