Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity

For Jamie and Beth,
who will sing the Weenie Man song to me
no matter how many times I ask—
XOXO

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

Y
ou should know right off that even though my dad wears an orange prison jumpsuit to work and my sister, Maxey, could win an Olympic medal in the bossathon, I was the happiest girl in the whole state of Texas. In one week, I was headed to camp! I was so excited I wanted to jump up and down. But when you’re nearly eleven, you’re supposed to be past that. Instead, I talked about Camp Wickitawa until Mom said her ears were going to start spurting blood.

It’s our school tradition at St. Dominic’s that every fourth-grade student gets to go to camp for the week of spring vacation as long as they don’t get any Fs, have lice, or do anything really bad. In the “bad” category, things had been circling the drain a few weeks back. One of my two
best friends, Aurora Triboni, got suspended from school for roughing up a sixth grader who goes by the name of Booger Boy. After that happened, Aurora decided to go to public school at Sam Houston Elementary so she can play basketball with sixth-grade girls who are big like her. And I don’t mean just tall. They wear bras that are all totally filled up.

But Principal Obermeyer said that even though Aurora goes to public school now, she could come to camp with us. This is why I adore my principal. Plus, she saved my life when I nearly got hit by lightning in a big storm a while ago. She isn’t afraid of lightning or bullies, even though she used to be a little sister just like me.

It gives a girl hope.

I checked my camp packing list, which I’d pinned up on my bulletin board in the room I share with Maxey, my big sister. Somebody had added a few things to my list!

Freckle Remover
Hair Straightener
Freak-No-More Spray
A Personality

Very funny, Maxey! If I even go within breathing distance of her stupid bulletin board, she goes ballistic. I got out my thickest, darkest marker and crossed off what she’d written. I was not going to let her ruin my good mood. Even though she’s in seventh grade and has already
been to camp, she was extremely jealous about me getting my turn. When she first got home from her camp, she talked about it for weeks and weeks. I was only a first grader then, but I soaked it all in. I memorized every single detail, and could probably find my way around Camp Wickitawa with my eyes closed.

I knew it has a big private lake where you can swim and ride in canoes. There’s a little store called Totem Village that sells candy and souvenirs, and a giant fire pit for sing-alongs and marshmallow roasts. The big dining hall is called Mess and it has a soda machine with all the free refills you want (and no mothers watching to make you stop before your teeth rot).

The boys have their bunkhouses on the other side of camp, and you only have to see them sometimes. Which is good, because Maxey says that the boys go all mongo woodsy. They don’t brush their teeth even though they’re supposed to, and they eat live bugs and everything! I don’t think Donal from my class would eat a live bug, even if he is a boy. Which is why my friends and I don’t mind if he hangs out with us sometimes. (He might eat a dead one, though.) Maxey might be making some of that stuff up, but I’ll know soon enough. The girls don’t have to eat bugs, and we sleep on cots in wooden cabins. And we each get a small dresser for our things. My own dresser! At home I have to share one with Maxey.

And if you are a very good camper, you might win Outstanding Camper of the Week. They pick just one from
your whole class. I wanted to win it so bad it kept me awake nearly the whole month before camp. But I didn’t just want it. I
needed
to win it.

Outside the principal’s office was a long hallway with rows of framed pictures of all the other fifty-seven kids who had won it. One of them is my mom! One of them is
not
Maxey, and she’s still sore about it. Now it was my turn to take my place on the wall. I could earn back my family’s honor. My dad didn’t only steal a lot of money from the people in our town. He stole our family’s good name, and I wanted it back. Everyone would see the picture in the
Tyler Wash Tribune
of me standing next to Principal Obermeyer. From then on, whenever people thought of the Maloney family, they’d think that the town black sheep had turned snowy white.

Going to camp was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me! I was even taking our special big suitcase, which I’d never gotten to use in my whole life. I’d never been on a vacation before. Not even once. For one, our family—which was down to me, Mom, and Maxey—couldn’t afford it, and two, my mom never stopped working. She was a nearly famous girls’ high school basketball coach, and if she wasn’t coaching, she worked extra games as a referee Just to Make Ends Meet. Which they might have if she wasn’t trying to pay back some of the people my dad stole money from.

I had all my favorite clothes washed and rolled up on the bed, army-style, like Grandpa did his. Before he
died last year, he taught me a lot of cool stuff like that. I can still hardly think about him without wishing I was with him when he went on to the Great Big Pasture. Pretty Girl, his old white cat, sat right on top of Grandpa until it was time for the ambulance to take him away. And one of the paramedics got her scratchy signature right on his arm.

I lifted Pretty Girl from the nest she’d made in the suitcase and gave her a soft kiss on the head. She was so old and skinny she felt like a chicken carcass with no meat left on it. Her purrometer started up, and I sang Grandpa’s favorite song, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” to her. She loved hearing it. Pretty Girl was going to miss me bad. I’d be super lonesome for her too, but I had a feeling I’d be so busy having a blast that Pretty Girl was going to get the worst of the missing.

Shows you what I know.

•   •   •

Every Friday after school, we have our Angel Scout meeting, which is like Girl Scouts, only instead of selling cookies, we sell chocolate bars that taste like brown crayons. We do a lot of good deeds, and wear beanies with angel wings that look more like alien ears. What I love most about Angel Scouts is our leader, Sister Lucille, who is a redhead like me. Secondly, I love the fact that I’m the treasurer of the whole troop. Maxey says me being treasurer is the definition of irony, and people must have
elected me as a joke. Being treasurer is not a joke, and I am excellent at it. There was just that one time a few months back when all the money went missing, but it was not my fault. And we got it all back. Thanks to me, we have more money than ever since I talked
Father
Frank, my mom’s best friend, who was taking a time-out from being a priest, into making a big donation.

“Effie! Over here!” called Nit. She’s my other best friend. “Found them!”

Instead of our regular meeting at school, Sister Lucille had brought all the fourth-grade girls to Earline’s Eighty-eight Cents Store so we could by our toiletries for camp. Afterward we were going to Big Arlene’s for dinner as a special treat. The boys had their own separate meetings on Fridays with our teacher, Mr. Giles. They were probably out skinning javelinas or having spit contests. I scurried over to the aisle where Nit was hunting down some of our supplies.

“Perfect!” I said. She’d found the flashlight batteries. “Hey, look, if we buy this big pack, we get a free disposable razor! We’ll give it to Aurora so when she starts shaving under her arms, she’ll be all set. She said her mom wants her to wait until sixth grade, even though she’s pretty furry already.” I peered at the razor through the package. “These don’t expire or get rusty, do they?”

“Naw, it will still be good,” Nit said. “Do you have Aurora’s list there too?”

Aurora was at basketball practice at Sam Houston’s but was going to meet up with us for hamburgers.

“She mostly has snacks on her list.” I read it off. “Three extra-large bags teriyaki-flavored jerky, a six-pack of strawberry sugarless gum, malted milk balls, pretzels, jumbo bag of tortilla chips, jalapeño bean dip—”

“Effie, I don’t think they have dip at Earline’s.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I said, scratching that off the list. “I’ll go grab the rest of her stuff, and you go find the little shampoos and lotions, okay? We’ll get some extras for Aurora even if she didn’t ask for them.”

“Good idea!” Nit hurried off.

I took my basket and headed to the snack aisle. I could hardly stop myself from shivering with excitement. If shopping for camp was this much fun, I couldn’t even imagine what a hoot it would be once we actually got there.

I turned the corner and banged right into a brick wall. Only it wasn’t a brick wall at all. It was Kayla Quintana, fellow Angel Scout and my archest enemy of them all. The Person I Least Like to Run Into When I’m Alone.

She has mean eyes and mean lips to match. She likes to wear very tight, sparkly clothes when she isn’t wearing her black and green plaid school uniform.

“Watch it, Effeline!” she snarled. Kayla used to be Aurora’s best friend until Aurora smartened up and realized what a snake Kayla is. No insults to snakes intended. I’m pretty sure that Kayla would like to see me dead. She loves to torment me. It’s a special hobby of hers.

“Sorry,” I said automatically. I wished I could take it back. I’m a very polite girl. I once apologized to a lamp
when I crashed into it. I looked down into Kayla’s hand-basket and drew in my breath. The whole thing was nearly full to the brim with teriyaki-flavored jerky. What was she doing? Trying to buy out the whole jerky section so Aurora wouldn’t get any? Or was she going to try to lure Aurora back to her at camp? This had a very bad smell to it.

I tried to move around her but she sidestepped, blocking me. This is one of Maxey’s favorite games, and I suck at it. I spun around to go the other way, but she grabbed the back of my sweater with her claws.

“Leggo, Kayla,” I said, a warning in my voice.

“Leggo what?” she said.

“Let
go
of my sweater right now!”

“Or what? You gonna do something about it? Where’s your little friendship club? You get kicked out already?”

“Girls?” Sister Lucille said, coming up behind Kayla. “Everything okay here?”

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