Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck
An Excerpt From
Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck

Chapter 1

Sometimes I worry about getting the Bad Luck. I don’t know how you catch the Bad Luck exactly, but I guess it’s a lot like catching the stomach flu. Or getting warts. (Truth be told, if you’ve got the stomach flu AND warts, then your luck probably isn’t so good.)

Some people seem to have the Bad Luck an awful lot of the time. Except for my dad being Graveyard Dead and having an alien for a brother, my luck has been pretty okay up until now. Not real good, but not real bad either. That’s the way I like it. Because here’s one thing I know about the Bad Luck: It comes right along with the Good Luck. You can’t have one without the other.

Which makes me nervous, because today has a lot of the Good Luck in it:

1. Mom left for work early.

2. Orange Popsicle for breakfast. For real, two.

3. Found long-lost T-shirt in rag bag. Still fits except for part that covers my stomach.

4. Alien overslept and missed bus.

5. Two orange Popsicles in lunchbox. For real, four.

6. No surprise test on decimal points.

7. Angus Meeker home sick with the stomach flu.

8. Not one mean comment about how big my nose is.

9. Patsy Cline smiled at me.

With all that good stuff, I just know that the Bad Luck is right around the corner. But I can’t think about corners so much right now because Miss Stunkel is letting us use clay in art class. And so, I am busy making a cow.

Patsy Cline Roberta Watson, my used-to-be best friend, is crazy about cows. Instead of spots like real cows have, I draw hearts in the clay with my pencil point. Just because.

I set the cow on the corner of my desk, so it’s as close to Patsy Cline as it can be without jumping over the space between our desks. Patsy Cline is smushing her clay into something that could be a worm that’s been run over by a delivery truck. Or else a horse with pneumonia. Patsy Cline isn’t so good at art.

I make a “cuuullllggggh” noise with my throat and wait for Patsy to look this way. She does, thank lucky stars, but she has a look on her face that says, You Should Cover Your Mouth.

“Sorry,” I say, even though I am really not sorry because it was only a pretend cough and therefore only pretend germs that Patsy doesn’t need to be afraid of. “But look.” I point to the cow.

When she sees it, her eyes get big and almost weepy and she says, “Oh, how I wish cows had hearts like that in real life.”

Which makes me smile.

But then Vera Bogg, who is Patsy Cline’s brand-new best friend, crinkles up her teeny nose and says, “But cows do have hearts, Patsy Cline.”

Good gravy. That’s Vera Bogg for you.

With her pink fingernail, Vera presses a smiley face into a small ball and then stacks it on top of two others. “I think it would be better if you made it more like a real-looking cow,” Vera says to me, pushing her pink headband back on her head. “And where’s its tail?”

I am about to tell Vera a thing or two about art, about Patsy Cline, and about cows, but instead I flatten the cow with my fist. If Vera Bogg doesn’t know that art doesn’t have to be real-looking, that everybody knows cows have hearts on the inside, and that Patsy Cline is allergic to things with tails, then I’m not going to be the one to tell her.

Miss Stunkel walks up and down the rows, and when she gets to my desk she looks at my flattened cow and says, “Penelope, you’ve made a pancake? How nice.” Only, she says it in a way that makes me think she only eats waffles.

She nods at Patsy Cline’s sick horse as she passes, which is now just about dead, and then stops right in front of Vera Bogg. “Oh, Vera,” she says. “What a delightful snowman. You’re really something.” And she makes a big deal out of the something.

Vera Bogg’s face gets as pink as the rest of her. It’s the kind of pink that makes me feel like a raw hot dog. The sort that makes you sick if you don’t cook it long enough. Vera Bogg is Miss Stunkel’s All-Time Favorite. She’d have to be to get a big-deal something for a boring old snowman.

If Mister Leonardo da Vinci was here, he would surely say, “It seems apparent to me, oh me oh my, that Miss Stunkel couldn’t tell a craggy rock from a masterpiece.” Because that’s how dead artists talk.

Then Vera Bogg starts telling Patsy Cline how wonderful Patsy’s clay sculpture is, and how she wishes she could make something that good. I can’t help but roll my eyeballs. Even Patsy Cline looks a little suspicious, but then she says, “Do you know what it’s supposed to be?”

Vera’s eyes get wide, and after staring at the lump on Patsy’s desk for a long time she says, “Well, it looks like it could be a lot of things.”

“It’s a fiddle,” says Patsy Cline.

“That’s just what I was going to say,” says Vera. “A fiddle.”

Patsy Cline nods and smiles, and all I can do is shake my head. Because how Vera Bogg, and not me, can be Patsy’s All-Time Favorite is something I will never ever understand.

Meanwhile, I’m molding my pancake into a hungry tiger, which I plan on training to bite at Vera Bogg’s ankles, and Miss Stunkel says she has an important announcement so listen up.

A man with a beard that’s just on his chin and not on his cheeks comes into the classroom and sits on top of Miss Stunkel’s desk. Not in a chair, but on her desk. Which I don’t think Miss Stunkel likes too well because she gives him a look that says, Chairs Are Chairs for a Reason.

Miss Stunkel says, “I’d like to introduce you all to Mr. Rodriguez. He is visiting schools in our area to talk about an exciting new art project.”

Right away my ears perk up.

Mr. Rodriguez swings his legs and smiles. “Hey,” he says. “So, like Miss Stinkel said . . .”

“Stunkel,” says Miss Stunkel, and she points her chicken-bone finger at us to make sure none of us thinks that’s funny. Even though it very much is the funniest thing ever.

“Sorry, wrong tense,” says Mr. Rodriguez, clearing his throat. “Stunkel. Anyway, I’m going all around town to get some volunteers to help with an art project. We’re painting a mural at Portwaller’s Blessed Home for the Aging.”

“Ooh.” I drop the tiger and raise my hand high.

Mr. Rodriguez smiles at me, and then Miss Stunkel tells me to hold on and that Mr. Rodriguez is not finished. But I don’t need to hear anything else, because I would paint a mural on the moon. On a moon rock. On a moon pie, even. I, Penelope Crumb, am going to be a famous artist when I grow up, and painting murals is what famous artists do. Just ask Leonardo da Vinci. (Which you could do if he wasn’t already dead.)

“The theme of the mural is Mother Goose,” says Mr. Rodriguez, “and if you want to do this, you have to show up for the next couple Saturdays and Sundays. So, if you have soccer practice or lunch with Grandma every Sunday, you’ll probably have to make other plans.” He swings his legs again and smiles. Then he says how it will mean so much to all of the people in the Blessed Home for the Aging and how they don’t have so much to live for anymore seeing how they are so old and almost dead.

Miss Stunkel rubs her Thursday lizard pin and says, “So, if this sounds like something you’d like to participate in, raise your hand.”

My hand is still up, but Miss Stunkel is busy looking around the room and writing down the names of other kids on a piece of paper. I stick my other hand in the air and make big circles so she won’t miss me. And it works, too, because Mr. Rodriguez points right at me and says to Miss Stunkel, “There’s a live one over there.”

Miss Stunkel sighs and says, “Penelope Crumb, I’ve already got your name on the list. So unless you’re trying to message Mars, please put your hands down.”

Everybody laughs, which makes my cheeks burn. But then Mr. Rodriguez scratches his chin beard and says to me, “I think it’s pretty righteous that you’re so excited about art.”

Righteous. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it sounds like he thinks I’m right. Which is something Miss Stunkel never says I am. I smile and give him a look that says, Please Tell My Teacher That She Is Very Wrongeous. And it’s a good thing that Miss Stunkel isn’t very good at telling what different kinds of faces mean because I would definitely get a note sent home for that one.

That’s when Patsy Cline raises her hand and says, “What if you aren’t any good at drawing?”

Which really is a surprise. Not because Patsy Cline isn’t any good at drawing—she’s not—but that she would even want to do an art project at all. Especially on Saturdays and Sundays when her mom makes her practice for singing competitions.

Mr. Rodriguez says, “That’s nothing to worry about. And I bet you’re better than you think.”

She isn’t.

Patsy Cline smiles and gives me a look that says, Maybe I’m Not So Bad After All. I put on a smile that says, Well, You’re Definitely Not the Worst, Patsy Cline. Because that’s the truth. And even if it wasn’t, that’s the kind of thing you say to your used-to-be best friend. Especially when you’d like more than anything to get her back.

And then I think what good luck this is because now I’ll have Patsy Cline all to myself, thank lucky stars. And after she sees me paint, she will surely say, “Penelope Crumb, you are my Favorite, because you are the most wonderful artist and I was so wrong to throw you over for Vera Bogg because anybody who wears that much pink can’t be right in the head.”

But then the Bad Luck peeks out at me from around the corner. Because the next thing I see is Vera Bogg raising her hand.

Maybe it’s those pink fingernails, but all I can think of is that I don’t want the Bad Luck to get any closer. And the next thing I know, the tiger is in my hand, but only for a second because then it leaps at Vera.

And I have to say, for an untrained tiger, it’s pretty good. The tiger knocks her hand down and then hits her desk and falls to the floor. I think its head falls off, poor thing. And Vera screams.

That’s when I know the Bad Luck has found me for certain, because Miss Stunkel pulls out her chicken-bone finger and points it at me and says I can be sure she’s sending a note home.

Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck

Penelope Crumb Finds Her Luck