Malcolm stood up at his desk. "Don't ever, ever go off with some stranger who offers you candy!" he announced loudly. "Remember not to go—"
"Thtranger danger,"Felicia Ann murmured, interrupting Malcolm.
"Oh dear," Keiko said. "That's scary."
Mrs. Pidgeon stood up. "That's a good reminder, Malcolm. But it's not exactly the moral I was thinking of. I'm going to tell you my fable's moral so that you'll all get the hang of it.
"The moral of the panda fable is this:Sometimes what you already have is the best thing."
The children were silent for a moment, thinking it over.
"I get it!" Ben said. "Like when I got new hockey skates, but my old ones were really more comfortable!"
"And when my dad got his new car?" Chelsea added. "He said he really liked the old one better even though it had a hundred million miles on it!"
"And my mom and dad!" Malcolm called. "They already had me! I was already their kid! They'd had me for seven years! But then they got—"
Mrs. Pidgeon went to Malcolm and put her hand on his shoulder. At the same time she reached with her other hand to Nicholas, and rubbed his back in a comforting way. Nicholas didn't look up.
"Gooney Bird," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "we have a lot of fables to get through. How about calling on the next person?"
Gooney Bird nodded, and looked around the room.
"Keiko?" she said. "You next."
Keiko stood. She reached under her desk, picked up a pink canvas backpack, and put her arms through the straps. But she did it backwards, so that the pack was suspended against her chest. Then she walked to the front of the classroom.
The class began to laugh. "I know!" "I get it!" they called out.
Keiko went to the board, and under PANDA, in her best uppercase printing, she wrote:
Then she turned to the class, unfolded her paper, and announced, "My fable is called—"
She interrupted herself and looked over at Mrs. Pidgeon and at Gooney Bird, who was standing beside the teacher's desk. "Are we supposed to have a title?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Gooney Bird said. "All stories have titles."
"But Mrs. Pidgeon's fable didn't have a title!" Chelsea called.
"Uh-oh," said Mrs. Pidgeon. "I forgot. And Gooney Bird is right; all stories should have titles. See? Not even teachers are perfect!"
The second-graders, all but Nicholas, laughed.
"Of course, they are almost perfect," Mrs. Pidgeon added, and the class, all but Nicholas, laughed again.
"The title of my fable," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "was, ah, 'The Panda in the Bamboo Grove.' But now it's Keiko's turn. Go on, Keiko."
Keiko nodded and began again. "The title of my fable is 'The Kangaroo Who Came Home.'"
Once a very small kangaroo hopped out of his mother's pouch and went off to play.
He played with a koala and a dingo and a wallaby. They played tag and hide-and-seek.
Then it got late. It was time for supper. The animal friends said goodbye to each other and started for their homes.
But the baby kangaroo could not find his home! He had not been watching. His mother had hopped away across the dry land through the scratchy grass. He could not see her anymore. He did not know where she had gone.
He began to cry.
The koala said, "Come with me to my eucalyptus tree. You can share my dinner and sleep in my tree tonight."
So the kangaroo went with the koala. But he couldn't climb like the koala, and the tree was full of sharp twigs. It was very uncomfortable, and he did not like the taste of eucalyptus at
So he cried again.
The dingo said, "Come with me. I live in a small cave in those rocks over there. You can share my dinner and sleep in my cave."
The kangaroo tried that. But the dingo was eating rabbit for dinner, and the kangaroo was a vegetarian. He couldn't eat rabbit. And the cave was cold, not comfy and warm like his mother's pouch.
So he cried again.
The wallaby said, "Well, I can take you to where I live. As you know, I am a kind of kangaroo myself, so I eat leaves and roots the way you do. But I'm afraid there is no room in my mother's pouch for an extra. You will have to sleep on the ground, and it will not be cozy."
The little kangaroo cried and cried.
Suddenly he heard a thumping sound. He looked up. It was his own mother, leaping with her strong legs and big feet toward him. She had been looking everywhere.
He hopped to her and right into her pouch, which was warm and snug. There was milk waiting for him.
His mother scolded him gently and he promised never to wander away again, at least not until he was big.
Then he went happily to sleep.
"That's the end," Keiko said. "Did you like it?"
The second-graders clapped. They had liked her fable very much.
"It was a happy suddenly, when he heard his mom coming," Beanie pointed out, "not a scary one."
"Yes," Keiko said. "I wouldn't put in anything scary."
"Happy suddenlys are just fine," Gooney Bird told the students. "I think I may put one into my fable, actually. Thank you for that idea, Keiko."
She looked around. "Now," she said, "thinking caps! Who would like to tell us what the moral is? What kind of behavior are we supposed to learn from Keiko's fable?"
"Tricia?" Gooney Bird pointed to Tricia.
"Be a vegetarian!" Tricia said. "That's the moral!"
"My Aunt Carol is a vegetarian!" Barry called out. "My dad says she's a nutcase!"
"My mom's cousin Phyllis is a vegetarian!" shouted Chelsea. "And my mom says yeah, eat your dumb pumpkin casserole and more turkey for us at Thanksgiving!"
Mrs. Pidgeon stood up. "Class," she said, "many people are vegetarians. Nothing wrong with that. But I don't think that was the moral of the fable, was it, Keiko?"
Keiko shook her head. "No. And anyway, I like hot dogs."
"I have a feeling," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "that the moral of Keiko's fable is the same thing that we all remember from a certain movie. A movie that had a scarecrow and a tin man in it."
"The Withard of Oth,"whispered Felicia Ann.
"I know!" Malcolm shrieked. "I know! Call on me! I know!"
"I'm going to call first on Nicholas, I think," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
Nicholas looked up. He frowned. But he gave the answer." There's no place like home, "he said.
"Correct! And you know what?" Gooney Bird said. "In the movie, Dorothy says it three times! So we should have let Malcolm give the answer!"
"Go, Malcolm!" shouted Tyrone.
"There's no place like home! There's no place like home! There's no place like home!" Malcolm called out, with a big smile.
Then his smile changed to a scowl, and he added, "Unless the home has triplets."
Beanie went to the front of the classroom to present her fable next. First she reached into her backpack and took out a small stuffed bear.
"This isn't really a costume, I guess," she said, "because I'm not wearing it. But my fable is about a bear, so I brought my old bear from home. I got him when I was born. His name is Teddy."
"That's a baby thing, to have a teddy bear when you're in second grade!" Barry said.
The class fell silent. Beanie looked embarrassed.
"Children?" Mrs. Pidgeon said, and she stood up. "When I was a very little girl, I had a stuffed lamb. I used to sleep with him. His name was Fleecy. And you know what?"
"What?" the class asked.
"I still have him. I don't sleep with him anymore. But Fleecy sits on a shelf in my bedroom, and I still love him just as much as I did all those years ago."
"I have a bear," Tricia said. "I call mine Bear-Bear."
"Tho do I," Felicia Ann whispered. "I thleep with my bear."
"I have a doll," Keiko said. "Not a bear. A soft doll with a painted face, and she is so old that her face is almost worn away, but I still love her just as much."
"I have a bunny," Ben said. "When I was born everybody gave me bunnies because of the story of Benjamin Bunny. My mom said I got eight bunnies when I was born. I only have one left, but I sleep with him every night, and when we went to visit my cousins and I forgot Bunny, I couldn't sleep."
Tyrone stood up. "Mine's a clown," he said. "My Nana made it. Got me a clown and he never makes a frown, makes me laugh as much as a giraffe—"
The class began to rap with Tyrone." Got me a clown—"
"Enough," Mrs. Pidgeon said, laughing. "You'll get your turn, Tyrone, when you present your fable. But for now we want to hear Beanie's. And also, Barry?"
"It isn't a baby thing at all, to have a bear. Or a lamb, or a doll, or a clown. I'd like you to apologize to Beanie."
"Sorry, Beanie," Barry said.
"That's okay." Still holding Teddy, Beanie turned and wrote BEAR on the list, just below KANGAROO. Then she unfolded her paper and read the title of her fable.
The Very Small Bear
Barry interrupted her. "Actually," Barry admitted, "I have a stuffed walrus, and his tusks are all gross because I suck on them."
Mrs. Pidgeon put her finger to her mouth. "Shhhh," she said to Barry. "Let's be good listeners."
Once there was a mother bear with twin cubs. One was a big strong bear cub, and very brave. But the other was quite small and weak, and frightened of things.
When they went to the river so their mom could teach them to get fish, the big cub jumped right in and splashed around. He grabbed a salmon with his claws. But the little cub was afraid of the water, and he cried. "It's cold!" he said. "And I can't swim!"
The big cub made fun of the little one. "Sissy!" the bigger cub said, and grabbed another fish for himself.
When their mom took them to the orchard where sometimes she stole apples from the farmer's trees, the big cub jumped right up into a tree and grabbed apples and ate them with a gulp.
But the little cub only peeked out from his hiding place behind the corner of the barn. "What if the farmer sees us?" he said. "What if the farmer has a gun and
us?" It made him shake with fear just to think about it.
"Scaredy-cat!" said the big cub to his brother, and he stuffed another apple into his own mouth.
The mother bear took them to a dead tree she knew of where she could get honey from a hive inside the trunk.
"Yay!" said the big cub. "Honey!" He climbed up the trunk of the tree, reached inside, and brought out his paw coated with sticky, delicious honey. The bees buzzed around angrily but he didn't care.
The little bear hid in the bushes and watched. He was very scared of bees. "What if they sting my nose?" he said.
So the big cub got bigger and bigger and healthier and healthier, but the little cub was always skinny and scared.
Beanie looked up. "That's the end," she said. "But it doesn't have a suddenly. And I don't think it has a moral, either."