Tag Archives: The Handy Helpers

Book Four is Live!

  The Handy Helpers, Not a Happy Camper is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Xlibris. It is not available as an ebook yet.

I hope you will take a few minutes and check it out. According to my young reviewers, it is the best one yet. You’ll find out what happened to the Cole children after they were rescued from the forest fire. Spike deals with another bully. Melissa hopes to strike it rich, panning for gold in Fox Creek. Beth Anne makes a huge sacrifice. And so much more. You won’t want to miss it. I’m hard at work on Book Five. Hopefully, it won’t take me so long to finish this time.

Happy Father’s Day from the Handy Helpers

IMG_0457Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and I hope all the dads out there had a fun, relaxing day. The Handy Helpers wouldn’t miss this opportunity to tell their dads how much they love them. Here’s some of what happened in Bluesky on Father’s Day.

Melissa was on her way to the kitchen with plans to make breakfast for her family. It would be a Father’s Day surprise. Last year her dad had been stationed in Afghanistan. They wished him happy Father’s Day on Skype. He told them he had limp bacon and runny eggs for breakfast. Melissa promised that when he was home, she would make him some of her famous pancakes.

As Melissa passed her parents’ bedroom, she noticed her sister Trisha crouched in front of the door, holding a present between her knees. “Come on and help me with breakfast she whispered. Let Mom and Dad sleep as long as they can.”

In the kitchen, Melissa poured the ingredients for buttermilk pancakes into a bowl and handed Trisha a spoon. “Mix this up while I cook the bacon. I’m going to make it nice and crisp, just the way Dad likes it.”

As she watched the bacon sizzling in the pan, Melissa thought about how much their lives had changed in the two weeks since her dad had been home. At first, she was really excited about doing lots of things with him. But sometimes her dad was in a bad mood and just wanted to lay in the hammock in the back yard. Other times, he wanted to know everything she was doing. He expected her to ask permission to do things her mom always let her do—things like talking on the phone or fixing a snack. “He’s just trying to figure out what his role is in our family,” her mother had told her. “Give it time, and everything will work itself out.”

Melissa was trying to be patient, but she wondered if things were ever going to get better. “Good morning,” she said as her dad came into the kitchen. “Happy Father’s Day.”

“It sure smells good in here,” Cody looked at both his daughters working together. “Looks like you two have everything under control.”

“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” Trisha ran to him and put her arms around his waist. Cody bent down and kissed the top of his young daughter’s head.

“It’s sure nice to be spending Father’s Day at home with my girls.”

“Breakfast’s almost ready,” Melissa announced. “Better get Mom and Grandma,” she said to Trisha.

“Change your clothes,” Emma told her daughters as soon as they arrived home from church. “We’re supposed to be at the Smith’s at one o’clock.”

“You’re not taking that cake!” Laura exclaimed as she looked at the food her mother packed to take to the Smith’s. There in the back of the Suburban among her mother’s superbly delicious red beans and rice, pecan pie, and pralines sat Laura’s not-so-nice-looking Father’s Day cake.

“Of course we’re taking it,” Emma said matter-of-factly. “Why wouldn’t we?”

“It just doesn’t look as good as I was hoping.”

“I’m sure it will taste great. That’s all that matters.”

Laura squeezed into the back seat along with the folding chairs her father had placed there. Her three sisters were already seat-belted into the middle seats, leaving her no choice. It was only a ten minute ride to the Smith’s, but Laura dreaded every minute.

As the Thomas’s pulled up in front of the Smith house, they saw Spike sitting in the front porch glider. He had his head down and was scraping his feet across the cement. He looked up as they pulled into the driveway.

“Hi,” Spike waved in their direction.

“How about giving us a hand?” Bill yelled  as he opened the clam doors on the back of the Suburban.

“Sure.” Spike came down the steps two at a time.

“Here,” Emma handed him Laura’s Father’s Day cake.

“Who made this?” Spike asked looking curiously at the cake in his hands.

“Laura did,” Emma told him.

Spike carried the cake into the house. Todd and Jennifer came out the front door to help Bill with the chairs he was taking out of the Suburban.

“Who murdered your cake?” Spike asked Laura as he set the cake on the dessert table.

“Nobody,” Laura said, surprised. “It’s supposed to be a shirt and tie.”

“Yeah,” Spike commented, “with a bullet hole in it!”

“I had a little trouble with the frosting, that’s all.”

“That’s a relief!” Spike sighed loudly.

“What do you mean?,” Laura asked.

“That’s frosting, not blood.” Spike pointed to the red stains on the cake.

From The Handy Helpers: Red, White, and . . . Bloopers!

Hats Off to Spring

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The senior center was buzzing with activity when the Happy Helpers arrived. The Easter luncheon was one of the big events held at the senior center every year. Mrs. Snow was there, directing the volunteers. When she spotted the girls, she waved them over to where she was.

“We have to get these favors on the tables at each place.” She handed a boxful to each girl. They were tiny straw hats decorated with flowers and birds attached to tiny hat racks with even more flowers and birds.

“These are really cute,” Melissa said. “The ladies at our church made them.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Snow responded. “They brought them here this morning. Now we need to get them on the tables.”

Amber noticed some of the ladies from the Community Church arranging larger hat decorations in the center of each table. Some other ladies were setting up the buffet tables and placing hat decorations there as well.

“The theme is ‘Hats Off to Spring,’” Mrs. Snow seemed to read Amber’s mind. “Wait until the other seniors start arriving. You’re going to see some crazy hats today.”

The Happy Helpers took their boxes of favors and started putting them out at each place. When they were finished, Mrs. Snow gave them boxes of silverware wrapped in pastel-colored napkins, each tied with a pink, green, or yellow ribbon. Plates had been placed at the beginning of the buffet line, and the glasses were on the beverage table.

“You did a lovely job,” Mrs. Snow said, surveying the room. “I knew my faith in you wasn’t misplaced.”

“Is there anything else we can do?” Laura asked.

“Would you like to be greeters at the door?” Mrs. Snow suggested.

“That sounds like fun,” Melissa said with enthusiasm.

“Yeah,” added Amber. “Then we can check out the crazy hats you mentioned.”

Mrs. Snow positioned the girls at the front door and handed them some programs to give out to each guest. The first couple through the door was Hank and Clarisse Anderson. Clarisse was wearing a fancy red hat with tiny roses and feathers around the brim. When Melissa told her how beautiful it was, Clarisse said that it was called the Titanic.

“It cost about as much as the Titanic,” Hank added. Clarisse shot him a dirty look.

“I see you have your video camera out already,” Amber said. “Are you going to make a movie of the Easter luncheon?”

“I want to catch everyone when they arrive in their hats,” Hank said.

“You have a nice hat,” Laura commented. “It looks like something from the Titanic movie too.” Hank wore a brown felt hat with creases in the front.

“It’s a fedora,” Hank said proudly.

“It’s a Stetson,” Clarisse added. “And it cost as much as mine.”

Gus was the next to arrive. The girls tried not to chuckle when they saw his hat. It was a black visor with black and gray hair sticking out of the top. This was especially funny since the girls knew that Gus had no hair at all underneath the hat.

“Like my hat?” Gus asked.

“It’s really you!” Melissa giggled.

“If there are prizes for the best hats,” Amber added, “you’ll win for sure.”

“Maybe the goofiest,” Melissa whispered to Amber.

Doris Duncan came in using a walker. Her hat was made of straw and was decorated with beautiful fresh flowers. Betty Jenkins wore a gray cowboy hat with a decorative band and black feather.

 

From The Handy Helpers: A Rocky Start

Mr. Pritchard’s Peaches

peachesGus stopped his truck in front of a small house with brown siding. Paint was peeling from the dark-brown trim around the windows and door, and the roof was missing more than a few shingles. The blinds were pulled tightly shut, and a rusty No Trespassing sign hung on the chain-link fence. “Warren has some memory problems,” Gus said, opening the gate, “so I’d better go talk to him first to make sure he remembers we’re coming.”

Logan and Spike waited next to the pickup, watching Gus as he talked to Mr. Pritchard on his front porch.

“There’s something weird about his hair,” Spike said, watching as Mr. Pritchard seemed to be moving his hair around on his head.

“I think it’s a wig,” Logan replied after studying it for a few minutes.

“Yes,” Gus said with a grin as he returned to his truck, “Warren has a toupee.”

“A what?” Spike asked.

“You know, a hairpiece. Not everyone is as comfortable in their own skin as I am.” Gus laughed, lifting up his straw hat to rub the top of his bald head. “Warren has been wearing that rug for as long as I’ve known him.”

“Does he know he isn’t fooling anyone?” Logan asked.

“I doubt it.” Gus laughed again. “And nobody’s gonna tell ’im either.”

Gus took a ladder and some wooden boxes out of the back of his truck. “Let’s get started.”

The guys had been picking peaches for about forty-five minutes when Gus received a call on his cell phone. “That was Hank,” he told the boys. “Norman got stung by a bee and slid off the ladder. They’re working a few blocks away. I’ve gotta take the first-aid kit over there and fix his bee sting and scraped leg.”

With that, Gus got in his truck and drove away. Spike and Logan continued picking peaches. “These peaches smell so good,” Spike said. “Do you think it would be okay if we ate one?”

“There’s plenty of them.” Logan was standing next to a tree with branches so loaded with peaches they touched the ground. “I’m sure no one would miss a couple of peaches.”

They each pulled a peach from a tree and washed it at the faucet. The peaches were amazingly sweet and juicy. “This tastes so good,” Spike said. “Maybe we can take some home when we’re finished.”

“That would be great,” Logan agreed. “Maybe my mom will make a peach pie.”

The boys were still enjoying their peaches when they heard a pounding noise coming from a window in Mr. Pritchard’s house. They looked up to see Mr. Pritchard shaking his finger at them. His hair seemed to move up and down with the movement of his finger. Suddenly Mr. Pritchard’s face disappeared from the window and reappeared at the back door.

Raising the broom he held in his hand, Mr. Pritchard shouted, “Don’t you move! The police are on their way. I’m tired of you kids stealing my peaches!”

“But . . . but . . ., ” Logan stammered.

“Whatever you’re trying to say, save it for the police. This time I caught you in the act. You two are in big trouble!”

Within ten minutes, a police car pulled up in front of Mr. Pritchard’s house. As the officers came through the back gate, Spike and Logan let out a sigh of relief. They immediately recognized Officer Mills and Officer Fillmore. Officer Mills was a hefty man in his midforties with a red face and short brown hair. Officer Fillmore was a tall, slim black woman with a pleasant smile. Both wore uniforms. They were the police officers who had been on duty when Beth Anne was lost. “I hope they remember us,” Logan whispered to Spike.

“Yeah, they’ll know we wouldn’t steal peaches,” Spike whispered back.

“What seems to be the problem?” Officer Mills asked.

“These two boys were stealing peaches off my tree. They even had the nerve to stand here and eat some!”

Officer Mills looked at the half-eaten peaches in their hands. “What do you boys have to say for yourselves?”

“We’re helping the senior center pick peaches,” Logan tried to explain. “Gus brought us here.”

“If you’re supposed to be picking peaches,” Officer Mills asked, “why are you eating them?”

“They smelled so good,” Spike was finally able to speak. “We just wanted to taste one.”

“You boys look familiar,” Officer Fillmore said. “Aren’t you friends of Beth Anne?”

“Who cares who their friends are?” Mr. Pritchard shook his broom toward the boys. “They’re stealing peaches. Haul them to jail!”

“Sorry,” Officer Mills looked sadly at the boys. “If Mr. Pritchard presses charges, I’ll have to take you in.”

“I’m pressing charges!” Mr. Pritchard insisted. “So take them away!”

“What’s going on?” Gus asked as he hurried through the gate. “Did someone get hurt?”

“These boys were stealing peaches off Mr. Pritchard’s tree,” Officer Mills explained. “He’s pressing charges. So I’ll have to take them in.”

“Warren,” Gus said patiently, “do you remember me telling you I’d be out here picking peaches with two boys?”

“I remember you said you’d be picking peaches. I don’t remember anything about any boys.”

“We did have permission,” Gus assured the officers. “These boys are volunteers at the senior center. See, it says so on their shirts.”

“That’s right!” Officer Fillmore smiled. “These boys are Handy Helpers. They help out at the senior center.”

“I had to leave for a bit,” Gus explained. “That’s why they were here alone.”

“Everything seems okay to me,” Officer Mills turned to Mr. Pritchard. “Is everything okay with you?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I’m going back in the house. Go ahead and pick the peaches. Just don’t let those boys eat them all.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Spike said with a groan. “The way my stomach feels right now, I don’t think I can eat anything!”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

 

 

The Story Behind the Snake Picture

picture with pythonOn the cover of Seven is a Perfect Number are pictures of my granddaughter Avery’s lovely little hands signing the title of the book.  In the book, Amber and Laura help out in a special education class and learn a little sign language, so it seemed appropriate to have sign language on the cover. It also gave me a way to use hands on the cover as is my plan for every book.

When it came to choosing a picture for the back cover, I had several ideas. I like to show parts of our beautiful state. The back cover of the first Handy Helpers book is of me and my granddaughters at the Grand Canyon. But as I considered various pictures, I kept coming back to the one of me holding a huge python. It was taken by my friend, Tari Dane, while we were at Out of Africa with our students. Our tour guide brought out the snake and most of my students took turns holding it. At last, she asked if I would like to hold the snake, and of course I said I would. As soon as the snake was draped around my neck, the cameras came out. I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes cradling the snake’s head in my hand while everyone in our group took my picture. It was just like stepping out on the red carpet. I felt like a star.

As I considered whether or not I should use the picture, I decided to ask for advice from my friends on Facebook. I posted the picture along with the scene from the book that inspired me to use the snake picture. It is a scene where Logan and Chris are helping the science teacher clean the animal habitats and get them ready for summer. This is what happened:

“As Melissa walked back to her classroom, she noticed some kind of commotion going on.

‘What happened?’ she asked one of the students standing on the walkway in front of their classroom.

‘Some snakes got loose,’ the student explained. ‘Chris and Logan were cleaning their aquariums and somehow the container they put them in got knocked over.’

‘What kind of snakes?’ Melissa sounded worried.

‘Harmless ones,’ a boy named Carl told her. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of, but you couldn’t tell by looking at all those stupid girls in there jumping up on their chairs.’

Melissa looked in the classroom and saw girls running around screaming and standing on chairs. Laura and Amber were trying to calm them down. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of,’ she heard Amber say. ‘Those snakes won’t hurt you.’

‘I hate snakes!’ one of the girls yelled, and they all started running around and screaming even more.

Melissa was about to go into the classroom, when Chris came walking up with a little California king snake wrapped around his wrist.

‘Caught the king snake,’ he called to Logan, who was crawling around in the bushes outside the science room.

‘That’s all of them, Logan said, ‘except the bull snake. He’s big and should be easier to find.’

Kids standing on the walkway started yelling and pointing. ‘Here comes your snake,’ Melissa laughed. Chris and Logan looked up to see Ms. McGuire coming up the walkway. She had the bull snake draped on her shoulders with its head in one hand. She was stroking the snake with her other hand.

‘What are you yelling about?’ Ms. McGuire scowled at the students outside the classroom. ‘It’s just a bull snake. He won’t hurt you. Be quiet or you’ll scare him.’

‘Not any more than he’s scaring us,’ said one of the students.

‘Go on back in the room,’ Ms. McGuire told them, ‘the reptile rodeo is over.'”

As the vote came in, my friends overwhelmingly urged me to use the picture. Even my niece, Tara, who is horribly afraid of snakes, voted for the picture. When I told my cover editor, she said, “Well let’s put that picture on the back cover then!”

A Rocky Start: Chapter Eight

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At five o’clock, Mary dropped Amber off at Laura’s house. Her mom hadn’t mentioned the meeting with Ms. McGuire, and Amber had no plans to bring it up. Melissa and Laura came rushing out to help her bring in her gear. Laura lived in one of the fancier homes in Bluesky. Her dad, Bill Thomas, was a banker. He worked at a large bank in Marshallville. Laura’s mom, Emma Thomas, had trained for a career as a ballet dancer when she lived in New Orleans. Now she was a dance teacher. She had a small studio in Bluesky where she taught tap, ballet, and hip-hop along with gymnastics.

There were four girls in the Thomas family. Fourteen-year-old Amanda was the oldest. Everyone called her Mandy. Laura, who was having her tenth birthday, was next. They had two younger sisters, Molly, who was six, and four-year-old Taylor. All the girls were dancers, except Laura who tried ballet but changed to gymnastics, which she liked better. Laura’s mother and her three sisters all had long straight brown hair that was pulled into a bun when they performed ballet. Laura liked to keep her hair cut short. She said it was easier to do tumbling without a knot on the back of her head.

Out in the backyard, a tent was already set up, and the girls helped Amber put her things inside. Unlike Amber’s backyard, the Thomases’ was carefully landscaped. Matching lawn furniture was arranged artistically on the patio. A stone walkway led to a gazebo in the middle of the carefully manicured lawn. Neat planters filled with bushes, and flowers lined the fence. Amber knew that once it was dark, Mr. Thomas would turn on the decorative lighting. There would be lights bordering the planters, rope lights on the edges of the patio roof, and tiny twinkling lights in the trees. Taylor called it the fairyland.

Each girl selected a lawn chair and sat down. “Tomorrow we’re going to the senior center, right?” Melissa asked.

“That’s the plan,” Laura said happily. “I wonder what jobs Mrs. Snow assigned us.”

“I hope it’s not doing the dishes,” Amber groaned. “I hate doing the dishes.”

Mandy came in with a tray of lemonade. “We’re not going to make you do the dishes,” she insisted.

“We’re talking about the senior center,” Melissa explained. “We’re volunteering there tomorrow.”

“That’s a really nice thing to do,” Mandy said. “I’m sure they need lots of help.”

“We even put up a flyer in case any of the seniors needs help at home,” Amber added.

“Have you gotten any calls?”

“Not yet, but we just put the flyer up on Monday.”

Bill Thomas came out onto the patio to light the gas barbecue grill. Laura’s mother called her through the open sliding door, and Laura got up and went inside. Amber followed her in.

“Could I use the phone?” she asked Mrs. Thomas.

“Of course, help yourself,” she answered.

“We’re having individual gourmet pizzas,” Laura informed her. “We’re going to cook them on the grill.”

Amber noticed a tray with a variety of pizza toppings: chopped meats, peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, and some other things she didn’t recognize. There were bowls with red and white sauces and several types of shredded cheese. She was sure this was Laura’s idea, since cooking was her passion. Laura’s little sisters were busy making their own pizzas to cook in the oven.

“Where’s the pepperoni?” Molly asked.

“These are gourmet pizzas,” Laura explained. “You don’t put pepperoni on gourmet pizza.”

“That’s the kind I like,” Molly said.

“Me too,” Taylor added. “That’s the kind I like.”

“Don’t say everything I say,” Molly scolded, and Taylor hung her head.

“Be nice to your little sister,” Mrs. Thomas reminded her. “You were the baby once yourself.”

“I’m not a baby!” Taylor insisted.

Amber had just finished putting the toppings on her pizza and had given it to Mr. Thomas so he could put it on the grill when Mandy called her name.

“Kyle’s here to see you,” Mandy said, her face obviously red.

“I wonder what he wants,” Amber said as she walked in the house.

“Here’s what you forgot.” Kyle handed her a birthday-card-sized envelope.

“Thanks.” Amber hung her head. “I thought Mom would bring it.”

“She’s busy,” Kyle said. “Come here a minute.”

“What are you looking at?” Amber asked.

“Just making sure your head is attached to your shoulders. I wouldn’t want you to leave it anywhere.”

“Brothers!” Amber spouted as she walked back outside. “Be glad you both have sisters.”

“We have little sisters,” Laura reminded her. “Need I say more?”

When they finished their pizzas, Mandy came out with a tray full of graham crackers, Hershey bars, and marshmallows. “S’mores!” Amber and Melissa shouted together.

Laura noticed Molly and Taylor with their sad faces pressed up against the window. “Come on out,” she said with a sigh. “You can make s’mores with us.”

“You’re not supposed to cremate the marshmallow!” Laura yelled at Molly. “You are supposed to toast it lightly a little at a time. Watch me.” Laura put a marshmallow on her stick.

“I like it burned,” Molly insisted.

“No, you don’t,” Laura said. “Who would like burned marshmallows?”

“Me,” Amber said. “The more burned, the better, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well,” Laura said, “you’re both weird.”

“Because we’re not marshmallow gourmets?” Amber asked.

“Because you like burned food,” Laura corrected.

Just then, Taylor held up her stick with a melted marshmallow dripping onto the patio. “I didn’t burn mine,” she said with pride. Everyone started laughing.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas came out to the patio, carrying a birthday cake and gifts. After the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday,” Laura blew out the ten candles on her cake. There were gifts from her parents and from each of her sisters. Mostly, they were clothes and hair clips or jewelry. The gift from her mother was a cookbook for young chefs. Melissa gave her a CD she’d been hinting about for weeks, and Amber gave her a gift card to her favorite store. Laura thanked everyone appreciatively. With help from Melissa and Amber, she toted her gifts off to her bedroom. The girls decided to put on their pajamas and then go get into the tent to listen to music. At ten o’clock, Mr. Thomas came out to tell them to turn off the music so they wouldn’t disturb the neighbors.

“If Logan, Chris, and Spike were the only boys on earth,” Melissa suggested as the girls sat in the dark tent, “which one would you want to marry?”

“If Spike was the only boy on earth,” Amber said, “I would be single for my entire life!”

“He is kind of cute,” Melissa said.

“You think every guy is cute,” Laura responded.

“What about you, Laura?” Amber asked. “Who would you choose?”

“Logan’s so serious,” Laura said thoughtfully. “He doesn’t seem to want to have fun.”

“Yeah,” Amber agreed. “Chris seems like the most normal one, but personally, I couldn’t imagine being married to any of them.”

“Lucky thing there’s more fish in the sea,” Laura sighed.

“What does that mean?” Melissa asked.

“It means you don’t have to choose the first guy who comes along,” Amber said.

With that, the girls burst into laughter.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Seven Continued

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Logan gave his career report on Friday morning. As Amber could have predicted, it was perfect in every way. In his presentation, he talked about two famous Arizona architects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Paolo Soleri. He showed pictures of Grady Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University, the last public building in Arizona designed by Wright. He also showed pictures of Wright’s last home in Scottsdale, Taliesin West. Logan talked about how Wright used local materials such as the red rocks. He talked about how Wright designed buildings to take advantage of natural light. Logan had visited Arcosanti, the experimental town designed and built by Paolo Soleri. He talked about how Soleri worked to build a community that blends in with the environment rather than stands out.

Logan went on to talk about getting into an architecture school. He said that an architecture student had to be very good at math but also have artistic ability. It is hard to get into architecture school, he told the class, but he hoped to go to Arizona State University some day. Finally, Logan showed the class some buildings he had designed using CAD for Kids. After his report, Logan took his seat amidst clapping from his classmates and a “Well done” from Ms. McGuire.

 

“How are we supposed to do our reports after Logan showed off like that?” Amber asked her friends at lunch.

“That’s just Logan.” Melissa shrugged it off. “He always has to be perfect. I’m sure Ms. McGuire doesn’t expect that from everyone.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Laura groaned. “You don’t have to do your report until the last day. I have to give mine on Monday.”

“You’re probably ready now,” Melissa said. “You never leave things to the last minute.”

“And you always do,” Amber reminded her.

“I do my best work under pressure,” Melissa responded. “How about you?

“I’ve been working on it, and I’ll be ready.” Amber tried to sound sure of herself.

“I bet you haven’t even started.” The girls looked up to see Spike standing there.

“I’ll be ready,” Amber said to Spike. “You’ll probably show up in a Star Wars costume and battle someone with light sabers.” The girls all laughed.

“Even if I do,” Spike said. “It’ll be a better report than yours.”

“Boys!” Laura shook her head as he walked away.

“Yeah,” Melissa added. “At least they’re not all like Spike.”

“I know,” Amber added. “Some are worse.”

“Be sure to bring your sleeping bags and warm pajamas tonight,” Laura warned. “We’re sleeping outside in a tent. It was my mom’s idea.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon