Penelope Crumb Is Mad at the Moon
An Excerpt From
Penelope Crumb Is Mad at the Moon
Chapter 1

Today I am an elephant. In a costume that I made all by myself out of my mom’s old gray sweat suit stuffed with pillows because it’s Be an Animal Day at school. I painted a lion on the back of the shirt because when you’re in the fourth grade you never know what’s going to leap out at you from behind the bushes.

As I put on my paper-towel-tube elephant nose, plump my ears, and paint my hair and face gray, I think how nice it is to be something else in the mirror for a change. When my mom pokes her head in my room and tells me I’m going to be late and asks what’s the deal with the lion, I say, “Portwaller Elementary can be a real jungle.”

Walking to school from our apartment is only a couple of blocks, but when you’re an elephant, for some reason, it seems to take a long time to get there. Plus there’s all the strange looks you get on the way. The kind of looks that say Do You Know What You Look Like? I just smile at them in a way that means Yes Indeed I Am Supposed to Look This Way, I’ve Done So on Purpose And Not by Accident. More than a couple of people shout at me and offer me peanuts, but I just pretend they are the strange ones. I’m an excellent pretender.

But when I finally get to Portwaller Elementary, I know something is wrong as soon as I step inside: I’m the only animal at the zoo.

All of the other kids, and I mean ALL of them, are in normal, everyday school kind of clothes without a single tail or paw or beak. I start to elephant-sweat as everybody begins to stare at me, and when I wipe my forehead, some of the gray paint comes off on my fingers. Good gravy.

I see my used-to-be-best-friend, Patsy Cline Roberta Watson, at the drinking fountain. We’re still friends, just not best ones anymore, mostly because of a girl called Vera Bogg who doesn’t wear anything but pink. Which is something I will never understand.

When I go up to Patsy Cline, my elephant nose brushes against her hair and she screams and spits water all down her shirt. I tell her it’s me, it’s me, Penelope Crumb, but her shirt is already soaked and she’s got a look on her face that says Don’t You Know I’m Allergic to Things with Tails?

“Why aren’t you dressed like an animal?” I say.

Then she says, “The real question is why are you?”

And when I remind her about Be an Animal Day, she shakes her head at me and says this: “You’ve got the date wrong, Penelope. It’s two Mondays from now. And did you paint your hair?”

“No, it’s today,” I tell her.

“I’m sure that it’s not,” she says.

“No,” I say, “today.” Because it is. It has to be.

Patsy Cline turns me around by the shoulders so I can see all the kids without tails, and then she says: “Do you see anyone else that looks like you?”

This is a trick question, of course, because even if I wasn’t dressed like an elephant I wouldn’t see anybody that looks like me. I wouldn’t. For one thing, my big nose.

Even so, as I look at everybody else, I see that Patsy Cline has a point. Good gravy, I’m the only elephant in the room.

I take off my elephant nose and look down at the rest of me. Gray, wrinkly, pillowy. I tell Patsy Cline that it could be worse, that I was thinking about being an ostrich, but then she points to my face and says, “What are you going to do about that? And your . . .”

But before she can finish, the bell rings and we’re supposed to be in Miss Stunkel’s classroom. “Come on,” she says, pulling at my sleeve, “we’re going to get hollered at.”

But hollering isn’t what worries me. It’s showing up in Miss Stunkel’s class all gray in the face and elephanty on a Regular Day and Miss Stunkel will say that I’m Quite the Riotous Disruption and send another note home. I’m pretty sure.

Patsy Cline doesn’t want to help, I can tell. But I’m still holding on to her arm, and I guess she figures she doesn’t have much choice, seeing how I’m not letting go, so she pushes down the handle to the water fountain and shoves my head into the stream. “Wash it off quick,” she tells me.

I splash the water on my face and scrub with my hands until I see the gray paint begin to pool around the drain. Then I lift out my drippy head, keeping my eyes shut. “Did I get it off?”

“Some of it,” says Patsy Cline. “But there’s a good bit left. You need some soap. And a scrub brush. And there’s no time to get you to the bathroom.”

“I’ve got paint in my eyes,” I say, after opening and then shutting them real fast.

“You need a towel.”

I lean in toward her so she can dry my face, but I’m still drippy when she says, “I don’t have a towel. Why would I have a towel?”

So, I have no choice but to take one of the pillows from my shirt and wipe my face with it. And when I’m done, Patsy Cline looks me over and says, “Oh dear.” Which is not what I was hoping for. Then she tells me we’ve got to go pronto and pulls me down the hall to Miss Stunkel’s classroom.

When we get there, I wonder if there is ever a place an elephant can hide. If there is, it isn’t in Miss Stunkel’s classroom, because I can feel everybody’s eyeballs on me, even Angus Meeker, who lives to get me in trouble.

Vera Bogg: “Why are you dressed like a fat chimney sweep?”

Angus Meeker: “This is going to be good.”

Patsy Cline: “It’s just a mix-up. She’s an elephant. Chimney sweeps don’t have tails. Show her your tail, Penelope.”

Me: “Patsy Cline, you are not helping.”

All the while, Miss Stunkel is watching me from the front of the room while she pets the Monday lizard pin that hangs from her sweater. But to my surprise, she doesn’t say anything to me about my painted face or hair, my stained and wrinkly gray sweat suit, or my tail. Instead, she just says, “Penelope Crumb and Patsy Cline, you do know that when the bell rings I expect you to be in your seats?”

Me and Patsy Cline say that we do indeed and that we’re awful sorry. And then Miss Stunkel tells us, not just me and Patsy Cline, but tells everybody, to open our science books so we can learn about the solar system. The solar system! Miss Stunkel’s going to talk about planets and moons, thank lucky stars, and doesn’t have a thing to say about Penelope Crumb, Riotous Disruptor.

I pull out my science book from my desk with a smile on my gray mess of a face, eager to hear about stardust or moon craters or whatever outer spaciness that Miss Stunkel wants to make us learn. But then, I get to wondering why it is that Miss Stunkel hasn’t said anything about Elephant Me. It’s not that I want her to, believe me. I don’t. But because she hasn’t, it starts me thinking: Why?

Miss Stunkel tells us to read the paragraph in our books called “Interesting Moon Factoids.” After the diameter, mass, and average distance from Earth, there is one interesting factoid that gets my attention:

There is no dark side of the moon. Both sides of the moon get the same amount of sunlight, but only one side of the moon is ever visible from Earth.
 
Right away I get to thinking how it doesn’t seem fair that we only get to see one side of the moon from here. There’s more to the moon than just that one side, and what if it was having a bad day or got its Mondays mixed up and that’s all that people could see and not any of the good stuff.

Miss Stunkel must be able to tell what I’m thinking somehow because she says, “Is there a problem, Penelope?”

I say, “Not really a problem, I guess. I was just wondering something.”

“Let’s hear it,” she says.

I shake my head and look at everyone else, who is already looking back at me. “Well . . .”

“Come on now,” Miss Stunkel says. “I’m sure we’d all like to hear.”

Patsy Cline gives me a look that says I’m Sure You Should Keep Your Mouth Shut. But I can’t help it, I have to know why Miss Stunkel hasn’t said anything about me being an elephant. “Well, I was just wondering if you noticed that I’m not myself today.”

Miss Stunkel says that as a matter of fact she did.

“Oh,” I say.

“Is there something else, Penelope?”

“And I was also wondering,” I say, “why you didn’t say anything.”

Patsy Cline puts her head on her desk.

Miss Stunkel takes a deep breath, and her eyeballs bounce up and down like she’s trying to search her brains for just the right words. She starts to say something a couple of times but then stops herself. Finally, she says, “Let’s just say that this,” and then she waggles her finger at me, the one that looks like a boiled chicken leg dipped in nail polish, the one that has been known to cause night terrors, “whatever this is called, falls within what I have come to expect of you, Penelope Crumb.”

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds pretty bad. And I wish that lion on the back of my shirt would wake up and show its teeth or something. But it doesn’t.
Penelope Crumb Is Mad at the Moon

Penelope Crumb Is Mad at the Moon