"Brown," Chelsea replied after she had thought for a minute, "with some spots near his tail."
"Well," Felicia Ann said, "the moral could be Be proud of your color, like my flamingo story."
"Yes, it could," Gooney Bird told her.
"I know! I know!" Beanie called, with her hand raised.
"Beanie?" Gooney Bird pointed to her.
"It could be You don't have to be big or brave. Like my bear fable."
"It could," said Gooney Bird.
"How about this?" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Could it be Sometimes what you already have is the best thing? Like my panda fable?"
"It could," Gooney Bird said, and all of the second-graders nodded.
"Or my kangaroo story!" Keiko said. "There's no place like home!"
"Any one of the morals fits just fine," Gooney Bird pointed out. "Chelsea? What did you have in mind for the moral of your Chihuahua fable?"
Chelsea fingered the leather rhinestone-trimmed collar that was still buckled around her neck. "Here is the moral of my fable," she announced. "Rich is good. If you have a mink coat, you should stay put."
The classroom was silent.
Mrs. Pidgeon looked at her watch. "You know what?" she said. "It's lunchtime. And I'm hungry."
"Me, too!" Gooney Bird said. "And guess what! I have an anchovy sandwich today, on date-nut bread. I'll trade half if anyone wants."
No one wanted half of Gooney Bird's sandwich. No one even wanted to sit near Gooney Bird's sandwich.
"Are you sure you wouldn't like some? Last chance," she said. "Keiko?"
"Not I," said Keiko.
"Not I," said Nicholas.
"Not I," said Barry.
"Not I," said Tricia.
The children began to giggle as they went around the table, answering one by one.
Gooney Bird tied her bib. "Well," she said, "in that case, I will eat it all myself." She took a bite and said, "Yum."
"We told the story of the Little Red Hen!" Chelsea said. "Cluck cluck cluck!"
"I can't believe Mrs. Pidgeon thought my fable was going to be about a chicken," she grumbled.
"Here, have a piece of fried chicken," Nicholas said, and handed her a crispy wing from his lunchbox. "Can I have your orange, for a trade?"
Chelsea considered that. "Okay," she said, and handed him her orange. She bit into the chicken wing. "Nobody would eat a Chihuahua," she said. "None of our fable animals are edible."
"Bear is," Beanie pointed out. "Some people eat bear."
"Yuck. Well, not panda, though, or kangaroo, or—what others did we have?"
"Bunny, and tortoise," Tricia said. "People eat those."
"And bison," Barry added. "Bison is a very healthful food. You should eat bisonburgers instead of hamburgers. Less cholesterol."
"Nobody would eat a flamingo," Felicia Ann said. "I think it would make you thick."
"How about T. rex?" asked Ben.
Tyrone, whose mouth was full of tuna fish sandwich, began to wiggle rhythmically in his seat."Teee rex, Teee rex," he murmured. "See my muscles flex, if I munch on ol' T. rex..." He lifted his arm and tried to demonstrate the muscle.
"How about Malcolm?" Tyrone asked suddenly, interrupting his own performance. "You didn't do your fable yet, Malcolm. Want me to make you up a rap? What animal you gonna do?"
Malcolm grinned. "Not telling," he said. "Secret. Surprise."
"Well," Gooney Bird pointed out, "your turn comes right after lunch, Malcolm, so it won't be a surprise for long."
"How about Nicholas? Want a rap, Nicholas?" Tyrone was shifting back and forth in his chair, eager to dance.
"I'm going last," Nicholas said.
"You can't! Gooney Bird's going last! She already said so! The day go fast, and Gooney Bird be last—"
"Nicholas and I are doing our fable together," Gooney Bird explained. "Look what I have for dessert! A kumquat!" She held it up, and the other children examined it with interest.
"Kumquats are native to China," Barry announced, "although they are now cultivated in the United States. The kumquat tree is slow-growing and compact. Because of their thick rind, kumquats keep well and are easy to ship long distances."
"I thought you only read up through D in the encyclopedia, Barry," Gooney Bird said.
"I peeked into the K," he explained, "because I'm interested in kites."
"You're amazing." Gooney Bird bit into her kumquat.
"You can't do your fable with Gooney Bird, Nicholas," Ben said. "You're an N and she's a G."
"True," Gooney Bird replied. She grinned at Nicholas and Nicholas grinned back.
"Me and Gooney Bird have a surprise," Nicholas said.
Gooney Bird, imitating Mrs. Pidgeon, held up a grammar finger.
"Gooney Bird and I," Nicholas said. Then, to everyone's surprise, he chanted,"You and I, me and you, we gotta surprise, oh yes we do ... He collected his crumpled paper napkin and an empty plastic cup. Then he shuffled over to the trash can, still chanting. Bruno, the Saint Bernard, lay dozing nearby.
"But first," Malcolm announced, rising from the table, "ME! My turn! I'm doing my fable next!"
With Malcolm eagerly leading the way, the second-graders walked back to the classroom. Bruno yawned, stood up slowly, and followed behind, hoping not to miss anything. His antlers were a little tilted.
When the class was settled at their desks and Gooney Bird had announced that it was his turn to present his fable, Malcolm picked up a thick red marker and colored his own nose.
"A clown?" Keiko murmured.
Then Malcolm stood and attached something to his belt, twisting it around to the back. The children all watched, puzzled.
He walked to the front of the room.
Then, with his back turned to the class, he began to write on the board. The children were all still puzzled by the costume: his bright red nose and the sheet of purple construction paper dangling from his belt in the rear.
"Why is your nose red?" called Tricia.
"Why is your backside all purple?" asked Ben.
"Shhhh!" Mrs. Pidgeon said, holding up her quiet-please finger. "Let's see Malcolm's animal, and then maybe we'll understand his costume."
Carefully Malcolm wrote an uppercase M. Then an A. Then an N.
"NO FAIR!" Tyrone called. "He can't be a man!"
"You have to be an animal, Malcolm!" Barry said loudly. "Remember you thought I was Thomas Jefferson and it wasn't an animal? Isn't that right, Mrs. Pidgeon? Isn't that right, Gooney Bird?"
Malcolm had turned around and was looking impatiently at the second-graders.
"Well," Gooney Bird said, "a man is a mammal. Maybe a fable can be about any mammal."
"But mine wathn't a mammal," Felicia Ann pointed out. "Flamingo ith a bird."
"Neither was mine!" Tricia announced. "I was a tortoise. That's not a mammal."
"You're right." Gooney Bird looked as if she were thinking. "I don't know if there is a rule about fables. If we can have a bird, or a tortoise, or a T. rex, as the main character, maybe we could have a man."
"I wonder what Aesop would say," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"And anyway, what's that purple thing on your backside, Malcolm?" Chelsea asked. "It's weird. So is your nose."
Malcolm grinned. He wrinkled his nose and wiggled his bottom. Then, when the class grew quiet, he turned and added some more letters on the board.
He turned back to the class, wiggled his bottom again, then lifted one arm and scratched with the other. "Oooh, oooh, oooh," Malcolm said, making an odd hooting sound.
"Mandrill!" Gooney Bird announced. "Malcolm is a mandrill!"
"But he's acting like a chimp, or a monkey," Beanie pointed out. Now Malcolm was leaping about, his legs bent, still making the sound.
"A mandrill is a kind of monkey, sort of," Gooney Bird explained. "Like a baboon, I think. I've seen them at the zoo. They're the ones with red noses and—"
"Oh, no!" Keiko squealed. "The ones with the yucky bright blue and pink bottoms! I hate those!" She made a face.
Malcolm stopped jumping around. He announced his fable's title.
The Mandrill and Its Young
Once there was a female mandrill who was expecting a baby. She got very fat. Then one day her baby was born. It was pretty cute. She liked it.
But then, suddenly, she had
And then, suddenly,
Well. That was pretty surprising. Now she had three mandrill babies. They were very noisy. They wanted to be fed every minute. They made a big mess. They threw things and broke things.
The father mandrill was never home. Sometimes the mother was so nervous and tired that she screamed.
And the worst thing was, the mother mandrill didn't have any time to take care of her older mandrill child.
"Oh, I wish I could get rid of a couple of these babies," she said. "Maybe I can sell them."
She asked all around the jungle, but no one wanted to buy a baby mandrill.
"Well, maybe I can give them away," she thought.
But no one wanted those babies, even as a gift.
She couldn't figure out what to do. She sat on the jungle floor, thinking.
Suddenly one of the babies smiled at her.
Then the next one did.
And then the third. All three baby mandrills were smiling for the first time.
"Hey, look!" the mother said to her older mandrill child. He was up in a tree, hiding, because he hated the babies. But he came down when his mom called.
He looked at the smiles. He reached over and tickled one of the babies. It laughed.
Another one puckered up its mouth and blew him a kiss.
The third one climbed into his lap, curled up, and began to sleep very quietly.
The older mandrill child was surprised at how much, suddenly, he had begun to like the babies.
"Let's keep them," he said to his mother. "They're cute."
So they did. After that, when the babies cried, the mother mandrill and her older mandrill child just covered their ears. They knew it wouldn't last.
"Oh, I love that fable," Keiko said with a sigh. "It was so sweet."
"Yeth," said Felicia Ann. "Tho thweet."
"Did the babies have purple bums?" asked Tyrone.
Malcolm shrugged. "I guess so," he said. "They were mandrills."
Gooney Bird went to the front of the class. "There is nothing whatsoever wrong with a purple bottom," she said. "Colorful is always good. I'm planning on dyeing part of my hair purple sometime.
"Thank you for your fable, Malcolm. Do you want to tell us the moral?"
"Okay. It's this," Malcolm said. "Things get better."
"They do indeed," Mrs. Pidgeon said, smiling. "And it sounds as if things are getting better at your house, Malcolm."