Once upon a time there was a little hedgehog named Harry, which was actually kind of a misnomer, because Harry wasn’t hairy at all. But rather pokey and prickly, and so sharp in some places, not even his mother (a pokey and prickly hedgehog in her own right) could hug him. Instead, she gave him kisses on his nose, which wasn’t prickly at all.

But Harry, although loved by his mother, didn’t have any friends, because all the other little hedgehogs said he hurt too much to play with. So while they laughed and played sardines and leap-hog, and ring around the rosies, and red-rover, poor Harry watched from the sidelines, alone because he was never invited to join.

Now most hedgehogs (and people too, for that matter) might let something as tragic as not having any friends stand in the way of their happiness. Of their feelings of self-worth. But not Harry. Because in addition to have super spiky spines, Harry also had an incredible imagination, which he began to use on a daily basis.

Instead of standing on the sidelines, longing to join one of the hedgehog children’s games, Harry started to play his own. Moving into a clearing surrounded by yew trees and blackberry bushes, Harry created a stage, which became for him, all the world, and where he could act out his bravest daydreams.

Depending on the day, Harry would transform into the Fearless Fireman of Forager’s Cove, where firefly bellies burned too hot, and needed to be dunked into the cooling waters of Scavenger Creek. Or maybe he would brandish his rapier twig, and become Sven the Swashbuckling Swordshog, who defended the mice in Rodentia Hollow from the Porcine Pirates of Pig-Penzance.

But his favorite daydream cast him as the conductor of an avian orchestra. Plucking his spikiest spine to use as a director’s baton, Harry would close his eyes and lead an imaginary chorus of birdsongs and whistles amid a symphony of cricket chirps, cicada hums, and bee-wings. And always, after such a performance, Harry would wander back to his hedgerow home, happy to see his mother and shower her nose with kisses.

Soon, the other little hedgehogs grew tired of their games, especially now that nobody was there to look on longingly and give them a false sense of self-importance. In fact, after their exclusionary games had ended, the other little hedgehogs would wander over to Harry’s stage to watch him perform one of his daydreams, increasingly jealous of how much fun he was having.

They would envy his expert swordplay, his twirls and swirls and duckings, unable to see his imaginary enemies, but desperate to fight them as well. On most days, the little hedgehogs would watch from hidden perches. In their minds, they had excluded Harry too often and too long for him to ever forgive them, and so in their shame, they watched quietly, and secretly, always leaving before the final act had ended.

But one day, little Hallie, who had always been polite to Harry, if not kind, couldn’t stand the suspense another minute. “Who are you fighting?” she yelled, stepping out from behind the blackberry bush, which had shielded her from Harry’s view.

As if woken from a trance, Harry looked up, blinking his eyes in surprise.

“The Mosquito Marauders from Melville,” he said, growing increasingly shy as the other hidden hedgehogs stepped out from their hiding places, eager to learn more. “They’re trying to steal the ruby blood from the scarlet dandelion’s stem, which will make their proboscis quadruple in size, and help them live forever.”

Hallie shivered. “Sounds terrible. And wonderful! Can I help? Please?” she asked. “I want to fight imaginary mosquito marauders too.”

Harry didn’t answer at first, but lowered the tip of his sword to the ground. He looked at the sea of hedgehog faces, all eager, all nodding, all wanting to join his game. He didn’t move for a long while, and the eager faces became worried ones. What if he resented them too much to let them play? What if they had waited too long to befriend him?

But eventually Harry began to smile, the biggest, spikiest grin any hedgehog had ever seen. “Every hog needs a stick” he shouted, “Follow me!!” He raised his sword and ran forward, leading a charging army of his new pokey and prickly friends, who were no longer afraid to fight by his side.


Ludlow the GnomeFinalSmOnce upon a time there was a little gnome named Ludlow who lived in a comfortable burrow beneath the roots of an ancient oak tucked inside the Franklin Park Wilderness. To Ludlow, who was as tall as the tallest toadstool, the Franklin Park Wilderness was as big as the world. But to everyone else, the Franklin Park Wilderness wasn’t very big at all. Half as big as the Franklin Park Zoo. Less than a quarter of the size of the Franklin Park Golf Course. And Franklin Park itself was only a tiny dot (albeit a lovely, green, diamond-shaped dot) on the map of Boston, where unbeknownst to Ludlow, he lived.

Ludlow loved his wilderness, where blue jays and cardinals wove in and out of branches like streamers of blue and red. Ludlow especially loved the sound the mourning doves made with the slanting of the sun, heralding the birth and passing of each day in soothing tones. Ludlow made sure to gather acorns for the crows, berries for the finches, and seeds for the robins. But the birds Ludlow loved best, the birds he saved his very own breadcrumbs for, were the pigeons.

Now most city dwellers don’t like pigeons. Because they’re grey. Because they’re ordinary. Because they swarm city squares and sidewalks and sometimes even subway stations looking for free handouts. Because they prefer to walk rather than fly. Because they perch on trash cans and rifle through garbage, looking for something to eat. Because they carry the city’s filth on their wings.

But Ludlow didn’t know he was a city dweller, and so he didn’t know he was supposed to disdain the pigeon, whom he thought quite beautiful, their grey feathers reflecting glimpses of emerald and violet in the sunlight, their constant and gentle cooing wrapping Ludlow in a quilt of companionship, helping Ludlow to feel a little less lonely.

Because even though Ludlow loved his woods, and loved his home, with walls of earth and root-wood, decorated with rugs woven from wildflowers, and curtains of daisy-chains, and tables and chairs made from stone still warm from a thousand years of sunshine, he lived alone. Never before had Ludlow seen another gnome. In fact, Ludlow believed he was the last gnome on earth, the only son of an only son four generations running. But because Ludlow, although lonely, was an optimistic gnome, he tried to be happy in his woods, surrounded by pigeons.

And for the most part, he was. Almost.

Now the pigeons could sense that Ludlow wasn’t entirely happy. And this made the pigeons sad. For pigeons are quite generous, convivial creatures (they live in cities after all) and they loved Ludlow deeply. Because he treated them as equals and welcomed them as friends. And to a species largely disdained, Ludlow’s kindness had endeared him to them forever. So much so, that unbeknownst to Ludlow the pigeons decided they were going to make him happy.

So one day, five of Ludlow’s closest friends, Percival, Petunia, Prudence, Parley, and Hank, decided to stage an intervention, and while Ludlow was busy herding earthworms, they descended upon him in a flurry of fluttering and feathers.

“I’m afraid these worms aren’t for eating,” Ludlow said, mistaking his friends’ intentions.

“Oh, we wouldn’t dream of eating your worms” Prudence assured him. “Pigeons are vegan.”

“Somebody should have told that to the guy on Boston Common. He kept throwing bits of his tuna sandwich in my face,” Hank complained. “So I pooped on him.”

Petunia rolled her eyes. “And you wonder why nobody likes us.”

“Let’s not get distracted here, people,” Percival said.

“You mean pigeons,” Petunia said.

Percival shrugged, “Same difference.”

“See?” Petunia trilled loudly, her feathers ruffling, “That’s your problem, you don’t distinguish between birds and people.”

Ludlow interrupted quietly, “I don’t mean to be rude, friends, but you’re scaring my worms.” And sure enough, the worms, who had been sliding slowly and sagely into their tunnels, were now wriggling wildly and getting tangled in knots.

Glaring at the other pigeons, who seemed sufficiently sorry, Parley stepped forward with a bobbing of his head and cleared his throat loudly. “Actually, Ludlow. The reason we’re here is because we’ve noticed you’ve been acting kind of sad lately. And we love and want you to be happy. So please tell us. How can we make you happy?”

But instead of saying anything at all, Ludlow looked down at his feet, his eyes filling with tears that were only half sad. The other half was full of gratitude for such good friends. Only they didn’t see it that way.

Petunia slapped Parley with her wing. “Look what you did! You made Ludlow cry,” she whispered loudly enough for the entire wilderness to hear. Soon every branch of the old oak tree was full of Ludlow’s friends. Even the old falcon had come, although nobody was brave enough to sit next to him. But everybody wanted to hear what Ludlow would say, wondering how they too, could help.

A long while passed, with nobody speaking, not even Petunia, until a wind rustled the leaves like the sound of an ocean wave, and blew through Ludlow’s oak colored beard, causing him to lift his chin and see for the first time the hundreds of birds who had gathered during his silence.

“Sometimes it’s lonely to be a gnome,” Ludlow said, finally. “Sometimes I wish I could meet another of my kind.”

All the birds nodded in empathy and compassion. Especially the pigeons, who mated for life, and whose heads nodded all the time anyway. Then instantly, magically, all the birds lifted in flight, their whistling wings raising a cyclone of dust and feathers as they disappeared in every direction, exploding like a firework that never ends, hoping to find evidence of a fellow gnome.

Then all was quiet.

Was it something I said? Ludlow wondered, then shrugged and walked softly to his burrow.

The following morning, a rapid series of loud knocks woke Ludlow from a lovely dream, which he couldn’t quite remember, although he could still hear remnants of laughing.

The pounding came again, louder.

“I’m coming,” Ludlow said, slipping on house socks of dandelion wool and shuffling to the front door, which opened to five pigeon faces cooing excitedly back at him.

“We found her!” Prudence cried.

“I found her,” Hank corrected. “In Brooklyn. I know a guy.”

“Pigeon,” Petunia said. “You know a pigeon.”

Percival looked at her. “Really? You’re going to start that now? At a time like this?”

Ludlow, still groggy with sleep, still hearing echoes of laughter, struggled to open his eyes. “A time like what?” he asked, yawning.

“Her name is Lucille,” Prudence continued. “She lives beneath the great camperdown elm near Lullwater Bridge.”

“Who?” Ludlow asked, confused, the beginnings of hope stirring at the bottom of his heart.

“A gnome. Just like you,” Prudence said, smiling.

“Except she’s a girl,” Hank said. “And she doesn’t have a beard.”

“She kind of has a mustache though,” Percival said.

Petunia hit him on the head. “No she doesn’t. Why would you say that? You haven’t even seen her.”

“But I will,” Percival insisted.

“No you won’t. I will,” Petunia declared. “It should be a girl pigeon who goes.”

“That’s gender discrimination,” Prudence said, no longer smiling. “Pigeons don’t discriminate. This would be why male pigeons produce crop milk.”

“But I’m the fastest flyer,” Percival said.

“I’m the one who found her,” Hank replied.

“I’m sorry. Did you say you found a gnome?” Ludlow asked, his voice full of disbelief, his knees starting to give way. He reached out for his chair so he could sit down.

Parley stepped forward. “Yes. We did.” He pulled out a feather pen and some paper from beneath his wing. “Here. Write her a letter. We’ll deliver it for you,” he said.

“You can do that?” Ludlow asked.

“Can we do that?” Hank grumbled. “Do you hear this guy? Can we do that? We’re pigeons for crying out loud. That’s what we do!”

Prudence shot Hank, who was still grumbling, an angry look. “Have you ever heard of Commando? GI Joe? Cher Ami?” she asked. Ludlow shook his head. “They’re all famous war heroes. And they’re all pigeons.”

“Humans forget that,” Hank shouted. “Without pigeons, the French wouldn’t have found the Lost Battalion of the 77th. Without pigeons, the Allies in Normandy couldn’t have sent messages to the German front. And what kind of thanks do we get? Tuna thrown in our faces.”

“Actually,” Prudence said, “They stuffed the war heroes and put them on display in a museum.”

Percival shivered. “I think I prefer the tuna.”

Parley turned back to Ludlow. “What they’re trying to say,” he explained, “Is that pigeons are expert letter carriers. And we’d be happy to carry your letters to and from Lucille.”

Ludlow blushed. “If she writes me back,” he said, suddenly shy. But he took the quill and paper anyway.

Hank hit himself in the head with his wing. “I totally forgot. She already has,” and he handed over a folded up piece of paper that smelled like strawberries.

For the next several weeks, the pigeons took turns flying to and from Brooklyn, delivering letters between the fastly forming friends. And Ludlow became increasingly joyous, whistling off-tune birdcalls as he worked, making his friends laugh.

Until the day he wrote his most important letter. The one where he invited Lucille to visit. The one he entrusted to Prudence, who wasn’t the fastest flier, but certainly the most careful. He was so nervous his hands shook as he tied the letter to Prudence’s leg.

“I’ll come back as soon as I can,” Prudence promised.

“Which won’t be very fast,” Percival laughed, nudging Hank with his wing and winking.

Ignoring him, Prudence took to the air with a whistling, carrying all of Ludlow’s hopes on her wings.

But three days later, Prudence returned empty-handed. And the pigeons were so sad for Ludlow, even Petunia didn’t correct the anthropomorphism.

“No letter?” Ludlow asked, despondently. Despairingly. “No reply?”

Prudence shook her head, and tried her best not to cry. “Nothing. I even waited an extra day. But there was no note. No smoke from her chimney. It’s like she simply disappeared.”

For the next three weeks, the pigeons took turns flying to and from Brooklyn. But the camperdown elm remained quiet and abandoned. And the friends mistook Lucille’s lack of communication as a bad sign. And all whistling stopped.

But on the twenty-second day, when a small knock woke Ludlow from a dream of lingering sadness, the pigeons realized their mistake. For on the front porch of the burrow under the old oak tree in the Franklin Park Wilderness stood a delightful little gnome, with green hair and a red dress with yellow dots, looking not unlike a strawberry herself.

“I’m Lucille,” she said, holding out her hand for a no-longer sleepy Ludlow to shake. “And I’m very pleased to accept your invitation.”


stella2Once upon a time, there was a little star named Stella. She was so small, nobody on earth could see her. And this made her feel sad. And insignificant. So she decided she needed to grow, only she didn’t know how.

“I know,” she thought, using her imagination. “I will stop breathing and hold my breath for as long as possible, and all the air that can’t escape will make me grow bigger and bigger.” Stella took a deep breath, puffed out her star cheeks as large as they would go, and held it. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…” she counted in her mind, all the way to twenty-one. And she could have kept going! Except she noticed her light was starting to flicker and dim, like a candle when a lid is placed over it. Fire cannot breathe without oxygen. So she quickly let out her cheekfull of air, and started breathing again, and immediately, her light got brighter.

“Hmmm,” she thought. “If holding my breath makes my light go out, maybe blowing really hard will make it get bigger.” Stella was a logical little star, even if her experiments didn’t always work. Because as soon as she started to blow, and blow, and blow, until her slightly red hue turned slightly blue, her light started to flicker again. This time like a birthday candle, on a birthday cake, extinguished by the gusts of birthday wishes. Stella loved wishes. But she didn’t want to be blown out. So she stopped blowing, and her light came back.

“Maybe I can ask someone for help,” Stella thought. Because in addition to being a logical star, and having a good imagination, Stella was also smart. And smart people ask for help when they need it. “Cosmo’s a really big star. Maybe he can tell me how he got to be so big.”

Stella found Cosmo hanging out by Bode’s Galaxy, where Ursa Major lived (because everyone knew Cosmo had a crush on Alioth, the brightest star in the constellation and 33rd brightest star in the universe). Luckily, Cosmo didn’t mind answering Stella’s questions, even if she was interrupting his stargazing.

“Oh that’s easy,” Cosmo answered, when Stella asked how he got so big. “I just bought some gas at the star store.”

“Gas?” Stella asked.

“Yes. A special mixture of hydrogen and helium to create a brighter thermonuclear fusion.”

“Sounds complicated,” Stella said, disheartened.

“Not at all. It comes in a canister. You’ll probably only need three or four to get really glowing.”

“Thanks, Cosmo,” Stella said, once he pointed her in the right direction and told her how to find the store. She was so excited to have an answer, she forgot she didn’t have any money, or even credit cards, until she wheeled her grocery cart full of gas canisters to the check out line to pay.

“That will be 18.25 please,” The old lady star said from behind the cash register. Her flames were a little bit grey at the edges, but her eyes still shone brightly.

Stella gasped “But I don’t have any money. How am I ever going to pay for all this?”

“You don’t pay in money at a star store,” the old lady star said. “You pay in wishes.”

“I don’t have any of those either,” Stella cried. “Nobody on earth can even see me. That’s why I want to get bigger. How can I get wishes if nobody even knows I’m there?”

“That’s easy. Find a constellation. Hang out for a while. I’ll bet some wishes get thrown your way. People love constellations, and they don’t know the names of the individual stars they’re wishing on. I’ll put your gas canisters aside, and they’ll be here waiting for you when you’re ready for them.”

“Thank you ma’am,” Stella said, gratefully. The old lady star hadn’t gotten angry at all that Stella couldn’t pay for the canisters, and she had been really helpful. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

And she was! It took only two nights for Stella to acquire enough wishes for her gas canisters. She’d chosen Cassiopeia, because she liked the shape of her: a giant W in the sky, and because she was rumored to harbor the ghost of a beautiful queen. Apparently lots of people on earth must have liked her shape too, because after only two nights Stella had collected 21 wishes, aimed haphazardly towards the constellation and landing directly on her.

Stella loved the way wishes felt. Warm. Loved. Seen. She also loved how fragile they were, carrying the hopes and dreams of little boys and girls on earth, and sometimes, even the dreams of their parents, or at least those who hadn’t forgotten how to dream. Stella wanted to gather her own wishes and take care of them. She didn’t want to give a single one away.

“But if I don’t get bigger, nobody on earth will ever know I’m there,” she thought on her way back to the store. “I’ll pay my 18.25 wishes this one time. And then I won’t need to spend any more.”

But when she walked inside the store, she saw lots of lovely, shiny, things, designed to make stars brighter and more beautiful: special star dyes to change a firey hue blue, or even green; glittery powders to dust in flames and make them sparkle; eternity mirrors to hang on all sides, to multiply reflections indefinitely. And at first, Stella thought about how much easier it would be for people on earth to see her if she were even bigger, more colorful, and sparkly. And for another moment, she was sorely tempted to return to Cassiopiea for some more wish gathering. But luckily, the old lady star had noticed her come into the store, and broke into her thoughts by waving and calling her over.

“I’ve saved them for you. Just like I promised,” the old lady star said, pulling a bag from under the counter and setting it on the black rubber mat that rolled the star groceries past the scanner.

Stella shook her head to clear her mind of her selfish thoughts. “Thank you again for all your help. It didn’t take me as long as I thought to get enough wishes,” she said, handing her wishes over.

“It never does,” the old lady star said, smiling as she gently took Stella’s wishes and laid them inside the cash register’s drawer, lined with clouds and softness.

“What happens to them?” Stella asked, concerned once again for the dreams she’d handed over.

“Don’t worry. We give them to Polaris. He always knows how to help people find their way.” The old lady star looked thoughtful as she squinted at Stella from behind her glasses. “Not many stars ask me that question,” she said, “You’re going to be one of the good ones.”

“Good ones?” Stella asked, but the old lady star had already turned to help the next customer, although she did give Stella one last wink as she walked out of the store with her bag of gas canisters.

That night, as Stella opened her special hydrogen and helium mixture, she felt the loss of her wishes deeply. Their warmth and love and hope had become precious to her already, in the few hours she held them. She looked in the mirror and saw that she had doubled in size. “I’m never going to give away wishes again,” she said to herself. “I might not be as big or as shiny or as colorful as the other stars, but now that people can see me from earth, I’m big enough.”

And she was. Because although Stella was not the brightest star, or the most colorful, she was the most careful with wishes. Hope is Stella’s favorite feeling, and she cherishes every wish as though it were her first and her last.

Every wish wished upon Stella comes true.


Roland Final FlatOnce upon a time there was a little boy named Roland, who loved books more than candy. Even more than toys. But Roland had a big problem because Roland spoke mostly French, and Roland lived in Boston, where the only French books Roland could find were at the French Library on Marlborough Street. But Roland had already read every book in the French Library five times. And he was looking for something new to read.

Luckily for Roland, his mother was taking him to Paris that summer. “I’ll take you to the biggest bookstore in the world” his mother promised him, “Where you can buy all the books you can carry.” Now although Roland’s mother meant well, her offer wasn’t as generous as it sounded since Roland could really only carry about fifteen books. And trailing suitcases full of books through airports isn’t particularly enjoyable. But still, Roland felt very fortunate to have a mother who understood and encouraged his love of books. And fifteen books seemed like a treasure indeed.

An elusive treasure, however. Because when summer finally came, and Roland finally entered the biggest bookstore in the world, he was immediately hit with two emotions. The first was joy. As he walked through the front doors three stories high, made of wood as thick as tree trunks, with cast-iron handles shaped like scrolls, Roland discovered a circular room lined with crooked bookcases as high as the ceilings, crammed full of books of all shapes and colors and sizes, containing every story ever written. Every picture book ever illustrated. Every country and continent and planet and solar system explored. Every animal. Every train. Every ballerina. All captured and cataloged and shelved. All in French. And all waiting for Roland.

Roland walked into the center of the room where a spiral staircase stood, reaching skyward. He looked up, and saw seven more stories of seventy-thousand stories. The ceiling was so far away, the tiny chandelier twinkled like stars. And Roland’s joy turned to despair. How would he ever decide which books to buy? It would take him years and years to choose. It wasn’t like he could simply come back to France any time he wanted and buy more. What if he chose the wrong books? The responsibility was too great. Roland sighed.

Mistaking his sigh of frustration for a sigh of contentment, Roland’s mother kissed him on the head. “Let’s meet back here in one hour,” she said.

“One hour?” Roland cried in despair.

“Is that too long?” his mother asked. “Would you prefer 45 minutes?”

“More like 45 days,” Roland said. “This store is seven stories high. I’ll never be able to chose fifteen books in an hour.”

But his mother merely laughed, and ruffled his hair. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out, Roland. You always do,” she said, disappearing through an arched doorway to buy as many books as she could carry (which was quite a bit more than fifteen, seeing as how she was bigger than Roland and her books were mostly paperback.)

Now, to better understand how Roland was feeling, imagine what you love most in the world. Maybe it’s your bicycle. Or merry-go-rounds. Or kittens. Or ice cream. Now imagine not eating any ice cream for a really long time. Months. Years even. Then imagine entering an ice cream parlor with crystal chandeliers and mirrored walls, and round café tables surrounded by white chairs with peppermint-striped seats. Along one wall is a glass case filled with more than a thousand flavors. And you can only eat one scoop. How would you know what flavor to choose? It would be impossible.

And that’s exactly what Roland whispered under his breath, in French, while shaking his head in dismay. “C’est pas possible.”

But as soon as the words left his mouth, Roland felt a great gust of wind that almost knocked him over. Brushing his hair out of his face, he looked up to see an old man, with white hair sprouting in every direction and a nose almost as long as his chin. He was wearing an enormous raggedy tweed coat and funny metal goggles that made his eyes look like baseballs that could blink.

“You called?” he asked in a warbly voice.

“I did?” Roland scrunched his nose, confused.

“You said my name.”

“I said it was impossible,” Roland explained.

“Then it is possible.”

“What is?”

“That you said my name. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Monsieur Gustave Albert Claude Jean-Marie Eustace de Papossible,” he said, holding out a long thin hand with long thin fingers and knobbly knuckles. “How may I be of service?”

Roland shook his hand politely. “My name is Roland, “he said. “And I thank you very much for your offer. But I don’t think anyone can help.”

“Anything’s possible,” mused M. Papossible stroking his chin thoughtfully.

“No it’s not,” Roland sighed.

“Which is why I’m your man for the job. What’s the job?”

“I’m supposed to find fifteen books in an hour, so my mom can buy them for me.”

Now it was M. Papossible’s turn to look confused. “And you call this a problem?”

“Because I don’t know what books to buy! I don’t even know where to look! Back home, I have to read whatever’s available. But here everything is available. What if I make a bad choice? I can’t come back! What if the perfect book is on the fifth floor and I only make it to the fourth? What if I’m supposed to be an archeologist when I grow up, but I never know that because the book on mummies was hidden in the far back corner on the third floor, and I skipped over it because it seemed too dark and scary? What then?”

“I think you’re overthinking your problem.”

“I don’t think I can make an uninformed decision,” Roland, said, echoing something he had heard his mom say to the salesman who knocked on her door, trying to get her to switch electric companies without comparing kilowatt-hour rates.

“Could you make an informed one?” M. Papossible asked softly, readjusting his goggles and leaning in, as though about to reveal a secret.

“If I had two weeks, maybe,” Roland said, his gaze following the curve of the spiral staircase to the ceiling seven stories high. “Two months more like.”

“How about two minutes?” M. Papasible asked, a twinkle in his enormous eyes. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled louder than Roland had ever heard anyone whistle before. Like a cowboy rounding up cattle. Or horses. Or dogs. Or a giant metal chair, which slid down the circular bannister, clattering and clicking like a roller coaster. “Actually, the trip only takes thirty-six seconds. It’s the strap and helmet adjustment that takes time.”

“I have to wear a helmet?” Roland wondered, looking at the chair in awe. It resembled a square throne made of metal, with metal arm and footrests, leather straps dangling on either side. The seat was attached to a pair of metal rings that clasped the handrail like claws. Hinged to the back of the chair was a helmet, shaped like a knight’s, only with pair of metal goggles in place of the facemask.

“The chair is supposed to be one size fits all, but I find if the seat isn’t calibrated correctly, the helmet leans slightly to the left, and you risk skipping the 4052 titles shelved in the south-east corners.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“That depends.”

“On what?” Roland gulped nervously.

“On how badly you want your books,” M. Papossible said, chuckling, as he strapped himself into the chair and snapped the helmet’s goggles over his existing goggles, magnifying his already magnified eyes. “I’ll see you at the top,” he grinned, his giant eyelashes blinking. He pressed the blue button on the control panel with his thumb and the chair spiraled upwards in a blur of color and sound, abandoning Roland at the bottom of the now vacant staircase.

By the time Roland reached the seventh floor, he was out of breath and slightly sweaty. From the top of the staircase, Roland looked down at the sea of books below him. He had never seen more books in his life. Not even in the Boston Public Library, which was the oldest library in the country. He couldn’t imagine how a chair, even a magical metal one with goggles could help him.

“How does the chair work?” Roland asked M. Papossible, once he caught his breath.

“The actual mechanics are too complicated to explain, but essentially you sit here.” M. Papossible slapped the metal seat, which echoed like a gong throughout the store. “You strap in your arms here.” Slap. Gong. “And your feet here.” Slap. Gong. “Then you pop the helmet down,” which he flipped forward with a loud thunk. “And press the yellow button.”

“But you pressed the blue one.”

“Aha! You’re observant! Very good!” M. Papossible said. “But you’re wrong. Blue is for climbing. And title recapitulation happens only upon descent.”

“Title what-a-pit-ulation?”

“As you slide down the circular staircase, the name of every book in the store will enter through your pupils and travel along the optic nerve to your brain.”

“But that’s impossible.”

M. Papossible thumped his fist to his chest proudly. “I know.”

“I can’t read that fast!”

“It’s not reading. It’s recapitulating.”

“Does it hurt?” Roland asked, looking at the chair with trepidation, and more than a little misgiving.

“Not if you wear the goggles correctly.”

“What happens if you wear the goggles incorrectly?”

“I don’t want to say. But I assure you it’s not pretty.”

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” Roland said.

“Maybe you’ve wasted five minutes already,” M. Papossible replied, narrowing his extra-large eyes and arching his eyebrows like Roland’s schoolteacher did whenever she caught Roland reading books when he was supposed to be solving math problems. Only she didn’t wear magnifying goggles when she did so.

“Can you please show me how it works?” Roland asked, afraid M. Papossible might be angry with him. His schoolteacher was always angry with him.

“Of course I can,” he said, jumping into the chair with the agility and enthusiasm of a much younger man. He strapped his arms and legs in, snapped the helmet into place and hit the yellow button. With a loud screeching that sounded like a giant eagle, or maybe even a dragon, the chair blasted off, blurring in a streak of wavy light. And before Roland could open his mouth to ask another question, M. Papossible returned in a similar explosion of noise and light.

He flung the helmet back and jumped down from the chair. “Now it’s your turn.”

Timidly, Roland approached the chair, which was cold and smooth to the touch. He sat on the seat, which bounced slightly under his weight, and made his stomach flutter. M. Papossible buckled the straps on his arms and feet. When he lowered the helmet onto Roland’s head, and positioned the goggles over Roland’s eyes, the room erupted into a burst of color so immediate and beautiful Roland cried out.

M. Papossible reached out and pressed the yellow button. The chair whisked Roland down the spiral staircase, like a runaway elevator or a rollercoaster. But Rolad was too busy recapitulating to cry out a second time. As he spiraled down the banister, millions of letters scrolled through his brain at the speed of light, in every color of the rainbow. And while his eyes couldn’t understand a single word, Roland’s brain automatically sorted them into titles. By the time he reached the bottom step, Roland knew the name of every book in the store. And it had taken only 34 seconds.

Shaking his head, which buzzed like a hundred bees, Roland pressed the blue button and climbed skyward so quickly it felt like he had left his stomach on the first step. “I know what books I want,” he declared happily to M. Papossible, who bent over to unbuckle his foot straps. “I even know where to find them!”

M. Papossible clicked open a pocket watch, which he wore attached to a long, golden chain tucked into his pant’s pocket. “You’ve got a half hour before your mother returns,” he said, snapping it shut right before Roland grasped him in a huge bear hug.

“Thank you, M. Papossible,” Roland whispered with emotion, wrapping his arms around the bookseller, his eyes clenched tightly with the force of his ginormous squeeze. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Surprised, and maybe even a little moved by the sincerity of Roland’s hug, M. Papossible coughed to clear his throat. “You haven’t done it yet. You better hurry.”

“I will,” Roland promised, then skipped off to find his books, humming.

Thirty minutes later, Roland’s mother returned to find him sitting next to M. Papossible, at an old wooden table with a green lamp, a stack of books at his side. “Did you have much luck?” she asked, smiling at M. Papossible, who winked, and nodded.

“I found twelve books,” Roland exclaimed proudly, lovingly patting the impressive stack at his side. “At first I thought I could carry fifteen, but the book about Ancient Egypt is a lot thicker than I thought.”

“Ancient Egypt,” his mother said thoughtfully. “That’s Archeology. Third floor, right?” She looked at M. Papossible, who nodded a second time.

Roland’s eyes opened wide. “But how did you know?” he asked, incredulously.

“A recapitulation never leaves you,” his mother replied, caressing Roland’s cheek with her free hand. In her other hand was a shopping basket full of paperbacks. “You remember it forever.”

Roland stared at his mother, mouth agape, speechless. M. Papossible tapped the side of his nose three times, which he often did while thinking. “If I remember correctly, and I always do,” he said, “You spent most of your time on the fifth floor. Detective stories, if I’m not mistaken, and I never am.”


CuthbertOnce upon a time, there was a little chick named Cuthbert. Eventually Cuthbert would grow up to be a tall, powerful, rooster, but right now he was only two inches high and bright yellow. Like a tennis ball with legs. But Cuthbert was tired of being small. Of being told he couldn’t play, couldn’t stay up late, couldn’t have sleepovers, all because he was too little. So one morning, after being sent to bed early because he was too little to watch a scary movie with his older brothers, Cuthbert woke up determined he would be little no longer. And because everyone in his family was still sleeping (from having stayed up too late the night before) nobody could tell him it was a bad idea.

            Because Cuthbert had decided to ask Mr. Fox what he could do to grow up quickly. Everyone knows that foxes are super smart. But what Cuthbert didn’t know (because he was still too little for his parents to teach him about predators) was that foxes also like to eat chicks. And chickens. And especially large, juicy roosters. So when Cuthbert knocked on Mr. Fox’s door, and a bleary eyed Mr. Fox answered (because he had been out late raiding the chicken coop across the lane) Mr. Fox’s eye opened wide, and his mouth even wider, a bead of saliva dripping off his left canine, which was ever so slightly larger than his right one. And he asked, licking his lips “What can I do for you young man?”

“Everyone knows you’re the smartest animal in the village,” Cuthbert said. “I was hoping you could help me grow up fast.”

“Grow up fast?” Mr. Fox repeated, uncertain he had heard correctly.

“Yes, sir.” Cuthbert responded, politely. Because even if he wasn’t the smartest chick in the world, his mother had made sure he was among the most well-mannered.

Mr. Fox smiled slyly. “Of course I can eat, I mean, help you, my dear fellow,” he said, as sincerely as possible for a sneaky, double-crossing, varmint. So he’d have to wait an extra half-hour for his breakfast. A small price to pay for a large juicy rooster, which would keep his belly full for the entire day. A little chick Cuthbert’s size would barely hold him over until lunch. “I’ll tell you exactly what you must do,” he continued. “But you’ll have to come back to show me how big you’ve become.”

“Of course I will,” Cuthbert said proudly.

“You promise?”

“Cross my heart hope to die.” Cuthbert said, making an “x” across his chest.

“Yes you do” Mr. Fox thought to himself, chuckling under his breath. He cleared his throat twice, and put his arm around Cuthbert’s shoulder, steering him back down the lane. “So here is what you must do. Listen carefully, otherwise the magic won’t work. Do you know the pond next to the gnarly oak, where the Frogmiller children go to play?”

“Yep. My friend Clara Duck lives there.”

“In the center of this pond is a golden lily pad.”

“I know it!” chirped Cuthbert proudly.

“But what you don’t know is that one bite of one petal of the golden lily will make you bigger and stronger than even your Papa.”

“One bite?” Cuthbert whispered, his eyes as big as marbles.

“Two bites, and you’ll grow so big your feathers will pop off.”

“One bite,” Cuthbert repeated with understanding. Then he ran as fast as his tiny legs could carry him, down the lane, towards the pond where the Frogmiller children loved to play. And Mr. Fox rubbed his front paws together, pleased with himself and the delicious lunch he would soon be eating.

Only when Cuthbert returned and knocked on the door, he was just as small as ever. So small in fact, that at first Mr. Fox didn’t see him when he opened his door, eagerly, his mouth already watering at the thought of roasting rooster.

“What? Who? What are you doing down there?” Mr. Fox asked, once he realized Cuthbert was still a little chick. If anything, slightly less plump for all the running he’d be doing.

“I can’t swim” Cuthbert explained. “And the golden lily pad is in the middle of the pond, and nobody would help me. Not even Clara Duck. Her mamma told her that the golden lily pad would make her toes grow hair and her bill fall off if she touched it.”

“Clara Duck’s mamma doesn’t know what she’s talking about” Mr. Fox said, angry at the misinformation perpetuated by the ignorant and feather-brained. And even angrier about his lunch.

“But you do,” Cuthbert said with certainty. “You know everything. Surely you must know another way I can grow up quickly.”

“You’re right.” Mr Fox said, impressed with the little chick’s confidence in him. If only poultry wasn’t so delicious, Mr. Fox might consider keeping Cuthbert as a friend. “I do know another way. Listen closely. This way is even trickier.”

Cuthbert leaned as close to Mr. Fox’s mouth as he could. So close he could feel steamy fox breath on his feathery cheek. So close Mr. Fox would have eaten him right then and there if it weren’t for his microscopic size. Only one gulp and Cuthbert would disappear entirely. Hardly satisfying.

“There is a blue tree in the middle of Farmer John’s woods. And at the top of the blue tree is a blue apple, with blue seeds inside. You must eat two of the blue seeds. No more, no less. Then come back and show me how big you’ve gotten.”

“Two seeds. Two seeds. Blue tree. Got it,” Cuthbert said, nodding his little head. “I’ll be right back.”

“Take your time,” Mr. Fox said politely. Generously even. But then his tummy grumbled. “Actually don’t. Hurry. Hurry as fast as you can,” he said. Shutting his door with a definitive bang.

Ten minutes later, there was a knock. A little knock. Way too low on the door to inspire any kind of hope.

“What was it this time?” Mr. Fox asked despondently, as he opened the door to find a tennis-ball of feathery down on his doorstep.

“I can’t fly.”

“What do you mean you can’t fly? You have wings don’t you?”

“I’ve never used them before. And they’re too small. Maybe once I’m big I can figure out how to fly,” Cuthbert said optimistically.

“If you were already big, you wouldn’t need the blue apple, now would you?” Mr. Fox reasoned out loud. In his thoughts he added “Or anything else for that matter,” licking his lips again for emphasis.

“Do you have another idea?” Cuthbert asked.

“Yes. But it’s the last one. After this there are no more ideas. Do you understand?”

“Got it.”

“You can’t fail.”

“Got it.”

“I mean it. If you can’t do this, you won’t get bigger.”

“Got it.”

“Fortunately, you shouldn’t have any trouble with this one.”

“What is it?”

“You like to eat grubs?”

“They’re my favorite!”

“Perfect. Now I want you to find the rock shaped like an eagle’s head.”

“I don’t like eagles.”

“It’s just a rock. One that you’ll need to lift up. Because beneath eagle head rock there lives a magical rainbow colored grub. Eat him, and you will grow bigger than your papa instantaneously.”

“Eat the grub. I can do that.”

“I hope so. Then come back and tell me all about it,” Mr. Fox said, rubbing his belly absentmindedly.

And once again, Cuthbert set off down the trail. And once again Cuthbert met with spectacular failure. Because once again, Cuthbert was too little to accomplish his mission, for no matter how hard he pushed—with his wings, with his back, with his bum, even with his head—the eagle shaped rock wouldn’t budge.

“Now I’ll never grow up.” Cuthbert muttered to himself, forgetting all about time, and the slow inevitability of getting older. So angry at this last and most disappointing failure (because not only was it his last option, but also the most delicious—he’d never tasted a rainbow colored grub before) he stomped all the way back to Mr. Fox’s house. So loudly the earth trembled beneath his little feet, shaking the frame of Mr. Fox’s house.

“Oh goody goody goody goody,” Mr. Fox chuckled, rubbing his front paws together in anticipation of what must be the largest rooster feast he’d ever had. And when Cuthbert pounded on the door, with what sounded like bowling ball size fists, Mr. Fox could hardly contain his ravenous glee. He swung the door opened expecting the largest, juiciest rooster ever. But all he got was Cuthbert.

“What happened? I thought you had returned enormous! Why else were your knocks so heavy? Your footsteps so loud?”

“Because I was angry!” Cuthbert shouted. Even his voice sounded like it belonged to a much larger bird. “I was too little to move the rock! What’s the point of telling me how to get bigger, if the way to get bigger is to already be big enough? If I were big enough to move the rock, I wouldn’t need to eat the grub in the first place!” Cuthbert shook his head angrily. “I don’t think you’re as smart as everyone thinks you are,” he said sadly.

“Oh but I am,” Mr Fox countered, snatching Cuthbert’s entire body with a single paw. “And hungrier too. I’ve wasted too much time trying to help your featherbrain. I should have eaten you a long time ago.”

But before his sharp fangs dripping with saliva could close over Cuthbert’s entire body. Before he could swallow Cuthbert in a single gulp, Mr. Fox was attacked by a flurry of beaks and wings.

“Aie. Ouch. Owie. Stop that. Stop it I say,” he shouted, before dropping Cuthbert on the ground and slamming the door on Papa Rooster, Mamma Poule, and all his older brothers.

“Silly Cuthbert” Mamma Poule said, wrapping him up in her warm wings and showering his head with kisses. “Don’t you know you’re born little on purpose? That it takes a long time to grow up for a reason?”

“So everyone could pick on me?” he asked, as each of his brothers took turns giving him a noogie.

“So you have time to learn important life lessons,” Papa Rooster said sternly. “Such as don’t ever try to talk to Mr. Fox again.”

“Yes Papa,” Cuthbert promised, sagely.

“You won’t always have your parents or your big brothers to protect you, or get you out of trouble,” Papa Rooster continued. “You need to learn how to take care of yourself. And that takes time.”

“But there’s so much I can’t do” Cuthbert sighed sadly, as he nestled deeper into his mother’s warm embrace and soft kisses and his brothers looked on enviously.

They were too big to be carried in their mother’s wings.

Cuthbert smiled. Maybe sometimes being little was better than being big after all.


noveOnce upon a time there was a little octopus named Nove (because Nove had nine arms, and nove means nine in Italian). Now if scientists had known about Nove, they would have said she wasn’t an octopus at all, but rather a nonopus, on account of the nine arms, which was closely related to the octopus, but a separate species altogether. Only scientists didn’t know about Nove, because nobody knew about Nove.

You see, generally speaking, octopuses (also known as octopi and even octopodes) are shy creatures, preferring caves and the undersides of rocks and docks to sunlight. They live on the bottom of the ocean after all! But amongst themselves, octopuses, especially octopus children, can be quite genial creatures, rather social, and they enjoy playing communal games like hide and seek, can you fit under this rock? or what color am I now?

But not Nove, who didn’t know she wasn’t technically an octopus (since no scientist was around to tell her) and who hid from the other octopus children because she didn’t like the way they made fun of her and excluded her from all their games. In fact, Nove got to be so good at hiding, all the other octopus children forgot she even existed.

At first Nove was saddened by her lack of friends. Her mother tried to help her, and give her ideas on how she might try to fit in. Once she even helped Nove decorate their cave, and prepare bowls of shrimps and crabs for a big octopus party, but nobody came because the other children were afraid that if they got too close to Nove, they would grow an extra arm. After that, Nove stopped trying to fit in, and her mother stopped trying to help her, and instead Nove spent her days exploring coral reefs, and discovering new caves, becoming the octopus community’s foremost authority on sea cucumbers, had anyone ever bothered to ask.

In fact, there wasn’t a square inch of the ocean floor where Nove, with her nine arms, hadn’t travelled. (Incidentally, unbeknownst to Nove, she travelled particularly fast for an octopus, her nine arms providing superior propulsion capabilities.) But there was one place Nove hadn’t travelled, one place where all the octopus children were warned never to travel, because it was the one place where Gastrominous the Menacing Shark lived. And his favorite meal was octopus (and nonopus) children, which is why he lived in a cave instead of swimming near reefs like the other sharks.

One day, while Nove was out exploring a new section of reef that she hadn’t seen before (a new coral colony had just moved in and were starting renovations) she noticed a school of octopuses squirting by, which Nove thought a little bit weird. The other octpuses children never swam out this far to play their games. So Nove followed them quietly, using all of her excellent camouflage powers so the other octopus children wouldn’t know she was there.

“It’s this way,” the pink one whispered. Her name was Rosa, which means pink in Italian. Octopuses are literal creatures. With a great appreciation for Italian.

“No, it’s to the left,” the blue one named Azzuro responded.

“How do you know? You’ve never been here before,” The green one said. His name was Verde.

“None of us have,” Rosa said, “but it’s what it says on my map. Look!” She held out an old tattered map made of seaweed, the octopus ink drawings faded with age, and pointed at the picture of a cave with one of her arms. “My great granddad said that before Gastrominous moved in, this used to be a favorite spot for teenage octopuses to meet.”

“You mean for kissing?” asked Azzuro. “Gross!”

“Shhhh!!! Someone’s coming,” Rosa whispered. And for a second Nove thought she’d been discovered. But it was the sound of Gastrominous leaving his cave for his daily constitutional. Just because Gastrominous lived in a cave doesn’t mean he didn’t take care of his health.

“You guys stay here, I’m going inside to look,” Rosa said.

“No! You can’t! It’s too dangerous” the other octopus children whispered, holding onto their friend’s tentacles, with all of their arms. But octopuses are slippery creatures, and Rosa slipped out her friends’ grasps. Quietly, she swam into the cave. Reluctantly, her friends followed her. And for a second, nothing happened.

Then all of a sudden, Nove heard a “look out” and a “don’t touch that” followed by a thump and really loud screaming. The mouth of Gastrominous’s cave filled with inky bubbles as only two octopus children burst through the opening, fleeing for their lives.

“Where’s Rosa?” Nove wondered. “She hasn’t come out yet. And what was that thump I heard? I better go see if she needs my help.

Once inside the cave, Nove couldn’t see anything except for a huge rock. It was Gastrominous’s octopus trap. The only way he had figured out to keep even the most intelligent octopus from escaping (since as we mentioned before, they’re rather slippery creatures, and everyone knows how smart they are at solving puzzles and springing locks).

At first Nove thought she was alone. Perhaps Rosa had escaped some other way? But then she heard a sound like someone crying coming from under the rock. That’s when she noticed Rosa’s head sticking out, with all of her arms pinned to the ocean floor.

“Are you hurt? Are you dying?” Nove asked, rushing to Rosa’s side. But Rosa merely shook her head and sobbed, “It’s no use. Save yourself. You have to leave before Gastrominous comes back!”

“But I can help you,” Nove said.

“No you can’t” Rosa wailed. “My friends already tried to lift the rock, but it’s too wide. They couldn’t get a good hold.

“That’s because they only have eight arms,” Nove said. “I have nine.” She wrapped her nine arms around the giant rock, attached her suckers, and lifted ever so slightly, because even with nine arms and the buoyancy of water, the rock was really heavy. No matter. Octopuses, without bones, can slide out from underneath the tiniest of openings. And because she had no bones, and because sand is soft, Rosa wasn’t injured in the slightest.

“Thank you Nove! You’re magnificent.” Rosa cried, wrapping all her arms around her newest and best friend ever. “I’m so sorry I never played with you. I was so mean to you and you saved my life anyway!”

“No she didn’t” said a deep voice with a deep chuckle, as a dark shadow filled the mouth of the cave. Gastrominous had returned. “Although she tried really hard. It’s a shame to eat such a brave octopus (Gastrominous didn’t know any scientists either), but I’m afraid I can’t pass up the opportunity to eat one with nine arms.” And he lunged at the new friends with his open, cavernous, mouth lined with a thousand teeth.

But fortunately, cavernous mouths, although terrifying, are cumbersome things, especially when opened. And Rosa, who was the best ink squirter in her class, sent a black, confounding cloud to hide their escape. Even more fortunately, Nove’s super fast propulsion wasn’t hindered at all by the weight of her friend, who held onto her ninth arm, and the two octopuses shot safely past Gastronimos before he could even bemoan their loss.

In fact, Nove swam so fast, and Rosa’s ink cloud was so big, they couldn’t see where they were going, and they smashed into the wall of angry octopus parents who were on their way to rescue them. Following their parents came two octopus children, so scared for their friend, and for the punishment they knew was coming, that they didn’t look either blue or green, but rather a pasty yellow.

Once the octopus parents had shepherded the octopus children home, they received a severe scolding and were made to clean algae off all the chalkboards and school desks as punishment. But Nove didn’t mind one bit. She’d never had friends before. In fact she’d never had so much fun in all her life. Good friends can make even the most mindless chores enjoyable.


lola1Once upon a time there was a little mouse named Lola, who lived in the walls of the Mission Hill School. Her mouse hole was warm and safe and her nest of forgotten mittens was as soft as a feather bed. Lola was the happiest mouse in the world, because she loved nothing more than to hear the children laugh and play and learn. And at night, after the children had gone home for the day, she would sneak out of her hole and clean up all the crumbs from the children’s lunch that day.

Because the janitor never cleaned anything. Instead, he hid in his office as though it were a human size mouse hole, and spent the night sleeping or watching TV when he was supposed to be working. But Lola didn’t mind. She would rid the floor of crumbs, and fill her cupboards with food, and every morning the principal and teachers and students would find a sparkling clean school, and everyone, especially the janitor, was happy.

But one day, the principal forgot her house keys in her office, and had to return to the school to retrieve them from her desk drawer. And Lola, who had never seen anyone in the school at night before (since the janitor never went anywhere), accidentally ran in front of the principal’s feet, who looked down and screamed “Eek! A mouse!”

Terrified for her life, Lola dropped her load of crumbs and ran for her mouse hole, where she sat shivering with fear. The principal, having recovered from her own fright, marched into the janitor’s office to tell him about the mouse, and the need for mousetraps. Only he was sleeping.

“You’re fired!” She said instead, shoving his feet off his desk, causing him to sit up abruptly, his snoring cut off in spurts and gurgles.

Fortunately for Lola, the principal forgot all about the mouse she had seen. But unfortunately for Lola, the principal also hired a new janitor. A janitor, Lola discovered to her dismay, who cleaned better than any janitor Lola had ever seen (which frankly, wasn’t very difficult, since the only janitor she had ever seen was always sleeping). Still, the next night when Lola crawled out of her hole to gather up the day’s lunch crumbs, there wasn’t a speck of food to be found. “Oh no!” thought Lola. “Where am I going to find something to eat? If I can’t get food here, I’ll have to find a new home, and I won’t be able to hear the children laugh and play and learn anymore.”

But Lola was an optimistic mouse, and she thought that maybe the janitor wouldn’t clean quite so well on her second day. Because sometimes people got lazy. So she returned to her hole to sleep and tried not to think about her tummy rumbling.

Yet, on the second night, when Lola crept out of her hole (making sure to watch out for the janitor, because now she knew that people didn’t like mice, and she was afraid of being caught in a mouse trap and thrown out with the trash) she scoured the classroom floor looking for a single crumb, to no avail. It was even cleaner than before! “What am I going to do?” Lola cried. But there was nothing she could do. So she went back to her hole, same as before, and tried not to think about her tummy rumbling.

On the third night, when Lola smelled the lemon soap and saw the moonlight shining on the squeaky clean floor, she realized there would never be crumbs on the floor again. And her tummy started rumbling so loudly she couldn’t sleep at all.

That next day, during lunch, as the children unwrapped their cheese and bologna sandwiches, Lola’s tummy rumbled so loudly, it made her fall out of her nest. And that’s when she saw them. Crumbs. On the floor, beneath the children’s feet. Quickly, before she lost her courage, Lola ran from the safety of her mouse hole and into the classroom where any one of the students could see her and scream. But they were too busy eating and laughing and telling stories to pay attention to a little mouse. So she quickly grabbed an armful of crumbs and ran back to her hole and the best lunch she had ever eaten. Fresh crumbs were so much yummier than stale ones.

For a whole week, Lola sneaked out of her hole to gather up delicious lunch crumbs, delighted that she wouldn’t have to leave her beloved school after all. And for a whole week her plan worked. But the very next day, one of the boys saw Lola crawling between the legs of his chair, which he jumped on top of, screaming “Eek! A Mouse!” And the room erupted into chaos.

Faster than she had ever run in her life, Lola headed towards the bookcase to hide. But the kids ran after her and found her. So she ran to the art table, disappearing inside a roll of drawing paper that had fallen on the floor. But the children found her there as well. So she ran to the rug, where the children sang songs and listened to stories, but the children surrounded her, and Lola looked at their feet blocking her on all sides, and realized she was trapped. “Oh no!” she thought. “Now the teacher will catch me and throw me out with the trash, and I will never get to hear the children laugh and play and learn again. Here she comes now!” And sure enough, the teacher was coming right at Lola, with a box in her hands, which she used to scoop up the little mouse, trembling with fright.

More scared than she had ever been in her entire life, Lola refused to open her eyes. Not even when the box opened. Not even when a warm and gentle hand lifted her up. Not even when her feet touched down on sweet smelling swirls of cedar. It wasn’t until Lola heard the sound of a door closing, which she was convinced was the lid of the garbage can, did Lola open her eyes. And to her great astonishment Lola didn’t see any trash at all! Instead, she was inside a wire cage, much bigger than her small mouse hole. In the corner sat a cardboard box with clouds of cotton inside, fluffier than her mismatched mittens would ever be. There was even a wheel for Lola to run in! And chained to the side of the cage was a water bottle, and right in front of her nose was an entire bowl full of the freshest crumbs Lola had ever seen.

“Now we have a class pet,” the teacher said. And the children laughed and clapped and shouted “Hooray!” They spent the entire afternoon drawing pictures of Lola, and discussing what to call her, eventually settling on Franklin, which was silly because she wasn’t a boy. But Lola didn’t mind, because now she never has to worry about stale crumbs or trashcans again. And because now Lola gets to spend all day, not just listening, but also watching the children laugh and play and learn.


AsherOnce upon a time, there was a little boy named Asher who had two magical powers. One he liked very much. The other he didn’t like at all. But they were connected, like two sides of a coin. He couldn’t have one without the other. Asher’s favorite power was the ability to travel anywhere in the world. Instantaneously. All he had to do was close his eyes and think of any spot on the globe he wanted, and magically, he would be transported there. No jetlag. No airport security. No inflated gas prices. But this magic power created a lot of energy in the little boy, which escaped him in the form of heat. All the time. Not just when he was travelling. He was so hot, he could never make any friends, because everything he touched turned to ash. Just like his name. Green fields became brown. Flowers shriveled and died when he walked by. Never could Asher hug another person or even shake hands, so scared was he of hurting someone. And so he lived life alone, in the desert, where everything was already so hot, he went unnoticed.

One day, Asher grew tired of living alone among the rocks and sand and cactus, with only an iguana who didn’t speak, but whom he named Bob, for company. That’s when he had the brilliant idea to use the abilities of his first magical power to solve the problems of his second. “Maybe I can find a place on earth so cold it will make my heat disappear.” So he thought and he thought about the coldest places on earth and said “Aha! I know where I can go” and he closed his eyes and thought very hard about mountain tops and snow capped peaks, and slow moving rivers of ice. And immediately Asher was transported to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. And for one whole minute, Asher wasn’t hot. But then his feet started to sink into the snow, which sizzled and steamed and turned to slush. The fattest little black bird Asher had ever seen landed on a nearby branch. “You have to leave” the little bird said. “Please. The snow is starting to melt and there will be an avalanche and the towns and forests below will be flooded or crushed.”

Asher didn’t want to be hot, but he didn’t want to cause trouble either. So he closed his eyes and thought harder about the next cold place he could go. “I know!” he said. “I’ll go from the highest peak in the world to the deepest trench in the ocean, where sunlight has never reached. His eyes still closed, Asher whispered “Mariana Trench. I want to go to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.” And magically he appeared in the deepest, darkest pit in the ocean, surrounded by strange sea creatures that glow in the dark as scary looking as they are kind. And for two minutes Asher wasn’t hot. And the strange sea creatures were happy to see him, and came forward to say hello. But soon the water around Asher started to boil. And the goblin shark and the dumbo octopus, and even the seadevil asked him to leave. “We’re sorry to see you go. But you simply can’t stay” they said, shaking their glow-in-the-dark heads sadly.

Asher nodded. He understood. He didn’t want to hurt the kind but scary-looking sea creatures. “Where can I go? Where can I go?” He asked. “I know! I will go to the top of the world, where the sun both rises and sets only once a year.” So he closed his eyes and thought about the arctic circle, and hoped the sea ice and six months of darkness would cool him down. And for three whole minutes it worked. And the polar bears, curious but wary, because they had never seen a human wearing only shorts and a t-shirt before, came to say hello. But before they could get close enough, the arctic sea ice started to melt. And the polar bears no longer wanted to say hello. “We’re sorry” they said, “but we have to ask you to leave. Without the sea ice, we aren’t able to hunt to feed our baby polar bears. You must go. Please.”

So Asher waved goodbye, closed eyes, and thought of his desert home. “It’s no use, trying to cool down,” he said to himself, sitting on his favorite rock. “At least in the desert I won’t bother anyone.” Asher started to cry. A single steaming tear that rolled down his cheek and fell to the desert floor in a burst of vapor.

Because his eyes were full of more tears, Asher didn’t notice at first the little green shoot that sprung from the place where his tear had fallen. But it grew so tall so fast, it was soon towering above his head. A giant sunflower with giant green leaves wrapped around the giant green stalk, crowned with a ring of golden petals, which raised slowly towards the sun. As the leaves uncurled from around the stalk, Asher realized he wasn’t looking at a flower at all, but a beautiful giant fairy, with ebony skin and gold hair, wearing a gown the color of emeralds, who looked down at the little boy sitting at her feet.

“Why are you crying, Asher?” the fairy asked, with a voice as deep as thunder. “I want to help you.” But Asher shook his head, his wide eyes full of wonder, but also sadness. “It’s no use. I’ve tried everything. I’ve traveled everywhere I can think of. Nothing can help me cool down.”

“You haven’t travelled everywhere,” The Fairy said, turning her face once again toward the sun. “You haven’t travelled to the moon.”

“But my magical powers aren’t strong enough to take me to the moon. And even if they could, I wouldn’t be able to breathe.”

“Yes you would. Because I wish it. If you’d like, I can help you cool down, Asher. I can send you to the moon.”

“Yes please. I want to cool down more than anything.” Asher said, so excited and so grateful to the fairy he almost hugged her. But he stopped himself short, afraid he might turn her too, to ash. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” He whispered over and over, his eyes and fists clenched tight as a whirlwind of dust swirled around him faster and faster lifting him up through the sky and rocketing him to the moon.

It wasn’t until Asher landed on the moon that he thought about his situation clearly. It was true that Asher no longer felt hot. In fact, with a night time temperature of -350 degrees Fahrenheit and dressed only in his same shorts and tee-shirt, Asher almost felt cold. But Asher was also completely alone. At least in the desert he had his iguana, Bob. The moon, on the other hand, was deserted. And after exploring all its craters, Asher sat down to rest.

“Maybe now that I’m cool, the fairy can bring me home,” he thought. Standing up, he cupped his hands around his mouth to make the sound travel farther, and yelled for the fairy with all his might. “Fairy. Sunflower fairy. I’m cool now. Can you please bring me home?” He waited and waited, hoping for a sign that she had heard him, but none came.

He tried again, more respectful like. “Excuse me. Most powerful Fairy. Your Majesty. Your plan has worked beautifully and I am cool now. Would you please be so kind as to bring me home?” But to no avail.

By this time, Asher was getting scared, and tired, and a little bit hungry. And so he tried again, but angrier. “Hey fairy. What kind of help is this? I never said you could keep me on the moon forever. Bring me home. Now!” But either the fairy couldn’t hear him, or she was ignoring him completely.

So Asher sat down again. And cried again. And this time a tear so cold it was almost ice slid down his cheek and splashed on the moon, where no green shoot sprouted.

“What do you think you’re doing, making all that noise?” an angry voice shouted. But unlike Asher’s angry voice, which roared like a bonfire, this one sounded high and crisp. Like icicles falling.

“Who are you?” Asher asked, too surprised to be offended. “Where did you come from?

“My name is Freja. I live on this star. The fairy sent me here to warm up. Back home everything I touched turned to ice. It was awful.”

“I know how you feel. Sort of. Everything I touched turned to ash. That’s how I got my name. How long have you been here?”

“I don’t really know. It’s hard to tell time in space. But you’re the first person I’ve seen. Actually you’re the first person I’ve ever seen. On earth I hid myself, so I couldn’t hurt anyone. Not even penguins.”

“You were worse off than me then. At least I had an iguana named Bob. But I can be your friend now. Why don’t you land on the moon?”

“I can’t. I’m afraid I’ll cool down again. The star is keeping me warm. But how about we play guessing games and tell each other stories?” she suggested. So this is what they did. For the first time in their lives, Asher and Freja each had a friend. They were so busy laughing and talking and playing, they didn’t notice Freja’s star moving until it was too late.

“What’s happening?” Asher asked, as Freja’s star started jerking back and forth so violently she almost fell off. She dropped to her knees and looked for something to hold on to. Suddenly, the belly of the star ignited like a rocket ship. And Freja screamed.

“I think it’s transforming into a shooting star,” Freja said, sadly. “I’ll probably never see you again.”

Terrified of losing his only friend, Asher shook his head determinedly. “It’s much worse to be alone now, after having a friend, than before when I didn’t know how much fun I was missing,” he thought. “Hold on Freja! I’ll save you!” he said, jumping from the moon to the star as the star shot through the sky.

Together Freja and Asher sped through the universe, riding on the star, like an intergalactic roller coaster, swerving between planets and under meteors, and over stars. And the entire time, Asher and Freja held on to one another as tightly as they could, too afraid to let go, laughing with equal parts fear and delight.

Finally, the star turned towards earth, and hurtled towards the Atlantic Ocean, where it crashed with a wave as high as Mount Everest, descended as deep as the Mariana Trench, and set all the arctic icebergs to bouncing. Still wrapped in each other’s arms, Freja and Asher slowly floated to the surface, where they found the Sunflower Fairy waiting for them. She was standing in a boat, with coats and mugs of hot chocolate. “You’ll be needing these now,” she said, helping them inside, and wrapping the warm coats around their shoulders, to stop their shivering. Freja and Asher cradled the mugs in their hands, lifting the hot chocolate to their noses, the gentle steam warming their faces.

“You’re going to be needing things like boats and jackets,” the fairy said, smiling at Asher. “You healed each other with your hug. Your magical powers are gone.” But Asher didn’t care. He reached out and took Freja’s hand, which was just as warm as his own.

“Friends are much better than magical powers,” he said, as the fairy disappeared again.

But this time, he wasn’t alone.