Mrs. Pidgeon interrupted him in a kindly way. "Time to eat, Malcolm," she said gently. Then she turned to Tricia. "Did you want to ask me something? I think we all got distracted by Gooney Bird's bib."
Tricia nodded. "Me and Ben—" she began. Then she stopped. Mrs. Pidgeon had held up a finger—she called it her grammar finger—as a reminder.
"Ben and I," Tricia corrected.
"Good. That is much better grammar," Mrs. Pidgeon explained.
"How come Tyrone can use bad grammar when he raps?" Malcolm asked. "And you never once hold up your grammar finger?"
"Ahhh," Mrs. Pidgeon said with a chuckle. "Good question, Malcolm. Rap is a special art form. And it uses a different grammar. So Tyrone can say, in a rap—well, give us an example, Tyrone, would you?"
Tyrone looked down at his lunch, a pear and a sandwich on a paper napkin in front of him. He thought for a moment, then chanted,"Ain't no pear as big as my hair, cuz pears be small and my hair be tall..."
Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "All right," she said. "Now, Tyrone, tell us that in proper grammar."
Tyrone grinned. Then he said, "There isn't any pear as big as my hair, because pears are small, but I always comb my hair up to make it look pretty large."
"See the difference?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked, and the children nodded.
"So: what were you going to ask me, Tricia? About you and Ben?"
"Is it okay if Ben and I do our fable together?"
"Because we were talking about our initials, and Ben was going to do BEAR, but Beanie already did. But we thought of a fable you already read to us, by Aesop—"
"Which one?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked.
"'The Tortoise and the Hare,'" Tricia said.
All of the children nodded. "I remember that one!" Keiko said. "I liked that one."
"But there's no B animal in it!" Chelsea pointed out. "Tortoise. Hare. T and H."
Ben explained. "We're going to make it 'The Tortoise and the Bunny.' T and B for Tricia and Ben."
"Bunny!" shrieked Chelsea. "Ben's going to be a bunny!"
"Bunny's a baby word!" Malcolm said, sputtering with laughter. "Babies say 'bunny'! Bunny is—"
Mrs. Pidgeon put her calm-down hand on his shoulder. "But a minute ago," she said, "we were talking about bibs. Bibs can be called baby things. But look at Gooney Bird."
Everyone looked. Gooney Bird was still wearing her bib with the embroidered duck on it. "I have another bib at home," Gooney Bird said, "and I'll wear it tomorrow. It features a bunny."
"Good," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "And tomorrow Tricia and Ben can do their fable, 'The Tortoise and the Bunny.'"
"I am never ever embarrassed," Ben said proudly.
Walking back to the classroom after lunch, Nicholas trudged slowly, dragging his feet. The other children hurried ahead, all but Gooney Bird. She walked beside Nicholas. Mrs. Pidgeon, walking slowly too, took his hand.
"Nicholas," Mrs. Pidgeon said softly, "do you want to tell Gooney Bird and me what is wrong?"
Nicholas shook his head. But now they could see that there were tears on his cheeks.
Mrs. Pidgeon called to the rest of the children. "Go on into the classroom," she said, "and start studying your spelling words! I'll be there in a minute."
She knelt beside Nicholas. "You know," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "every single person has something that they feel upset about. It's one of the reasons that we read fables. They teach us about things."
Nicholas sniffled. He looked at the floor.
"For example, I know there are some children in my second grade who think they don't like school, and it isn't important.
"But Tyrone's fable about the T. rex had a moral, remember?"
Nicholas didn't look up. But he was listening. He shook his head.
"Gooney Bird? Do it with me?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked. Then she and Gooney Bird chanted together,"Big mean nuthin' if you don't do school!"
They could see Nicholas smile just a tiny bit.
"And," Mrs. Pidgeon went on, "let's see. Beanie's fable about the bear taught us that being the smallest doesn't make you less of a hero. Remember how the little cub saved his brother?"
"And Felicia Ann's taught us how to be proud of your color, didn't it?"
Nicholas nodded again. "Even your legth," he said, imitating Felicia Ann.
Mrs. Pidgeon chuckled. "Even your legth," she agreed.
Gooney Bird said, "And Malcolm. He's upset about those triplets. Maybe we could figure out a fable that would help Malcolm with that. Do you have your fable done yet, Nicholas?"
"Neither do I," said Gooney Bird. "I'm going last. But we could do one together, Nicholas! Would you like that?"
But surprisingly, Nicholas began to cry loudly. "I can't!" he sobbed.
"Why not?" asked Gooney Bird.
"Why not, sweetie?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon, patting his back.
Choking back the sobs, Nicholas told them the reason. "I don't have an animal!" he wailed.
"My goodness," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "That shouldn't be a problem!"
"It has to be an N!" Nicholas wept. "I thought and thought every day, and at night! I tried and tried, but there isn't one! I'm the only one who doesn't have an animal!"
"But what about a—" Then Mrs. Pidgeon hesitated for a long time, thinking, with a puzzled look on her face. "Oh, dear," she said at last. "It is a problem. Gooney Bird, what do you think? Can you come up with one?"
Gooney Bird, who felt that taking deep breaths was always helpful in problem-solving, took several deep breaths. She closed her eyes tightly, something she often did while thinking deeply.
Then she opened her eyes and grinned. "YES!" she said. "Got it!"
"What's the answer?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked.
Gooney Bird took Nicholas's hand. She tapped her foot the way Tyrone always did."You and me, me and you,"she chanted."Gonna be a secret between us two, cuz the teacher dunno and the class dunno, but me and you, we be stars of the show!"
Gooney Bird grinned. "You'll see, Mrs. Pidgeon," she said. "It'll be the best suddenly ever!"
The words BUNNY and TORTOISE had now been added to the list on the board. Ben and Tricia had told the well-known story of the race between the two, the race won by the slow, plodding tortoise (Tricia, the tortoise, had worn old leather gloves, wrinkled and brown, on both hands and both feet) because the foolish hare had been so certain of winning that he had stopped to play and to nap along the way. Ben had attached a cotton ball to the seat of his blue jeans. "I am never ever embarrassed," he had said again, wiggling his behind with its fluffy white puff of a tail.
"I think we all know the moral of that fable," Mrs. Pidgeon said."Slow and steady wins the race!"
Ben hip-hopped back to his desk, and Tricia slid her gloved feet slowly across the wooden floor until she reached hers.
"Me next? Oh, please, me next?" Barry Tuckerman, as usual, had his hand in the air.
"Do we have time for one more today?" Gooney Bird asked.
Mrs. Pidgeon nodded. "Just one," she said.
"Okay, Barry." Gooney Bird pointed to him.
"You can't be a bear!" Beanie said. "I already did bear!"
"Or a bunny," added Ben, who was turned around in his seat trying to remove his cotton-ball tail.
Barry Tuckerman came to the front of the room.
"He doesn't have a costume!" Malcolm called out. "You're supposed to have a costume! Barry doesn't have a—!"
Mrs. Pidgeon put her calm-down arm over Malcolm's shoulders. "Shhh," she said in a low voice. "Barry will explain."
Barry Tuckerman bowed to the class. "I have as much of a costume as Tricia did," he said. "She just had gloves.
"Tyrone only had a pie tin for dinosaur armor. And Ben just had a cotton-ball tail.
"You don't have to have clothes for a costume. I have this." He held up something silver and shiny.
The children all peered toward it, trying to see what the small shiny disk was. "It's money!" Keiko said.
"Correct," Barry replied. "It's five cents. It's a nickel."
"Why do you have a nickel?" asked Beanie.
"I'll explain in a minute. Anybody got a nickel?" Barry asked the class. Several children reached for their pockets. They shook their heads.
"I have two quarterth," Felicia Ann whispered. "The tooth fairy brought them."
"I have two pennies, in my shoes!" Chelsea announced. "See?" She held one foot up and the children could see that she was wearing loafers with pennies wedged into their slots for decoration.
Mrs. Pidgeon had taken her purse from the desk drawer. "I do, Barry!" she said. "I have a nickel!" She held it up.
"What's on it?" Barry asked. "Look carefully."
Mrs. Pidgeon examined her coin. "Let me see. On one side there's Thomas Jefferson. We all recognize him, don't we?" She pointed to the chart of United States presidents on the wall.
The second-graders nodded and looked at the portrait of the third president.
"He can't be Thomas Jefferson for his fable!" Malcolm shouted. "He can't be, can he? He can't! Because Thomas Jefferson's a guy and for a fable you have to be a—"
"Wait a minute, Malcolm," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Let me turn my nickel over. Maybe there's a ... No, it's a house. Here's Jefferson's beautiful big home on the other side. It was called Monticello."
"Big house!" Ben shouted. "B for big house? That's not an animal!"
Tyrone began to rap." Good ole Barry, he be actin' like a fool, cuz he don' pay attention when she tellin' the rule..."
"Excuse me!" Barry said loudly, and Tyrone, with an apologetic smile, fell silent.
"Could I see that, please, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Barry asked. She handed him her coin.
"Well," he said, after he had examined it, "there are different kinds of nickels, I guess. And mine has a picture of a—"
He went to the board, picked up the chalk, and added his animal to the long list.
BUFFALO, Barry wrote neatly.
"Here is my fable," Barry announced. He opened his paper and read from it, holding his nickel up to the class with his other hand.
The American Buffalo
The correct scientific name for the American Buffalo is actually bison. The National Bison Association would like us to use the correct name for this magnificent beast.
Once there had been about 60 million bison in the American West from Canada to Mexico. But by 1893, there were only a little more than three hundred left.
Bison were the center of life for the Native Americans. They provided food, shelter, and clothing. But gradually—
"This isn't a story!" Malcolm called out. "Barry is supposed to be telling a story! It isn't a story about a buffalo!"
"It doesn't have a suddenly," Ben added. "It has & gradually instead!"