She may have skyrocketed to stardom with the "Sister Act" movies more than 15 years ago, but most Americans know Whoopi Goldberg from her powerful personality as co-host of "The View."
Now the entertainment juggernaut is turning her efforts toward kids in a new children's book, "Sugar Plum Ballerinas." Written by Goldberg with help from Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Maryn Roos, "Sugar Plum Ballerinas" is the story of a little girl who has to overcome her fears and, with the help of some friends, perform in the annual show, "The Nutcracker."
Read an excerpt from the book below and then head to the "GMA" Library for some more good reads.
The voice sounds like it's far, far away. That's because I'm buried in what my friend Al calls one of my "body part" books. (The proper term is actually anatomy.) I get one from the library each week, since I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I'll need to learn every bone and muscle in the human body at some point, so I figure I might as well do it now. Plus, I'm only nine, and I want to get all the important information I can into my head early, so it'll sink in before my brain gets filled with ridiculous things like how to put on eye makeup and how to make boys like you.
I squint at a picture of a skull. I thought the main part of your skull was just one big bone, but it turns out it's really a bunch of little bones that are all stuck together. Why is this? Wouldn't a big piece of bone be stronger? Motorcycle helmets are supposed to protect your brain, too, and they don't look like jigsaw puzzles.
A white-socked foot with a hole in the toe taps my leg. "Brenda!"
I surface. It's late afternoon on Sunday. Mom's at the other end of the couch. She's put down the book she was reading, and now she's poking me with her foot again.
"What?" I ask.
I nod. Sunday is my favorite day of the week, since Mom usually has to work on Saturdays. First, we have waffles for breakfast; then we go to a free museum or walk around Central Park. Afterward, we come home and read on the couch till it's time to make supper, which on Sundays is always alphabet pasta with olives and artichoke hearts. Every week we see who can spell the longest words with her pasta. Mom knows lots more words than I do, but I know more disease names, like hemochromatosis and pneumoconiosis, so I can hold my own.
"Chocolate milk or hot chocolate?" she asks.
I look out the window to evaluate. We have chocolate milk when it's hot out and cocoa when it's cold. It's early September, so we're almost getting into cocoa weather. The late afternoon sun makes warm gold rectangles on our walls, and it's starting to smell like fall in the park. But I'm not ready for winter yet.
"Chocolate hot," I say, talking backward without realizing it. My hero is the brilliant and talented Leonardo da Vinci. He wrote backward sometimes, so I decided talking backward was a good idea, too. Only my friends can understand me when I do it. It's good when we need to talk secretly and grown-ups are listening.
Mom, however, has declared our house a No Backward Talk zone. She says if I talk backward to her, she'll answer me in Latin, and we'll never get anywhere.
I realize she's giving me the you-just-talkedbackward-to-me look. "I mean, hot chocolate," I add quickly.
She smiles. "You got it." She pulls herself up and heads for the kitchen, which is about the size of a broom closet. Mom has a job at the library, but we still don't have very much money. She spends one day a week tutoring women who can't read, and she doesn't get paid for that at all. Mom is really smart, and if she'd wanted to, I know she could have been a banker like her sister, my aunt Thelma. But Mom told me she and Thelma have different priorities. Which I think means that Aunt Thelma wanted to get rich and Mom didn't.
I don't care about the money most of the time. I don't need fancy clothes or MP3 players or video games. But there's one thing I really, really want: a computer. When I go over to see my friends the triplets, they let me use theirs.
Once, when we were all hanging out in Jerzey Mae's room, I found a Web site that lists all sorts of fascinating diseases. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of reading the symptoms of beriberi aloud. Jerzey Mae got paler and paler as I read.
"My muscles ache," she said. "I'm tired." She sank back into a pile of puffy pink pillows.
"Are you irritable?" I asked.
"Yes, she is," her sister JoAnn answered for her.
Jerzey Mae smacked JoAnn with one of the pillows.
"See?" said JoAnn.
"Do you have appetite loss?" I continued.
"Yes!" Jerzey said.
Jessica, her other sister, pointed out that we had just eaten huge hot-fudge sundaes. But Jerzey got so freaked out that she tried to convince her parents to take her to the emergency room. Her mom said we couldn't look at that Web site anymore.
I go into the kitchen and start measuring out chocolate powder for my drink. I dip the scoop into the container, then level it off carefully with a knife till it's exactly even.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Mom grinning at me.
"You'll be glad I'm precise when I'm a doctor and you're coming to me for a prescription," I say.
"You got that right," she replies.
I've wanted to be a doctor ever since I read about Leonardo cutting up dead bodies so he could see how they worked. I figured that whatever's in a body must be really interesting if it's enough to make someone want to do that. And, as always, Leonardo was right. There's so much going on in a human body it's amazing we can even stand up.
Mom slices cheese and puts it on the pieces of bread she's laid out, then pops the sandwiches under the broiler.
"Can we play Scrabble after dinner?" I ask.
"Yup," she says. "And I'll kick your butt this time." She starts to do an extremely premature victory dance, waving a kitchen towel around as she sashays in a circle.
"Will not," I say. I see the tickle-glint in Mom's eye and start to back out of the room.
"Will too!" she says, lunging for my especially ticklish right side.
I shriek. "No . . . fair!" I gasp, laughing. She knows exactly where to tickle me, but apparently she was born tickle-proof. My anatomy books do not show diagrams of tickle zones.
The phone rings. "Keep an eye on those sandwiches," she says as she runs into the living room.
"Hello? . . . Oh, hello, Thelma," she says.
That's a little weird. My mom and her sister get along okay, but they don't talk much, even though Thelma lives only an hour away. In a very big house in a very fancy suburb, ever since she married a very rich lawyer, on top of having all her own rich-banker money.
". . . Oh, dear, I'm sorry to hear that. Yes, of course we can help . . . Tuesday? Yes, that will be fine. That's my day off, so I'll be here all afternoon . . . yes, we'll see her then. Good-bye."
Oh, no. Please let "her" be anyone—anyone—other than my cousin Tiffany.
A burning smell wafts through the air. I grab the very-toasted sandwiches out of the oven and turn them over as Mom comes back in. She has an odd look on her face.
"Well," she says.
I brace myself for bad news.
"Your aunt and uncle are going out of town. And the nanny who takes care of your cousin Tiffany is leaving town, too. The nanny's mother is having surgery on her knee."
I perk up. "Can I watch?" I've always wanted to see an operation. I'm not grossed out by blood or intestines or anything. The only thing that makes me squeamish is when JoAnn turns her eyelids inside out, and I doubt a doctor would turn her eyelids inside out during knee surgery.
Mom stares at me. "Of course you can't watch, Dr. Smarty-Pants," she replies. "The point is, all the adults will be gone, so Tiffany is coming to stay with us for a while."
No wonder my scalp is tingling. "A while? How long is a while?"
"A week or two, more or less."
I'm hoping for less. Much less. My cousin Tiffany wears designer clothes. Her house looks like one of those rock-star houses you see on TV. When Mom dragged me to Tiffany's tenth birthday party, Tiffany talked nonstop about every one of her new outfits and all of her jewelry and her brand-new flat-screen TV and her video games. When one of her friends asked me if I had a PlayStation, Tiffany laughed and said, "No, she just has a lot of books," before I could even open my mouth. And when she visited our apartment last year, I left the room for a minute and came back to find her sprinkling blue powder onto a crown she was making for her stupid dog.
"That's the copper sulfate from my chemistry set!" I yelled.
"It's a pretty color, isn't it?" she said, holding up the crown to admire it.
That was the last straw. I bet real scientists don't have to worry about people stealing their chemicals to decorate dog hats.
Mom takes the sandwiches out of the oven, cuts them in half diagonally the way I like, and carries them to the table. I usually love our cozy apartment, but now I can't help looking at it through Tiffany's eyes. It wasn't deco-rated by New York's top interior designer, the way her house was. There are no expensive glass art pieces on the tables or oil paintings on the walls. I look down at our dishes—they're all mismatched, because Mom thinks that's cool. I usually like them, too, but I bet Tiffany will think we can't afford matching dishes.
I take a bite out of my sandwich, but it doesn't taste as good as usual. "Does she have to?" I finally say.
Mom looks at me sympathetically. "Look, I know you two don't have much in common. Her mom and I don't, either. But maybe you'll find things to appreciate about each other if you spend more time together."
I, for one, seriously doubt it.
Text copyright 2009 by Whoopi Goldberg.