“Goodness. Is that a walking bookworm?”
“No,” Cassie gasped, trying to lift the bag high enough to reach the counter. The stool she like to stash by the new book counter was gone. Probably someone had taken it to reach the world record books. Either that or the after school kids were onto obstacle courses again. They weren’t allowed to use the bookcases as a course, but that didn’t mean they weren’t trying.
“Hmm. You look like a pile of books with legs. Was there some sort of teleporter accident?” Ms. Thomas stepped into her office and pulled the bag out of Cassie’s hands. The librarian heaved the bag up onto the counter. Cassie frowned. One of these days she’d be tall enough to do this on her own.
Ms. Thomas smiled crookedly. “My eyes got bigger than my book bag.”
“What do you mean?” Cassie asked, confused. “You’d have to be a giantess to have your eyes be that big.”
“I wanted more than I could have,” Ms. Thomas explained. “I was greedy to share all of these with school all at once.” The librarian wrestled the thick receipt packet out of the bag, the yellow and pink pages crumpled.
Cassie pulled a peppermint stick out of the jar on the counter. Sucking on the red and white candy she looked at the stacks of books piled all over the small room. “You read half of everything, don’t you?” she asked, walking over to the coloring supplies piled up on the table crammed into the office. She wondered what the box of scrap paper, magazines and tinfoil was for. One one side of the box there were flattened cereal boxes. Curious, Cassie started wiggling one of the boxes free. It had a shape traced on it that looked a lot like a cookie.
“Hardly,” the librarian answered, laughing. “Not even half of a half of a half of a half of everything that’s out there for kids. That’s still quite a bit. No one can read half of everything today, not even the superhero librarians.” Her brown hair was sticking out of her ponytail and her glasses were smudged by fingerprints. The bell hadn’t even rung yet. Maybe Ms. Thomas slept at school.
The bell buzzed out in the hall. Sighing, Cassie started to trudge out toward the classrooms. She loved that the library was in the center of the school and didn’t have any walls locking it away, but it did make hiding in the library for the rest of the day tricky. The library didn’t have animals like Unknown Realms, but it did have some cozy spots to read. That sounded much better than tests.
“Where are you going?”
“Class,” Cassie said. “Where else? I don’t want Mr. Finn calling for me on the school radio again.”
Ms. Thomas looked at her funny. “It’s Tuesday.”
“Your class comes to the library for morning meeting for kindergarten reading buddies.”
“Oh, right,” Cassie said, feeling stupid. Helping set that up was one of her jobs. Where was her brain that morning? “What can I do?”
That’s how she came to be dumping past issues of National Geographic Kids on the library tables along with Ranger Rick, American Girl and Zoobooks. The dates on the magazines were older than she was. Cassie supposed that was why she was allowed to pile scissors on top of them. Ms. Thomas had a thing about scissors near pages. It made her talk really fast, which was funny when the class didn’t want to go back to the classroom yet, but it wasn’t so good to do when Mr. Finn was in a hurry to have the class get back to the room for the science experiments he liked cooking up while the class was out of the room. Something always ended up smelling like burnt popcorn, but some of the experiments were pretty cool all the same.
The librarian was passing out the cereal boxes when the rest of the fourth grade class trickled into the library. “What’s with all the junk?” Sebastian asked. The blond boy leaned over one of the tables, twisting a pipe cleaner around and around until he had what looked like a tornado in his hand.
“This junk is a disguise. You have to make the best one you can out of it.”
“I’m supposed to wear this?” he asked.
“Not at all,” Ms. Thomas said. She was trying to look stern but the corners of her mouth wouldn’t stay down. “Unless you want to practice being a mummy these supplies are for gingerbread men.”
When the kindergartners arrived it was like a paper tornado landed. Somehow paper scraps erupted before Ms. Thomas finished reading the Gingerbread Man to the combined class. Cassie and her kindergarten buddy BJ left their glue man drying in hopes that the colored scraps of paper they used to make camouflage reappear. They curled up next to a large stuffed giraffe to read BJ’s favorite book.
“Pigeon sick,” BJ said on their second read through. Most of the other groups were still rolling balls of dried glue off their fingers while BJ and Cassie raced through their books. Cassie couldn’t skip a single word without the kid letter her know.
“What do you mean? Pigeon doesn’t get sick in any of these.”
“Pigeon sick,” the little boy said. He pointed to the blue bird on the cover of the book. The bird was staring at her the way it always did. It had the same fake calm on its face that the inside of the book would show was an act. It had the same little beak, the same blue. Wait. Cassie looked again. It wasn’t the same blue. One side of the bird was lighter than normal. Had someone tried to erase the bird?
BJ pried open the book and looked at the pictures. “Not sick inside,” he said.
Cassie waited for the boy to tell her the book’s story before she held the cover close to her eye. There weren’t any eraser bits stuck to the book. It wasn’t stick and it didn’t have bumpy edges. There wasn’t paint or marker on it. The picture was just wrong. It was all very curious and not like Curious George at all. Cassie folded her arms. Poor Pigeon never got to do anything it wanted, not even keeping the right color. She could almost feel sorry for the bird.
BJ had her read another two books before it was time for both classes to head back to their rooms. BJ gave her a stick hug bye while Cassie pinned their still slightly oozing gingerbread glue man to the bulletin board. Ms. Thomas had a book open in her hands. The librarian looked surprised, no, upset. Cassie didn’t know when she’d seen the librarian look so pinched. She hoped she hadn’t done something wrong. It wasn’t until she was at her desk in the classroom that Cassie wondered if she should have shown Ms. Thomas what had happened to Pigeon.
Cassie wasn’t sitting in her desk for more than a minute before a pencil eraser was poking her in the back. She turned around fast. “Don’t do that,” she hissed.
“Chill,” her best friend Nora said. “I just wanted to know if you knew what had Ms. Thomas all in a tizzy. She about took my head off when I made that cookie dude into a mummy. You’d have thought I painted one of the books white instead.”
“Not a clue,” Cassie said.
“Can I help feed the bookstore critters after school?” Nora asked.
“You don’t have to babysit?”
“Nope. Mom’s helping on a field trip. Only one not on the trip is Kevin. He’s happy as long as he sees Simon.”
Cassie sighed. Nora’s first grade brother was exhausting. He didn’t stop moving, not even when he was asleep. He did like the animals though Cassie didn’t think Simon had forgiven the boy for the toy apron yet. She sighed again. This made Nora poke her, which turned to laughter.
“Is there something you’d like to tell us, Ms. Cassie?” Mr. Finn asked.
“Nope,” Cassie answered. “Maybe one of the others would like a turn?”
Sassing the teacher was never a good idea Cassie reminded herself as she spent the first part of recess cleaning up the mess her classmates made of the floor during snack and straightening out where all the word work supplies were supposed to go. The sticky plastic sticks bent into graffiti under the desks was a new one. The words were pretty funny, but Cassie feared for her classmates’ spelling. She clumped all the sticks together into a bundle and stuffed them in the corner of the supply drawer. Four hours until she could leave for the day.