About the Author
Lin Oliver is a writer and producer of movies, books, and television series for children and families. She has written more than twenty-five novels for children, and one hundred episodes of television. She is cofounder and executive director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization of twenty thousand authors and illustrators of children's books. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alan. They have three sons named Theo, Ollie, and Cole. She loves tuna melts, curious kids, any sport that involves a racket, and children's book writers everywhere.
Scott Garrett lives in the United Kingdom.
Read an Excerpt
“Hank!” my sister, Emily, yelled, as she ran up to me and grabbed my arm. “You have to come meet Ginger. She’s the cutest snake I’ve ever seen.”
“Emily,” I said, “long slimy reptiles with no eyelids or ears are not cute. They’re creepy.”
“Ginger’s not slimy. Her skin is dry. Come pet her.”
“I don’t pet snakes, or anything else that could eat me whole for lunch.”
Our family was spending the morning at the West End Avenue street fair. The whole block was lined with booths selling everything from blueberry muffins to tube socks. Leave it to Emily to find the one snake booth. That girl can sniff out a reptile better than my dog, Cheerio, can sniff out a hunk of pot roast under the dining-room table.
Ignoring Emily, I headed for a booth that was selling cool comic books. Emily stood there and stomped her foot.
“Mom! Dad!” she whined. “This isn’t fair. We just spent twenty minutes waiting for Hank to taste every flavor of ice cream when we knew he was going to pick cherry-vanilla all along. Now the family should do something I want to do.”
“Emily has a good point, Hank,” my mom said. “I think we should all go say hello to Ginger the snake.”
“Fine,” I muttered. “But I’m not touching her with any part of my body. I will use my eyes and that’s it.”
We walked over to a large purple sign that read Ralph’s Reptile Show. Under the sign, there was a table with some reptiles displayed in different kinds of glass tanks. A giant tortoise was sitting in the middle of the table. And when I say giant, I mean giant. That guy’s shell was as big as my bathroom sink. In front of the table was Ralph himself, with a long orange, yellow, and black striped snake wrapped around his arm.
“There’s Ginger!” Emily screamed.
“Hi, Emily,” Ralph said. “Oh, I see you’ve brought your family over to meet Ginger.”
“They’re all so excited to get to know her,” Emily said, reaching out to stroke Ginger’s long back.
“Make that all but one of us,” I added quickly. “I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings, Ralph, but I’m not a big snake petter.”
“Well, then maybe I can interest you in Clive, my snow leopard gecko,” Ralph said. “Or Boris, my adorable blue-tailed skink.”
Okay, I don’t even know what a skink is. But it sounds too close to “stink” for me to even consider petting it.
Ralph was wearing a tan floppy hat that looked like his head had sweated in it for at least a hundred years. He had on a brown shirt and shorts, brown construction boots, and a shirt with a million pockets and zippers. Maybe that’s where he keeps his skinks.
“Is that tortoise even alive?” I asked Ralph. “He’s not moving.”
“You mean Speedy?” Ralph petted the tortoise’s bumpy head with two fingers. “He’s probably just thinking about the lettuce leaf he had for lunch. If you want a little more excitement, you should get to know Ginger. She’s a hoot.”
Ralph moved his arm so that Ginger’s face was very close to my nose. Maybe it wasn’t very close, but it was close enough for me to jump way back.
“Look at Hank,” Emily laughed. “Afraid of a little snake.”
“I’m not afraid, exactly,” I told her. “I just don’t happen to love snakes the same way you do. Maybe I’m not an animal person.”
“You love Cheerio, don’t you?”
“Of course. But Cheerio’s a dog, which means you can play ball with him. And take him for a walk. Last time I checked, they don’t make leashes for snakes.”
“Snakes are very sweet in their own way,” Ralph said. “Take Ginger, for instance. She’s a mud snake. She loves children. She’s a big hit at kids’ birthday parties.”
“Wow,” Emily said. “I wish she could come to mine. It’s coming up soon. I already sent out the invitations and everything.”
Ralph reached down to the stack of brochures he had on the table and handed my dad one.
“I bring my reptile show to lots of kids’ birthday parties,” he said. “And I’d be happy to come to Emily’s.”
“That’s a deal!” Emily said. “I’m going to call everyone I’ve invited and let them know that there’s a new theme to my party. Everybody else has a princess dress-up party. Nobody has had snakes before.”
“That’s because kids don’t like attending birthday parties with creatures whose jaws unlock so they can swallow the birthday cake whole,” I said.
“I don’t care what you think, Hank. It’s my party.”
“Hold up there, Emily,” my dad said, putting the brochure in his coat pocket. “We have a lot to discuss here.”
“And we should do that on the way home,” my mom said, taking Emily’s hand to lead her away from Ralph.
“See you soon,” Emily called out to Ralph. “Tell Ginger I’ll make a special party hat for her.”
“We’ll have to see about that,” my dad whispered to Ralph.
“I understand,” Ralph answered. “My phone number is on the brochure. Let me know as soon as you decide, because Ginger is a very popular snake.”
As we walked up 78th Street to our apartment, Emily didn’t stop jabbering for a minute. My dad was just the opposite. He was quiet. His eyebrows were all wrinkled and his mouth was turned down into a frown.
“Look, Emily,” my dad said when we reached our building. “I don’t want to disappoint you, but we can’t have Ralph’s Reptile Show at your party. I glanced at the prices, and it’s too expensive for us.”
Emily stopped in her tracks and so did her mouth. She stared at my dad like he had just told her the sky was falling.
“But, Daddy,” she cried. “I’m only going to turn seven once in my life.”
“Well, sweetie,” my mom said, “we can still have a nice party for you.”
Emily’s eyes filled with tears. She pulled open the front door and ran through the hallway to the elevator. I saw her pushing the elevator button like she was hammering a nail with her thumb. I felt sorry for the elevator button, and my mom felt sorry for Emily.
“She wants that party so badly,” she whispered to my dad.
“I wish we could afford it,” he said. “But we can’t.”
We rode up the elevator in silence, except for the sound of Emily sniffling. When we got to our apartment, my dad opened the door, and Cheerio came running out to greet us. Even his wagging tail didn’t cheer Emily up. As I petted Cheerio, I remembered how Emily had stood up for me when I wanted to keep him, and my dad had said no. Suddenly, I felt something surprising in the pit of my stomach, and it had nothing to do with wanting a pepperoni pizza.
What I wanted was to help my sister. Now, how weird is that?