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updated 5/8/2012 9:49:28 AM ET 2012-05-08T13:49:28

In “When you Reach Me,” the life of a sixth-grader named Miranda takes a series of unexpected turns after she finds a succession of cryptic notes that seem to tell the future. Here's an excerpt from the latest pick in Al's Book Club for Kids.

Things You Keep in a Box

So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She's going to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark.

On the postcard there's a list of things to bring. She needs some extra clothes in case she wins and makes it to another show, where they pretend it's the next day even though they really tape five in one afternoon. Barrettes are optional, but she should definitely bring some with her. Unlike me, Mom has glossy red hair that bounces around and might obstruct America's view of her small freckled face.

Meet the kids in Al's Book Club

And then there's the date she's supposed to show up, scrawled in blue pen on a line at the bottom of the card: April 27, 1979. Just like you said.

I check the box under my bed, which is where I've kept your notes these past few months. There it is, in your tiny handwriting: April 27th: Studio TV-15, the words all jerky-looking, like you wrote them on the subway. Your last "proof."

I still think about the letter you asked me to write. It nags at me, even though you're gone and there's no one to give it to anymore. Sometimes I work on it in my head, trying to map out the story you asked me to tell, about everything that happened this past fall and winter. It's all still there, like a movie I can watch when I want to. Which is never.

Things That Go Missing

Mom has swiped a big paper calendar from work and Scotch-taped the month of April to the kitchen wall. She used a fat green marker, also swiped from work, to draw a pyramid on April 27, with dollar signs and exclamation points all around it.

She went out and bought a fancy egg timer that can accurately measure a half minute. They don't have fancy egg timers in the supply closet at her office.

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April twenty-seventh is also Richard's birthday. Mom wonders if that's a good omen. Richard is Mom's boyfriend. He and I are going to help Mom practice every single night, which is why I'm sitting at my desk instead of watching after-school TV, which is a birthright of every latchkey child. "Latchkey child" is a name for a kid with keys who hangs out alone after school until a grown-up gets home to make dinner. Mom hates that expression. She says it reminds her of dungeons, and must have been invented by someone strict and awful with an unlimited child-care budget. "Probably someone German," she says, glaring at Richard, who is German but not strict or awful.

It's possible. In Germany, Richard says, I would be one of the Schlusselkinder, which means "key children."

"You're lucky," he tells me. "Keys are power. Some of us have to come knocking." It's true that he doesn't have a key. Well, he has a key to his apartment, but not to ours.

Richard looks the way I picture guys on sailboats — tall, blond, and very tucked-in, even on weekends. Or maybe I picture guys on sailboats that way because Richard loves to sail. His legs are very long, and they don't really fit under our kitchen table, so he has to sit kind of sideways, with his knees pointing out toward the hall. He looks especially big next to Mom, who's short and so tiny she has to buy her belts in the kids' department and make an extra hole in her watchband so it won't fall off her arm.

Mom calls Richard Mr. Perfect because of how he looks and how he knows everything. And every time she calls him Mr. Perfect, Richard taps his right knee. He does that because his right leg is shorter than his left one. All his right-foot shoes have little platforms nailed to the bottom so that his legs match. In bare feet, he limps a little.

"You should be grateful for that leg," Mom tells him. "It's the only reason we let you come around." Richard has been "coming around" for almost two years now.

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We have exactly twenty-one days to get Mom ready for the game show. So instead of watching television, I'm copying words for her practice session tonight. I write each word on one of the white index cards Mom swiped from work. When I have seven words, I bind the cards together with a rubber band she also swiped from work.

I hear Mom's key in the door and flip over my word piles so she can't peek.

"Miranda?" She clomps down the hall — she's on a clog kick lately — and sticks her head in my room. "Are you starving? I thought we'd hold dinner for Richard."

"I can wait." The truth is I've just eaten an entire bag of Cheez Doodles. After-school junk food is another fundamental right of the latchkey child. I'm sure this is true in Germany, too.

"You're sure you're not hungry? Want me to cut up an apple for you?"

"What's a kind of German junk food?" I ask her. "Wiener crispies?"

She stares at me. "I have no idea. Why do you ask?"

"No reason."

"Do you want the apple or not?"

"No, and get out of here — I'm doing the words for later."

"Great." She smiles and reaches into her coat pocket. "Catch." She lobs something toward me, and I grab what turns out to be a bundle of brand-new markers in rainbow colors, held together with a fat rubber band. She clomps back toward the kitchen.

Richard and I figured out a while ago that the more stuff Mom swipes from the office supply closet, the more she's hating work. I look at the markers for a second and then get back to my word piles.

Mom has to win this money.

From WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead. © 2009 by Rebecca Stead. Used by permission of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Video: Al’s Book Club: A Peter Pan prequel

  1. Transcript of: Al’s Book Club: A Peter Pan prequel

    AL ROKER reporting: My mike is not working. OK. Oh, do you hear me? They hear me now. Brian , they hear me now? Get out of here . OK. Thank you very much . Get out of here Brian . OK. We're celebrating the Children's Book Week with " Peter and the Starcatchers ." It's the fast-paced prequel to the beloved children's classic " Peter Pan ." It introduces readers to an adventure on the high seas. We meet an orphaned boy named Peter , his new friend Molly , and the evil Black Stache for the first time . Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson are the authors of " Peter and the Starcatchers ." And we want to welcome back our AL'S BOOK CLUB FOR KIDS kids, Jack Townsend , Sydney Robles , and Samara McCallum . And also, joining us live, a special guest, Jordan from Louisiana . And good morning to everybody.

    Mr. DAVE BARRY: Good morning.

    Mr. RIDLEY PEARSON: Hi, Al.

    ROKER: Well, first of all, we start with some sad news. Maurice Sendak , who's the celebrated children's author, of course, " Where the Wild Things Are ," died at the age of 83. Your thoughts?

    Mr. PEARSON: Brilliant guy. And not just a children's author but my favorite thing that he ever said was that of all the things he'd done, that writing for children was the most fun for him because they are the most intense critics. They're the best readers, the best critics.

    Mr. BARRY: Which we found, too. They're just the most fun to write for.

    ROKER: Is it really?

    Mr. BARRY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    ROKER: The most -- the most, in a sense, satisfying?

    Mr. PEARSON: They like story and they are deadly honest.

    ROKER: Yeah. Well...

    Mr. BARRY: Yeah. They don't like what you did, they'll tell you up front.

    ROKER: They'll let you know in a hurry.

    Mr. PEARSON: Yeah.

    ROKER: Our book club kids actually got a real treat. They got to -- they got to go to the Broadway show that's based on your book.

    Mr. BARRY: Yeah?

    ROKER: Nominated for nine Tony Awards . They got a special backstage tour from Celia Keenan-Bolger , who plays Molly . So have you guys seen the show and do you like it?

    Mr. BARRY: We've not only seen it, we auditioned for Tinkerbell .

    Mr. PEARSON: Yeah.

    Mr. BARRY: We -- it's phenomenal. We wrote an adventure story for kids and they turned it into this -- Rick Ellis genius man...

    Mr. PEARSON: Rick Ellis , who is phenomenal.

    Mr. BARRY: ...made a hilarious Broadway show out of it.

    ROKER: That's terrific. Well let's start -- you get -- find out with our kids. First of all, did you guys like the play?

    Ms. SAMARA McCALLUM: Yes.

    Mr. JACK TOWNSEND: Yes.

    Ms. SYDNEY ROBLES: It was really unique. Really cool to see.

    ROKER: Wow, unique. I like that.

    Mr. PEARSON: Yeah.

    ROKER: Let's start off with Jack. Jack , what's your question?

    Mr. TOWNSEND: Hi, Mr. Pearson. Hi, Mr. Barry. It's such a great honor to meet both of you. I thought the idea of star stuff coming from falling stars was neat. How do you compare the power of star stuff to the power of pixie dust ?

    Mr. PEARSON: Hm.

    ROKER: Ooh .

    Mr. BARRY: That's a good question. We were -- we were kind of looking for a way to sort of explain something that you can't really explain, which is the magic in Peter Pan . And we thought, well, if -- we come up with this idea of stuff falls from the sky that has this power to change people, which would be sort of like the -- this pixie dust that J.M. Barrie talks about.

    ROKER: Wow, that's pretty neat. And now we've got Sydney , what's your question?

    Ms. ROBLES: Hi , good morning. The traits of the main characters, Peter Pan and Black Stache , more commonly known as Captain Hook , are very well known and loved by many people. How, if at all, did this influence your writing of the book or make it more challenging?

    Mr. PEARSON: We sort of stayed away from trying to pretend we were following in J.M. Barrie 's footsteps and we just wanted to create really fun characters and there was some stuff already laid out for us.

    ROKER: That's nice. Now, Samara , you've got a great question, I know.

    Ms. SAMARA McCALLUM: Good morning, Mr. Barry and Mr. Pearson . My -- many people decide to write books on their own. What made you decide that working in a pair would work better?

    ROKER: Hmm.

    Mr. BARRY: Well, we play in a rock band together called the Rock Bottom Remainders .

    Mr. PEARSON: And we're terrible.

    Mr. BARRY: Yeah, its a horrible band. We play hard listening music. It's our genre. But that's how we met. We became friends, and Ridley 's daughter had the idea for this book and that's...

    Mr. PEARSON: Yeah. She asked me one day how Peter Pan met Captain Hook . I was playing one of these shows a week later and staying with Dave , and I mentioned this, and his eyes kind of went wide, and we thought, with his crazy humor and my crazy suspense, maybe we could make a fun book together.

    ROKER: What a great idea. And now let's go to Louisiana . We've got Jordan , 10-year-old Jordan joining us via Skype . Jordan , what's your question?

    JORDAN: Hi. My question was, why did you make Mister Grin a huge crocodile?

    ROKER: Ah.

    Mr. BARRY: We wanted to explain -- there's a crocodile in J.M. Barrie 's " Peter Pan ."

    Mr. PEARSON: Tick-tock. Tick-tock .

    Mr. BARRY: He ticks and tocks. And we thought it would be fun if he -- we had a gigantic crocodile on our island that gets changed by the star stuff.

    Mr. PEARSON: And he's able to float and fly.

    Mr. BARRY: Yeah.

    ROKER: Hmm. All right. Well, you guys had -- must have had a good time playing in that band. Came up with a lot of good stuff.

    Mr. BARRY: I remember the '60s, Al.

    ROKER: Oh, yeah! Actually, I don't sadly.

    Mr. PEARSON: Whoo! That crocodile is flying.

    ROKER: Well, let's find out how our kids rated this book on a scale of one to five stars. " Peter and the Starcatchers "...

    Mr. PEARSON: Whoa!

    ROKER: Yes! Five stars.

    Mr. BARRY: Thank you.

    Mr. PEARSON: Thank you.

    ROKER: Very nice. Dave , Ridley , kids, thank you so much . Jordan , you, as well. And if you have a child between the ages of 9 and 12 who would like the chance to be our next guest kid, head to today.com. Want to reveal our next book, it is, here we go, "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead. That's going to be our next book. Guys, thank you so much . Gentlemen, thank you. Always great to see you.

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