Nettie Parker’s Backyard is a WWII historical-fiction novel for 4th-7th graders. The book tackles important lessons against bullying and intolerance toward race, religion, and the physically challenged. The title character has experienced prejudice as an African-American growing up in the 1920’s American South. Later, while studying nursing in London, a blitzkrieg bombing forces Nettie to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. But Nettie Parker is strong and never gives up. The values of dedication, commitment, and love come across clearly to the reader as she cares for eight Jewish refugee children. Nettie has inherited some special gifts, one of them supernatural signs which always lead her in the right direction toward helping others. To keep the audience captivated, the story’s values and ethics are woven into the plot with ribbons of mystery and mysticism. When statues suddenly begin appearing in Nettie’s backyard, she is driven to find the reason why, and in the process discovers that love truly is the greatest force of all in a surprise, twist ending.
Excerpt (Introduction):I'll never forget the first time the statues started appearing in Aunt Nettie's backyard, and I don't think anyone else in town will ever forget, either. In a small place like Greengrow, South Carolina, everybody knows Aunt Nettie and how special she is. But nobody, not even Nettie Parker herself, realized how powerful her gift really was.
Of all the citizens in Greengrow I like to think that I know Mrs. Nettie Whitman Parker best. After all, I practically live right next door to her and for the past two years she's been helping me read and write better. Just recently, Aunt Nettie has started tutoring me three times a week in other subjects like beginning algebra and French. I'd much rather speak Gullah with her which is one of her African ancestors' languages. But you can't get school credit for that so we just speak it when we don't want anyone else to know what we're talking about. At the end of each tutoring lesson Aunt Nettie always says, “Halley iz smaat gal an troot ma-wt, haa'kee!” In Gullah that means, “Halley is a smart girl and a truthful person, so listen to her!”
Everybody who knows Aunt Nettie loves and respects her. I think she's the most wonderful and interesting person I've ever met. She's even a war hero and loves talking about her life as a nurse in London during World War II. Some of my favorite stories are the ones she tells about her African ancestors, and how they were kidnapped from an area called the Rice Coast and made into slaves hundreds of years ago.
Now, you'd think someone who's lived a life as full as she has and is in their nineties might have to slow down a little, but not Aunt Nettie! In fact, after Jonas, her husband, died last summer it seemed to me that she got busier than ever. I guess it was her way of trying to fill up the hole that Jonas had left in her life. We were all pretty worried about her when he passed away; she loved Jonas so much and for a long time she just wasn’t herself. Little by little, I think Aunt Nettie’s getting better but I’m not sure she’ll ever really be herself again. She’s trying hard, and every week she visits sick people in the hospital and helps others learn to read at the library. When the weather's good she's usually outside puttering in her garden, and when it isn't she always finds some project indoors to keep herself busy. Aunt Nettie’s home is open to everyone and neighborhood kids often stop by to say "hello". She loves writing letters and considering all the friends and family she has, that could be a full-time job by itself. Don't be fooled into thinking that because she's in a wheelchair she takes her sweet time getting around, either. She’ll whiz down the sidewalks of Greengrow almost daily greeting everybody she passes along the way.
Although Nettie and Jonas were married a long time and loved children, they never could have any of their own. That's why she insists all the kids in town call her "Aunt" Nettie. To her, all children are her children. It doesn't matter what race or religion they are or if they have physical challenges like she has. Tall or short, boy or girl, every child is special to her.
Oh, no! I didn't think it was this late! I'm supposed to be at her house right now for my tutoring lesson. Why don't you meet me there? Aunt Nettie won't mind and she always makes plenty of lemonade and cookies. Come on! I'll race you over there!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *"Aunt Nettie!" I called through the screen door out of breath. "Are you home? I came so you can help me with my history today."
"Yes, Halley, I'm here, I'm coming,” Aunt Nettie called as she pushed the screen door open for me.
"What's that statue doing over there in the corner of the porch?" I asked as I went into the house.
"What statue? Where?" asked Aunt Nettie.
"Over there!" I said as I pointed around to the left. "See it? It's just behind the swing," I added. Aunt Nettie wheeled herself through the open screen door onto the wooden porch. Looking in the direction I had pointed Aunt Nettie could just make out the top of a light-gray stone figure. She wheeled herself closer to get a better look. And since I wanted a better look, too, I followed right behind her.
"Why, it's a sculpture of a young boy," said Aunt Nettie. "He looks like he's about your age, don't you think, Halley? He seems awfully content just sitting there, reading his book with both legs stretched out in front of him. I wonder what he's reading that he's enjoying so much," Aunt Nettie said.
"Sure, I guess he looks about twelve years old…maybe even thirteen. Why is he here on your front porch?" I asked.
"I have no idea, Halley. I didn't buy it. There's no card on it so I doubt anyone sent it to me as a gift. The only store around here that sells anything like this is Mr. Peterson's garden shop. Hmmm…this is strange, all right. Well, let's get you some lemonade and cookies and start your lesson. It's probably just been delivered to the wrong address. Bob Peterson and I are old friends. I'll call him when we're finished and ask him if he knows anything about it."
But later when Aunt Nettie called Mr. Peterson about the statue he didn't know anything about it, either.
"The only thing I can think of is that my new driver delivered it to you by mistake," said Mr. Peterson. "A statue of a boy was supposed to be delivered to someone who lives way on the other side of town. He must have gotten confused because both your street names and numbers are similar. I'm sorry for the mix-up, Nettie. Say, I'm going to be in your neighborhood tomorrow on business. Is it okay if I come by and pick it up then?"
"That'll be fine, Bob," said Aunt Nettie. "It's not that it isn't a nice statue but I know somebody will be missing it soon."
"Of course, Nettie. Sorry for any trouble this caused you," Mr. Peterson said as he ended the call.
"No trouble at all, Bob. See you tomorrow," replied Aunt Nettie.
When Mr. Peterson came by the next day to pick up the statue all he could do was rub his whiskered chin and look very puzzled.
"This isn't my statue, Nettie. I've been examining it and what's even more surprising is that it has no markings on it at all. You see, these types of statues come from a mold. Even though statues can be made by the thousands each one has certain letters and numbers stamped into it. Those letters and numbers match up with production lists, styles, manufacturers and so on. But this one has no markings of any kind! I have no idea at all who made it or where it came from."
"How can that be?" Aunt Nettie questioned. "If somebody had sent it to me as a gift they would have included a card with their name on it. Otherwise, how would I know who it came from?"
"Nettie, this statue is much bigger than the one I thought had been delivered by mistake and I didn't drive my truck today. If you leave it on the front porch somebody might try to take it or it could get damaged. Let me use your wheelbarrow and move it around to the backyard for the time being. I'll do some checking to see who might have made or sold it. Until then let's just leave it in your flower garden, all right?" Mr. Peterson asked.
"All right, Bob, but please try to find out who it belongs to," said Aunt Nettie.
"I promise I will. Now, don't worry about it…enjoy it for a while!" called Mr. Peterson as he went to get the wheelbarrow.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Several weeks went by but Mr. Peterson still couldn't find out anything about the statue. He had no idea who had bought it, where it belonged or where it came from. He knew Aunt Nettie liked it and began thinking that maybe she should just keep it. But when a second statue appeared in the backyard next to the first one Aunt Nettie got really upset! She called Mr. Peterson right away:
"…yes, Bob, I just saw the second statue this afternoon when I went out to water my tomatoes. No, I'm sure it wasn't there this morning or I would have seen it. I know you've done all you could to find out about the first statue. But now that there's a second one I don't think either was delivered by mistake. Somebody is deliberately sending these statues to me--but who, and why? None of it makes any sense at all. If this keeps up I'll have an entire classroom of children out there in no time! What? Oh, the second statue is also of a little boy. He has on an old-fashioned…an old-fashioned…oh, my God!" Aunt Nettie screamed as she dropped the phone on the table. She wheeled herself down the rear ramp and into the backyard faster than I’d ever seen her go before.
"…Nettie?" yelled Bob Peterson into the phone. "Are you all right? Nettie, are you there?..."
Whew! You know, the appearance of these mysterious statues really happens later on in the book. The story actually begins with Aunt Nettie's ancestors in Africa hundreds of years ago. She's going to talk all about them in my history class tomorrow because she's the guest teacher. I'm really excited about it and I hope you'll be there to listen, too!
Available as an eBook on both Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook
Author’s website, http://mysite.verizon.net/ressbmks/