Listen to Chapter 5
On Tuesday, all of the children, including Felicia Ann, arrived at school early—even Malcolm, who had never been early before.
Tricia had a flower in her hair.
Ben was wearing a vest.
Keiko had a tiny bit of pink lipstick on her lips.
And Barry Tuckerman was wearing a polka dot bow tie.
"Good morning, class," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Don't you all look nice today!"
"You do, too, Mrs. Pidgeon!" the children said, and Mrs. Pidgeon blushed.
"Well," she said, "I thought I'd wear my new shoes today." Usually Mrs. Pidgeon wore soft, comfortable shoes. But today she was wearing very shiny high-heeled shoes with gold buckles.
The principal, Mr. Leroy, made announcements on the intercom. He announced a bake sale and a birthday and a meeting of the crossing guards.
A fifth grade boy read a poem about Christopher Columbus over the intercom. Everyone in the school said the Pledge of Allegiance together. Then it was time for school to begin.
But Gooney Bird wasn't there.
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "let's take out our social studies books, class. Let's turn to the chapter called 'Cities.'"
"But Gooney Bird isn't here!" Nicholas called.
"No," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "she isn't. She seems to be absent today. Maybe she has the chicken pox."
The class was silent. The room seemed sad. The lights seemed dim. Even the gerbils, who usually scurried noisily around in their cage, were very subdued. George Washington, in his portrait on the wall, looked as if he might cry any minute.
Slowly the children took their social studies books from their desks and turned to the chapter called "Cities."
Keiko began to cry very quietly. "I don't want to do social studies," she whimpered. "I feel too sad."
Malcolm crawled under his desk and curled up in a ball.
Suddenly the door to the room burst open.
"It's Gooney Bird!" everybody called. The lights seemed to brighten. The gerbils began to run in a circle, and George Washington seemed to smile.
Gooney Bird was out of breath. "I'm sorry I'm late," she said. "I am never, ever late for anything. I always set three alarm clocks, and I lay out my clothes the night before, and I even put toothpaste on my toothbrush before I go to bed so that I can brush my teeth quickly in the morning! But today—
"Wait," she said. "I have to catch my breath." She stood in front of the class and took a few deep breaths. "There," she said. "I'm fine now."
She smoothed her red hair, which was flying about, and tucked it behind her ears. Today Gooney Bird was wearing gray sweatpants, a sleeveless white blouse with lace on the collar, and amazing black gloves that came up above her elbows.
"This morning," she explained, "I quite unexpectedly had to direct an orchestra."
"An orchestra?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"Yes. A symphony orchestra."
Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "I hear all sorts of interesting excuses for tardiness, but I have never heard that one before."
"I believe I'm unique," Gooney Bird said.
"Yes, you are, indeed. Did you wear your gloves when you were directing the orchestra?"
"Yes," said Gooney Bird, "as a matter of fact, I did. I found them very helpful."
All of the second-graders had their hands in the air and
were pretending to lead orchestras. Even Malcolm was back in his seat, using two pencils as orchestra batons.
Gooney Bird headed toward her desk. She looked around at the other children's open books. "I see we're in the middle of social studies," she said.
Mrs. Pidgeon slipped one foot out of a high-heeled shoe and rubbed it with her hand. Then she put her shoe back on. "Actually," she said, "I think the class would appreciate it if we held story time a little early today."
"YAY!" called all the children, and they closed up their social studies books.
"A Gooney Bird story?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Pidgeon.
"YES!" called all the children.
Gooney Bird smoothed her long gloves. She went back up to the front of the room. "Which one would you like today?" she asked. "'How Catman Was Consumed by a Cow'?"
"I'd certainly like to hear about Catman and the cow sometime," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Maybe tomorrow? But this morning I'd like to hear one called 'Why Gooney Bird Was Late for School Because She Had to Direct a Symphony Orchestra.'"
"Oh," Gooney Bird said. "All right. I could tell that."
"And it will be absolutely true?" asked Mrs. Pidgeon.
"Of course," Gooney Bird said. "Have you forgotten? All of my stories are absolutely true."
Then she curtsied, and began.
Why Gooney Bird Was Late for
School Because She Was Directing
a Symphony Orchestra
Once upon a time, in fact it was just this morning, Gooney Bird Greene got up and got dressed in the clothes that she had carefully laid out the night before.
She ate her breakfast, brushed her teeth with her pre-pasted toothbrush, gathered up her homework, put on her elbow-length gloves, and started off to the Watertower Elementary School.
Gooney Bird interrupted herself. She explained to the teacher and the class, "Sometimes stories start in the most ordinary way. Then they become exciting when something unexpected happens. Don't you find that to be true?"
The children nodded, thinking about their favorite stories.
"Like Where the Wild Things Are," Ben suggested.
"Or Little Red Riding Hood," Beanie said. "When the wolf appears, and you don't expect it!"
"Oh, I'm so scared of the wolf!" Keiko whispered loudly. "Every time the wolf appears, I—"
"Shhhh," the children said.
Gooney Bird continued.
Gooney Bird walked down Park Street, and turned the corner onto Walnut Street, and when she was halfway down Walnut Street, halfway to school, suddenly...
She paused. "I've explained before," she said, "about the word suddenly. It makes things exciting. Sometimes, class, if you're creating a story and you get stuck, just say the word suddenly and you won't have any trouble continuing at all."
"What a good idea!" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "We should start a list called 'Writing Tips.' What happened suddenly on Walnut Street, Gooney Bird?"
Gooney Bird continued.
Suddenly she saw an enormous red and white bus coming, very slowly. Each window had a head in it. The bus was quite full of people.
Gooney Bird was amazed. Even though she had lived in Watertower only a short time, about a week, she knew that the town of Watertower did not have enormous red and white buses.
Watertower had two medium-sized yellow school buses, Gooney Bird knew. And she knew, also, that one of the Watertower churches had a small white bus, really a long van, that had a rainbow painted on it, and said JESUS IS LORD on each side.
But an enormous red and white bus was completely new to Watertower.
As Gooney Bird watched, it moved very, very slowly down Walnut Street. She could see that the driver, though he was steering carefully, was also trying to look at a map in his hands.
The bus driver saw Gooney Bird, and he beeped his horn a very small beep. He pulled the bus to a stop with a breathy sound of brakes. Then he pushed the handle that opened the folding door.
"Excuse me?" the bus driver said. "You look as if you're on your way to school."
"Yes, I am," Gooney Bird replied, "and I certainly don't want to be late. I am never, ever late."
The bus driver looked as if he might begin to cry. "I feel exactly the same way," he said. "I am never, ever late. But this morning I have a terrible problem." He held up his unfolded map.
"Do you need help folding your map?" Gooney Bird asked. "It is hard to fold a map. But I find that if you follow the creases very carefully—"
"No," the bus driver said. "My problem is that I'm lost."
"Oh, dear," Gooney Bird said.
"And," the driver continued, "we are going to be late for a concert."
"Yes. I have an entire symphony orchestra on this bus."
Gooney Bird paused. "Questions about orchestras?" She asked. "Class?"
Barry Tuckerman was waving his hand wildly. "We know all the parts of an orchestra! We listened to A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra!"
"Winds!" Ben called.
"Strings!" Tricia called. She pretended to play an imaginary violin.
"Brass!" Chelsea called. She tried to make a trombone noise, not very successfully.
"Percussion!" said Malcolm loudly, and he began to tap his two pencils in rhythm on his desktop.
"And also," Barry called out, his hand still waving, "we listened to Peter and the Wolf!"
"Oh," Keiko said in a small voice, "I hate when the wolf comes. Every time the wolf appears, I—"
"Shhhh," the children said.
Gooney Bird continued.
So Gooney Bird climbed up the steps and got on the bus.
Every seat was filled. There were men and women in the bus, all of them dressed in black. All the men were wearing black turtleneck shirts. The women were all wearing long black skirts.
They definitely looked like an orchestra. But they looked very distressed.
"Where are you supposed to go?" Gooney Bird asked the bus driver.
"To the Town Hall Auditorium," he said. "We are supposed to play a concert there this morning." He looked at his watch. "It begins in twenty minutes," he said in a worried voice.
"I will get you there," Gooney Bird said.
The bus driver called to the orchestra players. "This wonderful girl is going to direct us!" he said.
"Yay!" the orchestra players all called.
Luckily, even though she had lived in Watertower for only a week, Gooney Bird knew exactly where the Town Hall Auditorium was, because her father had pointed it out when they drove around the town.
"There is the hospital," her father had said. "Go there if you happen to fall from a ladder and break your arm.
"There is the police station," he had said. "Go there if you happen to see a bank robber on the loose.
"And there is the Town Hall Auditorium," her father had said. "Go there if you want to see a ballet or a concert."
"Start the bus," Gooney Bird told the driver, "and turn right at the very next corner." It was a good thing that she was wearing her long black gloves. When she pointed, everyone could see her long black pointing finger.
There was no place for Gooney Bird to sit down. And we all know that it is dangerous to stand while a bus is going. But she had no choice. She stood beside the driver and held on to the side of his seat. He promised to drive very, very carefully.
"Next, turn left," Gooney Bird said, and pointed.
"And there we are!" she told him. "See that large brick building? That is the Town Hall Auditorium!"
"Yay!" the orchestra players called again. The women began to comb their hair.
"Thank you for directing us!" they all said to Gooney Bird as they got out of the bus. The driver had opened the luggage compartment and was lifting out cellos.
"You will be late to school," one man said as he picked up a large black case. "Trombone," he explained.
"Yes, I will," Gooney Bird said. "I will be tardy."
"Is there some way that we can thank you for leading our orchestra?" he asked.
Gooney Bird thought for a moment. Finally she thought of a way, and she whispered it to the trombone player.
He nodded. "Yes," he said. "We will do that."
One by one the musicians thanked Gooney Bird. She said goodbye and hurried down the street to Watertower Elementary School.
She arrived at school just as the class was about to read "Cities" in their social studies books.
"Questions, anyone?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Was there a drum player?" Malcolm asked.
"Yes," Gooney Bird said. "Every single part of a symphony orchestra was there. Even a harp."
"Oh," Malcolm said, sighing. "I wish I could have seen the drum player. I love drums."
"You will," Gooney Bird said.
"Was there a flute player?" Chelsea asked.
"Two," Gooney Bird said.
"I wish I could hear the flute players," Chelsea said.
"You will," Gooney Bird said.
"I have a question, Gooney Bird," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "What was it that you whispered to the trombone player?"
"Secret," Gooney Bird said. "But you'll find out at twelve o'clock sharp."
"That's lunchtime," Mrs. Pidgeon pointed out.
"Precisely," Gooney Bird said. "Now, shall we turn to our social studies?"
All morning the children, and Mrs. Pidgeon, too, glanced again and again at the big clock on the wall. They did social studies and arithmetic and had a snack in the middle of the morning. Then they did reading and art. Finally, just as the clock hands moved to twelve o'clock and the second-graders were about to reach for their lunch boxes, Gooney Bird announced, "Here they are!"
She pointed to the large windows on the side of the classroom. The children all stood up and watched though the windows as a red and white bus pulled up and parked.
When the door of the bus opened, the orchestra players came out one by one, holding their instruments. They arranged themselves in a semicircle on the lawn, facing the Watertower Elementary School.
The conductor, holding a baton, stepped to the center and lifted his arms.
"Too bad he doesn't have long black gloves," Gooney Bird murmured.
Mrs. Pidgeon opened the windows so that they could hear better. The orchestra began to play a slow, stately melody.
When it was finished, the conductor bowed. Then he turned to the windows and explained, "That was a sarabande. It's a kind of dance. We'll play it one more time, in honor of Gooney Bird Greene."
So the orchestra played the short sarabande again, and the children danced around the classroom in a very serious and graceful way.
Gooney Bird Greene >