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  • Toots Underground
  • Written by Carol Hughes
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307492012
  • Our Price: $3.99
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Toots Underground

Written by Carol HughesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Carol Hughes


List Price: $3.99


On Sale: October 26, 2011
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-307-49201-2
Published by : Random House Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
Toots Underground Cover

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Toots is having the worst spring vacation ever. She should be spending every minute playing with her best friend Jemma, but they’re having a fight. And there’s something wrong with Toots’s garden–it’s April, but none of the flowers have come up, and the branches of the chestnut tree are still bare. Toots sometimes hears mocking laughter in the wind. If only she could talk to Jemma about it. . . .

In this magical sequel to Toots and the Upside-Down House, author Carol Hughes explores the meaning of true friendship and the healing power of forgiveness.

From the Hardcover edition.


One bright, blustery April afternoon, Toots sat on the swing in her garden and shivered. Even though the sun was shining, a wintry wind rattled through the fence. It screamed across the lawn and shook the bare branches of the horse chestnut tree and sometimes it sounded as though it was laughing - a nasty, high-pitched laugh. Toots zipped up her jacket and shivered again.

She grabbed hold of the swing's ropes, pressed her bottom back against the seat, and kicked off. By stretching her legs out in front of her, then folding them back in, she swung higher and higher toward the sky.

From the swing Toots could see Jemma's house. Jemma had been Toots's best friend ever since she'd moved into the house across the street, but since Christmas Jemma had been acting strangely and Toots didn't like it. Jemma would promise to come over to play and then wouldn't, or she'd plan to go to the beach with Toots and then at the last minute say she couldn't go.

Then there was yesterday, the day of the car wash. Toots pushed the swing higher. Washing cars to make extra pocket money had been all Jemma's idea in the first place, and together they'd arranged to wash six neighbors' cars. But yesterday morning Jemma had mysteriously disappeared, and Toots had had to wash all the cars by herself. It had taken her till teatime.

Then this morning when Jemma had come round, she hadn't offered an explanation. She hadn't said she was sorry. She just acted as though nothing had happened. And when Toots asked her where she'd been, Jemma had just shrugged and shifted from foot to foot, then tried to change the subject.

"Do you want to come to my house and play?" Jemma had asked. But Toots had shaken her head.

"No. My dad wants me to stay in," Toots had lied. "Bye." Toots had shut the front door and watched through the peephole as Jemma crossed the road to her house.

Toots leaned back on the swing. She turned her face to the sky and tried not to think about Jemma. Instead, she focused on the horse chestnut tree. There was something so sad about it. It should have been in bud, but there wasn't a new leaf in sight. The bare branches reached out forlornly to the April sky as though they were searching for spring.

It wasn't just the tree, Toots realized. The whole garden was still bare, even though she and her father had planted hundreds of bulbs. In all the other gardens on their street, spring flowers were already nodding beneath the trees, but in Toots's garden there wasn't a crocus, nor a daffodil, nor a tulip, nor a hyacinth to be seen.

Toots's father had been so worried that he'd asked Mr. Phelps, the tree surgeon, to come and take a look. Toots had stood beside her father while Mr. Phelps, a tall man with a long red nose and bright eyes, had examined the roots, trunk, branches, and twigs of the horse chestnut tree.

He'd jabbed a stick into the soil at the foot of the tree and stared down into the hole he'd made. His sharp blue eyes seemed to burn into the earth as though he could see right through the hard brown dirt to the layers below.

"This tree's dying, all right," he'd said, patting the trunk with the flat of his hand. He crouched down and picked up a pinch of soil. He rubbed it in his fingers and sniffed it, then dropped it and stood up. "It looks like the roots are poisoning the whole garden. That's why nothing's coming up anywhere."

"Can you do anything to save it?" Toots's dad asked.

"The tree?" Mr. Phelps shook his head. "The garden, maybe, but the tree will have to come down, and the sooner the better. It’s a shame to loose such a beauty.

From the Hardcover edition.
Carol Hughes

About Carol Hughes

Carol Hughes - Toots Underground

Photo © Marcy Malloy

Carol Hughes was born in Yorkshire, England, and grew up in a seaside town in Lancashire. She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.


My world upside down . . .

I have been a writer my whole life, but oddly enough I didn’t realize it until I was grown up. Looking back I can see that I was always writing and making up stories. I always loved writing essays at school and, when I went to art college, I filled my sketchbooks with stories instead of drawings.

In my late twenties, I met my husband. He turned my world upside down by pointing out to me that, as I was forever writing, perhaps I ought to try my hand at writing a book. Amazed by this revelation, I wrote Toots and the Upside-Down House and Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves.

All I had to do was go for it . . .

I have been incredibly lucky in my life. For starters, my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be—all I had to do was go for it. They always encouraged and supported me in all the mad, often nutty, schemes I dreamed up.

The only real difficulty I ever faced was when, for some reason, I lost all my confidence. It was terrible. For almost a year I couldn’t write anything and everything I tried to write was awful. Then a friend, another writer, gave me an incredibly useful piece of advice. She said “Just give yourself permission to write really badly and then get on with it.” So that was what I did. Everyday I wrote. Most of it was dreadful, but the more I wrote the less I worried about whether it was any good or not. And after a while I began to enjoy writing again. That episode showed me that you have to find the fun in what you are doing—otherwise, what’s the point?

I do all my acting on the page instead of in the spotlight . . .

In school I always wanted to be an actor, but I was very shy so, instead of getting up and acting characters out on a stage, I started inventing them in my notebooks and diaries. Even now I sometimes think I am really an actor, but I do all my acting on the page instead of in the spotlight.

When I’m writing new characters, the actor in me emerges. I suppose all the characters must, in some way, be part of me (even the horrid, mean, and conniving ones like Gadfly or Sabrina) and, when I write about them, I get to see what it would be like to be that way for a while. The really horrible characters are the most fun to write. The Maggo sisters in Toots Underground are my favorites. I didn’t have to do any work to find out who they were—one day they started talking and I just copied down what they said.

I love strong, capable characters . . .

I’m probably most similar to Toots. Like her, I tend to take the long way round to learning life’s important lessons and, like Toots, I often get in my own way. I wish I were more like Olive Brown. She’s so kind and positive and good-tempered. Of course, if I could be anyone, I’d like to be the kind of self-sufficient lady who could support herself on a desert isle like Dorothy Dobson in Jack Black or, if I were very daring, I’d be an adventurous aviatrix like Beryl. I love strong, capable characters.

I spent a lot of time searching for secret passageways and hidden worlds . . .

When I was little, my parents kept a small hotel that had 20 bedrooms. It was a fantastic place to grow up. All summer it was full of guests, but in the winter it was closed and I had the run of the whole place. I remember I spent a lot of time searching for secret passageways and hidden worlds. My favorite book back then was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and you’d think, wouldn’t you, that in a hotel with 20 huge, old-fashioned wardrobes at least one of them would lead to Narnia.

Most often the starting point for my stories is my desire to go somewhere I can’t physically go. I began Toots and the Upside-Down House because I wanted to visit the ceiling and see what it would feel like if my world was turned upside down. Once I started writing it, I got to go inside the walls of the house and discover the bits of buildings we don’t normally see. With Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves, all I knew was that I wanted to fly on an airship and the whole story grew from that one desire.


“Sailing through the skies or sailing through the seas, the action never stops.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“With a swashbuckling style and an imagination in overdrive, Hughes grabs readers on page one and never lets go.”—Publishers Weekly

“Successfully [combines] humor, adventure, and serious issues such as loyalty and honesty.”—Booklist

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