"Reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird" SLJ, starred review
School is out in the summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee. For Frances Robinson, a fifteen-year-old daydreamer with a crush on her teacher, John T. Scopes, summer vacation promises tennis, and Coca-Colas from her father's drug store. But when Frances's father, the school board chairman, has Scopes arrested for teaching evolution, the sleepiest place on earth becomes a hotbed for famous thinkers, including H. L. Mencken, Clarence Darrow, and William Jennings Bryan. Overnight the world is flocking to Dayton to decide: Are people really descended from monkeys? Does the theory of evolution have a place in biology class? As Frances sees the man she loves crumbling beside her, she begins to question her town, her neighbors, and the father she has always trusted.
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Monkey TownThe Summer of the Scopes Trial
By Ronald Kidd
Simon & Schuster Children's PublishingCopyright © 2006 Ronald Kidd
All right reserved.
I began to notice that several times a day Daddy would slip to the back of the store and spend time hunched over his rolltop desk. Whenever anyone approached, he would pull out his ledger sheet and pretend to be looking at sales. I sneaked to the desk once when he was gone and looked through his papers but didn't find anything. One time I even asked him what he was doing back there. He just got a mysterious look on his face and turned away.
Three days before the trial began, I was helping him with some window displays when a truck pulled up in front of the store. The door opened, and out stepped old Mr. Davis, the printer. Daddy stopped what he was doing and hurried out to meet him. I decided to go along.
"Mornin', Mr. Earle," said Mr. Davis. "Got something for you."
He opened the back of the truck, and inside were ten big boxes. Opening a pocketknife, he slit open one of the boxes, pulled out a small flat booklet, and handed it to Daddy.
"What is it?" I asked.
Daddy didn't answer. He studied the cover, running his fingers across it, then opened the booklet and slowly leafed through the pages. When he finished, he leaned down and handed it to me.
"This is a little present from your Daddy. Save it and show it to your children someday."
On the front of the booklet were the words "Why Dayton -- Of All Places?" Inside was information about the town and how it came to host the greatest trial of the century.
"Who wrote this?" I asked.
"Yours truly," he said. "Why do you think I've been spending so much time at my desk?" He grinned. "Didn't know your old man was an author, did you?"
It was a handsome booklet. I wanted to give Daddy a hug and say I was proud of him. But I found myself wondering what Johnny Scopes would think about it. He might say that Daddy had paid for the printing of the booklets, but Johnny had paid too, and might keep paying for a long time.
Mr. Davis said, "You want to give me a hand with these boxes?"
"No problem," said Daddy. He stepped inside the store and called Billy Langford. Together Daddy and Billy lifted the boxes from the truck and carried them to the stockroom. When they finished, Mr. Davis latched the tailgate and climbed back into the truck.
"Let me get my checkbook," said Daddy.
Mr. Davis waved him off. "You're good for it," he said. "I'll send you a bill." He backed out into the street and drove away.
Daddy turned to Billy and me. "Come on, we've got work to do."
We finished the window displays, then set up a rack for the booklets at the front of the store. Daddy made up a sign that said trial souvenirs -- 5¢ and hung it above the rack. Then we loaded the rack with booklets, leaving the rest in the stockroom.
As we finished, Eloise hurried into the store, shouting, "He's here! Mr. Bryan's here!"
"Where?" I asked.
"At the station. His train is coming in right now."
"Hooray!" cried Sonny. "Who's Mr. Bryan?"
I turned to Daddy. "Can I go? Please?"
Daddy thought for a minute. "Two conditions," he said. "Number one, take Sonny with you."
"Hooray!" said Sonny.
"And number two, put some of these booklets in a bag. Maybe you can sell a few."
By the time we arrived at the station, a big crowd had gathered, including at least fifty reporters and photographers. The train had just pulled in, and the crowd was surging up and down the length of the train, looking for the man they called the Great Commoner. Finally, in the doorway of the last car, a head appeared.
"There he is!" someone shouted.
The man stepped off the train wearing a black coat and bow tie. He was tall, with stooped shoulders, a pointed nose, and a chin jutting out from beneath his hat. He took off the hat to reveal a bald head with gray hair on the sides. He looked older than I had expected -- older even than my Grandpa Haggard, who I always thought was about as old as you could get.
The reporters had their notebooks out, firing questions at him. Eloise, Sonny, and I moved to the front so we could see. Bryan raised his hand, and immediately the crowd got quiet. I imagined he must have looked something like Moses did when he brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai.
"Just say that I am here," Bryan told the reporters, his voice ringing out like the chimes at First Methodist Church. "I am going right to work, and I am ready for anything that is to be done."
With that, the prosecution lawyers moved in around him, led by Sue Hicks, so the photographers could get some pictures. When they were finished, Bryan turned to the crowd and waved. As he did, Sonny tugged at his coat.
Bryan crouched down and shook Sonny's hand. "Young man, what's your name?"
"Sonny Robinson. This is my sister, Frances. My father runs the drug store."
Bryan smiled. "Well, Sonny, I'm sure your father's a fine man. And he's lucky to have such a nice son and daughter."
Thinking about Daddy, suddenly I knew what he would do in that situation. I reached into my bag and pulled out one of the booklets.
"This is for you, Mr. Bryan, compliments of Robinson's Drugs," I said. "Drop in anytime and we'll serve you a refreshing drink called a Monkey Fizz."
Grinning, Bryan took the booklet. "A Monkey Fizz, huh? Thank you, Frances, I'll be sure to do that."
One of the reporters said, "Could I have one of those booklets?"
"You surely may," I replied. "That'll be a nickel."
He paid me, and a dozen other people lined up behind him. Before I knew it, the booklets were gone.
Bryan, meanwhile, was taken to a waiting car and shook hands all the way. One man gave him a bag of radishes. I was surprised to see Bryan open the bag right there and bite into a radish as if it were a fat red apple. By the time he reached the car, the radish was gone and he was working on another one.
Bryan was driven down Market Street, past crowds of cheering people, to the home of F. R. Rogers, where he and his wife would be staying. He changed clothes and walked around town, followed by reporters and well-wishers wherever he went. True to his word, he ended up at Robinson's. Daddy came out front and shook his hand.
"I'm happy to meet you," said Bryan, "but to tell you the truth I came to see your daughter." As Daddy stared, Bryan turned to me and smiled warmly. "It's good to see you again, Frances."
I curtsied and said, "Thank you, Mr. Bryan. Won't you come in?"
I offered him my arm, and together we went inside. Daddy followed, along with half the people in town, or at least as many as could fit into the store. The rest milled around outside, talking among themselves and trying to peer in through the display windows.
I showed Bryan to a table and brought him a Monkey Fizz, just as I'd promised. Taking a gulp, he pronounced it delicious. He was still holding the bag of radishes and bit into another one between sips of the drink. He asked for a menu and to my amazement ordered two ham specials, potato salad, and a strawberry sundae.
While Bryan ate, Billy Langford and I took orders at the soda fountain, and Sonny delivered them to the tables. Daddy set up shop at the front of the store, selling booklets as quickly as he could unpack them.
A half hour later Bryan finished the last of his strawberry sundae.
"Would you like anything else?" I asked when he was done.
"No, thank you, dear," he said. "I'm on a special diet."
The way people in Dayton talked about Clarence Darrow, I expected him to charge into town breathing fire. But the man who got off the train the next day was old and rumpled, with a large nose and wispy brown hair. He was shorter than Bryan but had wide shoulders and big hands. His voice, like his skin, was rough and leathery.
Johnny Scopes, who had brought me to the station with him, shook Darrow's hand and said, "I'm glad to see you, sir."
It was another hot day, and Darrow had taken off his jacket, revealing a pair of red suspenders. Glancing at some of the other Dayton residents who had come to meet him, Darrow said to Johnny, "I see that down here you wear suspenders too."
"Yes, sir, we do."
Darrow said, "I'm glad to hear it. So, in spite of what Mr. Bryan might want, the law of gravity hasn't been repealed yet."
The reporters clustered around, and one of them, a young woman, asked Darrow if he believed in God.
Sensing a trap, he said, "What is God, ma'am?"
"Well, I suppose God is love."
He gazed at the woman thoughtfully for a moment. "God is love," he said. "Yes, then, I believe in God."
There were more questions, then Johnny loaded Darrow's bags into his car and the two of us drove him up to the Mansion. We talked on the way, and the more I heard Darrow, with his gravelly voice and colorful stories, the more he reminded me of men I knew in Dayton.
When we arrived at the Mansion, we found the front door open.
"That's strange," said Johnny. "George Rappleyea told me the place would be locked up."
He hopped out of the car to investigate. Darrow and I followed. As we walked through the open door, a dark shape bounded into the hallway. It had a strange, hunched-over appearance and was breathing hard. Grunting, the shape moved forward, heading straight for us. Johnny flinched. I screamed.
Two more figures appeared at the end of the hall. The first stepped into the light, and we saw that it was a woman with long black hair and a stern face. She snapped her fingers, and the shape immediately halted. It turned and leaped into her arms.
"Bad boy, Joe Mendi!" she said. "Bad boy!"
The dark shape was Joe Mendi the chimpanzee, wearing shoes, pants, a coat, and tie. The woman was his trainer. Behind her was a stout man with long white hair.
The man said, "Pardon us, gentlemen. We were just inspecting the premises when Joe Mendi decided to do some exploring of his own."
"How did you get inside?" asked Johnny.
"The door was open," said the man. "We walked right in. We heard some noise in back, but no one was there."
Recognizing Darrow, the man pushed his way past Johnny and held out his hand. "Mr. Darrow, permit me to introduce myself. My name is Harry Beckenstahl. I'm the owner of Joe Mendi, the most amazing, most remarkable, most manlike monkey on the face of the earth."
"You sound like some lawyers I know," said Darrow.
"No, sir," said Beckenstahl, "I'm with the circus."
"Same thing," Darrow grunted.
Beckenstahl said, "We didn't mean to frighten you. We simply wanted to offer the services of Joe Mendi to the defense team."
"Is he a Baptist?" asked Darrow.
"No," said Beckenstahl, not cracking a smile, "but in most other ways he's almost human -- his clothes, manners, eating habits. Don't you see, gentlemen? Joe Mendi demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that people descended from monkeys. He's living proof of evolution."
Darrow said, "It's a tempting offer, Mr. Beckenstahl, but I'm afraid we'll have to decline."
"Oh?" said Beckenstahl. "Mind if I ask why?"
"Out of respect to our colleagues on the prosecution," Darrow said. "If we put Joe Mendi on the witness stand, they might look bad by comparison."
Johnny had more practical things on his mind. "I hope your monkey didn't mess up the house. We just cleaned it this morning."
Beckenstahl sniffed. "You didn't do a very good job. The place is a mess."
It was true. As we went from room to room, we saw overturned tables, disheveled beds, and drawers dumped out on the floor. With each new discovery Johnny became more upset.
"Someone in town did this," he said. "They must have broken in."
"You really think so?" I asked.
His eyes were bright and angry, and his face was red. "They're ganging up on me, Frances. They want to win this trial, no matter what it takes."
Toward the rear of the house the damage stopped. We found the back door wide open. Johnny said, "They must have been here when Beckenstahl arrived. It looks like he interrupted them."
"Maybe they were looking for something," I said.
"Maybe," said Johnny. "More likely, they were trying to intimidate us."
Darrow chuckled. "They'll have to do better than this. I get death threats every day along with the morning paper."
"Welcome to Dayton, Mr. Darrow," said Johnny. "Land of the free, home of the brave. They treat you fine, as long as you do what they say and read your Bible."
Harry Beckenstahl gave Darrow his card and left, taking Joe Mendi and the trainer with him. I helped Johnny straighten up the place and get Darrow settled, then Johnny drove me home.
In the car I said, "Remember the footprints in back of the Mansion? Maybe those same people are the ones who broke in."
I could see that Johnny was still upset. "I was thinking the same thing," he said.
It was a warm night. With the car top down, the breeze felt good. I said, "I heard you and Daddy talking at the store the other day. You know, about your contract."
Johnny looked surprised. "That's grown-up business, Frances."
"I'm fifteen years old. I'm almost grown-up." He didn't say anything, so I went on. "I don't think it's fair, what they're doing to you. Daddy said the trial wouldn't affect your job, and now they're holding back your contract."
"Your father's a good man," said Johnny. "I'm sure we'll be able to work it out."
"Sometimes I wonder if I really know him," I said. "He gets this hard, cold look on his face. Like that day in the store. And I've noticed he doesn't always tell the truth. He doesn't lie exactly. He just uses the part he likes and throws away the rest, the way you'd do with an apple or a watermelon."
"Don't you think everyone does that?" asked Johnny.
"Maybe a little bit. But he does it all the time. He picks out the part he likes, tells people about it, and calls it publicity."
Johnny frowned. The trial was Daddy's biggest publicity scheme, and Johnny was one of the parts he was using.
Johnny said, "Do you believe in evolution?"
"What does that have to do with it?"
"Evolution is change. That's what it means. Animals change. People change. Beliefs change too. It might be nice if you could go to a book that had everything written down in black and white and it stayed the same forever. But when I look around, that's not the world I see. I see everything changing. Personally, I think that makes it more interesting, don't you?"
"I don't want my father to change," I said.
"I wasn't talking about him," said Johnny. "I was talking about you."
I looked over at him. He was watching the road, his hair blowing in the breeze. "What about love?" I said. "Does that change?"
He thought for a moment, then said, "I think it changes shape and size. Maybe it changes names. But love itself? No, I don't think it changes."
"I don't either," I said, gazing at him. "At least, I hope it doesn't."
When we arrived at my house, Johnny pulled up in front. I got out and closed the door. He smiled at me, then waved and drove away, his red taillights disappearing into the night.
Copyright 2006 by Ronald J. Kidd
Excerpted from Monkey Town by Ronald Kidd Copyright © 2006 by Ronald Kidd. Excerpted by permission.
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