He nodded happily. Then he stopped smiling. "It'll be bad when I get home today, though," he said. "My mom will scream."
"Why is that?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"Because I used an indelible marker on my nose," Malcolm said.
"Who's left?" Mrs. Pidgeon looked around the room. "Just Gooney Bird and Nicholas, I guess. Goodness, we've done a lot of fables!"
"When do we do the parade?" Beanie asked.
"Tomorrow. It's the last day of school before vacation. Have you all saved your costumes? I have my panda vest right here in my desk drawer."
The children all nodded.
"Can I do us a rap for the parade?" Tyrone asked. "Most parades got a band. We need some kind of music."
"Yes!" the children called. "A rap!"
"Of course," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "But we'll all need to learn it, Tyrone, and we don't have much time."
"Ain't no problem, nuthin' to learn, just follow me and take your turn ..." Tyrone chanted.
"All right, I guess we can do that," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "We'll have a little practice time before we start the parade." She looked toward the corner of the classroom. "Gooney Bird?
Nicholas? Are you ready?"
Gooney Bird and Nicholas had been whispering to each other in the corner by the gerbil cage, planning the presentation of their fable. Now they nodded and came to the front of the room. Nicholas was grinning. It was already hard to remember how sad he had been, how he had stopped eating, and how he had sulked and refused to discuss his fable just a few days before.
They stood side by side and put on their costumes, dark beards that attached by plastic pieces that hooked around their ears.
"They're being Abe Lincoln!" Ben called. "That's not fair!"
"Anyway," Barry pointed out, "Abe Lincoln is A and L! They're supposed to be G and N!"
Gooney Bird held up a quiet-please finger. Eventually the class calmed down, though some of the children were still laughing at the sight of Gooney Bird and Nicholas wearing the dark brown beards, which did not match Gooney Bird's bright red hair, or Nicholas's blond curls, at all.
"We are not Abe Lincoln," Gooney Bird told the class. Her beard wobbled a little as she talked. "We are two animals who live in a large herd on the plains of Africa. Nicholas, will you write our name on the board?"
The list on the board was very long by now. Nicholas had to lean down to add the final animal at the end of it. Carefully, with the chalk, he made a capital G.
"I knew you were going to let Nicholas cheat!" Malcolm called. "He can't be a G animal!"
"Wait, Nicholas," Gooney Bird said. "Do not write any more until I deal with this." She put her hands on her hips and looked sternly at Malcolm.
"Malcolm," she said, "it is very important to have all the information before you come to a conclusion.
"For example," she went on, "if a stranger looked at you, that stranger might think, 'That poor boy has a very bad cold. See how bright pink his nose is.'"
"I don't have a cold," Malcolm argued.
"Of course you don't. The stranger wouldn't have all the information. The stranger wouldn't know that your very pink nose was a leftover mandrill."
"My mom scrubbed it," Malcolm said.
"Nonetheless," Gooney Bird replied, "do you see what I mean, about needing the information?"
"I guess so," Malcolm said. He rubbed his nose.
"Nicholas," Gooney Bird said, "please continue."
Nicholas, holding his beard out of the way with one hand, printed the remaining letters: NU.
"The title of our fable is 'Two Gnus,'" Gooney Bird announced.
"The G is silent," she added.
"If we were doing a story about medieval times," Nicholas said, "I could be a knight, because the K is silent!"
Malcolm frowned. "When does an M get to be silent?" he asked.
"I don't believe an M is ever silent," Gooney Bird said.
"Malcolm is never silent," Barry added.
"G's are special," Nicholas said proudly, "and they make my N special."
"Tho thecial," Felicia Ann said with a happy smile.
"Class," Mrs. Pidgeon announced, "maybe after vacation, maybe in January, we will do a whole unit about silent letters, and let's see, homonyms, and synonyms, and—oh yes— palindromes; those are especially interesting. But right now, it is time for a fable."
Gooney Bird and Nicholas, side by side, wearing their beards, unfolded their papers and read their fable together.
Once there were two gnus, a female gnu and a male gnu. They were friends. Both had beards. All gnus, female and male, have beards.
They were part of a large herd and they moved slowly across the African plains, eating grasses.
Several lions were watching them and making plans for an attack.
"Oh, no!" said Keiko.
"It's okay," Gooney Bird reassured her. "It has a happy ending. Just a little suspense, and a suddenly."
The fable continued. Keiko looked nervous but she was quiet.
The lions decided to attack late at night, when it was dark and the gnus were asleep. They planned to carry away several young gnus and have them all for breakfast the next morning.
Gooney Bird looked over at Keiko and whispered, "It's okay. Don't worry."
The lions decided to rest for the early part of the night, so that they would have lots of energy for the big attack. They curled up in a heap in the tall grass and slept. They didn't need an alarm clock. Lions are very good at knowing when to wake up.
The gnus gathered in their herd and prepared to sleep, too. But they were thirsty. It was a time of drought.
"Drought has a silent G and a silent H," Gooney Bird pointed out to the class. "But we'll talk about those next month."
"Are you sure there's no silent M?" Malcolm asked.
"Almost positive," Gooney Bird said. Malcolm scowled.
Suddenly the chief gnu sniffed the air and smelled some water far ahead.
"We really need water," he murmured softly. "We haven't had water in a long time. I think maybe we should skip tonight's sleep and move forward to get a drink."
He made the special gestures, tossing his head and stamping his foot, that told the entire herd to get moving. And off they went, some of them yawning because they had been almost asleep.
In the middle of the night, at the very darkest time, the lions, who were very rested now and full of energy, woke up. "Time to attack!" the chief lion (a female, by the way. It is always the females who do the hunting. The males are very lazy) announced. "Gnu for breakfast!
"Go!" she said. And the lions leapt out of the tall grass, in attack mode, and dashed to the place where the gnus had been.
But the vast plain was empty. Oh, there was a snake slithering past, and a couple of vultures sitting on the branch of one crummy-looking tree. But the herd of gnus had disappeared. They were far away, having a nice drink of water.
"Bummer," said the lions. "We'll have to have that old leftover zebra for breakfast."
"The end," said Gooney Bird and Nicholas together. They bowed, and the class clapped.
"Good fable!" Mrs. Pidgeon said, getting up from her chair. "And I suppose the moral is something about being watchful and vigilant?"
Gooney Bird and Nicholas shook their heads. "Here's the moral," they said together. "No gnus is good news."
"May I march with you?" Mr. Leroy asked.
The children of Mrs. Pidgeon's second grade were lining up in the school hallway on Friday afternoon, the last day of school before the holiday vacation. They all had their bits and pieces of costumes on, and wore nametags revealing the names of their animals. They were wiggling and giggling and shuffling their feet and practicing chanting the rap that Tyrone had prepared for the parade.
"Ask Gooney Bird," Beanie told the principal. "She's in charge."
Gooney Bird Greene was at the head of the parade, wearing her beard and a pair of plaid pajamas. "Well," she said dubiously when Mr. Leroy asked permission to join the group, "we're all animals. You have to be an animal. And," she added, looking at his suit, "you have to have some kind of costume. See Mrs. Pidgeon, in her black shirt and white vest? She's a panda.
"And I'm a gnu," she added, stroking her beard, in case he hadn't already read her nametag or figured it out. "The animal has to begin with the first letter of your name. Gnu has a silent G."
"Yes, I understand," the principal said. "I was in your classroom when Tyrone did the T. rex fable. But I think I can fulfill the requirement. My first name is John: a J. But my middle name is Thomas, so I do have a T, as well. And look! Here's my costume!"
He flipped his necktie, today a bright green one with candy canes on it, so that it dangled in front of his buttoned suit jacket.
"Can I be a tiger? Get it? Tie-ger?" he asked.
Gooney Bird sighed. She put her hands on her hips. "If you were in second grade, Mr. John Thomas Leroy," she told him, "I would tell you that you are trying to bend the rules just a little too far. But since you're the principal, I'm going to say yes. You may march."
"Thank you, Gooney Bird." Mr. Leroy turned to find a place in the line.
"Alphabetical!" Gooney Bird called to him. "We're lining up alphabetically. "You'll go back there"—she thought for a moment, then pointed—"after panda and before tortoise.
"I should be there with Nicholas, behind the flamingo," she explained, "but since I'm the leader, I'm marching in front."
"Why isn't Nicholas between kangaroo and mandrill?" Mr. Leroy asked, after he had looked around.
"Oh, Mr. Leroy, it's a very long story," Gooney Bird told him.
"Ready? Let's go!" Gooney Bird called.
"Startin' with a gnu, and we goin' right thru ..." the children chanted, along with Mrs. Pidgeon, and, after a moment, Mr. Leroy, who had to listen first to grasp the words, since he had not been there for the rehearsal.
The parade, with Gooney Bird leading, began to shuffle and dance down the hall toward the multipurpose room. The other schoolchildren were there waiting, but Mr. Furillo stood in the hall with his large push broom. "Goin' right through!" the custodian joined in, giving his broom a few rhythmic swishes on the tile floor.
Bruno, the Saint Bernard, who had been asleep near the utility closet door, was startled awake. He looked terrified. Quickly he rose to his feet, dropped his tail between his legs, and loped off toward the administration office, where he could hide.
Cute little hear, he got brown hair...
Here come the bison, as big as Mike Tyson...
Laugh at the bunny if you think he be funny...
One by one, alphabetically, they chanted the animal names and the rhyming rap that came so easily to Tyrone. As the parade entered the multipurpose room, the audience of waiting children cheered and clapped. Gooney Bird twirled in a dance step and then gestured to the classes to join in the chant. "Repeat after us!" she called.