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At the Zoo
"Henry, I will be back to pick you all up at exactly three o'clock," Grandfather Alden told his fourteen-year-old grandson as he dropped his four grandchildren off at the zoo. Henry was the oldest of the Alden children, and he always looked out for his younger siblings.
Henry checked his watch. "Perfect," he said. "We'll meet you here, right after the tour is over."
"I'm so glad we signed up for the spring break two-day zoo tour. It's going to take both days to see all the new animals," said twelve-year-old Jessie. As Jessie spoke, she pulled her straight brown hair into a ponytail. "The article I read online said there were twenty different kinds of babies born at the zoo this spring. Giraffes, zebras, penguins, monkeys—"
"Ohhh!" interrupted Jessie's sister, Violet. "Baby monkeys are so cute! I can't wait to see them." The ten-year-old rushed forward and gave Grandfather a big, tight hug. "Thank you so very much for bringing us today."
Jessie, Violet, Henry, and Benny Alden lived with their grandfather. After their parents died, they ran away and hid in a railroad boxcar. They'd heard that James Alden was mean, and even though they'd never met him, they were afraid to live with him. But when Grandfather finally found them, it turned out that he wasn't mean at all. As a matter of fact, he was a kind and generous man.
When the Aldens moved in with Grandfather, he let them bring along the dog they found on their adventures—a wire-haired terrier named Watch. Now the boxcar was a clubhouse in their backyard.
Grandfather handed Violet her lunch bag. Violet put the sack into a colorful patchwork tote bag that she'd decorated with puff paints.
Jessie took her own lunch and went to the car's trunk to put on her backpack. She liked to write about things she saw, so she had tucked a new notebook into the side pocket. "I can't wait to get started," she said.
"Me neither," said Benny. At six years old, Benny was the youngest of the Alden children.
Henry took his own lunch sack from Grandfather, then pulled Benny's pack out of the trunk with a grunt. "Wow, Benny," he said. "This is very heavy for a six-year-old! What do you have in here? Rocks?"
Benny smiled and licked his lips hungrily. "Better than rocks." He put out his arms so Henry could heave the pack onto his small shoulders. "I have snacks! Lots and lots of snacks."
Violet, Jessie, and Henry all laughed. They knew that Benny's stomach was a bottomless pit.
Grandfather held up Benny's brown lunch sack. "I guess you don't need this, then."
"Oh, but I do!" Benny said, taking the bag. "Lunch is the most delicious meal of the day." Benny paused. "I mean, besides breakfast and dinner."
Everyone laughed again.
Benny asked Henry to put the lunch bag in the outside pocket of his backpack.
"I'm ready!" he declared. Then he pointed at the entrance to the zoo. "Let's go!"
Grandfather waved goodbye as the children went on their way. With Benny in the lead, Jessie, Violet, and Henry followed him to the ticket line. After Jessie paid, they went straight to a small red barn. There was a sign hanging in front: Greenfield Zoo Education Center, it read. Benny opened the door to the barn, and they all went inside.
There were no animals in this barn. Instead, there were twenty metal folding chairs set up in a circle, a chalkboard, and lots of posters of animals on the walls.
"I'm so excited," Benny gushed. "Kids from all over Greenfield will be at this zoo tour. I can't wait to make new friends."
"I hope there will be some kids we already know from school," Violet added. "That would be nice, too."
After putting their lunches in a cooler and their bags and backpacks in cubbies, the Alden children hurried to sit down. The tour was about to begin.
Jessie waved across the circle to a few kids she knew from school.
"Hi Sophie!" Benny said as a tall blond girl walked in.
"Hi Benny." Sophie Webb was fourteen—Henry's age. She was a very fast swimmer. In elementary school, she had won so many races on the Greenfield Swim Team that now she was training with a professional coach. That meant Sophie didn't go to school with Henry anymore. Tutors taught her school subjects at home every morning. In the afternoons, Sophie trained in the pool.
Benny leaned over to Violet. "Sophie is amazing," he whispered.
"I know," Violet whispered back. "Someday she'll probably be swimming in the Olympics. Wouldn't it be incredible if she won a gold medal?"
A pair of twin boys sat next to Henry. Benny didn't know them, but they said that their names were Matthew and Griffin Cho. They told Benny that they were six years old.
"Just like me!" Benny said happily.
"Here comes the tour guide," Jessie said. She ruffled Benny's hair and reminded him to pay attention.
"Hello," greeted a young man with dark hair and glasses. He was carrying a bag that had the zoo's name printed on it. "My name is Rob Newton." He set the bag on the ground near his feet. "I'll be showing you many amazing baby animals over the next two days. I'm studying to be a zoologist, so I can tell you all about them."
Benny's hand shot up. "What's a zoologist?" he asked.
"That's a good question," Mr. Newton told Benny. "I learn all about animals. I study the differences between those that live in the wild and the ones that are in cages at the zoo."
Benny's eyes lit up. "Can I be a zoologist someday, too?"
Mr. Newton grinned. "Sure. You can study zoology in college."
"Oh," Benny said with a big sigh. "I don't think I can wait that long."
Mr. Newton saw the disappointment on Benny's face. "Well, I need a helper during the tour," he said. "Would you like to be my assistant zoologist today?"
"I'd love it! Thanks!" Benny jumped out of his seat, excited to help.
"This spring break tour group is very lucky! Because of all the new animal babies, the zoo has decided to have a photo contest—just for you!" Mr. Newton pulled a small cardboard camera out of his bag. It was the disposable kind. They had a digital camera at home, but the Aldens had seen this kind of camera at a wedding last summer. These cameras were made so that a person could use up the film quickly, develop the pictures, and then recycle the cardboard camera.
"Cameras cost five dollars," Mr. Newton explained. "At the end of our tour tomorrow, I will collect them and get the pictures developed. The photos will be judged by the Greenfield Zoo's zoologists. Then, tomorrow night we will have a pizza party to announce the winner. The first-prize winner will get their picture in the zoo newsletter. That person will also get a year-long free pass to the zoo!"
"A pizza party!" Benny said. He rushed over to Henry. "I don't think my tummy can wait until tomorrow evening."
Henry laughed. "It definitely makes sense to have the party at the end of the tour, Benny. Your tummy will just have to wait."
"Hang in there," Benny said to his belly with a sigh.
"It would fun to take pictures for the photo contest," Violet said.
"I wonder ..." Henry looked at Jessie. She was carrying the change from the zoo tickets.
"Do we have enough money to buy a camera?" he asked her.
Jessie pulled out the cash and counted what was left. "We have five dollars and thirty-seven cents," she reported.
"Terrific!" Violet said, taking the money. "We can get one camera and share it."
"But what about the prize?" Jessie asked. "The winner gets just one zoo pass."
"We can take turns with that, too," Henry said.
"Can I take the first picture?" Benny asked. "Please?"
"Of course," said Jessie.
"And after that, whoever sees something interesting can have a turn," Henry said.
Violet went to buy the camera, and Benny, proud to be Mr. Newton's assistant, went to help him sell them.
"Here," Benny said, giving Violet the camera. "Don't forget, I get to take the first photo!"
"I won't forget," Violet said, handing Mr. Newton the money.
Violet recognized Blake Morrison, the photographer for the school newspaper, by his bright red hair. He was standing in line behind her. "I'll need two cameras," Blake told Benny. He held out a crisp ten-dollar bill.
"Two?" Annika Gentry, a girl in the grade below Violet and Blake, spun around. She was petite with short, brown hair. She held up the camera she just bought. "Everyone should only get one."
Annika's tone was curiously angry. Violet and Benny both stopped to listen.
"I'm a professional photographer," Blake told her. "I need two cameras."
"You aren't a professional," Annika replied.
"Am too." Blake took a step toward her. "I take pictures for the school paper. You don't."
"I want to! But you won't let me," Annika said.
"Yes. I'm the only photographer and the editor, too. I get to decide what jobs everyone has for the newspaper," Blake said. "You can write the horoscopes if you want."
Annika gave Blake an angry look. "If I'm on the paper, I want to be a photographer!" She stomped her foot. Then she turned to Mr. Newton. "Please don't sell Blake two cameras. It won't be fair to the rest of us. He'll have twice as many chances to win the contest."
Mr. Newton considered what Annika was saying. He pushed up his glasses and then looked over a sheet of paper that had the contest rules on it. "Sorry, Annika," he told her at last. "The rules don't say anything about a camera limit."
Blake snorted at Annika while Benny handed him two cameras.
"Listen," Blake said to Annika. "If you win this photo contest, I'll let you be a photographer on the newspaper staff. But if you lose, you have to promise to stop bugging me about it. Deal?"
Annika thought about it for a second, staring at her one and only camera. Then she looked over at the two cameras that Blake held.
"You can buy a second one tomorrow if you want," Mr. Newton told Annika.
"That's okay," Annika said to Mr. Newton. "I'm such a good photographer that I don't need two cameras."
Annika turned to Benny, who was still standing nearby listening. "You're our witness, okay?" Annika said to Benny. "You heard what Blake said. If I win, I get to take pictures for the school newspaper."
"Okay," Benny said. "I'm a good witness. I witness stuff all the time." Then he asked, "Umm. What's a witness?"
"It's someone who makes sure everyone keeps a deal," Blake said.
"Got it!" Benny said smiling.
Annika and Blake shook hands to seal the agreement.
"Excuse me," Matthew and Griffin Cho said to Benny. "We want to buy a camera too, please."
"Sure!" Benny handed a camera to the Cho twins. "Good luck to you both!"
Mr. Newton finished selling cameras. "I want everyone to put on sunscreen," he said. "We are leaving the Education Center in two minutes."
Jessie and Violet were putting lotion on their faces when they saw Sophie come up to Blake at the sunscreen table. "Can I borrow one of your cameras?" she asked.
"Huh?" Blake looked at Sophie with a confused expression. "Why don't you buy one of your own?"
"Preparing for the Olympics is really expensive," Sophie explained. "My parents don't have any leftover money. They got me the ticket to come on the tour, but I can't buy anything." She pointed at Blake's hand. "So can I use your extra camera?"
"No," Blake said, putting both his cameras into his over-the-shoulder bag. "I am doubling my chances to win first place in the contest. I can't share." And with that, he turned and walked off. Sophie stared at the back of Blake's head as he went.
"You can share with us if you want," Henry offered.
"No, thanks," Sophie said. "I really wanted a camera that I could use by myself all day."
Mr. Newton walked over to the small red barn's exit. He told everyone to gather by the sign that read, "Greenfield Zoo Education Center." "Come on, everyone," he said. "The baby animals are waiting."
Mr. Newton handed Benny a long pole with a red flag that said tour on top.
"If you get lost, look for the flag," Mr. Newton said to all the students. He told Benny to walk next to him at the front of the group.
"Off we go," Mr. Newton said. He pointed the way out of the barn and toward the baby penguins.
Violet hung back with Henry and Jessie as the group headed out. "Annika and Blake really weren't getting along," she said. "I hope they don't argue with each other all day. That would upset everyone on the zoo tour."
"They won't," Jessie said to her sister. "All the cute zoo babies will put everybody in a good mood."
Henry laughed. "It's going to be a perfect day," he said.
Violet hoped her brother and sister were right.CHAPTER 2
"Did I miss anything?" Nico Guerraro, a boy from Jessie's class, came rushing up to the group. He was panting hard.
"We're just starting," Jessie told Nico. She explained about the cameras and the contest. "You should get a camera now if you want to enter."
Nico patted his pants pockets. "Can't," he said. "No money. I was running so late, I even forgot my lunch." He rubbed his belly. "I know I'm going to be hungry later."
"Don't worry," Benny said. He pointed at his full backpack. "I have loads of snacks with me. You can have some."
At that, Nico smiled. "Great. I'll help carry it if it gets too heavy." Then Nico frowned. "Now if only I had a camera," he said. He pushed his shaggy black hair off his face.
"Don't ask Blake for one," Sophie said. "He's got two, but he won't share."
"And it's not fair," Annika added, stepping up next to Sophie. She was much shorter than Sophie, so Annika looked up and said firmly, "He's a contest-cheating camera hog."
"Am not!" Blake's face was as red as his hair when he turned toward Annika. "Mr. Newton told me that I could have two. You heard him. I'm not breaking any rules."
It looked like a fight was about to begin. But at that moment, Mr. Newton made an announcement. "The baby penguins are right over here. Everyone follow me and Benny, please."
With a toss of her short brown hair, Annika hurried ahead to walk with Benny. Sophie moved to the back of the group. Nico and Blake and the rest of the children walked together.
At the penguin habitat, all the tension about cameras and contests disappeared when the children saw how cute the babies were.
"Oooh," Violet gushed. She waited until Benny had taken the first picture before asking if she could take one, too. He handed her the camera.
Jessie pulled out her notebook. She jotted down a few of the facts Mr. Newton was telling them about the babies.
"Penguins babies live in rookeries, or groups, where they all huddle together to stay warm," Mr. Newton told the group. He pointed to a baby huddled next to some adults. "They also have soft feathers called down to help protect them from the cold."
Blake snapped a picture of the baby penguins.
While Mr. Newton talked, Jessie noticed that Sophie was growing more and more sad and quiet.
"Are you okay?" Jessie asked Sophie.
Sophie bit her bottom lip. "I guess so," she replied. "The baby penguins are just so adorable. I'm not sure I'll be able to remember how great they are once we leave here. Sometimes I wish my parents had a little extra money for things other than swimming. Like cameras."
Jessie put her arm around Sophie. "But just think, you're the only one here who has a chance at making it to the Olympics. That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Jessie's words seemed to make Sophie feel a little better. "I guess there will always be baby animals to take pictures of, right?"
"Exactly," Jessie told her. "New babies are born at the zoo every year!"
At that, Sophie smiled and headed off after Benny and Mr. Newton toward the giraffe habitat.
Once they all got there, Henry and Violet stood at the fence looking at the newest little giraffe.
"The baby's so wobbly on those toothpick legs," Henry said to Violet. "It's amazing that he can stand up at all."
Blake squeezed in between Violet and Henry, shoving his way toward the fence. "Excuse me," he said. "This is the best spot for a contest-winning picture." Violet took a step back.
Henry tried to move to let Blake get right up next to the fence, but Annika was shoving her way in on his other side. Henry was sandwiched between the two photographers.
"I saw this spot first!" Annika said, putting the camera to her eye to frame the picture.
"It doesn't matter." Blake put his camera up to his eye, too. "I have the better angle."
"Looks to me like they are taking the same shot," Violet commented to Jessie.
"Sure does. It's the same view. Same position. Same baby giraffe," Jessie said.
Blake and Annika clicked their camera buttons at the exact same time.
"Done!" Blake said, stepping back from the fence.
"Whew," Henry said, finally able to breathe. "I'm surprised you don't want to take a few more pictures to make sure you got it just right."
"When you have a winning photo, all it takes is one shot," Blake said with certainty. He glanced over at Annika, who was busy taking multiple shots of the same view. "I think I'll use this camera, with the winning picture, for the rest of today. Then I'll have a completely new one to use tomorrow." Blake patted his over-the-shoulder bag.
Annika leaned over to the fence and clicked her tongue. "Come here, little giraffe," she said. She fired off another couple of pictures.
"Henry," Benny said, rushing up to the others. "Have you seen Sophie?"
Henry looked around the group. "No. Why?"
Excerpted from Monkey Trouble by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 2011 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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