On the Spotlight: 'Diary of a Real Payne Book 2: Church Camp Chaos,' by Annie Tipton

Title: Diary of a Real Payne Book 2: Church Camp Chaos
Genre: Fiction – Children / Juvenile
Author: Annie Tipton
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc.
Purchase link: www.barbourbooks.com

ABOUT THE BOOK:  In this second fabulous release in the Diary of a Real Payne series for 8- to 12-year-old girls, young readers will find themselves ROTFL as EJ is more than ready to be done with Ms. “Picky” Pickerington, CoraLee McCallister, and fourth grade in general. Hello sunshine, hello 11th birthday party, hello free time, hello. . .CAMP! It’s EJ’s first summer to spend an entire week at Camp Christian: friends, swimming, bunk beds, games, campfires, s’mores, hiking, and even a gigantic zip line. In classic EJ form, she dreams up even more fantastic adventures for herself. It’s colossal fun and Church Camp Chaos for EJ fans!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Award-winning author Annie Tipton made up her first story at the ripe old age of two when she asked her mom to write it down for her. (Hey, she was just two—she didn’t know how to make letters yet!) Since then she has read and written many words as a student, newspaper reporter, author, and editor. A native of Wooster, Ohio, Tipton received a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Milligan College in Northeast Tennessee. She currently resides in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

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May 25
Dear Diary,

Remember when I started writing in you last summer? Remember the fun we had and the memories we made? Wasn’t it great?
Remember how I got lazy and stopped writing in you after Christmas?
            Yeah, that happened. I’m sorry. The good news is, I’m back now!
Why did I stop writing in you? I blame the longest, most frigidest and snowiest winter ever in the history of Wisconsin. I like snow as much as the next midwestern girl (sledding and snow forts and snowmen and snowball fights and ice skating are the best!), but by the time January rolled around and the serious cold set in, most of my daydreams had something to do with turning into a bear just so I could actually hibernate until spring. How cold was it? I’m talking temperatures that would freeze the inside of your nose (also known as the weirdest feeling ever) the instant you stepped outside.
During a particularly cold week in February when the temperature was way below zero every day, Dad decided to do a little arctic weather experiment he’d seen on an Internet video. Of course, this got me and my little brother, Isaac, curious because the last time Dad tried something he saw on the Internet, it ended with Diet Coke and Mentos (you know, those white, round-shaped mints you can get at the grocery store checkout) sprayed all over the side of the minivan. (Mom wasn’t too thrilled about that.)
But with no soda or mints in sight, I asked Dad what he was going to do this time, but he just said to watch and wait. So Dad bundled up like was going on a long trek through the snow-covered streets. Then he filled a pan with water from the sink and put it on the stovetop to heat up. Again we tried to ask him questions, but he just acted like he couldn’t hear us through his toboggan hat and scarf wrapped around his face and ears. When the water got to a good boil, Dad picked the pan up by its handle, pushed through the kitchen door, and stepped out onto the back patio. Mom, Isaac, and I pressed up against the window to watch. Already we could see billowing steam coming off the hot water in the pan. He pointed at the steam and gave a thumbs-up with his gloved hand, and then, without warning, he hurled the boiling water up into the air!
(Side note: I’m just a kid, Diary, but even I know throwing boiling water up in the air would normally be a supremely dumb idea. . .but in subzero temperatures, something almost like magic happened.)
The instant the water hit the freezing air, it burst into an exploding cloud of white snow and ice that fell back to the ground as the wind blew it toward the swing set at the edge of the backyard. In two words, it was spectacularly magnificent.
Now it’s May, and I think it’s safe to say spring has finally arrived in Spooner, Wisconsin. This is the time of year when the entire state steps outside, breathes in a chestful of fresh spring air, and dances a little jig of happiness. Isaac’s jig is the goofiest of all. He kicks his legs back behind him and throws his head back. He is convinced that if he tries hard enough, he’ll be able to kick himself in the back of the head.
At least the kid has goals, I guess.
There are only three days of school left till summer vacation. (Can you hear the students of Spooner Elementary shouting, “Hallelujah”?) I never thought I’d say this, Diary, but fourth grade hasn’t been so bad. Sure, the year started out a little rough when I thought Ms. Picky Pickerington and I wouldn’t get along, but after the school spelling bee in the fall when I came in second place, Ms. Pickerington started to warm up to me. She even started calling me “EJ” instead of “Emma Jean.” Well, she tried.

Ms. P: [not looking up from the papers she’s grading at her desk] EG, would you hand out one of these worksheets to each student, please?
[Awkward silence in the classroom]
Ms. P: [looking up at me, over the top of her reading glasses] Emjay, didn’t you hear me? Please come hand out these worksheets to your classmates.
[I continue to look down at my desk, concentrating on the math problem in front of me. My classmate CoraLee taps me on the shoulder, points toward Ms. Pickerington, and smirks at me.]
Me: What? Ms. P? Are you talking to me?
Ms. P: I most certainly am, Eee-Jaaay. If you aren’t going to respond to your initials, then perhaps I should go back to calling you by your real name, Emma Jean—
Me: No! I mean, no thank you, Ms. P. I was just making the numbers line up in perfect columns on my multiplication worksheet—just like you like them. I promise to listen more carefully for my name, ma’am.
Ms. P: See that you do, AJ. See that you do.

From then on, I pretty much answered Ms. P anytime I heard the letters E or J come out of her mouth.
CoraLee McCallister is still mostly terrible. She doesn’t know it was me, my family, and our neighbor Mr. Johnson who helped them a few months ago when CoraLee’s dad was out of work and they didn’t have money for Christmas presents. Let me tell you, Diary, there have been so many times when CoraLee is being not nice to me that I want to blurt out the secret—just so I could see the look of shock and surprise on her face! But the truth is I kind of like knowing something she doesn’t know (it makes me feel a good kind of sneaky), and even though CoraLee isn’t the nicest person on the planet, I’m honestly glad we helped the McCallisters.
Speaking of CoraLee, she and I both competed in the regional spelling bee in February after we came in first (CoraLee) and second (me) in the Spooner Elementary spelling bee last fall. And guess what. I won!
Okay, that’s not entirely true. I went out in the eighth round on the word accommodate when I left out an M. But, I did get further in the competition than CoraLee did! She went out in the fifth round on the word panicked, which, if I’m being 100 percent honest, is a pretty tricky word. I’m counting the fact that I outlasted CoraLee as a big win for me!
Isaac started losing baby teeth on his sixth birthday on April 6, so he’s looking even weirder than normal with one top tooth and one bottom tooth missing. And now that he knows about the tooth fairy and the cash he can score, he’s constantly trying to pull teeth before they’re ready to come out—or even a tiny bit loose, for that matter. I told him he’d better stop or he’ll be toothless and all he’ll be able to eat is mashed-up bananas. I guess Isaac thought eating mashed-up bananas sounded like a great idea because he immediately started into his best impression of a chimpanzee—scratching his armpits, jumping in place, and screeching, “Ooo! Ooo! Ahh! Ahh!” at me.
Ugh. Little brothers.
My eleventh birthday is in just a couple of weeks, so I’m super excited about that. The party is going to be a mystery dinner theater planned by Mom and my favoritest neighbor, Mrs. Winkle! Nana and Pops are going to be visiting from Ohio over my birthday, too. It’s going to be fantastic!
There’s so much to look forward to this summer, Diary, but the thing I am absolutely, beyond description, outrageously happy about is that I get to go to a whole week of church camp! Yes! It’s what I’ve been waiting for my whole life! No more day camp (for babies!) or overnight camp (for slightly older babies!) but a whole Monday-to-Saturday week of adventure! My best friend, Macy, is going to go to camp, too. Things couldn’t be more perfect!
Camp is in July. Is it too early to start packing?

Chapter 1: School’s Out for Summer

May 28
Dear Diary,

Tomorrow is the last day of school! Other than Christmas and my birthday, the last day of school is the best day of the year. Outdoor games in the morning (my class is going to dominate the tug-of-war this year because we have the biggest boys in all of the fourth grade!) and a picnic at the park in the afternoon. The bestest of best days.
            Isaac has been so excited for the last day of school that every morning for a month, the first question out of his mouth has been, “Is today the last day, Marmalade?” (Can you believe he still calls Mom by that silly old nickname?) And every day Mom has answered, “No, it’s not the last day quite yet. But it’ll be here soon.” After Isaac asked the same question four days in a row, Mom decided to make a “Last Day of School Countdown” chart to put on the refrigerator. One afternoon she took a bunch of pictures of us while we made our best crazy faces. (“Okay, this time I want you to look so excited that your head is about to explode!” she said.) She even let my pup, Bert, get in on the action! What were the pictures for? We found out the next morning when Mom unveiled the countdown chart, complete with little magnets made out of our crazy-face pictures that we used to cover up each day as we counted down to the last day. We saved the “so excited our heads are about to explode” magnets for tomorrow—the last day of school!

“EJ! Look!” Macy waved her arms excitedly from behind a bench on the Spooner Elementary School playground. “It’s like some kind of miracle!”
            “What is it, Mace?” EJ rounded the bench, crouched down next to her best friend, and peered at the “miracle”—a tiny, crystal-clear butterfly chrysalis hanging from one of the bench’s wooden slats. EJ’s eyes widened in amazement as she realized she was looking at the black-and-orange wing of a Monarch butterfly.
            “It’s trying to come out,” Macy whispered. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
            EJ held her breath as the cocoon quivered and the bottom split open. A few seconds later, the butterfly began to emerge, sliding out a fraction of an inch while its tiny black legs scrambled furiously to escape its see-through prison.
            After about a minute, the entire butterfly was out and clinging to the empty shell of the cocoon as it unfolded its brand-new wings and took a couple of tentative trial flaps.
            “That. Was. Awesome,” Macy said. “Think of it, EJ! That little guy just completely changed. A whole new identity!”          
            “Like a superhero—and it can even fly!” EJ said, grinning. “I bet he’s not sorry to say good-bye to his lame caterpillar body.”
            “What are you two dorks doing back there?” CoraLee perched high on her knees on the bench and sneered down at them.
            EJ opened her mouth to tell CoraLee to buzz off, but the almost-always-nice Macy started to speak first.
            “We found a butterfly that just came out of its cocoon—come look, CoraLee!” Macy scooted over to make room for CoraLee. EJ decided she wouldn’t budge an inch.
            “Gross!” CoraLee scrunched her nose in disgust and cupped her hands around her mouth, shouting, “MS. PICKERINGTON, EJ IS OVER HERE PLAYING WITH BUGS!”
            “CoraLee, what is your problem?” EJ jumped to her feet and rounded the bench, coming at CoraLee with gritted teeth and fists at her sides. “We’re not hurting anyone or anything!”
            CoraLee put her hands on her hips, nose in the air. “Ms. P. thinks proper young ladies shouldn’t play with bugs, Emma Jean.”
            Ms. Pickerington, wearing a sun visor on her head and a whistle around her neck for field day, marched up to the girls in a huff. “CoraLee, what’s all the shouting about? It’s time for fourth grade to head down to the soccer field for tug-of-war and relay races.”
            “EJ is playing with bugs.” CoraLee used her best tattletale voice and aimed her pointer finger right at EJ’s nose, so close that EJ’s eyes crossed a little bit as she watched CoraLee’s finger.
            “Ms. P, ma’am, we aren’t playing with bugs.” Macy stepped from behind the bench, her hands behind her back. “We were watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. See?” Macy revealed her left hand, palm up, where the small butterfly remained for a second before flapping its wings to take off on its first wobbly flight.
            “Oh, how lovely.” Ms. P’s breath caught in her throat as she watched the delicate creature flit toward the monkey bars.
            A few moments later, Ms. P snapped out of her trance and turned back to the girls. EJ braced herself for the scolding she was sure was about to come out of her teacher’s mouth.
            “CoraLee, it would do you well to mind your own business, dear,” Ms. P said, pursing her lips. “In other words, I think you should try to be less of a tattletale.”
            “What? I mean, are you serious?” CoraLee looked shocked. But EJ looked even more shocked, her mouth hanging open, looking back and forth between her teacher and archnemesis.
            “Quite serious,” Ms. P said. “Now, CoraLee, please go to the soccer field with the rest of the fourth graders. We’ll be there shortly.”
            Speechless, CoraLee shot one more spiteful look at EJ before stomping toward the rec field, cross-armed and red-faced.
            “You know, EJ, I’m proud of you,” Ms. P said.
            “Proud of me?” EJ looked confused. “For playing with bugs?”
            “No, no.” A smile tugged at the corners of Ms. P’s mouth. “I’m proud of you because the Emma Jean Payne I met at the beginning of fourth grade was too busy imagining herself doing a space walk on top of the monkey bars to see the miracles going on around her every day—like that butterfly coming out of its chrysalis.”
            “Well, to be honest, Ms. P,” EJ said, jabbing her thumb toward Macy. “It wasn’t me who found it. It was Macy.”
            “Then good for you for picking your friends wisely,” Ms. P said. “And Macy, thanks for keeping EJ’s feet on the ground. I can tell you two balance each other out.”
            EJ and Macy smiled at each other. Even though Macy was in a different fourth-grade class, she’d heard the stories (mostly from EJ) about how hard it was to stay on Ms. P’s good side.
            “Okay, girls, let’s get down to the soccer field so our class can beat your class in the fourth-grade tug-of-war, Macy,” Ms. P said with an uncharacteristic twinkle in her eye.
            “You’re on, Ms. P!” Macy said.
[Scene Break]

Twenty minutes later, after Ms. P’s class had completely dominated the tug-of-war tournament, the fourth graders were preparing to start a three-legged race.
EJ tugged on the rope that tied one of Macy’s and EJ’s knees together.
            “Is it supposed to be this tight?” EJ asked.
            “It needs to be snug like that so we can run like we’re one person,” Macy said, looking around at their competition. “We’re lucky we’re so close to being the same height.” She nodded toward a handful of kids practicing on the sidelines. “CoraLee and Sarah are going to have a tough time.”
            Sarah Powers was a girl in EJ’s class who had started an impressive growth spurt the summer before fourth grade and now was at least seven inches taller than anyone their age—boy or girl. It was pretty much a guarantee that Sarah would be the first person chosen for most teams; she could hurl a dodge ball with major-league-pitching speed and shoot a basketball over the outstretched arms of any opponent. CoraLee had quickly snatched Sarah up as her three-legged race partner, figuring Sarah was such a good athlete that they’d be sure to win. But as EJ watched the two girls practice for the three-legged race, she thought they looked more like a newborn giraffe trying to take its first few awkward steps than two girls tied together at the knees.
            “Put your arm around my shoulder—like this.” Macy took EJ’s left arm and draped it around her own shoulder. “And I’ll put my right arm over your shoulder. That’ll help us stay together even more.”
            “How do you know so much about three-legged races?” EJ asked. “Is this a secret gymnastics event I’ve never seen at one of your competitions?” Macy had taken gymnastic lessons since she was three and was really good. EJ had taken six weeks of lessons when she was three until the teacher suggested to Mom that EJ should try doing something that didn’t require balance or coordination.
            Macy laughed. “No, we don’t do three-legged races, but one time we did a team-building exercise where we tied our ankles to someone else’s, and we all had to get through an obstacle course. We weren’t quite as graceful that day as you’d expect a team of gymnasts to be, that’s for sure.”
            “Like a gymnast centipede—all tied together in a line?” EJ asked, imagining a multi-legged gymnast trying to walk across a balance beam.
            “Exactly,” Macy said. “Compared to that, this race will be a piece of cake.”
            Macy and EJ practiced walking together, first slowly as Macy called out “out, in, out, in!” taking steps with their outside legs and then inside legs at the same time. Pretty soon they were able to start jogging, and then they even sprinting a few steps. The pair ended their practice at the starting line, just as Ms. P blew her whistle and told everyone to take their marks.
            There were about a dozen teams lined up for the race, everyone looking mildly uncomfortable at being tied to someone else. CoraLee and Sarah were directly to their right, the girls arguing over how to call out instructions to each other during the race.
            “It needs to be ‘right, left,’ ” CoraLee insisted. “For crying out loud, Sarah! Just follow me and let me do it!”
            “CoraLee.” Sarah’s voice sounded strained, like she was trying her best to be patient with her partner. “Your right leg is tied to my left leg, so we need to move our opposite legs at the same time or we will end up in a heap on the ground.”
            EJ tried to hide a grin and focused back on Macy and the race.
            “We got this, Mace,” EJ said, holding up her palm toward her best friend.
            “We got this, EJ,” Macy replied, slapping EJ’s hand in a high five.
            “Ready?” Ms. P called out. “Steady! Go!”
            At the sound of Ms. P’s whistle, everyone bolted forward—five of the teams falling flat on their faces. For a split-second, the distraction of arms and legs flailing around EJ made her forget which leg to move first, but she felt Macy’s confident step tug on her inside leg, and she heard Macy’s clear voice shout, “In! Out! In! Out!” and they took off, quickly falling in step with each other.
            EJ saw CoraLee and Sarah out of the corner of her eye—Sarah picking up CoraLee by the waist after they had fallen to the ground with their first step.
“Arrrgggghhh!” CoraLee let out a frustrated part-scream-part-grunt that sounded to EJ like the sound a baby giraffe might make. . . .
            The baby giraffe takes another loping step, finally finding its footing, and lurches forward into an awkward run. Looking around frantically, the gangly creature searches for its mother, but she is nowhere to be found.
            “Aww, what a cute little giraffe. . . .” EJ said dreamily, looking over her shoulder at CoraLee and Sarah, imagining the baby giraffe. “But where’d the mom go?”
            “Come on—they’re gaining on us!” Macy said, shaking EJ by the shoulder. “Stay with me, EJ!”
            EJ blinked her eyes rapidly to try to keep the daydream from taking over. Focus, EJ—Macy’s counting on you! she told herself.
            “Out! In! Out! In!” EJ fell in step with Macy, and they started gaining speed. Twenty yards from the finish line. . .fifteen yards. . .
            EJ took a quick peek to her right and left and didn’t see any of the other teams in her line of vision. Were they really going to win the race this easily?
            A second later, CoraLee and Sarah came out of nowhere and caught up to Macy and EJ. EJ couldn’t imagine that they had so quickly figured out how to work together as a team, but then she saw how it happened: Sarah’s arms were around CoraLee’s waist, and the taller girl was literally carrying her partner to the finish line.
            EJ had to admit Sarah’s athletic ability was pretty impressive right now.
            “Hey, no fair!” EJ shouted, still keeping in step with Macy. “That’s cheating!”
            “Says who?” CoraLee hissed at EJ. “Get outta the way, EJ Payne-in-my-neck!” CoraLee stuck her leg out just enough to trip EJ’s outside leg.
            EJ put her free hand out her just in time to catch herself from taking a face plant in the grass. In the same moment, she saw that CoraLee’s foot had gotten tangled up with Sarah’s foot and they were falling forward, too.
            EJ lifted her head saw the finish line was just a few feet ahead of them.
            “Macy! Tuck and roll!” she shouted.
            With the skill of a pro gymnast, Macy dropped her shoulder toward EJ and propelled herself forward in a burst of speed and power that rolled EJ forward as well. Time seemed to stand still for a moment.
            “EJ and Macy—winners!” Ms. P shouted, tweeting her whistle.
Flat on their backs, EJ and Macy looked up at the sky, trying to catch their breaths.
“I never thought I’d say this,” EJ said, rising up on her elbows. “But that finish was better than anything even my imagination could’ve come up with.”   

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