The Greatest Sheep in Historyby Frances Watts
Ernie and Maud are thrilled to be attending the National Superheroes Conference with the other superheroes from the town of Baxter. But when the conference is disrupted by Chicken George the most terrifying and villainous chicken anyone has ever seen it will take more than just an ordinary superhero to save the day. Ernie and Maud are back for a third
Ernie and Maud are thrilled to be attending the National Superheroes Conference with the other superheroes from the town of Baxter. But when the conference is disrupted by Chicken George the most terrifying and villainous chicken anyone has ever seen it will take more than just an ordinary superhero to save the day. Ernie and Maud are back for a third hilarious and fast-paced book filled with more of the same delightful characters and wild adventures that entertained readers in Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud and The Middle Sheep.
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THE GREATEST SHEEP IN HISTORY
By Frances Watts
Eerdmans Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2009 Frances Watts
All right reserved.
Chapter OneErnie Eggers hurried along Main Street on Thursday afternoon, his bright green cape billowing behind him. When he heard the clock on Baxter town hall strike four, he gave a sigh of relief. Phew! He'd been worried that he'd be late.
Farther up the street, he could see his sidekick, Maud, already waiting outside number 32, the headquarters of the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch). When Ernie had first won the competition to become a trainee superhero, he'd been disappointed to learn that his sidekick was a sheep. But that was before he got to know Maud. Now that they had been working together for several months, patrolling Baxter's Main Street after school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and all day Saturday, Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud were such great friends that sometimes Ernie almost forgot she was a sheep.
Drawing closer, Ernie noticed that Maud looked different. As well as her usual short pink cape, she was wearing an enormous floppy velvet hat.
"Hi, Maud," he said, on reaching her. "Nice hat."
"Thanks, Ernie," said Maud. "It's called a beret. Artists wear them."
Ernie nodded his understanding. Maud had recently begun taking art classes. "How are your classes going?" he asked, as they started to stroll along Main Street toward the town hall, on the lookout for wrongdoers and mischief-makers.
"Oh, they're great, Ernie!" said Maud enthusiastically. "Today I started work on a self-porpoise."
"A self-porpoise," said Maud. "It's when you paint a picture of yourself. Maybe when I'm done I could do a porpoise of you, hey, partner?"
"Er, yeah," said Ernie. "That would be great."
"Anyway," said Maud, "how was your day? Busy? I thought you were going to be late."
"I had to stop at the library on my way home from school," Ernie explained. "I'm doing research for a school project. We have to write about our heroes."
"Oh wow, that sounds really interesting," said Maud. "Are you going to write about The Daring Dynamo?" The Daring Dynamo was a TV superhero, and Ernie never missed an episode of his show.
"No," said Ernie sadly. "My teacher told me I'm not allowed to do any more projects on The Daring Dynamo."
"Oh, that's tough," said Maud sympathetically. "So who will your project be on then?"
"That's the problem," said Ernie. "I don't know. But I've borrowed a book from the library called The Greatest Heroes in History, so there's bound to be someone in that."
"The Greatest Heroes in History ..." said Maud. "That sounds fascinating. Are there many sheep in the book?"
"Um, I don't think so," said Ernie doubtfully.
"Oh, I see, the sheep are in a separate book, are they? Maybe one called The Greatest Sheep Heroes in History?"
"I didn't see a book like that," said Ernie.
"Oh," said Maud. She looked dismayed. "Isn't there anything at all about heroic sheep in the library?"
Fortunately, Ernie was saved from answering when Maud suddenly trotted briskly up the pavement to throw her woolly bulk in front of a toddler who was about to run onto the road. The child's grateful parents thanked her profusely, and by the time Ernie caught up, Maud was smiling again.
"Do you know what, Ernie?" she said, as they crossed the road and began to walk down the other side of Main Street toward the park at the end of the block. "I'll bet we see lots of heroes at the conference!"
Ernie and Maud wouldn't be patrolling Main Street as usual this Saturday. Along with the four original members of the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch)—Super Whiz, Valiant Vera, Amazing Desmond, and Housecat Woman—they were going to spend the weekend at the National Superheroes Conference in Thomastown.
Ernie could hardly wait. He and Maud would get to see hundreds of superheroes, and even meet other trainee superheroes and sidekicks. Plus there were all kinds of interesting courses and classes. But, best of all, Super Whiz, the president of the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch), had been invited to give a speech.
Of course, Ernie and Maud had heard Super Whiz give speeches many times before, as he held regular Monday afternoon training sessions for the two new recruits. Ernie had to admit that some of Super Whiz's speeches were just a little bit dull. But he was so proud to think that their very own president would be speaking in front of all the other superheroes in the country that he would have gladly listened to a hundred speeches on "Ideal Cape Length: Below the Knee or above the Knee?" or "Perfect Patrol Pacing: Brisk Walk or Energetic Amble?"
It was a slow afternoon on patrol—though Ernie twice had to rescue Maud when her beret slipped over her eyes and she walked into a bush—and the two trainees spent the rest of the afternoon talking excitedly about the conference. When they got back to 32 Main Street to report in at the end of their patrol, they found that the superheroes were also talking about the conference.
"Maps," Super Whiz was saying importantly as Ernie and Maud pushed open the shabby brown door. He, Valiant Vera, and Amazing Desmond were sitting around the long table in the middle of the room. Housecat Woman was asleep in her usual armchair. "Since I am the brains of the Baxter Branch, I suppose it will be up to me to navigate all the way to Thomastown. And if I am to do that successfully, I will need very detailed maps."
"And snacks," broke in Amazing Desmond, tipping Ernie and Maud a cheery wink. "If I am to drive all the way to Thomastown successfully, I will need very detailed snacks."
Super Whiz sighed in frustration. "Can't you ever be serious, Desmond?"
"Sorry, Whiz!" said Amazing Desmond, who, as far as Ernie knew, had never been serious. Then, noticing Super Whiz's furious glare, Desmond corrected himself. "I mean Super." Super Whiz hated to be called Whiz.
"Hello, you two," said Valiant Vera, waving at Ernie and Maud. "Are you looking forward to the conference?" Valiant Vera was not only incredibly brave and strong, she was also one of the kindest people Ernie had ever met.
"We sure are!" said Maud happily.
The two trainees gave their patrol report then bid the superheroes goodbye.
"Remember," Super Whiz called after them, "we leave at nine o'clock sharp on Saturday."
"And bring snacks!" chimed in Desmond.
"Oh, and Maud? Superhero costume only," Valiant Vera said with a meaningful look at Maud's beret.
"Yes, Vera," said Maud meekly.
It wasn't until they were back outside on Main Street, about to go their separate ways, that Maud raised the subject of heroic sheep again. "Ernie," she said, "can you think of any great heroic sheep in history? Even one?"
"No," Ernie had to admit. "But I'm sure there are some," he added, seeing the disappointment on Maud's face.
As he watched Maud clip-clop slowly down Main Street toward the park, Ernie was determined that he would find them.
Chapter TwoErnie woke bright and early on Saturday morning and immediately pulled on his fluorescent green one-piece suit with the gold lightning bolts on the sleeves, and fastened his matching cape around his neck. He had breakfast in front of the television, but switched it off even before seeing if The Daring Dynamo managed to escape the clutches of the dastardly Count Crustaceous. This was one morning when Ernie definitely did not want to be late. He brushed his teeth, said goodbye to his parents, then picked up his school backpack, into which he'd packed his pajamas and the library's copy of The Greatest Heroes in History.
As he jogged down the street, Ernie felt a bit anxious about the fact that he hadn't yet found a single sheep hero in the book, even though he'd read two chapters already: "Excellent Explorers" and "Super Sports Stars."
But when he arrived at the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch) headquarters at ten to nine, Ernie saw that he needn't have worried. Maud, who was already there, was her usual good-humored self.
"Hi partner," she called happily, when she spotted Ernie. "Look at this—a van! I've never been in a van before!"
Sure enough, a white van was parked at the curb. Standing beside it, each holding a small suitcase, were Super Whiz, Valiant Vera, and Housecat Woman. Ernie thought he'd never seen their costumes look so shiny and neatly pressed.
Super Whiz was looking at his watch and muttering impatiently. "What's taking him so long? I've told him a thousand times how important it is that we are punctual."
"Don't worry," Valiant Vera said soothingly. "I'm sure he'll be out in a minute."
She had barely finished her sentence when Amazing Desmond came bustling through the shabby brown door with two enormous suitcases.
"Goodness me," said Vera. "What on earth have you packed, Desmond? We're only going for one night."
"Just a few essentials," Desmond assured her. "Tuxedo, in case of a ball. Snorkel and flippers, in case there's a coral reef in Thomastown. Chaps, in case we go horse riding ..."
Super Whiz was turning purple. "This is a serious conference, Desmond, about important matters. We are there to learn from our colleagues, to study new—"
"Keep your shirt on, Whiz," Desmond said mildly.
Valiant Vera gave Desmond a sharp nudge in the ribs with her elbow and whispered something that Ernie didn't quite catch, though he thought he heard the words "nervous" and "speech."
Desmond nodded at what Vera was saying, then turned to the others and said, "Well, what are you standing around for? Let's go!"
They all bustled forward to stow their suitcases, then Desmond slid open the side door of the van to reveal two rows of seats, three at the back and two at the front.
Housecat Woman, who could move surprisingly quickly when she was awake, was first in. She made straight for the back row, stretched out along the three seats, and promptly fell asleep.
"Ernie, you and Maud take the two seats there," Valiant Vera instructed. "I'll sit up front between Super and Desmond." To keep the peace, Ernie suspected.
"Ooh, Ernie, can I have the window seat? Please, please, please?" Maud was hopping excitedly from hoof to hoof.
"Of course you can, Maud," said Ernie generously. He'd ridden in a van many times.
After a bit of a struggle with Maud's seatbelt — "You'd almost think these were designed with no idea of the shape of a sheep," Maud complained—they were on their way.
"Jingle bells, jingle bells," sang Amazing Desmond as he drove down Main Street.
"Could you please stop that infernal racket," grumbled Super Whiz. "How am I meant to concentrate on my maps with you caterwauling like that—oops!" He clapped a hand over his mouth and glanced at the back seat to see if Housecat Woman had taken offense, but she was snoring away in a dreamy doze.
"Sorry, Whiz," said Desmond. He took one hand off the steering wheel and mimed buttoning up his lips.
"And keep both hands on the steering wheel!" Super Whiz yelped.
"Sorry, Whiz," said Desmond again, though he didn't really sound sorry.
"And don't call me Whiz," snapped Super Whiz.
"Oops. Sorry, Whiz," said Desmond.
"Could you show me Thomastown on the map?" Vera asked Super Whiz. "I have no idea where it is."
"Of course," said Super Whiz, who liked it when people recognized his superior knowledge. "Now, we're going to follow this road for another fifty miles, then you see this highway here . . ."
"Oh, show me, show me," begged Maud. "I've never seen a map before. Sheep don't use maps."
"But how do you find your way?" asked Super Whiz, puzzled.
"You just follow the sheep in front of you," Maud said.
* * *
An hour later, they were on the highway. Ernie was reading chapter three of The Greatest Heroes in History, all about "Marvels of Medicine" (still no mention of sheep), and Maud had her nose out the window. Ernie could just hear a faint "Wheeee!" as Housecat Woman snored softly behind them. Amazing Desmond and Super Whiz were still arguing.
"Please observe the speed limit, Desmond," Super Whiz was saying stiffly.
"Sorry, Whiz," said Desmond.
"And don't call me Whiz," said Super Whiz through clenched teeth.
"Oops. I can't believe I did it again! Sorry, Whiz," said Desmond.
"Why don't I read you the conference program?" broke in Valiant Vera, holding up a brochure. Ernie thought the back of her head looked weary.
"Let's see ... Well, we'll have a little while to settle in, then there's going to be a welcome address before dinner. After that we should aim to have an early night as we have a busy day tomorrow. Oh look—the closing address tomorrow afternoon will be given by The Daring Dynamo. How nice."
Ernie sat bolt upright. "The Daring Dynamo?" he gasped. "He's—he's my hero!"
"That's right," agreed Maud, whose fleece was looking a little windswept. "Ernie talks about him all the time."
"Dynamo?" said Desmond. "He's a good sort."
"I suppose he's all right," conceded Super Whiz.
"All right?" squawked Ernie. "He's the bravest, fastest, daringest, most heroic—Well, who's your hero, Super Whiz?"
Super Whiz sniffed. "No one. Superheroes are heroes, they don't have heroes."
"Oh, now, that's not true, Super Whiz," Vera objected. "Superheroes have heroes too."
"Who's your hero, Valiant Vera?" Ernie asked curiously.
"Hmm ... Marie Curie," said Vera, after giving it some thought.
"Is she brave and strong and fast like you?" Ernie said.
"Oh no!" Vera laughed. "She was a famous scientist."
"What about you, Amazing Desmond?" Ernie wanted to know. "Do you have a hero?"
"Ronald," said Desmond promptly.
Super Whiz snorted.
"Desmond," Vera chided, "the pizza delivery man is not heroic."
"But he can make a Super-Triple-Supremo Supreme with extra cheese and pepperoni and deliver it to your door piping hot in thirteen and a half minutes!" Desmond protested. "Speaking of which ..."
With a screech of tires he steered the van off the highway and into the parking lot of a roadside restaurant. "Lunchtime!" he announced.
They all got out of the van and stretched, and Maud trotted briskly around the parking lot a couple of times to make sure her hooves still worked. "Sheep aren't really used to sitting down," she confided to Ernie as they filed into the restaurant.
The four superheroes and two trainees crowded into a booth and examined the menus.
"Ah, yes," said Desmond when a waiter approached to take their order. "I'll have a nice big juicy steak ... I mean—" Desmond broke off and looked uncertainly at Maud, whose face was still buried in the menu. Maud was a strict vegetarian.
"Salad," Ernie supplied helpfully. "I'll have a salad, please."
"Me too," said Super Whiz quickly.
"Er, me three," said Desmond, a bit sadly.
"And me," said Valiant Vera.
"A small bowl of milk, please," said Housecat Woman.
Maud looked up at the sea of expectant faces. "My turn? Well, you all mightn't be hungry," she said, "but I'm starving. I'll have the macaroni and cheese with extra cheese, a big piece of apple pie with cream and ice cream, and a chocolate milkshake, please."
A few minutes later Super Whiz looked anxiously at his watch. "I do hope they'll be quick. We don't want to be late."
"Why, Whiz? Are you afraid we'll get in trouble?" teased Desmond.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Super Whiz indignantly. "Superheroes aren't afraid of anything!"
Desmond guffawed. "Oh, come on, Whiz!" he said. "Of course they are. Superheroes are only human—"
"Not sheep," Ernie heard Maud mutter to herself.
"—we have fears too."
"What are you afraid of, Amazing Desmond?" asked Ernie, as the waiter returned with their lunch.
"Cold, soggy pizza," said Desmond, poking miserably at a lettuce leaf and casting a longing look at Maud's extra-cheesy macaroni.
"I'm afraid of dogs," Maud said. "Big black dogs with sharp teeth."
"Me too," said Housecat Woman between sips of milk.
"What about you, Valiant Vera?" Maud asked. "What's your greatest fear?"
"I don't know," said Valiant Vera thoughtfully. "Lots of things, I expect." But after giving the matter some consideration, she shook her head. It appeared she couldn't think of any.
Ernie was secretly pleased when Super Whiz tapped his watch and said, "Eat quickly, everyone." If he'd had to list all his fears—bullies, big waves, getting locked in a trunk, sharks, stampeding elephants—they would have still been there at dinnertime! The more he learned about heroes, the less sure he was that he would ever really be one.
Excerpted from THE GREATEST SHEEP IN HISTORY by Frances Watts Copyright © 2009 by Frances Watts. Excerpted by permission of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Frances Watts spent nearly ten years working as an editorof children's books before writing books of her own,including the award-winning Kisses for Daddy andParsley Rabbit's Book about Books (bothillustrated by David Legge). Frances lives in Sydney,Australia. Visit her website at www.franceswatts.com.
Judy Watson has illustrated fifteen children's books, manyof them chapter books for young readers. She is teaming uponce more with Frances Watts to work on her first picturebook, Goodnight Mice! Judy lives in Melbourne,Australia.
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