Chapter 1

The view from Ava’s new house was beautiful and that’s what bothered her most.

Illustrator note: House is a farmhouse. View from eight-year-old Ava’s room is of rolling fields. In the middle of them is a clump of trees whose leaves are changing color (it’s autumn).

Ava’s new house was far away from where she’d lived all her life.

Illustrator note: Ava’s “old house” is a small apartment in the city that’s well lived-in. Busy, but organized; the view from her bedroom window was an alley where kids would play.

But six months ago, Ava’s dad got into an accident—the kind that you don’t come back from.

Which meant that Ava’s mom had to get another job.

And another.

Which meant that Ava not only saw less and less of her mom but that they had trouble affording their apartment.

Illustrator note: Mom starts working multiple jobs. She looks exhausted; she falls asleep in a recliner and Ava—in a soccer uniform—covers her with a blanket.

So Ava and her mom moved here. And here—where her dad had grown up—was BORING.

There were barely any buildings here, and barely any people, and barely any noise.

Illustrator note: Wide shot that shows the expanse, while Ava’s outside, shouting to the sky, “Where are you, noise!?”

It was so quiet here that all Ava could hear were her thoughts. And since her dad’s accident, her thoughts hadn’t really been all that clear.

Her dad had always been the one to help her untangle them.

Illustrator note: Ava’s at her new school and her thoughts are all tangled up with one another. She isolates herself, doodling while her classmates play together. Penny, a girl in her class (who wears a soccer jersey), sees her.

One day, Ava went downstairs to see if anyone would like to play with her. But Ava’s mom and grandparents were busy doing what they’d been doing for weeks.

Illustrator note: In Ava’s arms is her favorite soccer ball. Ava’s mom is at the dining room table, on her laptop, while Ava’s grandmother and grandfather stand behind her. We see Ava’s grandpa, Theo, say, “We want you to have it.” And we see Ava’s mom replying, “That’s too generous, Theo.”

“We can’t right now, honey, I’m sorry,” Ava’s mom said.

Just as Ava was about to start walking back upstairs, her grandpa said, “Wait. I have something to show you.”

Ava and her grandpa put their jackets on and walked to a group of tall, twisty trees.

Illustrator note: They walk across fields, to the clump of trees previously shown. Ava dribbles her ball with her feet as they do.

“Your dad used to play out here all the time when he was your age,” Ava’s grandpa said. “He told me once or twice that these trees were magical.”

“Oh yeah? For their next trick are they going to levitate or something?” Ava joked.

Ava’s grandpa laughed. “I don’t think so. But if you lean in close maybe they’ll pull a coin out of your ear.”

Illustrator note: Theo winks at Ava; Ava smiles and rolls her eyes.

“Okay. I’m off to help your mom with some more boring stuff.”

Before he left, Ava’s grandpa tapped Ava on the shoulder twice, like her dad had done every time he’d left for work.

Illustrator note: Ava’s grandpa heads back to the house.

Ava stared at the trees, unimpressed. “So what would you do, Dad?”

She started kicking her soccer ball at the trees. Sometimes, the ball would bounce right back to her. Other times, the ball would deflect in a different direction.

And then one time, Ava missed the trees entirely. As she chased the ball down, she saw it—carved into the trunk of one particular tree was Ava’s dad’s name.

Illustrator note: “GEORGE” carved into the trunk.

Ava ran her fingers over the carved letters. And she ran them over again.

Illustrator note: Ava smiles. In the background, by the house, we see/hear Ava being called for by her mom.

That night Ava told her mother about the carving. Ava’s mother smiled and said, “Your dad sure loved trees.”

Illustrator note: Ava’s in bed.

“Can I show you tomorrow?” Ava asked.

“Sure,” Ava’s mother said. “Of course. I’d love to see it.”

The next afternoon, Ava and her mother walked to the trees. Ava pointed to the carving, and Ava’s mother smiled. Then she took a nail from her pocket and told Ava, “You should carve your name, too.”

“Really? You’re just going to give some kid a sharp object like that?”

“I know some kid will be extra careful.”

Illustrator note: Ava’s mom smiles at her daughter’s humor. She watches as Ava carves her name.

When she was done, Ava stepped back and stared up at the tree.

Illustrator note: Ava takes it in that her name is right beside her dad’s. She LOVES that it is.

“Your turn,” Ava said.

Illustrator note: Ava’s mom puts the nail in her pocket.

“Your dad and I have a different tree,” Ava’s mom said.

“In the city?”

“No. Far, far away, beyond the ocean. This one’s for the two of you to share.”

Illustrator note: Ava’s mom puts her arm around Ava as they walk back to the house.

Chapter 2

That night, while Ava was sleeping, something very strange started happening with the trees.

Illustrator note: Through Ava’s bedroom window the trees glow lime green; multiple views/angles here—what’s happening hasn’t happened in a while, maybe not ever.

Chapter 3

The next afternoon, Ava came home from school and walked out to the trees.

Illustrator note: Ava dribbles her soccer ball.

But she stopped in her tracks when she saw a boy sitting on the tree’s lowest branch.

The boy was close to Ava in age and, while his face looked familiar to Ava, something was off.

Illustrator note: His hairstyle looks like it’s from 30+ years ago, and so do his clothes.

“Who are you?” Ava asked the boy.

“I’m George.” He pointed at the house—Ava’s house. “I live right there.”

“But I live right there,” Ava said. Wait, she thought. George. The house.

Ava started to pace back and forth. “No way,” she said. “No way that you’re my dad. There’s just no way.”

George jumped down from the tree. “Did you just call me dad?”

“Yes,” Ava said. “You will be. Uh, you were.” Ava knew how impossible that sounded; she wasn’t sure if she even believed it. “Never mind,” she said.

“You’re weird,” George said. And then he shrugged. “I’m weird, too.” He picked two long sticks off of the ground and handed one to Ava. “Quick!” he shouted. “The warriors will be here soon!”

Within seconds, those sticks turned into swords as George and Ava defended their kingdom.

And they morphed into telescopes as they searched for life on other planets.

And they even became oars as they paddled over big waves on the open sea.

When the sun started to set, and the moon started to rise, they stood next to one another and howled like wolves.

Illustrator note: Ava’s mom calls for Ava from the house.

“You’re fun,” George told Ava. “But it sounds like you have to go.”

Ava knew she did, but she didn’t want to.

“Same time tomorrow?” George said.

Ava could barely contain her excitement. “You’ll be here again?”

“Where else would I be?” George asked. He tapped Ava’s shoulder—twice.

That night, Ava was this close to telling her mom about the time she’d spent with George. She was just as close to telling her grandpa that maybe the trees really were magical after all.

But she decided to keep it secret.

“Secrets can be good things, too, you know?” her dad used to say.

She started to wonder if telling someone about her time with George meant that she’d never see him again.

She wasn’t willing to take that chance.

Illustrator note: Again, as Ava sleeps, through her bedroom window the trees glow lime green.

Chapter 4

The next day at school, Ava couldn’t stop thinking about George.

Illustrator note: Ava’s at school, isolating herself still, but doodling herself and George. Penny, the same girl from her class, looks on (she wears a soccer-themed necklace).

She raced home as fast as she could so she could have as much as possible with him.

Illustrator note: In hurrying out of school, Ava bumps into Penny. She apologizes. Penny says, “That’s okay!” And then Ava pedals her bike home.

When she reached the tree, there George stood, flowers in his hand.

“I picked these for you,” George said.

“Thank you,” Ava said. They were peonies—her absolute favorite.

“No sweat,” George said. He nodded at the soccer ball in Ava’s hands. “You know how to kick that thing, or what?”

“Sure do,” Ava said, and she kicked the ball high, and far.

Illustrator note: George is astounded—his eyes are wide at the kick, his mouth agape.

George chased the ball down and when he brought it back they played games together.

George kept the ball from Ava.

Then, Ava kept the ball from George.

George played goalie.

Illustrator note: The trees are “the goal.”

Then Ava played goalie.

They loved every second of it. And when they became tired, they cooled down by just passing the ball to one another.

Illustrator note: As they talk, imagery is of them passing the ball back and forth.

“Are you on a team or something?” George asked.

“I was.”

“Was?” George asked. “Why aren’t you now?” After Ava shrugged her shoulders, George said, “I’m sure there’s a team around here you can join.”


George was confused. “Don’t you want to be on a team again? You’re really good. And you’re really nice.”

“I do,” Ava said. “I think I… I think I… I think I’m just feeling a little…”

“Shy?” George asked. “I’m pretty shy, too. When you asked me who I was yesterday, I almost ran away.”


“Really,” George said. “But I’m sure glad I didn’t. Because if I did—if I didn’t tell myself to be brave—we wouldn’t be here together right now,” George said.

“I’m glad, too,” Ava said. “I like being here with you.”

Illustrator note: Ava and George smile at one another.

Once they caught their breath, Ava and George played new games—

Illustrator note: They climb the trees. They walk on all fours. They fly around like airplanes.

—until the sun started to set and it was time for Ava to go home.

Illustrator note: Ava’s mom, again, calls her in for the night from the door of the house.

As Ava walked off, George yelled to her, “Be brave tomorrow!”

Illustrator note: Ava, holding the peonies in her hand, smiles as George shouts this.

Ava went to bed happy.

Illustrator note: The peonies are in a water glass on her nightstand.

Chapter 5

When Ava went to school the next day, she heard George’s voice in her head. Be brave, it said. Be brave. Be brave.

But Ava was scared. She’d hardly spoken to anyone at this school. The thought of starting a conversation with another student out of the blue made her legs shake and her stomach feel like mud. They’ll think I’m weird.

At lunch, Ava told herself, at lunch I’ll ask someone.

But when lunchtime came, Ava sat by herself. She barely looked up from the table. When she did, it was at the vending machine, where she saw sour gummy worms—her dad’s favorite candy.

It wasn’t until the end of the day that Ava noticed for the first time that one of her classmates might really like soccer.

Illustrator note: Ava sees Penny’s soccer necklace.

Bravely, Ava stepped forward and introduced herself.

Illustrator note: Ava says, “Hi, I’m Ava.” Penny says, “Hi Ava, I’m Penny.”

And just as bravely she asked if Penny liked soccer. She did!

Illustrator note: Penny says, “You should join our team.” Ava says, “Maybe I will.”

Ava was so excited to tell George. She raced home even faster than the day before and as she sprinted to the trees, she yelled, “George, George, guess what!”

Illustrator note: Ava is holding the package of sour gummy worms. George sits against the trunk of one of the trees, looking unenthused. Ava walks right to him.

“I was brave today! Just like you told me! I talked to this girl named Penny, and she plays soccer, too, and she told me I should be on her team. And I saw this candy in the vending machine at school and thought of you.”

Illustrator note: George opens the candy and shares some with Ava.

“Thank you,” George said. “And that’s really great, Ava, it sounds like you were really brave.”

Ava thought George’s voice sounded…off. She thought it sounded a little…sad. “Are you okay, George?” Ava asked.

“Yeah,” George said. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just tired, that’s all. I don’t know if I feel like playing all that much today. I think I might just want to lay on the grass, if that’s okay with you.”

“Of course,” Ava said. And for hours they did just that, often in silence.

Illustrator note: George and Ava lie beside each other, on their backs, looking up at, and through, the trees’ branches.

When it became dark and she could hear her mom calling her in, Ava really didn’t want to go. Before she did, she hugged George tightly, and said, “Same time tomorrow?”

And even though George said, “Where else would I be?” Ava was worried—so worried, in fact, that she tried to stay awake all night just so she could hurry out to the trees at sunrise to see if George might still be there.

But it wasn’t long until Ava’s eyes started to feel heavy and she fell asleep.

When she did, something new happened with the trees.

Illustrator note: As Ava sleeps, the trees flicker all kinds of colors. And then the light goes out and all is dark.

Chapter 6

When she woke up, Ava panicked. How could she have fallen asleep!?

Illustrator note: The sun has risen, but it’s still early morning.

Ava got dressed as fast as she could and ran to the trees.

Illustrator note: Her mom and grandparents are making breakfast in the kitchen and Ava without a word runs past them.

But there was no George.

As stressed as Ava was, she tried to keep herself calm. “No big deal,” she said to herself. “You’ve never seen him in the morning anyway. Doesn’t mean he won’t be here later.”

So Ava went to school and tried to treat it just like any other day.

Illustrator note: At school, Ava is doodling nervously while in class. But then also, she and Penny eat lunch together, and they’re clearly having a good time with one another.

Just like she had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, Ava ran to the trees after school. “Yoohoo!” she yelled goofily, “I’m here!”

But there was no sign of George.

“Very funny, George!” Ava yelled. She thought he’d pop out from behind the tree at any moment…


“George? Where are you?”

Ava waited and waited. But George never showed.

He wasn’t there the next day, either.

Or the day after that.

As the weekend arrived, Ava didn’t feel like going outside anymore. She didn’t feel like doing much of anything.

Illustrator note: Ava lies on the couch; her grandpa looks on, concerned.

She definitely didn’t feel like going grocery shopping.

Illustrator note: Sad, Ava trails her mom through the store.

And she definitely didn’t feel like running into Penny and her mom while they were there.

Illustrator note: Penny smiles and waves at Ava; Ava gives back half a smile and half a wave. Ava’s mom and Penny’s mom introduce themselves and chat. Ava’s mom says to Penny’s mom, “Let me give you my number!”

When they returned home, Ava went straight to her room and laid in bed.

Illustrator note: Time passes; signal that a phone rings out of frame.

Hours later, there was a knock on the door. “It’s me,” Ava’s mom said from the other side.

“Please go away,” Ava said.

“I’m not sure what’s going on, sweetie,” Ava’s mom said, “but I’m here to talk if you want to talk.”

To that, Ava had no response. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t talk to her mom about it. It’s just that she didn’t want to. She didn’t know how to start, or what to say, or how her mom would look at her when she said that she’d been playing with a kid version of her dad.

The last thing she wanted to be made to feel was crazy.

In the silence, Ava’s mom said, “Penny’s mom called. And Penny invited you to a sleep-over at her house. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

After even more silence from Ava, Ava’s mom added, “I’d love to see you give it a try. Penny seems like she could be a really great friend.”

“I’ll think about it,” Ava finally said.

“Okay, sweetie,” Ava’s mom said.

After her mom left, Ava curled beneath the covers and cried.

Chapter 7

Over the next week, whenever she could Ava looked to the trees.

Illustrator note: Ava looks out from her bedroom window at the trees.

But there was no sign of George.

Illustrator note: Ava looks crushed.

Still, she was brave, and when her mom asked again about sleeping over at Penny’s, Ava said, “Sure.”

But, as the weekend arrived, and the sleepover came closer and closer, Ava felt her stomach turn all muddy again.

Illustrator note: Ava nervously packs her overnight bag.

While it wasn’t her first sleepover, it was her first sleepover here.

What if Penny thinks I’m weird? Ava couldn’t stop wondering. What if Penny thinks I smell funny? What if Penny is weird?—precisely the kinds of question her dad had helped her untangle.

“Do I really have to go?” Ava asked her mom at the last minute. “Can’t I just say I’m sick?”

“You could. But are you?”

There may have been a whole lot going on in Ava’s stomach, but she knew she wasn’t sick. She shook her head no.

Ava’s mom said, “It’s important to try new things, and to spend time with new people. What if you’d never tried—”

Illustrator note: Ava interrupts, rolling her eyes.

“’What if I’d never tried bubble gum ice cream?’ Yeah, yeah. I know. I wouldn’t know it was the best ice cream ever.”

Penny’s house was only a short distance from Ava’s house, so Ava and her mom walked over.

Illustrator note: Afternoon sun. They walk on the shoulder of the country road, the clump of trees always in sight—even from Penny’s house.

Once they arrived, all that mud in Ava’s stomach disappeared.

Illustrator note: Penny and Ava start playing immediately. Out of frame, Ava’s mom says to an Ava that’s running off, “Love you, sweetie, call me if you need me!”

Penny was an excellent soccer player.

Illustrator note: They play outside as the sun is setting.

Plus, she was a great air drummer.

Illustrator note: They rock out goofily to something playing from the speakers behind them.

And, she made the best popcorn Ava had ever eaten.

Illustrator note: They’re in the dark, watching a movie together.

When night came and it was time for bed, Ava tried to fall asleep.

She tried.

And she tried.

Illustrator note: Ava tosses and turns. Penny is sound asleep.

And she tried.

As she laid there awake, a lime green glow filled Penny’s room.

Illustrator note: Ava sits up, confused.

When she understood that the light was coming from outside, Ava tiptoed to the window—it was the trees! The trees were glowing!

Illustrator note: Ava’s happy face is bathed in lime green light as she looks out the window.

Ava put on her coat and her boots and tiptoed out of Penny’s house. And as soon as she felt that the coast was clear, she sprinted toward the trees.

Illustrator note: As she gets closer, the glow goes away.

When she was nearly there, Ava said, “George, is that you?”

“Ava?” It was her grandpa’s voice. “What are you doing out here?”

Ava sat next to her grandpa on the rock facing the trees. She was so confused. “I… I…”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at Penny’s?” her grandpa asked.

Ava nodded, fearing she was about to get in trouble. But she wasn’t.

“I couldn’t sleep, either,” Ava’s grandpa said. “I come out here sometimes when that happens.”


“Because your dad loved these trees so much that when I’m out here I feel closer to him. And feeling closer to him helps calm me down. Always has.”

“Same,” Ava said. “I really miss him.”

“I do, too, kiddo. I miss him a whole lot.”

Ava’s grandpa kissed her on the top of her head. “We can miss him together,” he said.

Illustrator note: Ava’s grandpa puts her arm around her, and Ava puts her head on her grandpa’s shoulder.

They stayed like that for a long, long time, cold but comfortable, sad but happy.

Eventually, Ava’s grandpa stood up. “Okay, my dear,” he said. He tapped Ava’s shoulder—twice. “Let’s get you back to your friend’s house.”

Illustrator note: Ava and her grandpa walk toward Penny’s house in the night.

And there, on the trunk of a different tree is carved: Theo. Ava’s grandpa’s name.

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