Of all of the naughty, mischievous, disrespectful, and downright horrible things that children can be, a badling is perhaps one of the worst. Badlings abandon books without finishing them, leaving their characters sad and lonely—not to mention angry. Meet Bells, Peacock, Rusty, and Grand, four ragtag friends convicted of this monstrous crime. As punishment, they get sucked into a book of unfinished stories, whose patchwork pages they must traverse...and read to the end this time.
What if you found a book stuck in dirt? Would you take a peek inside, or would you chuck it at innocent ducks that happened to waddle nearby? Poor ducks. You wouldn’t hurt them, would you? Because who throws books instead of reading them?
Meet Belladonna Monterey, or Bells, as she’d like you to call her—she has decided that Belladonna was too pompous a name for a scientist. See her dark flashing eyes? Her ponytail all askew? Don’t try talking to her, lest you want to be throttled.
On this sunny September morning Bells was mad. Mad at her mother, the famous opera singer Catarina Monterey, for calling her a “poor scientist.” The argument started with Bells refusing to go to her Saturday choir practice and escalated further into a shouting match when Bells declared that under no circumstances would she ever become a singer.
“So you want to be a poor scientist?” said Catarina, hands on her hips. It was her usual intimidating pose mimicked by Bells’ little sister Sofia from behind her mother’s back.
“What does it matter if I’m poor?” asked Bells, stung to the core.
Sofia stuck out her tongue.
Bells ignored it, refusing to descend to the level of an eight-year-old.
“Oh, it matters a great deal,” replied Catarina. “How do you propose to make a living? You have seven years left until you’re on your own, Belladonna, and every year is precious.”
“I told you I don’t like that name. Call me Bells.”
Her mother’s lips pressed together. “As I was saying, Belladonna, every year is precious. I’ve picked out an excellent stage name for you, and I expect you to thank me.” Her demeanor softened. “You are destined to become a star, with my talent running in your blood. If you stop practicing now, you might never develop your voice.”
“I don’t want to develop a voice,” grumbled Bells.
“You’re a girl!” cried Catarina. “What future do you think you have in science?”
“Why does it matter that I’m a girl? I certainly have no inclination toward prancing around in some stupid medieval dresses and hollering my lungs out like you do.” As soon as she said it, she regretted it.
Her mother looked hurt. “Is that what you think I do? Holler my lungs out?”
“I hate dresses,” said Bells stubbornly. “I hate singing. I hate it that I’m a girl. I want to do science. Stop sticking your tongue out!” That last bit was directed toward Sofia.
“Mom, Belladonna is being mean,” she whined.
“Shut up,” said Bells.
“You shut up.”
“Don’t pester your sister,” snapped Catarina. “Look at her. She’s younger than you, but she has the presence of mind to follow my advice.”
Sofia flashed a triumphant smile and twirled, showing off her gaudy pink dress, the type their mother liked to buy for both of them. Bells made a gagging noise. She hated pink or anything decidedly girly. She made sure to never wear dresses, and if she absolutely had to, she smeared them with mud so thoroughly, her mother would pronounce them ruined.
“Well,” relented Catarina, “if being a scientist is what you want to do, that is your choice. Go ahead. But don’t come crawling back to me asking for money.”
“Mom, I’m only eleven!”
“At your age I was already working, modeling and making a considerable sum from every photo shoot.”
“I don’t want my face plastered on a can of macaroni, thank you very much,” said Bells.
“I want to be a model,” said Sofia.
Bells made a strangling motion that sent Sofia behind her mother’s skirt.