Read an Excerpt
The Clue in the Corn Maze
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2004 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Corn, Corn, and More Corn!
"Isn't it amazing?" ten-year-old Violet Alden said as she gazed out the back seat window of the Aldens' rented van. "No matter where you look, all you see is corn, corn and more corn."
"I like corn-on-the-cob," said Benny, Violet's six-year-old brother. "Iowa produces more corn than any other state," their older sister, Jessie, said. Jessie, who was twelve, had read quite a bit about Iowa during their three-hour plane ride from Connecticut that morning.
"Did you know corn is used to make lots of things besides food?" fourteen-year-old Henry Alden piped up from the front seat. "I learned in school that there's corn in fuel, batteries, detergents, and sometimes even clothes."
"Really?" Benny wrinkled his nose. "Is there corn in my shirt?" He stared down at his T-shirt.
"I don't know if there's corn in that particular shirt," Henry said with a laugh. "But I know that cornstarch is used to make the fibers stronger in certain fabrics." Henry was glad he remembered so much from the corn unit.
"All this talk about corn is making me hungry," Benny said as he rubbed his stomach.
"We just had lunch in the airport, Benny," Violet reminded him.
"I know. But I love corn-on-the-cob," Benny said. "With butter."
"Well, I'm sure you'll be able to get something to eat soon," Grandfather said, smiling at Benny through the rearview mirror. "We should be arriving at Ken's farm in a few minutes."
Ken Johnson was an old friend of Grandfather's. He had invited James Alden and his grandchildren to visit during the King Corn Days Festival and see his famous corn maze. People came from all over Iowa to see Ken Johnson's corn maze. Each year's maze was bigger and better than the one before it.
"I can't wait to see the corn maze," Violet said eagerly.
"What's a corn maze again?" Benny asked.
"Well, you know what a maze is," Jessie said. "You have a book of mazes at home, remember? A maze is a kind of puzzle where there's a picture and you begin in one of the openings and follow the paths and try to find your way out again."
"And a corn maze is a maze that's cut into a cornfield," Grandfather explained.
"You mean we'll actually get to walk inside the corn maze and find our way out?" Benny asked.
"Yes," Grandfather replied.
"Oh, boy!" Benny squealed with excitement. "I can't wait, either!"
"There's a sign on that fence ahead," Henry said. He pointed at a plain white sign with black lettering that read "Johnson's Corn Maze, Turn Here."
Grandfather turned onto a narrower road. There were no other vehicles in sight. Just fields of corn that stretched as far as the eye could see.
"Mr. Johnson sure lives a long way from town," Violet said.
"And I'm sure he's quite happy about that," Grandfather replied. "Ken never was much of a city person. He likes the wide open space of the country. He likes to be where things are growing. That's why he quit his job all those years ago and bought this farm."
"Look at all those vegetables for sale," Jessie said as they passed a small white farmhouse. There were bins of corn, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, beans, and squash spread out across the yard in front of the house. A sign in the driveway read "Peggy's Vegetable Stand."
"Ken said we'd pass a vegetable stand right before we got to his place," Grandfather said. "His house should be the next one."
"There it is!" Benny cried, wiggling in his seat.
Grandfather turned in at the next driveway. He followed the dusty drive that led between a dark red barn and a tall white farmhouse with a huge wrap-around porch.
"Hey, Mr. Johnson has vegetables for sale, too!" Violet pointed at a picnic table that was piled high with cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, and squash.
Grandfather drove around behind the house and parked in front of a wide cornfield. As soon as the van came to a stop, all four doors opened and the Aldens hopped out.
"Is that the corn maze?" Benny stared wide-eyed at the wall of corn in front of him. The corn stood even taller than Grandfather!
"Yes, Benny," Jessie replied. There were two openings into the field. One was marked "Entrance," the other was marked "Exit." But there was a piece of tape stretched across the entrance. The sign that hung from the tape read "Closed Today."
"Closed today?" Violet said. She looked up at the clear blue sky. "But it's such a nice day. Why would the maze be closed?"
"I don't know," Grandfather said.
"Maybe Mr. Johnson is getting the maze ready for the festival on Saturday," Jessie suggested.
"James!" A heavy-set man who was older than Grandfather plodded down the farmhouse steps with his cane. His grin stretched from ear to ear as he greeted the Aldens.
"Ken!" Grandfather exclaimed. "It's so good to see you again!" The two men hugged. Then Grandfather introduced the children.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Johnson," Jessie said politely. The four children shook hands with him in turn.
"Please, call me Ken!" He smiled at the children.
"You sure have a nice farm, Ken," Violet said.
Besides the house and barn, there were a couple of large utility buildings, a small white storage shed, and off to the side, a white trailer.
"That trailer reminds me of our boxcar," Benny said.
Henry told Ken how he and the other children had run away before they knew their grandfather because they were afraid he would be mean. They had found an old boxcar in the woods and lived in it for a while.
"But Grandfather found us and we went to live with him," Jessie explained.
"He even moved the boxcar to our house in Greenfield so we can play in it anytime we want," Violet went on.
"Does anybody live in that trailer?" Benny asked Ken.
"Yes, my farmhand, Jack Sweeney," Ken replied. "In fact, there he is over by the barn. Hey, Jack! Come on over and say hello to the Aldens!"
Jack Sweeney was a large, stocky man in his mid-fifties. He wore denim overalls and cowboy boots that were caked with mud. He carried a metal bucket that was full of white toilet paper.
Jack nodded at the Aldens. "Sorry, I've got work to do," he said stiffly. Then he went into the barn.
Ken frowned slightly as he leaned on his cane. "You'll have to excuse Jack. We had some vandalism last night and he's trying to get things cleaned up."
"Vandalism?" Benny asked. "What's vandalism?"
"It's when someone damages another person's property on purpose," Jessie explained.
"Someone wound toilet paper all through the maze," Ken said. "They made quite a mess. We had to close down for the day in order to get it all cleaned up."
"That's terrible!" Jessie exclaimed. "Who would do such a thing?"
"I don't know," Ken replied. "Somebody who wants me to cancel the King Corn Days Festival this weekend. Look what else we found." Ken reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. The paper contained a bunch of letters that had been cut out of magazines and newspapers and arranged on the paper to read CANCEL THE FESTIVAL.
"Jack found this in the center of the maze," Ken explained.
"Why would someone want to stop the King Corn Days Festival?" Grandfather asked.
"It's a mystery," Ken replied.
"We're good at solving mysteries," Benny spoke up as Jack Sweeney came out of the barn with an empty bucket. Jack had a stern look on his face.
"Maybe we could look around in the maze and see if we can find some clues," Henry offered.
"No!" Jack said, blocking the entrance to the maze. "You kids stay out of there."
"Jack's been working hard cleaning up the maze all day," Ken said apologetically. "Let's let him finish. Once he's done, you kids can go in there."
"We could help you clean up, Mr. Sweeney," Jessie offered. "Then you'll get done a little sooner."
"I don't need any help," Mr. Sweeney said gruffly.
"Why don't you all bring your things inside," Ken said, leading them away from the cornfield. "Are you hungry? I baked a couple of blueberry pies this morning."
"Blueberry pie?" Benny's eyes lit up. "Oh, boy!"
"Ken has always been a wonderful cook," Grandfather said.
Ken smiled. "After we've had some pie, I'll show you around the farm. Maybe by then Jack will be done working and you can see the maze."
Jack muttered something under his breath, then lumbered back into the maze.
"It seems strange that Mr. Sweeney wouldn't want some help cleaning up all that toilet paper," Jessie said as she and Henry lagged behind the others.
Henry shrugged. "He's probably got his own system for getting things done. Maybe he thought we'd just get in his way."CHAPTER 2
The Corn Maze
After the Aldens unpacked, Ken showed them around the farm. He led them past chickens, goats, horses, even a llama.
The llama was white with tan spots. He had a long, graceful neck, thin legs, and curious brown eyes.
Ken went over and stroked the llama's neck. "This is Sunny," Ken said with a smile. "He's very gentle. Would you kids like to pet him?"
"Sure," Violet said right away. The Aldens crowded around Ken and reached out to pet the llama.
Sunny seemed to enjoy the attention.
"His fur feels like wool," Benny said. His hand was buried in the thick fur.
"It is wool," Ken replied. "You can use llama wool for knitting or weaving. During the festival on Saturday, we'll even show people how to do that."
"I'd love to try knitting," said Violet. She enjoyed working with her hands.
"We'll also have hayrides and pony rides and games," Ken said.
"What kind of games?" Grandfather asked.
"Horseshoe and some relay races. And we'll set up a mini maze with bales of straw for the younger children. Maybe you all would like to help with that?"
"We'd love to help," Jessie said. "This festival sounds fun."
"It is fun. And of course there will be the usual 'all you can eat' corn-on-the-cob, too."
"All you can eat?" Benny's eyes lit up. "Oh, boy! This is my kind of festival!"
Jack Sweeney came around behind the barn. "I'm finished cleaning up, so I suppose those kids can go in the maze now." He eyed the children warily.
"Thanks, Jack," Ken said. Then he turned to the Aldens. "What do you say? Would you like to explore the maze?"
"Oh, yes!" they exclaimed.
"Can we, Grandfather?" Violet asked.
"Sure," Grandfather replied.
They all walked back around the barn. Ken pulled down the tape that was blocking the entrance. Then he grabbed a tall stick with a white cloth tied to the end of it and handed it to Jessie.
"James and I will watch you from that lookout over there." With his cane, he pointed to a wooden structure that looked like a clubhouse with stairs. "If you run into trouble or you need help finding your way out, raise your stick and I'll direct you."
"Okay," Jessie said.
Ken handed Henry a sheet of paper. "Here's a map of the maze," he said.
Benny stood on tiptoe to see the map. "It looks like an eagle!"
Ken smiled proudly. "Yes, all my mazes form a picture. This year's picture is of an eagle."
"That's neat," said Violet.
Henry folded up the map and tucked it in his back pocket. "We'll try and find our way without the map first," he said.
The other Aldens nodded in agreement.
"We're good at solving mazes," Jessie said.
"I'm glad to hear that," Ken said.
"Have fun!" Grandfather called as the children hurried over to the maze entrance.
"We will!" Benny waved. But his smile faded when he noticed Mr. Sweeney scowling at them from over by the barn.
The sun felt warm beating down on the children's backs as they went deeper into the maze. The ground was rock-hard beneath their feet. Rich green cornstalks towered over them. The stalks were as wide around as small tree trunks. They were so close together that not even Benny could sneak between the rows. Each stalk had several silky ears of corn sticking out like small arms.
"Mmm! The corn is so fresh you can almost smell it growing," Violet said as they turned a corner.
Jessie stepped forward and sniffed an ear of corn. "I think you're right, Violet," she laughed.
"Which way should we go?" Benny asked when they came to a fork in the path.
"This way." Violet pointed. She started off down the path that led to the right. The others stuck close to her heels. But that path soon turned out to be a dead end, so they turned around. When they arrived back at the fork, Violet and Benny started to turn to the left.
"Are you sure that's the right way?" Henry scratched his head. "I think that way leads back to the maze entrance."
Jessie rested her stick in the crook of her arm and looked first one direction, then the other. "Yes, we turned right when we turned off this main path. But then we turned around, so now we have to go right again."
For the next hour, the Aldens followed path after path. Some of the paths led into large open areas. Others ended abruptly in dead ends.
The children noticed a few leftover bits of toilet paper stuck to some of the plants. Henry grabbed one of the larger pieces and peered at it. "I wonder if we can use this to figure out who toilet-papered the maze?"
"How?" Benny asked. "It's just plain old toilet paper. Everybody has toilet paper."
"Yes, but not all toilet paper is the same," Jessie pointed out.
Violet looked closely at the piece. "That's true. See all the dots that are pressed into it? They form a swirly design."
"You're right, Violet," Jessie said. "I bet every brand of toilet paper has its own design."
"This piece could be an important clue," Henry said as he stuffed the toilet paper into his pocket.
The Aldens kept walking. They didn't find any other clues, but they enjoyed winding through the maze. A few minutes later, they reached the exit. Grandfather and Ken were waiting for them.
"You did it!" Grandfather clapped his hands together. "You found your way out."
"Did you need the map?" Ken asked as Jessie handed him her stick.
Henry patted his back pocket, where he'd put Ken's map. "Nope. We never took it out once."
"You kids are very good at solving mazes indeed!" Ken said with a smile. "Shall we go in the house and see what we can put together for supper?"
"Oh, yes!" said Benny. The children were eager to wash up and help make supper.
"So, how do you build a corn maze, Ken?" Henry asked as they started across the yard.
"Well, the first step is to figure out what picture I want the maze to form. Then I use a computer to help me draw it out. When the corn is about six inches tall, I cut the maze paths. Then it's just a matter of maintaining the field and waiting for the visitors to come."
"That's really interesting," Violet said. "I'd like to plan a maze."
"Maybe one day you will," Ken said. "Hey, it looks like we've got company." The Aldens' van was now parked between a rusty blue pickup and a sparkling-clean gray sedan.
The children clattered up the back porch steps. Jessie held the door for Ken.
"David? Kurt? Are you here?" Ken called. His cane tapped against the linoleum floor as he turned into the kitchen. The Aldens followed.
A dark-haired, thirty-five-year-old man dressed in a business suit and tie was reading a financial magazine at the kitchen table.
An older man with curly white hair stood by the stove stirring something in a large pot of boiling water. It smelled like corn.
"Hello! You must be the Aldens." The younger man stood up and shook Grandfather's hand. "I'm Ken's son, David."
"Pleased to meet you," Grandfather said. Then he introduced his grandchildren.
The older man smiled. "I'm Kurt, Ken's much better looking younger brother," he said with a wide grin that showed a gap between his top two front teeth.
The Aldens laughed as they shook hands with Kurt.
Ken scowled. "What brings you around, Kurt? Checking up on me again?"
"No," Kurt said. "I brought you some freshly picked sweet corn. This corn was still growing in my field about fifteen minutes ago."
"Wow, that is freshly picked!" said Henry.
"Corn on the cob is best if you don't pick it until you've got the water boiling and you're ready to drop the ears into the pot," Kurt said. "So I rushed right over and put the pot on the stove."
"Why did you bring your own corn when Ken has so much right here?" Benny asked.
Kurt smiled. "Well, I'll tell you, Benny. Ken can build a corn maze so spectacular that people will come from all over Iowa to see it. But you wouldn't want to eat his corn! My corn is at least fit for eating."
"That's because you grow sweet corn," Ken pointed out. "I grow field corn."
"What did I tell you?" Kurt leaned toward Benny. "Would you want to eat the same kind of corn the cows eat?" he asked.
Benny quickly shook his head.
Kurt dipped a pair of tongs into the boiling pot and pulled out a steaming ear of corn-on-the-cob. He set it on a plate to cool.
"Let me put a little butter on this corn and then we'll see what you think. Okay, Benny?" Kurt said as he grabbed the butter dish and a knife.
"Okay," Benny said, his mouth watering.
The butter melted on the corn as fast as Kurt could spread it. Kurt added a little salt, then handed the plate to Benny.
"Now you tell me, have you ever tasted better corn-on-the-cob?" Kurt asked. He watched Benny's face anxiously.
Excerpted from The Clue in the Corn Maze by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2004 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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