"Create interesting characters!" Ben announced.

"Describe them carefully so they seem real," Tricia added.

"Make them talk! That's called dialogue!" Barry called out.

"Put in a beginning, a middle, and an end," Tyrone said. Then he went into his rap routine."First you gotta start cuz you gotta have heart, and next you gotta middle cuz you feelin' like a fiddle, and when you gonna end everybody be yo' friend—" He stood at his desk and moved his body.

"Go, Tyroooonnne!" Malcolm called. "Go! Go!"

Mrs. Pidgeon, smiling, went to Tyrone and placed her arm firmly over his shoulders. "You're good, Tyrone. You're really good! But save it till recess. Class, quiet down, please."

When the room was silent, Felicia Ann looked up and spoke in her shy, whispery voice. "And alwayth put in a thuddenly," she reminded the class.

"Suddenly," Mrs. Pidgeon announced, "I think we have an interesting project, compliments of Gooney Bird Greene!"

"Yay!" the second-graders shouted, and Gooney Bird, holding her long maybe-a-nightgown out to the sides, curtsied politely.

With the teacher's help, the class decided that the fable project would become, also, a holiday celebration for the school. They had time, they thought. There were still two weeks before vacation.

Each child would write a fable, an animal story, using an animal that matched his or her own initial.

"I could be a bull! B is for bull!" Ben called out, making horns out of his hands and leaning forward with a snort. He pawed the floor with one foot.

"I could be a tiger!" shouted Tyrone.

"Remember, though, each fable must have a moral!" Mrs. Pidgeon reminded them. "And a moral is what?"

They were all silent for a moment. Then Beanie raised her hand. "It's when you learn how to behave, from the story. I mean, from the fable."

"Good for you, Beanie. All right, class. Be thinking about choosing your animal and creating your fable and its moral. And then, after we listen to your fables here in the classroom—"

She interrupted herself. "Nicholas? Is something wrong?"

Nicholas had his head down on his desk. He raised it slightly. "No," he said.

"Mrs. Pidgeon! Mrs. Pidgeon!" Chelsea was waving her hand in the air.

Mrs. Pidgeon nodded to her. "Yes, Chelsea?"

"Can we wear costumes? For our animals?"

The teacher hesitated. "We don't really have time for making elaborate costumes, I'm afraid. Remember what a mess it turned into at Thanksgiving, with all those Pilgrims and Native Americans?"

The class looked disappointed.

"I have an idea," Gooney Bird, who was still standing after her curtsey, said. "We don't need whole costumes. But just one little thing, to show the animal. Like if Ben's fable was about a bull, he could wear, oh, maybe a tail..."

All of the children shrieked with laughter."Ben's got a ta-il, Ben's got a ta-il,"Malcolm called in a singsong voice."Ben's got a—"

"I'm not being a bull," Ben said angrily. "I changed my mind. My fable's going to be about some other animal."

"Let's each keep our animal secret for now," Mrs. Pidgeon suggested. "Then, when our fables are ready, we can wear one thing—not a large thing—to indicate something about the animal. It doesn't have to be a tail," she added, looking at Ben.

"Will you do one, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Keiko asked.

"Certainly I will. I'm part of this class."

"You could be a pigeon!" Barry pointed out. "Can a bird be in a fable?"

"Of course," the teacher said. "Aesop wrote one about a crow.

"All of you start thinking. Right now we must turn to our social studies. But be thinking about your fables. And after they are all finished, on the last day of school before vacation, we can share them with the rest of the school by having a parade through the halls!"

"A parade of the animals!" Keiko said, and clapped her hands.

"A Fabulous Parade!" said Gooney Bird Greene.


"Gooney Bird," suggested Mrs. Pidgeon, "I'm going to put you in charge of this, since it was your wonderful idea. Most of the children are ready. So would you come here to the front of the class and call on them?"

A week had passed. Now, with just one week left until vacation, the second-graders had been working with excitement on the project. Many of them had brought in their costume parts and were eager to display them and tell their fables.

Gooney Bird, who always looked as if she were wearing a costume even when she wasn't, came to the front of the classroom. Today she was wearing her hiking boots; two different-colored knee socks, one blue and one yellow, appeared at the top of the boots. Even though there was snow on the ground outdoors, Gooney Bird was wearing red plaid Bermuda shorts. She also wore a short-sleeved T-shirt in army camouflage colors, and dangling around her neck was a sparkly rhinestone necklace.

Mrs. Pidgeon went to sit in her desk chair. Then she said, "Actually, Gooney Bird, maybe you'd like to go first, since it was your idea?"

Gooney Bird thought for a moment. Then she said, "No. I want to go last."

"All right then, you may go last. Time to choose who goes first!"

"Volunteers?" Gooney Bird asked, looking around the classroom. "Hands?"

Many hands shot into the air. Barry Tuckerman, as always, was half standing at his desk, waving his arm wildly. Felicia Ann, as always, was looking at the floor. But her hand was raised in a timid sort of way.

Gooney Bird looked at Nicholas. "Nicholas," she said, "you didn't raise your hand. But would you like to be first?"

Nicholas, who had been looking gloomy all week, shook his head.

"Is there anything we can do to make you feel more cheerful?" Gooney Bird asked in a kindly voice.

"No," Nicholas muttered.

"Well, then." Gooney Bird looked around the room at all the waving hands. Finally she looked at the teacher's desk. "Mrs. Pidgeon," she asked, "is your fable ready?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "I have it right here."

"And your costume?" asked Gooney Bird.

Mrs. Pidgeon nodded.

"I'd like you to go first, then. You're a member of this class, after all."

Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "All right," she said. She stood up. She was wearing black slacks and a black turtleneck shirt. She reached into the bag that she had stored under her desk and brought out a white vest and put it on.

"How shall we do this, Gooney Bird?" she asked. "Would it be fun to have the class guess what animal each of us is?"

"No,"Nicholas said loudly.

It was very startling. Nicholas ordinarily was a cheerful, outgoing boy. But all week he had been acting strangely.

Gooney Bird decided to ignore him. "Yes," she said, "let's guess. Class, take a look at Mrs. Pidgeon and guess what animal she is! Remember, it must begin with a P!"

"But P is for her last name," Tricia pointed out.

Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "That's true," she said. But my first name is Patsy! I'm a two-P person! Now see if you can guess my animal."

The class all looked carefully. Mrs. Pidgeon was entirely black except for her white middle.

"Penguin!"the children all shouted.

"I saw March of the Penguins Beanie called out.

"Me too!" Malcolm said. "I did too! I saw it too! I saw March of the Penguins!"

"So did I!" called Ben. "My dad took me!"

"I saw it!" Chelsea said loudly.

"I thaw it too," Felicia Ann whispered, "but it wath tho thad!"

"Shhhhh," Gooney Bird said, and she held her finger in front of her mouth. "I'm sure Mrs. Pidgeon's fable won't be sad. Will it, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Gooney Bird stepped aside so that the teacher could stand at the front of the class to read her fable.

Mrs. Pidgeon was laughing. "No," she said, "it isn't sad at all. But it also isn't about a penguin!"

"It isn't?" asked Gooney Bird, looking puzzled.

"No. I'm going to write the name of my animal on the board. I'm afraid guessing is not going to be a good idea. It might take forever. Instead, each of us can write our animal in a list. I'll start right here." Mrs. Pidgeon picked up the chalk and held it to the board. "Then, after we're all done," she said, "we can have a lesson in alphabetizing. Remember my beginning letter, P?"

She wrote an uppercase P on the board.

Then she added an A, an N, a D, and another A.

"Panda!"the class called out. They looked at their teacher again. Her arms and legs were black, and her middle was white. A perfect panda.

"Now," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I'll read my fable."

Once there was a small panda who lived in a bamboo grove in China. He was a happy panda who spent his days playing in the tall stalks of bamboo and nibbling at the leaves.

One day a majestic deer wandered into the bamboo grove.

"Hello," said the deer to the panda. "You look as if you are enjoying your nibbling."

"Yes," the panda replied. "I am."

"I myself prefer to eat the tips of rhododendrons," the deer said. "They are quite yummy, and I think they have a lot of vitamins."

"Bamboo is yummy, too," said the panda, "but I'd be happy to give a rhododendron a try, on your recommendation."

So the majestic deer led the small panda out of the bamboo grove and through a meadow, then to a rhododendron bush at the edge of the woods.

"Here," said the deer. "Help yourself."

The panda nibbled curiously. The taste was not bad. It was very different from bamboo leaves. He ate several twigs and a few blossoms.

But suddenly his stomach began to hurt. He felt sick.

"I think I want to go home now," he called out to the deer. But the deer had gone away. The panda was alone, and lost.

With a badly aching stomach, and crying a bit because he was frightened, the panda found his way with much difficulty back to the bamboo grove.

He made himself comfy there and decided never to leave the bamboo grove again.

"That's the end," Mrs. Pidgeon said. She folded her paper, placed it on her desk, and smiled at the class.

"It wath a good fable," Felicia Ann said.

"Not too scary," Keiko added. "Just a little scary, at the suddenly part, when his stomach hurt. But suddenlys are almost always a little scary."

"Nicholas?" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Did you enjoy it?"

Nicholas lifted his head briefly. "It was okay," he muttered.

"Thank you, Mrs. Pidgeon. You may take your seat," Gooney Bird said. She was very good at being in charge.

"Now, class," she went on, "who can tell the moral of Mrs. Pidgeon's panda fable?"

All of the children were silent, thinking of the story of the panda. "Put on your thinking caps," Gooney Bird reminded them.

Malcolm's hand shot up. "I know!" he called out. "I know what it is! Oh, I know—"

"Malcolm?" Gooney Bird pointed to him. "Would you tell us the moral? And by the way, you only need to say it one time."