Deleted scenes from LOST WITH LEEKS: Queen Ash and St. Nicholas

Photo of water dungeon
The view into the dungeon in the castle that inspired the Blackfly Kingdom. The rope is attached to a round wooden disk. Prisoners had to balance on it to keep from falling into the Rhine River below. Tolls must have gotten paid pretty quickly in the past to avoid this Water Dungeon. Image: Pfalzgrafenstein castle, Kaub, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2021.

BONUS SCENES

These two bonus scenes were written from Queen Ash’s point of view while I was working out the story for LOST WITH LEEKS. Enjoy!

“Gotcha!”

In the Blackfly Kingdom, Queen Ash spread a huge black net over her castle, from one side of the Rhine River to the other. Confused bats veered off at the last moment and flew around the poles at the ends.

Unfortunately, Rudolph the reindeer didn’t have radar. His feet got tangled in the net. St. Nicholas set the sleigh down on the roof of the Blackfly Castle.

“Gotcha!” Queen Ash came out on the parapet. “You’ve been flying through here every year with goods and you’ve never paid customs. Here’s your bill!” She handed him a fat scroll tied with a black velvet ribbon and ordered her Blackfly archers to pull the net closed around the sleigh.

“I’ll keep your sleigh and reindeer for your deposit until you pay in full,” Queen Ash said as she held open the door for St. Nick.

“My reindeer need a warm, dry place to stay,” St. Nicholas said, unhitching them from the sleigh. The reindeer stamped on the roof tiles and broke off pieces.

“Stop that!” Queen Ash said. “They can stay in the courtyard as long as they don’t make a mess. Archers! Spread the net over the courtyard once they’re in.”

The reindeer flew down into the heart of the Blackfly Castle and St. Nicholas followed Queen Ash down the stairs.

“Been busy? Haven’t seen any of your boots out by the front door in years,” St. Nicholas said.

Queen Ash sniffed. “You’d only put coal in them if I put them out.”

“Still have a lot of gingerbread left, then?”

“You heard about the Christmas market?” Queen Ash glowered at him.*

“It is my business,” he said. “I was glad to see your booth there. That’s the whole reason I flew by. Thought there might have been some empty boots waiting for me.”

“Hah!” Queen Ash opened the door that led down to the water dungeon. “This is the only thing that’s waiting for you.”


“And here I thought the Christmas spirit had found you at last.” St. Nicholas offered her a candy cane with black stripes. “I had these made just for you.”


Eagerly Queen Ash unwrapped it and licked the curve at the top. “Oh! I love black licorice!” But then she caught herself. “You’re trying to soften me up, but you’re not leaving until you’ve paid all your back customs. That comes to . . .” She took out a black accounts book and ran her finger down the list. “15,000 gold coins.”


“Ho, ho!” St. Nicholas said. “You’ll have me here as a guest for quite some time if that’s what you’re waiting for. I hope you’ve ordered enough hay for the reindeer.” He went peaceably down the stairs as if he knew he wouldn’t be there long.

Note: When you sign up for my Readers List, you’ll get a free copy of TROUBLE AT THE CHRISTMAS FAIR (and find out about Queen Ash’s disaster!).

Blackfly Kingdom Hospitality

“Oh, St. Niiicholasss!” Queen Ash yodeled into the echo-y dungeon, a few days later. “I have a surprise for you!” Stopping at the edge of the well, she batted her eyelashes at St. Nicholas.


He leaned back against the wet stone wall and tilted his head back, adjusting his spectacles. “Have you now?”


Why wasn’t he beaming with gratitude? Queen Ash frowned.
“You could look happier!”


“What is it then?” St. Nicholas asked.


Queen Ash snapped her fingers and two Blackfly archers stepped forward and saluted. “Bring the prisoner up!” The archers heaved on the winch and brought up the swing.


“Oh, you’re letting me go?” St. Nicholas face brightened. “That’s a nice surprise.”


“You’ll see,” Queen Ash said.


“Or letting me visit my reindeer?” St. Nicholas said, clearly trying to lower his expectations.


As if a queen couldn’t give good presents. Queen Ash huffed.


“Keep quiet, old man,” one Blackfly archer said, but the other looked uncomfortable. “I have two little kids at home.”


Queen Ash looked him over. She might have to change out the guards to tighten security.


She led them past the courtyard. The reindeer stampeded over to the side as soon as they saw St. Nicholas. He patted their heads and talked to each one.


It was as if he didn’t care what her surprise was! She’d worked so hard on it. First she’d sent plasterers, then painters, and then carpenters. Exhausting. “If you’re finished with your pets, we can get on with the show here.”


St. Nicholas followed her meekly up the curved stairs to the next level. They passed the big bread oven.


“Is King Schwartz gone?” St. Nicholas asked and Queen Ash gave him a quelling look.


“King Schwartz would never leave ME,” Queen Ash smiled a secret smile and fluttered her eyelashes.


“The fire in the oven is out.” St. Nicholas pointed. “I thought maybe the king was traveling.”


“He’s in Paris at the patisserie conference,” Queen Ash said. “He likes messing around with flour. When he comes back, he’s going to make me a giant cream puff, glazed with chocolate as black as night.”


One of the Blackfly archers snorted. The same one that had mentioned little ones before. Queen Ash made a mental note to cut his pay. She pointed to the Rhine river, far below them now. “If you need a refreshing bath, you can leap from here. Or you can take a lap around the castle.” Queen Ash tapped her foot, meaningfully. “Your choice.”


The archer saluted and rattled down the stairs to go to his self-administered punishment. St. Nicholas wiped his brow on his sleeve.


“Here we are,” Queen Ash said, when they reached the top level. The remaining archer sprang to open the door and stood back at attention.
“I’ve had this room done up just for you. It’s 800 Euro a night. That almost covers the reindeer feed.”


St. Nicholas stepped into the tiny room. It should have had a wonderful view of the Rhine in all directions, but the windows had been plastered over. There was a strong smell of fresh whitewash.


But there was a clean bed, made up with a black velvet comforter, and a black porcelain pitcher of water with a bowl for washing. Compared to balancing on the dungeon float, it was an elegant room.

“Very nice,” St. Nicholas said.


“It’s the best AirCastle room I have,” Queen Ash looked modestly at the floor. No one would be able to say she wasn’t treating St. Nicholas with every possible consideration.


If they did, she’d show them the plasterers’ bill. This kind of improvement wasn’t cheap. It was a shame about the windows, but if she hadn’t plastered them shut, those flying reindeer would have found a way to carry him off, even without the sleigh.


St. Nicholas sneezed. “Paint,” he said.


That was a rude thing to say about her nice surprise.
“Until the fumes die down, it’s better not to have a fire in here,” she told him, quite kindly. After all that time in the dungeon, he should be used to the cold. Wasn’t he from a cold climate anyway? That’s why he had all these silly reindeer. “Well, enjoy!” She looked around the room one more time.

St. Nicholas lay down heavily on the bed. No manners at all. Had he forgotten there was a queen in the room? She raised her eyebrows at the archer, who prodded St. Nicholas in the stomach with the end of his bow.

St. Nicholas’s eyes opened and, seeing the archer, he got to his feet. “Sorry, ma’am.” His eyes fell shut. “I haven’t seen a bed in a while. It’s a lovely surprise. Thank you very much.”

Queen Ash fluttered her eyelashes and hoped he would fill up her boots this year. He owed her for the last few decades. She needed them filled up with gold coins, so she could pay her debt to Cochem. After he’d paid for his room, she’d have a little nest egg so that next time King Schwartz went to Paris, she could go too.


“Oh, one more thing,” Queen Ash said. “There’s a calendar for you on the wall, so you can keep track of the time. If you’re going to make your rounds for St. Nicholas’s Day.”


St. Nicholas looked at the calendar and then at Queen Ash. “It is hard to see the sun from in here. How thoughtful.”


Her surprise was working. St. Nicholas would ask to send a letter to his bank as soon as he’d had a night’s sleep. The queen was sure of it.


It was the only sensible thing to do. She wished he’d hurry up and do it.


She locked him in.

To find out how Prince Nero (Queen Ash’s son) rescues St. Nicholas, read LOST WITH LEEKS. As you can imagine, it’s quite the story!


If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Readers List. Once a month, I share a new book recommendation for readers ages 9 to 12, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Multiplication Magic

Roman carbon dioxide spring
Roman spring with bench. I can’t tell you the secret about this spring because it would be a spoiler for UNDER PRESSURE WITH A SQUASH. But I will share the secret to the Sevens Times Table. (Not stealing credit for that!) © Laurel Decher, 2020.

In the story I’m working on right now . . . (see below if you want to see which one)

Magellan is REALLY not interested in Times Tables. Especially not the SEVENS!

He has maps to make and dragons to rescue!

I started looking around for things that would make it more interesting.

For him. 🙂

For readers. 🙂

Maybe you’ll find something your own local mathematicians will enjoy?

This site has parent encouragement tips as well as practical help. All kinds of things I wish I’d known earlier. 🙂
https://www.theschoolrun.com/times-tables-the-best-ways-to-learn


For example:
“For help and tips with specific times tables follow the links to more advice:

Tips and tricks for learning the 2 times table
Learning the 3 times table: expert advice
The 4 times table step by step
The “easy” times tables: 5s, 10, 11s and 12s
The hardest multiplication table to learn: the 7 times table
The “tricky” times tables: 6s, 8s and 9s

Once your child has a a full set of tables, they need to practise so that they are automatic by the time they start secondary school. A light touch, coming back to those that are difficult, will help, but you should also ensure that your child learns the standard methods of multiplication and division, so that they do not be come over-reliant on doubling and dividing by 10.

–John Bald is an educator with forty years’ experience in teaching literacy, languages and basic maths.”

He includes a link to a very fun video of SEVENS:

(I know, I know–but it’s true, you’ll love it!).

Spoiler: Snakes & Ladders + Tic, Tac, Toe. The perfect Math Night game!

Here’s the story where the math problems cause problems. . .

cover of Under Pressure With a Squash: The Mutliplication Problem. Shows girl archer standing on top of submarine with baby dragons playing. Boy looks out of top of submarine

UNDER PRESSURE WITH A SQUASH

For eleven-year-old Princess Saffy, tests ARE the point. Her twin, Prince Magellan, thinks tests are pointless.

But when their beloved dragon gets them into trouble with the Fairy Kingdom. . . the Saffron twins must face the ultimate test–together!

How can they beat the pressure?

Get on board the Hubbard submarine and find out!

Get your copy here

Tour the Saffron Kingdom: Burg Rheinfels

Burg Rheinfels is the next stop in our Tour of the Seven Kingdoms! The Saffron Kingdom!

The Seven Kingdoms fairy tale world is inspired by real castles in the Rhine and Mosel River valleys in Germany.

Stone castle walls with skinny steep wooden staircase (half-covered with wooden roof)
Burg Rheinfels (Fortress Rhine Boulder) is the inspiration for the Saffron Kingdom. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Clip the map below to find all the tours:

Cartoon drawing of the Seven Kingdoms with locations on Rhine and Mosel Rivers marked by colored towers
Click the map to tour the Seven Kingdoms: Cochem, Marigold, Magenta, Indigo, Saffron, Rose, and Blackfly.

Feel like playing hide and seek? Take a mini-tour of Rheinfels castle in Germany. Extensive tunnels, ruins, and a gorgeous view. It’s the inspiration for the Saffron Kingdom in the #SevenKingdomsFairyTales.

cover of Under Pressure With a Squash: The Mutliplication Problem. Shows girl archer standing on top of submarine with baby dragons playing. Boy looks out of top of submarine

UNDER PRESSURE WITH A SQUASH

For eleven-year-old Princess Saffy, tests ARE the point. Her twin, Prince Magellan, thinks tests are pointless.

But when their beloved dragon gets them into trouble with the Fairy Kingdom. . . the Saffron twins must face the ultimate test–together!

How can they beat the pressure?

Get on board the Hubbard submarine and find out!

Tour Magenta Kingdom: Festung Ehrenbreitstein in Koblenz

Koblenz is the next stop in our Tour of the Seven Kingdoms! This fairy tale world is inspired by real castles in the Rhine and Mosel River valleys in Germany.

When you take the train, you can look up and see the fortress as the train pulls into the station. The big, hulking rock towers way up above the city of Koblenz.

We took a “crooked elevator” [Schrägaufzug] up to the youth hostel in the fortress. *Entertaining but bring exact change*

In normal times, you can also go by aerial tram. This site is in German but it’s worth checking out for the overview photos. *Gorgeous!*

Gate in giant stone wall of Festung Ehrenbreitstein
Ehrenbreitstein Fortress guards the Rhine and Mosel Rivers from above. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Clip the map below to find all the tours:

Cartoon drawing of the Seven Kingdoms with locations on Rhine and Mosel Rivers marked by colored towers
Click the map to tour the Seven Kingdoms: Cochem, Marigold, Magenta, Indigo, Saffron, Rose, and Blackfly.

From the water, the Rhine valley feels like a river surrounded by high hills. But from the top, you can see that it was a meadow carved by a river. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Feeling cooped up? Take a mini-tour of Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Germany. People have been defending this rock for 5,000 years. It’s the inspiration for Magenta Kingdom in the #SevenKingdomsFairyTales.

The flat top of the fortress means there’s plenty of room for marching bands. From the air, the paths in the huge green field draw a lovely star-shape.

The real fortress is big enough for five museums and lots of gardens.

Plus the youth hostel. If you stay overnight, you wake up inside the museum. It’s a good idea to get the map the night before. 🙂 Because the museum might not be open yet!

Just for fun! Marching bands and people dressed up for Prussian Day at the Ehrenbreitstein fortress. I especially like the part with the merry-go-round. (starts at 12:00)
Cover of short story Trouble At The Christmas Fair showing Christmas market in the snow

If you like Ehrenbreitstein fortress as much as I do, you might enjoy Prince Nero’s adventures at the Christmas Fair.

This short story is an appetizer for the full-length Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tales.

And a way to spend a little more time in the Magenta Kingdom.

Happy reading!

Click here to get your copy.

Click here for more about the Seven Kingdoms Fairy Tales (for ages 9 to 12).

Tour Cochem Kingdom: the real home of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS

Steep vineyards up to Reichsburg Cochem, the inspiration for the Cochem Kingdom in the Seven Kingdom Fairy Tales series. © Laurel Decher, 2020.
Want to take a mini-cruise on the Mosel River? I still have to learn how to delete the noisy audio so you get authentic boat cruise sounds and me getting my camera explained to me. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.
book cover image for TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS princess with toolbox standing on top of a burning tower

If you enjoy visiting Cochem castle as much as I do, you might like the story of this inventor princess.

It’s save-the-kingdom time. . .

Can she finally use the one tool that’s never worked. . .her quiet voice?

It’s a way to spend a little more time in the Seven Kingdoms.

Happy reading!

Click here for more about the book.

Click here to see the original book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKKnBqRCGOA

Cartoon drawing of the Seven Kingdoms with locations on Rhine and Mosel Rivers marked by colored towers
Click the map to tour the Seven Kingdoms: Cochem, Marigold, Magenta, Indigo, Saffron, Rose, and Blackfly.

Tour a Fairy Kingdom???

fairylike brook in the forest
What does fairyland look like to you? Clear, rushing water and green leaves under the trees.
Near Kell, Rhineland Pfalz. Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Yesterday, we walked for five or six hours and I got buckets of new ideas about the Fairy Kingdom.

I love the “Traumpfad” hiking trails that we’ve already been on. This one is special for its caves and variety! Here’s a virtual dream hike for you:

A carpet of flowers. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.
Cartoon drawing of the Seven Kingdoms with locations on Rhine and Mosel Rivers marked by colored towers
Click the map to tour the Seven Kingdoms: Cochem, Marigold, Magenta, Indigo, Saffron, Rose, and Blackfly.

Tour the Blackfly Kingdom: Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

How about a tour the Blackfly Kingdom? My favorite castle on the Rhine: “Pfalzgrafenstein” is kind of a mouthful, so people call it by the name of the nearest village, Kaub. ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

When we travel these days, we often drive or fly.

In earlier times, the rivers were the highways. Big and long rivers, like the Rhine River in Germany were important for delivering people and things.

[Is that why Amazon is named after a river in Brazil? I don’t know, do you?]

If you visit, you can stay at the nearby youth hostel or the YMCA hotel in another castle, high up in the village of Kaub. Down at the Rhine riverbank, you take a small ferry across to the island.

This castle is the perfect place for collecting tolls from ships bringing cargo up and down the Rhine River. If you’ve ever seen a modern tollbooth, you’ll agree that this is about the fanciest tollbooth ever!

toll booth illustration

The first tolls were collected almost 800 years ago in 1257. The castle changed hands several times and new parts were added and reinforced. The Prussians finally stopped charging ships tolls here in 1866. Since 1946, the castle belongs to the state of Rhineland Pfalz in Germany.

Tired of the view from your window? Take a mini-tour of an 800-year-old tollbooth. #SevenKingdomsFairyTales

tablet phone ebook hardcover images of LOST WITH LEEKS

If you like the Blackfly Castle as much as I do, you might enjoy Prince Nero’s adventures in LOST WITH LEEKS

Click here for more about the book.

Cartoon drawing of the Seven Kingdoms with locations on Rhine and Mosel Rivers marked by colored towers
Click the map to tour the Seven Kingdoms: Cochem, Marigold, Magenta, Indigo, Saffron, Rose, and Blackfly.

More school resources from wonderful children’s authors: Justine Laismith

mounted archer from Chinese painting
STAG HUNT attributed to Huang Zongdao (Northern Song or Jin Dynasty 96-1234) from Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection. More great materials after your students have “used up” Justine Laismith’s!

Author Justine Laismith has a great page of school resources introducing Chinese culture for ages 9 to 13 years. The videos, activities, and photos are related to her book SECRETS OF THE GREAT FIRE TREE.

These wonderful activities cover lots of interesting topics:

  • Chinese culture and diversity: (make a dragon boat out of paper!!)
  • Literacy (story setting, media, book trailer)
  • STEM (science of some fascinating trees)
  • Art/Craft (sketches, Chinese dress, vehicle design)
  • Drama (celebrity interview, Chinese Opera)
  • Humanities (History, Geography, Religious and Moral Education)
  • Wellbeing (Absent parents, treasures, needs and wants, bullying)

Are you a parent, teacher or librarian? Enjoy these free online materials from children’s authors and illustrators!!!

Illustrator and author Debbie Ohi posted a great Tweet the other day. I haven’t had a chance yet to meet her personally, but I love seeing her doodles and illustrations on social media. Check out her website and you’ll see what I mean.

Vermont author Kate Messner has a marvelous collection of author videos!!!!

(I watched Grace Lin’s “How to Draw A Chinese Dragon” right away. 🙂 The site has such great stuff for kids that I have to spread the word.

Debbie Ohi has promised some more videos for educators to use on her Youtube channel.

If you use Flipgrid, Debbie Ohi also made this offer:

Offer for schools closed or about to close because of COVID-19 concerns (until April 2nd, 2020 – I may extend this date):

If you are an K-8 educator affected by COVID-19-related school closures who uses Flipgrid and are interested in having me do a free Flipgrid Q&A with your young readers, please fill out my form. New to Flipgrid? Check out their Getting Started Guide.

Please note that in order to accommodate as many schools as I can, I am limiting this offer to 1 video per class and total video question time per class to 1-2 minutes. I will try to respond with a video within one day, but it depends on the number of requests I receive, and my own work/travel schedule.

Suggested format which has worked well in the past:

Educator takes ONE video of the class (does not have to be fancy, an iPhone works just fine) and picks a few students to ask their prepared questions about any of my books. I will respond with one video. 

If your school has ALREADY been closed, then students could send you questions and you could read those questions aloud OR send me the questions, and I’ll post a private video reply just for your class.

The process:

Once you fill out the form, I will email you my Flipgrid educator email address so you can invite me to your Grid.

If you are interested in one of my regular paid virtual visits that involve an art demonstration (including my found object art), talking in more depth about writing and illustrating picture books, a writing or drawing workshop, or addressing other topics/books, please use my regular visit inquiry form: https://inkygirl.typeform.com/to/SjevbK

For all other inquiries (including career advice etc.), please use my regular contact form at http://debbieohi.com/contact – thanks!

How do Grades Hurt Us?

A vending machine for art. It looks like it was re-purposed from a cigarette vending machine.
This re-purposed vending machine is all about external motivation–which piece of art would you like to buy? ©Laurel Decher, 2020.

Reading an article about how it hurts kids to focus on “grades” instead of “learning”: “Grades vs Learning: Shifting Attention to What’s Important

“Drafts, re-dos, and ‘evolving assignments'” may help students to focus on getting better at something instead of getting a good grade.

Hmm. That sure sounds like writing a book! Everybody write a book! *just kidding*

Creativity is supposed to increase when the motivation comes from inside the art instead of from outside. Poet and counselor Mark McGuiness’s MOTIVATION FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE is a wonderful exploration of this.

It’s hard to do your best work when you’re thinking about losing points.

The truth is: we all get grades. Adults have workplace evaluations, product sales, reviews, raises, etc. We all have to learn to use both kinds of motivation. 

At the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2004, beloved children’s author Katherine Patterson told a story about being stuck on a novel. She told a writing friend, “I haven’t learned anything!”

The friend said, “You’ve learned that novels can be finished.”

Listen to Katherine Patterson’s wonderful keynote speech here.

To me this means,

“Panic doesn’t mean anything. It’s a normal part of the process. It’s noise. It’s trying to keep you from playing with your work until you get something you like.”

How can we remind ourselves of this more often? How can we teach kids to work with both kinds of motivation? (Or how can they teach us?)