Now that Snip the cat is gone (but hardly forgotten), the classroom animals of the Midnight Academy are ready for things to get back to normal at the McKenna School. After all, protecting nutters (students) and lankies (teachers) is an around-the-clock job! When a rare coin and a strange code are uncovered in the school, Malcolm and the Academy have another mystery on their paws. To find answers, Malcolm ventures into the dangerous outside world full of shady characters, new friends, and old enemies. Can Malcolm solve the mystery and save the school before it’s too late? Join Malcolm and company as they take on their most challenging assignment yet. Illustrated with black-and-white line drawings by Brian Lies, author and illustrator of the New York Times bestsellers Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame, this engaging novel will have readers rooting for Malcolm as they try to solve the mystery alongside him.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||7 - 10 Years|
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It began with a sneeze. Malcolm didn't mean to sneeze, but when you're a small rat stuffed into a fifth-grader's jeans pocket, these things happen. Especially if the pocket is, for some unknown reason, filled with pencil shavings.
Skylar, the owner of the pocket, jiggled at the sneeze, and Malcolm scrambled to stay upright. Crumb! This was no good. Back in Room 11, when Skylar had held out his hand, Malcolm had jumped at the chance to go with him to the class's rehearsal of the fifth grade program. After all, Malcolm had never been to McKenna Elementary School's auditorium before, and it was his duty — as a member of the school's secret society of classroom pets, Midnight Academy — to seize these opportunities when they presented themselves. Besides, Skylar carried Cheezy Bits Snack Crackers in his pocket. It is hard for anyone to think around Cheezy Bits Snack Crackers.
But so far this afternoon, all Malcolm had seen was the inside of Skylar's pocket. The other one. The one filled with pencil shavings. Malcolm was beginning to think Amelia had been right to shake her head at Skylar's invitation.
Nevertheless, he was here, so he might as well use his eyes, ears, nose, and whiskers to report something back to the Midnight Academy. He fought his way up to the edge of the pocket and stuck his nose out. Ah — already this was better: fresh air.
He scanned the view. Skylar and the rest of the fifth-graders (or "nutters," as the Midnight Academy liked to call kids; "lankies" were grownups) swayed to the refrain of "Rocky Top." Kiera, decked out in pink sequins, warbled in the spotlight with a much-coveted solo.
Mrs. Findlay paused her piano playing, and the song creaked to a halt. "Kiera, this is not American Idol. Please, just sing. No need to stalk about the stage." The rest of the students — including the two classes waiting in the audience — twittered. Mrs. Findlay wasn't done, though. She snapped her fingers at the back row on the risers. "You — singers in the back. You've got to stand still. The audience can see every little move." She turned and shaded her eyes. "Isn't that right, Mr. Binney?"
You sat up from your seat in the front row, Mr. Binney, and frowned. "Yes. What's going on back there? Skylar, do you need to use the restroom?"
Skylar wiggled his jeans around his hips, knocking Malcolm back down into the pencil shavings. "Um, what?"
The classes in the audience snickered again.
Tianna, Kiera's best friend, who happened to be standing next to Skylar on the stage, elbowed him. "Stand still!" she muttered under her breath. "You're making us look bad."
Jovahn leaned over from the other side of Skylar. "It's only the fifth grade program, Tianna. Not American Idol, remember? And it's a rehearsal."
"It's Malcolm," Skylar said, pushing Malcolm down inside his pocket again. "He keeps poking his head out."
At the sound of Malcolm's name, another fifth-grader twisted around from the row in front of Skylar, her long black hair swinging back. "Is he okay? I told you not to bring him!" Amelia Vang whispered.
Jovahn held out his hand. "Dude, here. Give him to me."
Yes, this was a good idea. Jovahn Grayson probably also had strange things in his pockets, but he was definitely more predictable than Skylar. Malcolm crept out, climbing up to Skylar's shoulder. He was poised to make the leap to Jovahn, when, from high up above — a rustle. Then a low thunk. Malcolm's ears pricked up, and he tilted his head. In the rafters, a shadow shifted. A small shower of dust sprinkled down, and Malcolm's nose twitched. Dirt?
And then, with another thunk, the lights winked out, and the auditorium was plunged into darkness.
The nutters — onstage and otherwise — shrieked and hooted. In the dark, someone knocked into Skylar, and Malcolm somersaulted off his shoulder. He landed, hunched, on the risers as they rumbled with the feet of thirty panicked fifth-graders. Shoelaces whizzed by Malcolm's whiskers, and he latched on. Better to be on than under this foot.
"FREEZE!" Your voice boomed through the darkness, Mr. Binney, and the foot under Malcolm came to a standstill. Malcolm peered in your direction and saw a flashlight beam bobbing in the audience. "Nobody move. The lights will come on again. They always do. It's not like this hasn't happened lately — so SETTLE DOWN."
And like you commanded it, the power clicked back on.
"See? There." Mrs. Findlay laughed nervously from the piano. "That won't happen during our program tonight, right, Mark?" she asked you. She turned to the class, clapping her hands for attention. "Now — again. From the top."
"Actually, Mrs. Findlay" — you were leaping up the stage steps two at a time —"I think that's enough for today. The bell's about to ring." You whispered to her, "Tonight will be better. I promise."
As the class thundered off the risers, Amelia looked around. "Where's Malcolm?" she called to Skylar. He patted his pockets, panic blooming on his face.
"Relax — I got him," Jovahn said, hopping on one foot so he could untangle Malcolm from his shoelaces on the other.
"Oh, good. I was afraid —"
A hand clamped down on Jovahn's shoulder. More specifically, your hand, Mr. Binney.
"That's not a certain rat from our classroom, is it, Jovahn?"
"Uh — well ..."
Just then, Amelia bumped her way over. To anyone else, she looked to be on her way out the door, but in one smooth motion, she grabbed Malcolm, adjusted the hood on her sweatshirt, and tucked him safely there.
Jovahn grinned. He held out his empty hands. "Ah — no, in fact!"
You nodded. "I see." Then you raised your voice to your best stage level. "Well, I sure hope he gets back to his cage and doesn't find his way out for a long, LONG time."
Amelia flinched but kept moving.
Whew. For the first time since Skylar had scooped him out of the cage to go to the auditorium, Malcolm took a deep breath and relaxed. It wasn't simply that he was safe in Amelia's hood. It was more than that. It was Amelia. It might partly be the therapeutic qualities of her strawberry shampoo, but mostly Malcolm Knew — knew with a capital K — that if there was anywhere in the world that he belonged, it was with Amelia. He'd do anything for her, and she would do the same for him.
As the rest of the class bottlenecked at the side stage door, Ms. Brumble, the night custodian (and your fiancée, Mr. Binney), joined you. "Whoa," she said, trying to hide a smile.
"Laugh all you want," you answered, rubbing your hair until it stuck up in spikes. "We have a long way to go before this bunch is ready to leave McKenna for middle school."
Deep in Amelia's hood, Malcolm twitched. Leave? Huh? He pushed his nose out.
He watched then as you gestured toward the lights. "What's going on, anyway? Sound system blow a fuse?"
Ms. Brumble shook her head. "Unfortunately not. That would be easier to fix. No, this is something bigger. I wish we could figure out what's going on. We had to submit a report to the Building and Grounds department. It's going before the school board tonight."
At that, Malcolm remembered. The shadow! The dust falling down! He glanced up toward the back corner rafters where he had heard the rustle and the thunk.
Then the last bell rang. Amelia merged into the bustling afterschool crowd, and Malcolm had to snuggle down into her hood out of sight. He pulled a whisker into his mouth and nibbled as he considered. Had that shadow really moved? It was almost as if something — someone ... some critter — had been up there. A shiver rattled down Malcolm's spine, all the way to the tip of his tail. Like ... a cat? Malcolm had only known one cat in his life, but when you're a small rat, one is more than you ever want to know.
But it couldn't have been her. That cat — Snip — was gone. It wouldn't be the first time Malcolm had imagined her. Her scratchy voice, overlong claws, and spider breath haunted even Malcolm's best dreams of peanut butter–dipped pretzels. No, it had to have been something else.
But if not her, then what? And did it matter?
Maybe he did have something to share with the Midnight Academy after all. Maybe before the meeting on Thursday, he could sniff around a little, find out more.
Because, really, you meant for him to stay in his cage during the school day, right, Mr. Binney?CHAPTER 2
"The problem with you, Malcolm," Jesse James said, stuffing a french fry into his extra-large hamster cheek, "is that you suffer from 'hero brain.'"
Hours later, long after the buzz of distant voices and the strains of music from the evening performance of the fifth grade program had died down, Malcolm and his two hamster friends, Jesse James and Billy the Kid, were winding down a Nosh and Fodder tour. While not sanctioned (or even remotely approved of) by the Midnight Academy, sneaking down to the garbage cans of McKenna's cafeteria had become a regular routine for the three rodents. Because, it turns out, nutters throw away a lot of food. And rats and hamsters are nocturnal — and always hungry. So that's many stomach-grumbling hours to fill with a lot of temptation nearby.
Malcolm had just finished telling his friends about the thunk and shadow in the auditorium. He leaned against the brick wall, stuffed. It had been a sloppy joe and baked beans day. "What do you mean?"
"'Hero brain'?" Billy repeated. "Are you sure you aren't suffering from 'french fry brain,' Jesse? Oof," she said, setting down a baby carrot in mid-nibble. "I can't eat another bite."
Malcolm made room for her next to him against the wall. They watched as Jesse mowed down another french fry like it was a pencil in a sharpener.
"Yes," Jesse said around the fry, which extended his cheek to twice his width. "Hero brain. You know how last fall you saved all the nutters and the whole Academy from that crazy cat Snip, who wanted to poison the school? Everything worked out without a hitch. By crumb, you even got your lanky, Mr. Binney, and Ms. Brumble engaged and Honey Bunny — the grumpiest critter in the Academy — to be nice. So, after all that, now you feel like anything's possible. Your hero brain is all wired up, searching for some new quest to be conquered." He waved a french fry around like a sword. "But in reality, life's not like that. Life is mostly ... well, let's put it this way: our most exciting days are sloppy joe/baked beans ones. Maybe walking taco day. Not a lot happens. What I'm saying is, chances are that was nothing up in those rafters. It was only your overactive hero brain."
His sister snorted. "So now you're calling Malcolm delusional?" She rolled her eyes.
"But what if it was something? Sometimes it is," Malcolm protested. "Don't we need to make sure?"
Jesse shook his head sorrowfully. He pointed the fry at Malcolm. "Hero-brain thinking again." He closed his eyes, hugged the fry to his chest, and said in a squeaky voice, "'If I just try hard enough, I WILL save the day.'" He opened his eyes and chomped the fry. "But really, it's about fifty-fifty. You got lucky with that cat last year, rat."
"So what's the point, then?" asked his sister. "According to you, there's no reason to ever try."
Jesse considered. He finished the fry and sat down next to them with a thud. His stomach bulged dangerously. "Well, I suppose that if you don't try at all, you don't even get a shot at that fifty percent."
Malcolm rolled to the floor and lay down on his back. He still wasn't sure he was following Jesse. But all that talk about Snip was making his stomach churn. "That's it, really," he confessed to the dark ceiling overhead. "What I'm scared of. For a bit this afternoon, I thought ... it could have been ... what if —"
"Spit it out," Billy said. "Well, not literally, please."
Malcolm sat up, took a deep breath, and blurted out the worry that had been worming around in his brain ever since the rehearsal that afternoon. "What if it was ... a cat up there?"
Jesse slumped all the way to the floor and groaned. "Not again, Malcolm! Every time there's a wisp or a tap or a shadow or a breeze, you think it's a cat."
Malcolm rolled over. "I know."
Billy said softly, "She's gone, Malcolm. No one's seen her since you defeated her in the boiler room incident. The nutters, lankies, and critters no longer have to worry about her. Ever again. Thanks to you."
Gone. Because of him. Malcolm wasn't sure how he felt about that. In the end, he had felt ... sorry for Snip. Yes, she was a deranged cat, but in a way, it wasn't her fault. She had only been wanting what the Academy critters had: Friends. Belonging. Safety. Love. She had just wished for them for so long and so hard that something in her had twisted, and the things she wanted the most became the things she hated the most.
Jesse sighed. "Come on." He struggled to his feet. He prodded Malcolm with his nose. Billy stood and stretched.
"What? Where are we going?" Jesse was already moving across the cafeteria. He called over his shoulder, "To check out that shadow in the rafters. It was not Snip, but I know that hero brain of yours. You need to be sure it's not some other deadly threat to McKenna."
And Malcolm had to hide a grin as he trotted down the hall after the two hamsters.
It's good having friends who know you so well.
* * *
The auditorium's doors were shut tight, but that didn't stop a small rat and two escape-artist hamsters from finding a spot to squeeze through. Once inside, though, they all paused.
"Wow," Billy said. Malcolm agreed. Earlier, when he had been on the stage, it had been hard to see the enormity of the whole room with the bright lights shining on him. The room was huge! Vast, even. Rows upon rows of velvety chairs, silent and folded. A little piece of him longed for a few minutes to go nuzzle that fabric — maybe after he checked the rafters.
"It was right about here," Malcolm said, climbing up the stage curtain above the far corner. Jesse plunked himself on the stage floor, claiming he was too full to climb. Billy crouched on a beam parallel to Malcolm, sniffing away.
A little moonlight shone in through the huge windows along the sides of the auditorium, but mostly Malcolm needed his nose and whiskers now, not his eyes.
"It was probably just dust falling down." Billy sneezed. "It's deep over here. I think this layer has been here since the school was built."
"Dusty and unused" was Malcolm's first analysis too. No critters had been up here in years. Could it have been simply dust knocked loose by the fifth-graders' activity? Maybe. But what was that thunk? Malcolm jumped over a coil of rope and followed a rafter to the wall, his paws padding softly. As he approached the outside wall, his nose twitched with a new scent. Wet wood.
He sniffed. There was a space here — a crack, really — just enough room in the crumbling plaster and worn wood for a small rat to squeeze into the side wall of the auditorium. Could another critter have done the same? A draft laced with cold and the definite scent of playground ruffled his whiskers slightly. Outside air? Crumb, that didn't seem right. "Hey," he called out to Billy. "I'm going to check something." He sucked in his stomach and squirmed in through the hole.
The stale air was thick inside the wall. Malcolm felt stringy lumps under his paws that must be wires. Gristle, Ms. Brumble should see these wires. They reminded him of untied shoelaces — limp and frayed. He followed them, the air getting colder and damper as he moved farther down the wall.
He reached a frame — a window or door of some sort — that butted against the bricks. His little rat map of the school in his brain clicked in, and he realized he was probably above the side entrance steps — the ones between the auditorium and the rest of the school. Malcolm pointed his nose straight up here, still following the scent of the outside. Near the top, the space widened, and Malcolm waded through piles of leaves, sticks, and fuzz.
Malcolm could make out the gray edges of the wall's supports now. As his eyes adjusted, he realized why: two of the outside bricks were askew on the outside wall. So crooked that the parking lot lights shone through the crack. Malcolm peered through the space between them. Just as he predicted, he was at the top of the wall, right under the eaves, where the auditorium addition joined the rest of the school building. From here, he could see all the way across the parking lot to the oak trees, their trunks dark lines against the white of the snow.
A damp breeze rippled through his fur, his eyes watering from the cold. He pushed the leaves aside to get a better view through the cracks in the bricks.
And that's when something large (larger than Malcolm, anyway) and furry fell on Malcolm's head.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Malcolm Under the Stars"
Copyright © 2015 Rebecca Hogue Wojahn.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing 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.
Table of Contents
A Note from Mr. Binney,
A Note to Mr. Binney,
The Legend of Ernie Bowman,
The Dictionary Niche,
The Striped Shadow,
To the Fourth,
Under the Stars,
The Council Oak,
The Listening Session,
Paid in Full,
Under the Stars Again,
Tell a Good Story,
The Elastic Order of Suspenders,
Outside and Inside,
Sample Chapter from MALCOLM AT MIDNIGHT,
Buy the Book,
About the Author,
About the Illustrator,