— CHAPTER 1 —
The trouble began when a giant purple armadillo ran onto the field behind Clay Elementary School.
Well, “ran” isn’t exactly the right word.
No, not “jogged” either.
The armadillo stumbled.
It huffed and puffed.
And finally paused, panting, to face a gathered crowd of students. The armadillo bellowed into a megaphone, “ARE YOU READY—?FOR—gasp, wheeze—?THE FUN RUN?”
Pointing his right front claw, the armadillo led the charge. He ran forward, but his tail snagged on a tree root. Rip! Whoops! No more tail! Cotton stuffing floated into the air, carried by the wind.
Shivering in the cold November afternoon, students of Clay Elementary watched in wonder. They stood huddled together like a colony of penguins. The boys and girls were not dressed for the chilly weather. Most wore running shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers. A few pulled on wool hats and gloves. It was time for the annual Fun Run for Fitness.
“I’m freezing!” Connor O’Malley complained. His teeth chattered. “I can’t feel my toes.” He turned to his twin sister, Lizzy. “Are my lips turning blue? I actually think my face has frozen solid. I might freeze to death.”
Lizzy poked her brother’s cheek with a finger. “It feels like a hockey puck.” She grinned. “I think you’ll survive.”
“Hey, why aren’t you cold?” Connor asked.
“I came prepared. I stuffed heat packs into my socks,” Lizzy said. “Just call me Toasty Toes.”
“Oh no!” Kym Park interjected. “Look now.”
All eyes turned to watch as the school’s purple mascot, Arnold the Armadillo, slipped and tripped and sprawled belly-first into an icy mud puddle.
“Whoa, belly flop,” Connor said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the armadillo has landed,” Deon Gibson observed.
Connor and Deon bumped fists.
Every student at Clay Elementary knew that Principal Tuxbury was in there. Deon shook his head. “Worst . . . mascot . . . ever.”
Lizzy frowned. “The costume does seem a little droopy.”
“I’ll say,” Connor agreed.
“It’s a sad, sorry armadillo,” Deon added.
“I wonder why we have an armadillo for a mascot,” Lizzy mused. “We live in Connecticut. I don’t think there are any armadillos in Connecticut. Are there?”
“We have possums,” Deon said. “That’s kind of the same. Isn’t it?”
Kym had other concerns. “I hope Principal Tuxbury isn’t hurt.” She was right to fret. Groans echoed from inside the armadillo’s plush-and-chicken-wire head. Ms. Baez, the school nurse, rushed to the fallen mascot. She began yanking on the armadillo’s head.
“It’s stuck. Nurse Baez needs help,” Kym said.
“Let’s go!” Connor roared.
In moments, students and teachers formed a long chain—?all yanking and tugging on the fallen armadillo’s head.
“Oof, huzzuh, gork!” Muffled cries came from inside the mascot.
The head remained fixed to the body of the costume. It would not budge. Principal Tuxbury was trapped.
“Should we call the fire department?” Kym asked. No one replied to Kym’s question. Because no one heard it. The screaming was too loud.
“Heave!” beseeched Nurse Baez.
“Ho!” the students cried.
And finally, with one mighty tug, the head ripped off. It flew up into the sky. The long line of tuggers toppled to the ground, heels kicking the air.
The grubby mascot sat up. The headless costume now exposed the bald, round, unhappy head of Principal Larry Tuxbury. He looked around, dazed and confused.
“Are you all right, Mr. Tuxbury?” Nurse Baez asked. “Perhaps you should lie down on a cot.”
“Never again,” he muttered. “You’ll never, ever get me into that ridiculous suit again!”
From that day forward, it would always be remembered as the best Fun Run ever.
It was the day the armadillo died.
— CHAPTER 2 —
Lizzy’s Terrific, Amazing, Stupendous, Fabulous Idea . . . Almost!
The next morning students trickled into room 312. They hung up their jackets. They pulled homework folders from their backpacks. They stuffed lunch boxes in their cubbies. It was a mellow time of day, full of yawns and quiet conversation. The room was arranged in four-desk clusters, called tables. At that time of day, students were free to move around as they wished—?until Principal Tuxbury’s morning announcements.
The boys and girls called their teacher “Miss Zips.” That’s because her name was Isadora Zipsokowski, a name few managed to pronounce without spraining their tongues. Miss Zips was six feet tall in flat shoes. She usually wore her hair in a tight, black bun. There were often pencils sticking out of it. Miss Zips had the whitest, straightest teeth anyone had ever seen. All the kids agreed she could be an actress for a toothpaste commercial.
Miss Zips was crazy about reading. Her classroom was filled with books—?in stacks, on shelves, in bins, and jammed into boxes labeled WINTER! or HALLOWEEN! or GRAPHIC NOVELS! and so on.
Once a student named Bartimus Finkle complained, “Our room is a mess. Too many books.”
Miss Zips’s eyes narrowed. She replied, “Better get used to it, Bartimus. Books are my favorite furniture.”
On this morning, Miss Zipsokowski sat at her desk nibbling a blueberry muffin. She chatted with Mr. Sanders, the classroom aide. He was famous for his big, gray, bushy eyebrows. Deon had quipped, “It’s like he has a squirrel’s tail stapled above each ey...