Exclusive Excerpt Provided to The Southwester
By Mike Goodman
Kitty Felde, who lived in River Park for nine years, covered Capitol Hill for public radio for nearly a decade. Now, she’s explaining Congress to a new generation of kids with a series of mystery novels set on Capitol Hill.
On August 13, State of the Union was released by Chesapeake Press. It is the second book in the Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books, the story of the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman from Southern California who is on the hunt for a mysterious bird that pooped on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. While Fina’s father is working on immigration reform legislation with his House colleagues, her grandmother is nearly arrested outside the Capitol with a group of activists.
The books have also been turned into an episodic podcast called The Fina Mendoza Mysteries. Felde also hosts the Book Club for Kids podcast, which is in partnership with the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA). The Book Club for Kids was named one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world by The Times of London. More information can be found at https://www.bookclubforkids.org/.
Below is an excerpt of State of the Union provided to The Southwester:
Every member of Congress got to bring one person to the State of the Union address.
“Usually, you pick a guest to make a point about an issue you care about, like gun control or small business growth or education,” said Papa. “Tonight, I’m making a point about family. We are finally a family, here together at last.”
Well, sort of. Gabby didn’t want to come. She wasn’t interested in politics, she told Papa as often as he would listen. So Abuelita got Papa’s ticket and Congresswoman Mitchell gave me hers. She was kind of my boss. She paid me five dollars a day to walk Senator Something. When she handed me my money last week, she also handed me a fancy cardboard ticket for the State of the Union speech.
“It’s like gold,” she told me. “Don’t lose it.”
Of course, I did lose it. Papa said it was because I wasn’t thinking about “the task at hand.” The good news was that Gabby found the ticket next to the bathroom sink. I must have left it there when I was brushing my teeth.
Papa told us to wear our nicest clothes. That meant the Christmas dress that Abuelita had sewn for me. It was bright red, which was okay, but it had old-fashioned ruffles on the skirt and it itched. I felt stupid, like I was wearing a costume in a school play. I wanted to wear my school uniform, but Abuelita said this was an important night and I needed to “dress the part.” She meant that I had to look like the daughter of the man who was going to be on TV after the State of the Union speech to tell America all the things that the president said that were wrong, and say them in Spanish.
Abuelita held onto her State of the Union ticket so hard, I thought she’d tear it. My shoes pinched as we walked over to the Capitol. I hadn’t worn the shiny black church shoes since last Easter. Now they were too small.
I showed Abuelita what to do as we walked through a bunch of security checkpoints, putting her house keys and my jangly bracelets in the little plastic tub of the X-ray machine and walking through the metal detector. Finally, we got up to the House gallery, the balcony over the House floor. The stairs in the gallery were really steep, and I worried that Abuelita would fall over the edge and land on the lawmakers down below.
Down on the House floor, there was a kind of roar, with lawmakers talking over each other. It was more crowded than usual. Usually, senators stayed on their side of the Capitol. But tonight, all one hundred of them came over here to crowd into the extra chairs on the House floor for the president’s speech. Except none of them were sitting down. They stood around, pounding each other on the back and shaking a lot of hands. And just like when the House members were there all by themselves, the Republican senators were on one side of the chamber and the Democrats were over on the other side.
Our seats were right above the Republican chairs. I spotted Congresswoman Mitchell. She must have felt my eyes on her because she looked up and waved at me. I waved back, but then worried that I might get into trouble. I wasn’t sure whether you were supposed to wave at people on the House floor.
The back door to the chamber opened and a bunch of people walked in. “That’s the cabinet,” I told Abuelita. “They work for the president.”
After the cabinet, some generals marched in, wearing uniforms covered in ribbons and pins. A group wearing black choir robes came next. It was the Supreme Court. And then I saw her, with her curly black hair and black framed glasses and yes, even her jangly bracelets just like mine!
“Hola, Justice Sotomayor!” It was Abuelita.
We were in trouble now. Abuelita loved Justice Sotomayor, but I knew that shouting at people on the House floor was definitely not okay. Papa gave me a list of rules when I showed him my ticket. “No laughing unless everyone is laughing and it’s a real joke. No doing anything to call attention to yourself. And no talking.”
Abuelita wasn’t just talking. She was shouting.
“Nosotras te amamos!”
I loved Justice Sotomayor, too. But I wasn’t sure that I wanted every member of Congress and all of the generals and everybody watching on TV to know that.
“Shh, Abuelita!” I whispered, tugging on her dress to try to get her to sit back down. She didn’t sit. I looked around to see if there was a Capitol policeman coming to take us away.
But then, Justice Sotomayor looked up at the people in the gallery. Abuelita waved.
“Don’t do that, Abuelita,” I whispered.
She wouldn’t listen. She kept waving. Just as the other justices were sitting down, Sonia Sotomayor waved back at Abuelita, her many bracelets clinking so loud that I could hear them up here. I couldn’t believe it!
“Close your mouth, Fina,” whispered Abuelita. “You’re catching flies.”
I loved my grandmother, but sometimes I wished she wasn’t my grandmother. Tonight I wished she was just some stranger sitting next to me. I pretended that I was a tourist and this was the first time I’d ever visited Washington, D.C. I looked at the old fashioned lights by the doors and the giant American flag behind the chair where the Speaker sat. I stared up at the ceiling. I guess I never looked up all the other times I’d watched Papa give speeches on the House floor. There was an eagle up there. Not a real eagle, just one made out of white glass. It wasn’t very pretty, but it was plenty big. I stared at it so long that I thought I heard it screech.
“Yeah, right,” I told myself. “Glass eagles don’t screech.”
I turned to Abuelita. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what, mija?”
It got really quiet and a bald man with a loud voice announced, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”
There was a lot of cheering on one side of the House floor and some polite clapping on the other side.
The back door opened again, and the president walked in. He didn’t get very far because he had to shake hands with all the lawmakers who sat at the ends of the rows of chairs. “Claudia told me they had to get there by lunchtime if they wanted to save those seats,” I whispered to Abuelita. “I think they just want to be on TV.”
Finally, the president made his way to the microphone and started talking. It was a long speech about a lot of stuff. He even talked about immigration, or at least how he didn’t want Congress messing around with it. “No amnesty, ever,” he said.
Abuelita grumbled under her breath. It was a good thing the president didn’t speak Spanish.
The president pointed to soldiers and nurses and farmers sitting in the seats around us and told stories about them. People applauded. I yawned.
“Don’t fall asleep,” Abuelita whispered.
It wasn’t just because the speech was boring. It was late. The president didn’t even start talking until after my bedtime. I decided I could keep my eyes busy by counting how many times people applauded and see who was doing the clapping, the Democrats or the Republicans. One time – I think it was when the president mentioned veterans trying to get better health care – both sides clapped. But just that one time.
And then it happened. Right when the president raised his arm to point to another person in the gallery, something fell from the ceiling. It landed right in the middle of the president’s fluffy hair.
“What the …” The president patted his head. His perfectly hair-sprayed hair looked as crunchy as a bird’s nest. He looked at his hand. He smelled his hand. He made a face.
Everybody looked up. It was a bird.
There was a great hush on the House floor. And then one lawmaker shouted, “Get that bird!”
Secret Service agents ran onto the House floor and surrounded the president. Lawmakers started talking loudly, pointing at the ceiling. People sitting in the gallery looked up, shouting, “I think it flew over there” and “there’s a feather!”
A bird. A trickster. Could it be Monica’s Chickcharney?