Bookmarks Are People Too! #1
“Hank Zipzer! Please stop talking!” Ms. Flowers said to me. “Good citizens don’t talk when the teacher is talking.”
“But I didn’t say anything, Ms. Flowers.”
“Hank, I saw your lips moving with my own two eyes.”
“But no sound came out, Ms. Flowers. So, technically, I wasn’t talking.”
“Then what exactly were you doing?”
“I was sending a signal.”
The other kids in the class laughed, which made me feel great. I wasn’t trying to be funny. But it’s always nice to get a laugh.
My grandfather Papa Pete always says laughter is good, but not as good as a pickle. We’re both big pickle fans.
“And to whom was this so-called signal being sent?” Ms. Flowers asked.
“To me!” Frankie Townsend called out.
Frankie and I have been best friends since we were babies. We have a whole system of signals.
“We can talk without saying a word,” I told Ms. Flowers.
“Oh, really?” she said. “That’s very unusual.”
“There was this one time in the Museum of Natural History,” Frankie went on. “It was amazing. Hank and I both decided to roar right in the T. rex’s face—at the very same moment.”
“It was awesome,” I added. “Until the guard told us there was no roaring allowed in the museum.”
I laughed, and everyone joined in. Ms. Flowers chuckled, too. She’s really nice about laughing. Everyone at PS 87 wants her for second grade because she’s in a good mood almost all the time. She even gave me a nice try when I only got two out of ten right on my spelling test last week.
“Well, Hank, since you’re so expert at roaring and signaling,” she said to me, “you’re going to love our next class project.”
“I can hardly wait to hear what it is. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat.”
“I can hardly wait for you to fall off!” Nick McKelty shouted from the desk behind me.
Nick McKelty, better known as Nick the Tick, never has a nice word to say about anyone. But he gets away with it because he’s about twelve feet tall—in every direction.
“That’s enough, Nick,”
Ms. Flowers snapped, putting her hands on her hips. But McKelty didn’t seem to care that she was angry. He just went back to what he always does—rolling spitballs to launch at the little kids during recess.
“Next week is Children’s Reading Week,” Ms. Flowers went on. “We will be celebrating by putting on a play. I wrote it myself. It’s called A Night at the Library.”
Katie Sperling put up her hand and waved it around.
“Can I be the star?” she asked. “My daddy always tells me I am one, anyway.”
“Everyone will have a part,” Ms. Flowers said.
“Even me?” Luke Whitman asked, with his finger up his nose.
“Yes, even you, Luke.”
I wondered if there was a part in the play for a champion nose-picker. Luke Whitman would get that for sure!
“I think we all know who’s going to be the star!” McKelty shouted out. “The one with the most talent. And that would be me.”
Then, for no reason at all, he stood up and bowed, and let out one of his snorty laughs. No one else joined in.
“I’m now going to pass out the script,” Ms. Flowers said, motioning for McKelty to sit down. “Read the play over the weekend and decide on which part you’d like.”
I felt worried. Really worried. Regular second-grade reading is hard for me. Reading a whole script would be nearly impossible.
Frankie saw my face and sent me our “don’t worry” signal. I relaxed right away, because I knew he would help me. Frankie is an excellent reader. Over winter break, he read a two-hundred-page book that didn’t even have pictures.
“We will hold auditions on Monday,” Ms. Flowers told us. “That’s when you can each try out for the part you want.”
Even though I knew Frankie would help me, I was starting to get very nervous.
“You’ll have to study your lines and be very prepared,” Ms. Flowers continued. “Does anyone have any questions?”
As usual, I had many questions. Also as usual, I was too embarrassed to ask them. So I did what I usually did—
I made a list in my head.
Questions I Have about the Play
(That I’m Too Afraid To Ask)
by Hank Zipzer
1. Will I be any good at this?
2. I mean, will I really be any good at this?
3. What if I’m not good at this?
4. Can you throw up during an audition and still get the part?
5. And the big question: Will I be any good at this? Oh, I already said that.
After school that day, Papa Pete picked up Frankie and me. Frankie’s mom is a yoga instructor, and she teaches every Friday afternoon. She is so good at yoga that she can lift her foot off the floor and squeeze her nose with her toes like they’re a swimmer’s clip. While Frankie’s mom’s teaching, Papa Pete takes Frankie and me to the Crunchy Pickle. That’s the deli on 77th Street and Broadway that Papa Pete used to own. Now my mom is taking it over and trying to turn it into a healthy sandwich shop.
That is very bad news for salami.
As we walked toward the Crunchy Pickle, Frankie and I couldn’t stop talking about the play. Actually, I did all the talking, and Frankie did all the listening.
“I was in a play once when
I was your age,” Papa Pete said when I finally took a breath.
“Were you the star?” I asked him.
“Not exactly. I played a tube of toothpaste, but it was a very important tube. Harold Dunski was the star. He was lucky enough to get the part of Mr. Toothbrush.”
“What’s so lucky about that?” I asked.
“Are you kidding, Hankie?” Papa Pete said. “Harold got to sing the big opening number. It was called ‘Don’t Forget to Flush and Brush.’ The girls went crazy. In fact, years later he married the girl who played the sink.”
“No offense, Papa Pete,” Frankie said, “but this is kind of a disgusting story.”
“Well, I’m just pointing out that being in a play is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. You have rehearsals to go to, lines to memorize . . . ”
“That’s the part that scares me the most,” I said. “I’m pretty bad at memorizing. I can’t even remember how to spell neighbor.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Hankie,” Papa Pete said. “You’re clever. You’ll figure it out.” I wasn’t so sure he was right about that.
We had reached the entrance to the Crunchy Pickle. Papa Pete pulled open the glass door. Frankie and I dashed to the counter that held the black-and-white cookies. They’ve been our favorite ever since I can remember. Just before we grabbed two, my mom came out from the back room.
“Whoa there, mister,” she said. “No cookies until you’ve had a healthy snack. I have some fresh soylami right here.”
My mom is trying to bring luncheon meats into the twenty-first century. She makes everything out of soy. Soylami, which tastes nothing like salami. Soystrami, which makes your tongue want to go home without eating. And the worst is soyloney, which doesn’t even look like baloney. In fact, it’s yellow.
“Mom!” I protested. “Frankie and I have a lot of work to do, and we need real brain food.”
“Look at your sister,” she answered. “See how nicely she’s sitting in that front booth enjoying her soy-meat platter?”
My sister, Emily, who is in the first grade, does everything perfectly. It’s just like her to enjoy fake meat. She also likes doing her homework, reading about lizards, clipping her toenails, and getting all As. She is so annoying.
“Why don’t you boys find a seat,” Papa Pete said. “I’ll make you a real sandwich, with some pickles on the side.”
Papa Pete is just the best. He saves the day, every day.
Frankie and I slid into a booth far away from Emily. We reached into our backpacks and each pulled out a copy of the play. As soon as I turned to the first page, my brain froze like a Popsicle.
“I can’t read this,” I said to Frankie. “It’s too many words.”
“Yes you can, Hank. Let’s go very slowly.”
Frankie read the summary of the story.
“It’s about a boy named Barry who falls asleep in the library,” he explained. “While he’s asleep, the books come alive and jump off the shelves.”
“Wow, that sounds great. Does it say what kinds of books?”
Frankie nodded. “The books are all the characters the class is going to play. Look, there’s a book on volcanoes.”
“That’d be great for Luke Whitman,” I said. “His nose is always full of lava.” We cracked up, and Frankie went on.
“Let’s see. There’s a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. And a mystery story called The Secret of Big Bear Lake. Here’s a scary one called My Babysitter Is a Zombie. And look at this weird one—The History of Shoes Up to the Flip-Flop. You interested in that part?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t stand anything between my toes.”
“Oh, this book is cool,” Frankie said, pointing to some words on the page. “It’s a superhero comic book called Aqua Fly. It’s about a fly that lives in an underwater cave.”
“That’s perfect for me!” I said. “I’m going for that part. What about you, Frankie?”
“I think I’d be good at playing Barry. I like to read in the library. And I’m really good at falling asleep.”
“Great, then we both know what we want,” I said. “Let’s get to work.”
I flipped through my script. All the words started to swim on the pages. I was hoping that Aqua Fly didn’t have too many words to say. Maybe he would just fly and buzz. I could buzz for thirty-seven minutes straight if I had to.
Unfortunately, Aqua Fly was pretty talkative. As I tried to read all his lines, I could feel my brain start to swirl. After a few more pages, it felt like all I had in my head was soggy oatmeal.
“Here are your sandwiches, boys,” Papa Pete said, sliding our plates onto the table next to the scripts.
Boy, oh, boy. I was never so glad to see a turkey sandwich and a pickle. They didn’t have to read me, and I didn’t have to read them. All I had to do was eat. And I am a champion eater.