Johnny Moore lives in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century. He is there to witness the Wright brothers make history by becoming the first people to fly. But Johnny's life changes years before the dramatic first flight, when his mama gives him a blank book and tells him to write in it.
At first, Johnny doesn't think he has anything interesting to write about in his journal. When he does put his pencil to the paper, his spelling and grammar are terrible. But pretty soon some "dingbatters" from Ohio, called the Wright brothers, breeze into town and Johnny starts to have more of a story to tell. Before he knows it, he is writing every day, telling about helping the Wrights build their flying machine.
Over the course of three years, he forms a friendship with the odd brothers from Ohio, improves his writing and grammar quite a bit, and if he waits long enough, he might even get to fly!
About the Author
Dan Gutman hated to read when he was a kid. Then he grew up. Now he writes cool books like The Kid Who Ran for President; Honus & Me; The Million Dollar Shot; Race for the Sky; and The Edison Mystery: Qwerty Stevens, Back in Time. If you want to learn more about Dan or his books, stop by his website at DanGutman.com.
Read an Excerpt
From Book1: 1900
January 1, 1900
Today is the first day of a new century! That's something, innit?
To celebrate, mama hands me this book. It says JOHNNY MOORE on the cover, which is my name. I say why would anybody write a book about ME, and mama says it's not about YOU. I say what am I gonna do with some book about ANOTHER Johnny Moore, as I don't go in much for readin' anyway. I told mama if you wanted to get me a present, you might could have got me a new fishin' pole or somethin' I could use. But she says it's a special book and I should open it.
So I open the book and THERE AIN'T NO WORDS ON THE DURN PAGES! Nary a one! I say what good is a book with no words in it? About as useful as a fish hook with no bait.
I reckon I could read this book right fast, not havin' to slow down to read no words. But mama says the trick is I gotta write my OWN words in the pages.
Shucks, who ever heard of a book you put your OWN words into? I never heard of such a thing.
But Mama is a right smart woman. She tells people's fortunes for money, and she knows about things most folks don't know. Like, it was mama who told me if your left hand itches, that means you're gonna get some money. And if you find a cricket in the house, that means it's gonna rain. She knows all the important rules like that.
Mama says if I write in this book every day for a year and fill up the whole book with words, good things will come to me. But I don't believe that for a minute and I tell her I won't do it. So mama says fine, don't write in the durn book for all I care.
That's when I got an idea. I say to mama how about I write in the book every day, but I don't have to go to school no more? She says WHAT???
See, I never DID like school. Last year mean old Miz Hamilton would hit me in the palm with her brass ruler when I misbehaved, which was most of the time. I'm 14 years old now anyhow, and I don't need no more learnin'. Lots of folks who are all grown up don't know how to read near as good as me. Besides, if I don't have to be wastin' time goin to school, I could make more money fishin' and helpin' mama.
Mama thinks it over and thinks it over and thinks it over some more. See, she never went to school when she was little. She taught herself everything. But she wanted ME to get educated, and it means a lot to her that I made it all the way to 7th grade. But finally she says okay, your deal is agreeable to me. But you better write in the book, Johnny, and you better use good grammar cause I don't want you sounding like some dumb cracker.
So if I write in this durn book every day, I don't have to go to school no more. Whoopee!
And look, I filled up nearbout a whole page ALREADY!
January 31, 1900
Okay, so I didn't write in the durn book every day like I told mama I would. But I didn't have nothin' to SAY! What am I s'posed to write about, how I went a-fishin', which is what I do most every day? Mama says YES.
Okay, so I fish and hunt and crab and trap and whittle a little. I sell my catch for money to the dingbatters who come out here in the summer and don't have the sense to catch their own grub. I catch oysters, shad, herring, rock bass, croaker, and bluefish. Ain't much more to say about it. Can't fill up no book with THAT.
But now there's big news to write about. I just heard next season they're startin' up a whole new baseball league! It's gonna be called the American League and there's talk that someday they'll play against the best team in the National League in a World Serious to see whose better. That's somethin', innit?
I'm afraid my Chicago Orphans might could join up this new league cause they come in 8th place in the National League last year. They're a pretty sorry team, but we ain't got no major league team out here in North Carolina so I gotta pull for SOMEBODY.
I hear The Orphans got this new feller name of Frank Chance who they say is good. Maybe with him, they will have a chance.
Hey, that's a joke! The Orphans have a Chance.
February 2, 1900
Mama read what I wrote in the book and she was powerful sore at me. She says writin' about baseball foolishness wasn't what she had in mind when she gave me the book and why don't I write about important matters? Like what, I says, cause nothin' important ever happens out here on the Outer Banks. She says think of something or you're gonna have to go back to school.
Maybe I won't let mama read the book no more.
March 6, 1900
Happy birthday to ME! THAT'S pretty important, innit? I was born in the year 1885, which makes me 15 today. If I make it to 50 years, it will be the year 1935. If I make it to 100 years, it will be the year 1985. And if oh forget it.
Mama don't have much money, but she got me a pair of shoes and an old safety bicycle that one of the surfmen over at the Kitty Hawk Life Saving Station was sellin'. I fixed it up, and it is a dasher. I am gonna ride it everywhere. The shoes I ain't got no use for, as I reckon I like the feel of sand under my feet just fine.
June 20, 1900
Okay, so I didn't write in the book every day. But now something REALLY important happened that even mama will think is important. Mr. Teddy Roosevelt is gonna be runnin' for Vice President with President McKinley who's runnin' for re-election. They're a-goin' against some feller from Nebraska name of William Jennings Bryan. The election will be in November.
I hear that Mr. Roosevelt likes to go a-huntin' like me, so I guess I'm a-pullin' for him and Mr. McKinley to beat the stuffin' outta that Bryan feller.
August 8, 1900
What a HORRIBLE day! It all started when mama wakes me up and says, Johnny, get up. You got to go to Chloe Beasley's birthday party. Chloe Beasley is this little squirt of a girl who lives up the road a piece. She turned 5 years old today. So I say to mama I am 15 why do I have to go to some little GIRLY party? Mama says there ain't many children round here and Chloe will feel all sad if she ain't got enough friends at her party. So mama makes me go and even makes me wear my new shoes, too.
So I go to Chloe's house and who do I find but me and Chloe and her mama and NOBODY ELSE. I felt like crawlin' in a hole and pullin' the hole in after me.
Chloe started in cryin' cause some of her little friends couldn't come to her party. So I tried to cheer her up some with games and piggyback rides and such. She stopped crying. The good thing was Chloe's mama let me take my shoes off, and me and Chloe got to eat the whole birthday cake by ourselves.
September 12, 1900
Okay, so I ain't been writin' in the book much. But heck, the fish don't get caught when I'm wastin' time puttin' words in a durn book. And if I don't catch no fish, I don't make no money. And mama don't make enough money tellin' fortunes by herself, leastways not once the summer is over and all the dingbatters venture back to the mainland.
But I heard tell that somethin' real interestin' happened the other night. 'Bout nine o'clock, they say, this boat come in with this dingbatter from Ohio. This feller come ashore with 3 trunkloads of stuff, a bunch of long wooden rods, spools of wire, and a mess of white cloth. What's he need THAT for?
The guy was all dressed up in a jacket and tie like he was goin' to church or a funeral or somethin'. Nobody round here gets dressed up for no boat ride. I figure this dingbatter must be crazy or somethin'.
Now, I wasn't at the wharf at Kitty Hawk when the feller rolls in. But I know it's the honest truth cause I got it straight from my chum Elijah Baum who saw the whole thing and I know he wouldn't lie. Well not usually. Elijah lives by the water and likes to sail model boats in Kitty Hawk Bay. Me and mama live a whoop and a holler down the beach in Nags Head.
Anyhow, Elijah says this stranger took a whole week to get from Dayton, Ohio, by train, skiff, and who knows what else. He was so tuckered and sore from sleepin' on the deck that he could barely walk. The guy told Elijah he ain't eaten nothin' but jelly for two days.
I say to Elijah why did the guy tote all that junk out here for, and Elijah says wait wait I'm gettin' to that part. I hate it when Elijah does that.
Anyway, Elijah says he took the dingbatter to Captain Bill Tate's house a quarter mile from the wharf. Captain Tate is prettymost the smartest man in Dare County, havin' went to high school and all. He's the postmaster and county commissioner and who knows what else. Captain Tate's wife is named Amanda, but everybody calls her Miz Addie. They got two little gals name of Pauline and Irene.
Elijah says Miz Addie made the dingbatter from Ohio a heap of ham and eggs. He swooped down on 'em like a starvin' hawk and went to sleep for the rest of the day.
Yeah, so what is the guy doin' here I say to Elijah and he says hold my horses and he'll tell me in a minute.
Next mornin', says Elijah, the dingbatter and Captain Tate went to the wharf and used a horse cart to haul the feller's stuff ashore. They was totin' crates and a tent and some pieces of pine lumber that was 16 foot long, in addition to all his other stuff.
What's the dingbatter buildin' I ask, and Elijah STILL won't tell me. He likes to stretch out a story so's you want to hear the end. Elijah goes on and tells me the dingbatter asked the Tates for a gallon of boiled water every day. That's all he wanted. BOILED WATER! Seems his brother come close to dyin' a few years back from typhoid, so he's feared of bad water. Can't fault him for that. Typhoid can kill a man near quick as a bullet.
The next thing this crazy dingbatter did was order a barrel of gasoline. He had it shipped 50 mile from Elizabeth City. Elijah said the dingbatter's gonna keep the gasoline right in his tent!
What is he, touched, I ask. I know for sure that I ain't goin' anywhere near THAT tent in case it gets blowed up. This dingbatter is surely touched in the head.
Finally, I says to Elijah that if he don't tell me what the guy is buildin', I'm gonna frap him acrost the jaw. Okay, says Elijah. Then he doesn't say nothin' for a while till I'm just about to frap him. Then he says this the dingbatter is buildin' hisself...A FLYIN' MACHINE! Don't that beat all?
Well, I frap Elijah in the jaw anyhow. Here I am wastin' 15 perfectly good minutes of my time just to hear him make up one of his dumb stories. I tell him I got fish to catch. And just to be on the safe side, I take another poke at Elijah.
September 13, 1900
Well, it turns out that Elijah was tellin' the God's honest truth. A crazy dingbatter DID come all the way from Ohio, and he IS buildin' a flying machine. Leastways, that's what everyone's sayin' at the general store. It's just about the most excitin' thing to happen round here since Blackbeard the Pirate hisself washed up on these shores, and that was nearbout 2 hunnerd years ago.
So I says to myself, why would a feller come all the way from Ohio to the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Why don't he just build his flyin' machine in Ohio?
It ain't exactly paradise here on the Banks. We're just a 2 hunnerd mile spit of sand 'tween the Atlantic Ocean and Albemarle Sound, bent like an elbow. We ain't got nothin' here that a dingbatter like him would want, near as I can tell.
You can't hardly grow no crops here. Folks try to grow corn and beans in the sand. But the only thing that grows good here are bedbugs, wood ticks, and skeeters.
Most folks don't want to come here cause the weather ain't very tolerable. There's no point in ever combin' your hair cause we got so much wind it just blows your hair everywhichways. 'Specially in the winter. It sounds like thunder. The sand blows so hard it can bury a house. You can close your eyes, but the sand gets everywhere else. Even in your underclothes. You get used to it, like most everything else, I spose. I ain't never been to Ohio, but I reckon if I went there, I'd stay there.
The only town we got, 'cept for Nags Head, is Kitty Hawk, which ain't hardly much of a town anyhow. They got about 20 houses, some stores, a church, and a school with one teacher for everybody, no matter how old you are.
'Tween Kitty Hawk and Nags Head it's flatter than a runned-over ground hog for nearbout 5 miles, 'cept for some sand dunes near Kitty Hawk and woods on the side. Every so often you can see the top branches of trees stickin' out of the sand. They was buried years ago. Other than that, there's just a lot of nothin'.
The only good thing we DO got here is fishin' and huntin'. I fish in the spring and summer, and hunt in the fall. The woods are filled with wild game. When you look in the water, you can see dozens of fish swimmin' about, just waitin' to be caught. You look up in the sky and you can see eagles, buzzards, seagulls, redbirds, wrens, sparrows, ospreys, mockingbirds, you name it.
But from what I hear, this dingbatter from Ohio don't look like no hunter and he don't look like no fisherman neither.
That's when I figured it out. The dingbatter must be a spy.
I know all about spies. I read in some book about spies stealin' secrets and sellin' 'em to the enemy and such. I don't know what secrets we have round here, but we must have some durn good ones or this dingbatter wouldn't be comin' here tryin' to steal 'em.
He GOT to be a spy. Prob'bly thinks we're a bunch of dumb country crackers he can spy on and take our secrets back to Ohio.
Well shucks, I'll go him one better. I'm gonna spy on HIM. That will learn him.
September 14, 1900
I resolved to spy on the dingbatter from a distance for a spell. So I rode my bicycle over near the Tate house where this dingbatter was a-stayin'. There was a pile of firewood about a hunnerd foot from Captain Tate's front porch, perfect for spyin' behind. If some feller was buildin' a flyin' machine, I wanted to see it fly.
For a long time not a soul come out of the Tate house. I spied the long pieces of lumber under a canvas shelter on the front lawn, though. Something was up. Captain Tate is a lot of things, but he ain't no builder. After 30 minutes or so of waitin' I was fixin' to venture home when this feller come out of the house. I got a good look at him.
He looked like a bird, is the best I can describe. He was a tall, bony feller, nearbout 6 foot with no hair on his head 'cept for some which wrapped round the side and back. He was walkin' round lookin' at his wood and stuff. I thought I saw him lookin' in my direction, so I took off.
September 15, 1900
I went back for another peek at the dingbatter and his machine. This time I see him bright and early, still all dressed up like he was fixin' to go to church, but he was a-sawin' on wood. After a spell Captain Tate come over and lended him a hand. Then Miz Addie come out on the front porch a-wheelin' her sewin' machine.
Soon Miz Addie was pumpin' on the foot pedal and sewin' some long white cloth, while Captain Tate was hammerin' and the dingbatter was sawin'. The three of 'em was busier than a bee in a tar barrel.
I'll say one thing, it didn't look like they was buildin' no flyin' machine. Looked more like a long dinner table or some such thing, if you ask me. I will do further spyin' tomorrow to get at the truth.
Copyright © 2003 by Dan Gutman
Table of Contents
Book 1: 1900
GO FLY A KITE
Book 2: 1901
RACE FOR THE SKY
Book 3: 1902
THE SECRET OF FLIGHT
Book 4: 1903
Book 5: 1908
RETURN TO KILL DEVIL HILL
FACTS AND FICTIONS