Toads and Diamonds


An Excerpt from the novel Toads and Diamonds:


Diribani dipped her jar into the pool. Full, its weight stretched her tired arms. Grunting with the effort required to lift it above her shoulders, she settled the water jar onto the cloth ring that kept it steady on her head.

Tana would be the first to remind her that poor girls earned their every meal, or they didn’t eat. Diribani’s lips twisted in a wry smile. Perhaps she wasn’t as skilled as her stepsister, but she could strive to work as hard.

Leaving the pavilion’s shade, Diribani almost tripped over a pile of rags. She stopped with a squeak of surprise when the strips of cloth parted, revealing two wrinkled hands and a disease-ravaged face. Inside the torn garments, a woman hunched on the stone walkway. Praying? Asleep? A traveler weakened by her struggle through the road’s thick mud? Diribani didn’t recognize her.

“Give me a drink, Mina?” The words were slurred, the voice cracked with age.

“Certainly, Ma-ji.” Diribani lowered her jar and stepped forward to pour water over the outstretched claws.

The stranger slurped the water, dribbling it over Diribani’s feet. Diribani pretended not to notice. The poor thing couldn’t help her infirmity. Bony, sore-pocked legs stuck out from her ragged garment. She must be weak as a baby bird, if she couldn’t manage the few paces to the pavilion’s shelter.


“No, no.” A deep cough shook the thin body.

Diribani hugged the jar to her chest and winced in sympathy. “May I help you to the pavilion?”

“Thank you, Mina.” Spittle flecked the cracked lips.

Before Diribani could put down the jar to assist, claw hands closed over Diribani’s elbows and the old woman pulled herself upright. Either the coughing or the abrupt upward movement must have cleared an obstruction from her throat. Strangely, the crone’s voice emerged as sweet as a flute’s. “Such kindness merits a gift. What is your soul’s desire, my daughter?”

“Pardon, Ma-ji?” Diribani said, confused by the woman’s transformation from beggar to benefactor. She would have stepped back, but the woman held her arms in a firm grip. As they stood face to face, with only the width of the water jar between them, Diribani met the stranger’s eyes.

A deep green color, they reflected Diribani’s gaze into eternity, two pools as liquid and profound as the well where they stood. Awe closed Diribani’s throat. This was no ordinary old woman; her question demanded the absolute truth. Beauty was the answer that rose to Diribani’s lips, but she had no breath to shape the word.

“Ah,” the stranger said, as if she could read stunned silence as easily as speech. Her voice started on a low note and swelled into unbearable richness, a temple bell echoing in the well. “Your sweet nature, kind heart, and hopeful spirit are worthy of reward.”

Like nectar, the rich voice filled Diribani with an emotion too intense to contain. The clay jar slipped from her arms and smashed into pieces on the ground. A shard sliced her ankle, but that slight pain wasn’t what caused Diribani to clap her hands over her face and sob as if her heart, too, had been shattered.

Joy brought the tears: a rush of gladness greater than any she had ever experienced. Washing over her in an irresistible wave, the goddess’s regard bathed Diribani in a beauty like sunrise. Or music.

Or the strong, sure line of a green snake, writing a girl’s fate in the sand.



by Heather Tomlinson Published by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) ISBN-13: 9780805089684 Age Range: 12+ Years

Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family’s scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.

It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.

Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province’s governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters’ fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?

Toads and Diamonds is a 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

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Heather Tomlinson alternates between haunting libraries and bookstores for fantastical reads, and creating them herself. Buried in the depths of her Southern California writing cave, she enjoys fracturing fairy tales into new and different shapes. Who says a family’s oldest child is always the bad one? What if blessings and curses weren’t so obvious? Couldn’t stepsisters love and look out for each other, instead of fighting? Wrestling with questions like these has led to several novels: Toads and Diamonds, Aurelie: A Faery Tale, and The Swan Maiden. Heather’s feline assistant Miss Z supervises the drafting process and keeps the office writing cave clear of lizards, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies.