A Prickly Problem (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet Series #4)

A Prickly Problem (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet Series #4)

by Jacqueline Kelly

NOOK Book(eBook)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


In this story in the Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet chapter book series, Callie must help the family dog out of a prickly situation.

When the Tate family dog, Ajax, has a run-in with a porcupine, things get prickly—and dangerous—quickly. It'll take Callie's quick thinking and doctoring, along with a little help from Dr. Pritzker, to make things right. Will Ajax learn to leave other critters alone?


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781627798761
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Series: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet Series , #4
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 411,482
File size: 21 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 7 - 10 Years

About the Author

Jacqueline Kelly is the author of the Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet chapter book series, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Return to the Willows, and Newbery Honor winner The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Born in New Zealand, she now lives with her husband and too many cats and dogs in Austin, Texas.

Jacqueline Kelly won the Newbery Honor for her first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. She was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada, in the dense rainforests of Vancouver Island. Her family then moved to El Paso, Texas, and Kelly attended college in El Paso, then went on to medical school in Galveston. After practicing medicine for many years, she went to law school at the University of Texas, and after several years of law practice, realized she wanted to write fiction. Her first story was published in the Mississippi Review in 2001. She now makes her home with her husband and various cats and dogs in Austin and Fentress, Texas.

Read an Excerpt


One thing I've learned is that some dogs are pretty smart, and some dogs are pretty dumb, and most of the time it's not too hard to tell the difference between them. (I've learned that people are like that too.) But with some dogs, well, you just never know what you're getting. I'm thinking here of Ajax, my father's prize bird dog. You'd think a dog that won prizes for hunting birds would have at least a little common sense, wouldn't you? You probably would. I know I sure did, until that dumb dog proved me wrong in a really big way. Let me tell you about it.

It was early autumn in 1901. The crushing summer heat had ended. All around us were the welcome signs of animals getting ready for the coming winter: the cats' fur grew thick, the hummingbirds departed for the south, the Canada geese arrived from the north. The squirrels rushed around burying as many pecans as they could, patting the soil into place with their tiny paws like busy little gardeners.

My six brothers and I would be going back to school in another week. But before that, we always gave away our old clothes to the poor at the other end of town. Every year, Mother would put together a big wicker basket of boots and clothes, and we'd deliver it to the needy.

This time, Mother said, "Calpurnia, I notice that your bedroom is getting overrun with books. I think it's time to part with some of them, so pack a few in the hamper as well."

"What?" I was outraged.

"Watch your tone, young lady, and do as I say."

"You don't give away books," I said.

"Why on earth not?" She continued sorting and packing.

"Well, I ... I don't know. It's just not right. Somehow." I sounded lame, even to myself.


I trudged heavily up the stairs in a black mood. Give away my books? What a terrible idea. I finally picked out an old book that I had long outgrown: A Child's Collection of Fairy Tales. The cover was faded and the pages dog-eared. On the cover, a giant wielding a club and dressed in green chased after a small boy dressed in brown: "Jack and the Beanstalk." My three older brothers had read all those stories to me, and I in turn had read them to my three younger brothers. That book was part of my childhood. It didn't feel right, giving away part of my past. But the shelf was getting crowded, and the other books had to do with birds and mammals and plants and fossils — all part of my present. (And, I hoped, my future.) I couldn't give those away. I sighed and grabbed the fairy tales and ran downstairs. I comforted myself with the thought that I knew the tales so well that they were fixed forever on the bookshelves lined up in my brain. That is to say, in my memory.

This year we were visiting the Thompson family. We loaded the hamper onto my younger brothers' red wagon, and I pulled it down the street with Mother.

It was hard to tell exactly how many children the Thompsons had. Each time we visited, there seemed to be yet another grubby little face peering out from behind Mrs. Thompson's skirts. The youngest Thompsons went barefoot, even in winter; the older ones wore our cast-off boots. All but the very youngest had to help out on the farm from time to time, so they missed many days of class and lagged behind in school.

Mrs. Thompson's eyes lit up when she opened the door and saw the hamper in the wagon. Mother handed out the clothes to the children of various sizes. One of the younger girls eyed the fairy-tale book. I think her name was Milly, or maybe Molly.

I plucked it from the hamper and handed it to her. She took it with big round eyes, plunked herself down on the floor, and started paging through it right away. Mother and Mrs. Thompson chatted about this and that, and I heard Mother promise to bring a turkey at Thanksgiving. We always raised three: one for us, one for the help, and one for the poor.

When it was time for us to go, Milly (or maybe Molly) stood up and handed the book back to me. "That's all right," I said. "You can keep it."

"What?" she said, looking puzzled.

"You can keep it."

"You mean ... you don't want it back?"

"No, it's your book now."

"My book?"

"Yes," I said.

"My book?"

"Yes," I said, thinking she must be a little slow or a little deaf.

Then she said something that made it all clear. "I've never had my own book before."

"Oh," I said, taken aback. "Well, uh, you do now."

She stammered her thanks and hugged it to her chest like a great treasure.

And here was I, Calpurnia Virginia Tate, with a dozen books on a shelf by my bed, and hundreds more in my grandfather's room, and thousands more at the Lockhart library. All the books I wanted, really. Was I not the luckiest girl in the whole world? Why, yes, I was. And was I not the most selfish as well? Well, yes, that too. I told myself I would never complain about giving away a book again as long as I lived.

On our walk home, Mother shook her head, saying, "How that poor woman manages, I'll never know."

We walked on in silence until she said, "You're being very quiet today."

I said nothing because I had nothing to say.

Early Friday Travis and I went out for a walk to the riverbank. Ajax decided to trail along with us, bounding through the brush and sniffing everything in sight. Travis was telling me some boring story about something my friend Lula had done at school. I admit I wasn't paying much attention.

Up ahead, I caught sight of a strange fat little creature waddling along. It turned around to look at us. With its big front teeth and round body, it looked a lot like a beaver, except, of course, for all the fearsome quills sticking out.

Ajax, who'd been busy sniffing around, suddenly looked up and caught sight of it. He bolted at it, barking his head off at this stranger on his turf.

"Ajax! Stop!" I screamed.

The porcupine ran to the nearest tree and climbed up it at a surprising speed. Granddaddy and I had seen one at the riverbank a few weeks before, and I remembered him telling me they were good climbers. Slow on the ground but fast in the trees.

The porcupine looked down at us, chewing peacefully on a bit of bark. It was actually kind of cute, except for being covered in those terrible quills. We finally hauled Ajax away by his collar.

"Gosh," said Travis, "that was a close one."

"Yep, way too close for comfort."


The next day, it was time for a family trip to Sutherland's Emporium, the huge department store in Lockhart, where we'd buy school supplies and new boots and cloth for Mother to sew us our school clothes. I didn't care that much about the clothes, but it was important to Mother that all the Tate children looked "presentable."

The Emporium was huge, three stories tall, and the biggest, most exciting store for fifty miles around. Nobody in their right mind would miss a trip.

My six brothers and I crammed into the wagon with Alberto, the hired man, driving; Mother and Father and Granddaddy rode in the buggy. But before we left, we tied up poor Ajax on the porch so he wouldn't follow Father. He loved Father dearly and hated to be separated from him. He'd once followed us all the way to Lockhart and back and been a perfect nuisance the whole way, worrying livestock and barking at strangers on the road, and almost crushing his paws under the wagon wheels. We gave him a big bowl of water and patted him and told him to be a good boy. Even so, he fought the rope and barked like crazy until we were well out of sight.

Normally there might have been some elbowing and pinching and braid pulling on the trip but not today. We all knew that our good behavior would be rewarded with a sweet, gooey treat at the soda fountain, one of the high points of our lives!

I kept the younger boys entertained by pointing out the flora and fauna that I had learned about from Granddaddy. But the youngest, Jim Bowie, soon grew tired of this and started making animal noises whenever he spotted one. We saw lots of cows and horses and pigs on the way, so it got annoying pretty fast.

The Lockhart square was bustling with Saturday shoppers. We parked in front of the store and went in, all except for Granddaddy. He headed across the square to the library, carrying a long list of books he wanted to check out.

The minute you walked into the store, you could smell all the enticing smells from the soda fountain, the chocolate and the caramel and the crushed fruits in syrup. Yum! But first we had business to attend to.

"Now, come along, all of you," said Mother, "and don't scatter. First, the shoe department."

We lined up in the shoe department, and each got fitted with a handsome new pair of boots. Mine were chestnut leather, so shiny you could see your reflection in them. My old ones looked very scuffed and tired beside them.

Mother handed over money to the clerk, who put it into a metal capsule about the size of a hot dog bun. He then pushed it into a pneumatic tube, which whooshed away on a current of compressed air to the cashier in the basement. The cashier made change, which then whooshed back to us. A very interesting system. Granddaddy had told me there was some talk in the big cities of moving people from place to place the same way, only in bigger capsules, of course.

Then it was time to buy school supplies. I loved getting new yellow pencils, and a new pencil box to keep them in, and a fresh new copybook. No matter that the pencils would soon be covered in tooth marks since I tended to gnaw on them while thinking. No matter that the copybook pages would soon be crumpled and torn. It was the promise of a fresh start that counted.

Then Mother bought several bolts of fabric, and Alberto carried them out to the wagon. Father went off to the barbershop for a haircut and a hot shave, and to catch up on the latest news from Austin. And since we'd all been well behaved, Mother gave us money for the soda fountain while she went upstairs to the mezzanine for cream puffs and afternoon tea. The mezzanine was a kind of half floor sticking out over the ground floor where the ladies with their huge hats could look down on the action below. Mother couldn't hear us, but she could definitely still see us, so we had to behave. Sort of.

I loved sitting at the counter and watching the soda man perform his magic of pouring fizzy floats and building colorful sundaes. I chose a root beer float and drank it very, very slowly to make it last longer.


When we got home, we discovered that Ajax had somehow slipped out of his collar and disappeared. But since everyone in Fentress knew him, we figured some neighbor would bring him home or else he'd wander back in a few hours for dinner. He'd never been known to miss a meal. Even Father didn't seem too worried about him.

And sure enough, while we were eating our own dinner, he did wander back. He made funny noises and scratched at the front door, which was unusual for him.

"That must be Ajax," Father said.

"I'll get him," Travis said, and ran from the table to let the dog in. Ajax was only allowed in the hallway, and only when he was clean and dry. He longed to worm his way deeper into the house, but it was absolutely forbidden.

Travis came back. He looked pale and kind of wobbly.

"What's the matter, dear?" said Mother.

"I don't feel so good." He plopped down in his chair.

"What's wrong?"

He pressed his napkin to his mouth and muttered something that sounded like pork pie.

Father shoved himself from the table and strode out into the hall, the rest of us — except for Travis and Mother — following on his heels.

Ajax sat in the hall whimpering, but it wasn't his usual noise. The strange sound was due to the fact that he didn't want to open his mouth. And the reason he didn't want to open his mouth was because of the dozen quills stuck in his muzzle.

"Oh no," said Father, "he's got a porcupine."

I thought it looked more like a porcupine had got him, but now was not the time for smart remarks. Was it the same one Travis and I had seen? Not that it mattered.

Ajax shivered.

Granddaddy stepped forward and grabbed him tightly by the scruff, holding his head high.

"Quick, Alfred," he said to Father, "hold his front legs. Don't let him paw himself. He'll only push the quills deeper. Where is his collar? We need to restrain him."

My oldest brother, Harry, said, "I'll get it."

"I'll fetch Dr. Pritzker," I said, and dashed out the front door at full speed before Father could appoint someone else to go.

Dr. Pritzker was the town's animal doctor. Sometimes he let me help him in his office. Sometimes, when no one else was around, he taught me about doctoring animals. It was our secret. Ladies weren't supposed to know about such things. (My mother was determined to make me a lady, an uphill battle if ever there was one.)

Dr. Pritzker's office was a ten-minute walk or a four-minute run from our house. I caught the doctor just as he was leaving for the night. I told him what had happened, and he said, "That's a shame. Your father's very fond of that dog. We've got to get the quills out before they migrate and pierce a vital organ. I've seen dogs die that way."

He fetched his bag, and we headed for our house. By the time we got there, they'd put a collar on Ajax and were holding him still. Father stroked the dog's flank and spoke soothing words to him so he wouldn't panic. Ajax rolled his eyes in pain.

"Ah," said Dr. Pritzker when he saw him. "It's not so bad. I've seen much worse, believe me, sometimes hundreds of quills, enough to kill a dog. We should have him fixed up in no time."

He pulled out what looked like a pair of pliers and said, "Hold him very still, now. The barbs work their way in deeper every time he moves." Father and Granddaddy held the dog. I thought there might be some special way of removing the quills, but no. Dr. Pritzker simply grabbed a quill with the pliers and pulled. Hard. It came out with a little pop. Ajax yelped, but Dr. Pritzker continued, working swiftly. A couple of minutes later, they were out. That's all there was to it.

Then he carefully felt Ajax's muzzle to make sure there were none left buried under the skin. When he was satisfied, he stood up, saying, "Well, at least he's learned his lesson. Keep an eye on him for the next couple of days and let me know if there are any problems."

Father looked relieved. "Will he be fit for hunting season?"

"Yes, he'll be fine. And you won't have to worry about him getting stuck again."

Mother and Travis, who'd been in the dining room all this time, finally came out of hiding. Mother said, "Oh, the poor dog. Thank you so much for coming, Dr. Pritzker."

Travis looked away. He'd always had a soft heart for animals. And a touchy stomach as well.

I went to bed that night figuring that Ajax and I had both learned something new about life. And porcupines.


And speaking of learning something new, it was time for school to start. Our town had a one-room schoolhouse with only one teacher, Miss Harbottle, who taught all ages. She and I were not exactly the best of friends. She thought I was a "smartie" who liked to show off the extra stuff I learned outside of school. Living with Granddaddy, of course I learned all kinds of extra stuff. I couldn't help it. You would too.

The classroom still smelled faintly of skunk. Why, you may ask? Well, Travis had brought his pet skunks to school a few months earlier, with predictable results. They'd been airing out the school all summer, so at least it was bearable.

There was a new boy none of us had ever seen before, the nephew of Mr. Chadwick, the owner of the general store. The boy's name was Woodrow Chadwick, and he looked about my age.

Milly gave me a shy smile. (I'd checked on her name and found out she was Milly for sure, not Molly.) She was wearing my old boots and a patched hand-me-down dress. I was glad to see her. She'd be pulled out of school soon enough to help with the fall harvest, so she had to learn as much as she could, as fast as she could. And, unlike me, she didn't have a Granddaddy of her own to teach her about the world. Nobody did. I had the only one.

At recess, I went up to Woodrow in the far corner of the yard to introduce myself. I figured it was the neighborly thing to do.

To my amazement, he sneered at me. "So you're the famous Calpurnia Tate. I've heard all about you, and your weird grandfather."

I was shocked. He was shocked too, at finding himself flat on the ground exactly one second later. Somehow he had run straight into my fist. I looked around quickly. No one seemed to have noticed.

Being a good sport, I held out a hand to help him up, but he swatted it away. He scrambled to his feet and stared at me with big eyes. "You're crazy!"

"If I am, I don't care," I said. "But don't you ever say anything about my grandfather ever again. He's the smartest man in all of Texas."

Woodrow ran off, and I rubbed my sore knuckles. Ouch. It had been worth it, but I still felt kind of bad.

After school let out, Milly sidled up to me and said, "Thank you for the book. I like it a lot, and my little brother does too. I read the stories to him because he doesn't know how to read yet. But now he wants to learn, just because of your book. I'm teaching him his ABCs."


Excerpted from "A Prickly Problem"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jacqueline Kelly.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews