This clever comic adventure from debut author Henry Clark is a truly original and utterly wacky story about the importance of intelligence and curiosity in a complacent world.
The adventure of a lifetime begins between two sofa cushions....
When River, Freak, and Fiona discover a mysterious sofa sitting at their bus stop, their search for loose change produces a rare zucchini-colored crayon. Little do they know this peculiar treasure is about to launch them into the middle of a plot to conquer the world!
The kids' only hope is to trap the plot's mastermind when he comes to steal the crayon. But how can three kids from the middle of nowhere stop an evil billionaire? With the help of an eccentric neighbor, an artificially intelligent domino, a DNA-analyzing tray, two hot air balloons, and a cat named Mucus, they just might be able to save the planet.
About the Author
Henry Clark has contributed articles to Mad Magazine and published fiction in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. He is a former speaker for the New York Council for the Humanities and is an independent affiliate of the federal National Endowment for the Humanities. What We Found in the Sofa is his debut novel. He lives on Long Island, and his website is www.indorsia.com.
Read an Excerpt
What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World
By Henry Clark
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2014 Henry Clark
All rights reserved.
An Unexpected Sofa
The sofa wasn't there on Monday but it was there on Tuesday. It sat in the shade just down the road from the bus stop. A broken branch dangled from the tree above it, like maybe the sofa had fallen from the sky and damaged the tree as it fell. Then again, maybe the broken branch had been there the day before. I hadn't noticed.
When I got there, my friend Freak was sitting on the sofa, one arm on an armrest, eating taco chips out of a Ziploc bag. For him, it was a typical breakfast.
He raised his hand for a high five, shouted my name—"River!"—and slapped my palm.
"Where'd the sofa come from?" I asked.
"Brought it from home," he replied, as if I might believe it.
"Really," I said, looking down toward the bus stop, where the road curved to the right. When the bus got there, we would have to run to catch it. "You could have put it closer to the bus."
Freak shrugged and patted the cushion next to him. I noticed the fabric had a dark red stain on it, like dried blood, or maybe spaghetti sauce. I switched the cushion with the one next to it and sat.
"Chip?" Freak held the bag in my direction. With his blond hair and his pale blue T-shirt and jeans, he looked like a faded photograph. He did his own laundry and sometimes he used too much bleach.
The sofa sat in the grass at the edge of Breeland Road. Behind it stretched the six-foot-high concrete wall surrounding the Underhill place.
"When's trash pickup?" I inquired.
"For big stuff? Friday."
"So this should still be here tomorrow."
"Provided Schimmelhorn doesn't get it."
Max Schimmelhorn runs a junk shop next to the Cheshire hardware store. A lot of people think he and I are related because he's short and thin with a mop of red hair—but we're not.
"You want to get here early tomorrow?" asked Freak.
"And do what?"
I thought about it for a moment.
"Sure," I said. "What's the weather supposed to be?"
"No idea. Fiona can look it up on her phone."
It wasn't long before Fiona came into sight, crossing the field between Breeland Road and the houses off in the distance, where the three of us lived. Beyond our houses there was heat shimmer in the air. There usually was.
Fiona always looked like an explosion in a paint factory. Today she was wearing a red beret, a baggy green sweater, and orange-striped stockings that disappeared under the sweater, where they may or may not have clashed with her skirt, depending on whether or not she was wearing one.
"What's this?" she asked, coming up to the sofa.
"Hot-dog stand," said Freak.
Fiona examined the stained cushion. She flipped it over, decided the flip side was clean enough, and sat down next to me.
"This is nice," she announced.
"Freak and I are getting here early tomorrow," I told her.
"To sit. That is, if it's not going to rain."
"Could you check that?" inquired Freak.
Fiona pulled out her phone and poked it. She tickled it, massaged it, then tapped it three times. "Sunny tomorrow. Warmer than usual for October. You do realize it doesn't make sense for this sofa to be here."
"Old Man Underhill is throwing it out," I said.
"How do you know that?" she asked.
"It's in front of his place. It's near his gate. Where else would it have come from?"
"Who helped him bring it down from the house? Everybody says he lives alone. He's, like, a hundred years old. The driveway is really long. He couldn't have carried this thing all the way down by himself."
I turned and looked over my shoulder. Beyond the wall, one turret of the old house was visible above the trees at the top of the hill. The morning sun glinted off something in the uppermost window.
"Maybe it walked here," suggested Freak.
Fiona and I looked at him.
"Look at the feet."
The sofa had feet. Four of them, one at each corner, made of dark wood carved to resemble dragon claws. Each claw clutched a wooden ball.
"River's right," said Freak. "Who else would have furniture like this? It's old, it's clunky, it's creepy. It's gotta be Old Man Underhill's."
Fiona twirled a few strands of her long black hair around one of her fingers. "Have either of you ever seen a trash can out here?"
We discussed it and decided we hadn't.
"But I once saw a grocery delivery truck go in the gate," I said. "Maybe garbage trucks go in the same way."
"Either that," said Freak, "or that's one messy house."
A couple of bright yellow maple leaves chased each other down the road. I leaned back on the sofa, closed my eyes, and tilted my face toward the sun. After a minute or two, I felt Freak and Fiona relax into the cushions, too.
"Flash mob today?" asked Freak.
"I wouldn't know," said Fiona. "Never having seen a flash mob. Except on TV. I've certainly never been part of one. And I'm tired of you and your friend here"—I felt myself jabbed in the ribs with a bony elbow—"telling me I have. It doesn't even make sense as a joke."
"It said in the paper that all of you in the flash mobs have agreed to deny you were part of a flash mob," said Freak. "That's what I think is the really cool part. I haven't been able to shake anybody. Not even you. And you usually blab things like crazy."
"You're an idiot," Fiona stated. "How's that for blabbing?"
My eyes opened at the sound of an engine to our right, where the bus usually came from. When the red hood of a convertible came into view instead, Fiona sat straight up, like a gopher popping out of its hole. She scrambled over the back of the sofa and hid behind it.
"Forgot your bag," said Freak.
Fiona, moving faster than the speed of light, reached over the back of the sofa, snagged her paisley-print book bag, and disappeared again.
Travis Miller, whose name Fiona had written in flowery letters on the inside of her science notebook, went by, on his way to being dropped off at school by his older brother. His brother had a cell phone pressed against the side of his head and didn't notice us, but Travis looked quizzically at the sofa as the car went by.
"Are they gone?" came a quiet voice behind us.
"No," said Freak.
Fiona, who knew Freak almost as well as I did, left her hiding place and sat back down. "That was close," she said.
Fiona was willing to hang out with Freak and me until the bus arrived, because the bus was always empty when it picked us up. It was the first stop on the bus route. If the morning conversation interested her, she might even sit with us once we got on the bus, but when the second stop came into view, she would find a new seat, well away from us. For the rest of the day, she would pretend she had never seen us before. It was understood we should never approach her in school, even during the two classes the three of us shared.
"Don't take this personally," she'd explained once, "but girls mature faster than boys and I really need to be with people my own age."
"You're one year younger than we are," I'd pointed out.
"Yes," she'd admitted, "but, emotionally, you're both six."
"How can you say that?" Freak had asked, turning toward her with two drinking straws stuck up his nose so he looked like a walrus.
The sofa seemed to get more comfortable the longer we sat on it. I would have stretched out on it, if I'd been there by myself.
"Has anybody thought to look for loose change between the cushions?" Fiona asked.
Freak and I glanced at each other. He blinked. I blinked. Then we both jumped up and tossed aside the cushions we had been sitting on.
We found a flattened peanut shell, a chewing gum wrapper, and a plaid sock.
As I reached for the sock, Freak caught my hand.
"Touch nothing! This is all evidence! We must preserve it!"
He gingerly picked up the peanut shell, the gum wrapper, and the sock and placed them carefully in the Ziploc bag he had, moments earlier, been eating taco chips out of.
"You guys are so stupid," Fiona observed.
Freak pointed to the crease running beneath the sofa's back cushion. I stuck my fingers into the crease and searched along it.
"Bingo!" I said, and pulled out a coin.
It was about the size of a quarter, but the tarnished metal wasn't silver. One side had the head of a man with a goatee and the other side had a woman with a crown, both surrounded by words in an alphabet I didn't recognize. It was the sort of coin you did not want to bet "tails" on when it was flipped.
Freak held the plastic bag open for me and I dropped the coin in. Then he felt around in the crease at the base of the armrest and pulled out a small rectangular piece of wood. Grinning, he held it up to the light. It was a domino. Double-six. He deposited it in the evidence bag.
We both turned and faced Fiona.
"Your turn," announced Freak.
"What?" she said. "I'm not sticking my hand in this thing."
After a moment, though, she got up, handed me the cushion she had been sitting on, and cautiously felt around in the back crease.
"Nothing ... nothing ... wait. Something."
When she pulled out her hand, she was holding a dark green crayon. It looked as though it had never been used—fresh out of the box. The paper wrapper read Zucchini.
"Zucchini?" said Freak. "What kind of color is that?"
"If you ever ate vegetables, you'd know," sniffed Fiona. "It's the rich, dark color of an early summer squash."
Freak looked at her. "And exactly what color is that?"
She held up the crayon and pointed at it. Freak took it from her and studied it. He frowned. "I don't remember ever seeing a zucchini crayon before." He looked at me as though I might be a crayon expert. I shook my head.
"Maybe it's from one of those really big sets you hear about," suggested Fiona. "I've seen a box with sixty-four crayons in it. They even sell a box with one hundred twenty." She blinked. "I can't imagine that many colors."
"I've got a shoe box full of my kid sister's old crayons," said Freak. "I know there aren't any zucchinis in it." He placed the crayon reverently into the bag.
I plunged my hand back into the crease where Fiona had left off, eager to find more stuff. I immediately yelped and yanked my hand back.
I had a fishhook stuck in my palm, and blood was running down my fingers.
"Hold still!" ordered Fiona, whose favorite game was Operation. She held my arm steady by tucking it under her elbow and plucked the hook out. "Two hundred points!" I heard her mutter to herself, making the hook equal to the Funny Bone in the actual game. I jammed the wound in my mouth. Freak held out the evidence bag; Fiona gave him a scornful look and tossed the hook into a holly bush.
"Why would there be a fishhook in a sofa?" I demanded, feeling it was unfair that I was the one who found it.
"Why would there be a zucchini crayon?" Freak asked with a shrug, taking things a little too lightly, I thought. I wanted to remind him that blood had just been spilled, but then the bus arrived, and the next thing I knew we were on it, discussing what time we planned to arrive the following morning.
As soon as the second stop came into view and Fiona deserted us, Freak started working on unfinished homework and I did something that people tell me I do too often.
I stared dreamily out the window and let my imagination run away with me.
I imagined the inside of the sofa being as deep as the sea, and then I imagined the zucchini crayon wiggling like a worm on a hook. I imagined a fishing line attached to the hook. I tried to see where the fishing line went. Every time I tried, the line went to the exact same place.
Over the wall and up the hill, into the forbidding mansion known as Underhill House.
For me, middle school was one never-ending game of dodgeball. Back in elementary school, I'd frequently been the victim of friendly fire. The ball always seemed to miss its actual target and hit me, no matter where I was on the circle.
Today, school started out kind of like that.
Out in the lobby, before the first bell, Morgue MacKenzie snagged me by the arm as I tried to pass his hulking frame. He looked down at me and said, "Quarter."
Morgue was standing in front of a Juice Express Refreshment Kiosk, the capitalized first letters of the words glowing a bright purple over his head. He needed an additional twenty-five cents for a can of Agra Nation® Energy Blaster. I dug in my pocket and gave him the change.
"Why do you let him do that?" asked Freak when I joined him a few moments later.
"He's twice my size," I said. "And he never asks for more than he needs."
"Next time, tell him your money is radioactive."
"Why would he believe that?"
"You live on the edge of Hellsboro."
"Hellsboro isn't radioactive."
"Morgue doesn't know that. He's one of those people who thinks Hellsboro is the work of the devil. I've heard him say he'd never set foot in it. If he thinks your money has something to do with Hellsboro, he'll go bother somebody else."
I decided Freak might be right.
Hellsboro was the name the Cheshire newspaper had given to our local underground coal-seam fire. Hellsboro had turned eight hundred acres on the west side of town into a treeless, lifeless wasteland. The fire had been burning for twelve years. It could burn for a hundred more, or until all the underground coal was consumed. Coal-seam fires were almost impossible to put out. Ours had pretty much stopped spreading, although a small tongue of it had stuck itself out under Breeland Road that past summer and caused a sinkhole.
At Hellsboro's center was the abandoned Rodmore Chemical plant. Rodmore had once been a big employer for the town of Cheshire. Now it was like a cinder-covered castle in the middle of a burned-down amusement park. It had been closed since the fire started. Nobody went there anymore. People said the plant was even more dangerous than the fire that surrounded it.
The fire had made almost all of the houses in the nearby Sunnyside housing development uninhabitable. Only three families still lived in the development: Freak's, Fiona's, and mine. We had to walk several miles to get to the next inhabited place, if you didn't count Old Man Underhill's.
Most people in Cheshire feared Hellsboro. It hadn't stopped them from renaming the high school football team the Hellions or the middle school team the Devils (a faded banner in the gym says we used to be the Cheshire Cats) or having an annual dance at the town hall called the Hellsboro Hop. But nobody went near the actual fire zone. The mayor joked that it was a good way to get a hotfoot. If reminding Morgue MacKenzie how close I lived to Hellsboro would get him to leave my money alone, I would try it. As soon as I got up the nerve to tell him.
In English class, we got our spelling tests back. The one word I got wrong was renaissance. I put in too many n's. Renaissance means rebirth. I asked Mr. Hendricks, our teacher, why, if it meant rebirth, we didn't just say rebirth, which is easier to spell. This led to a long lecture from him about how important it is to have a large vocabulary. Mr. Hendricks started throwing around words like quintessential, lexicographer, and hyperdiculous. Everybody blamed me for the lecture, of course. Just as, the previous week, they had blamed me for the pop quiz on Tom Sawyer, just because I'd shown up wearing suspenders. I was used to it.
At the end of class, Mr. Hendricks admitted he had made up the word hyperdiculous. He wanted to see if any of us would raise our hand and ask him what it meant. None of us did. We were, I could tell, a constant disappointment to Mr. Hendricks.
It was during lunch that the school day really went off the tracks.
There was another flash mob.
It happened shortly after Rudy Sorkin slipped on a string bean. His feet went out from under him. He fell on the floor with his lunch tray, and we all applauded. Then the applause cut off in mid-clap. I brought my hands together two more times into the dead silence and then caught myself.
"Uh-oh," I said to Freak.
"Not again," he said, rolling his eyes. The last flash mob had been only a week earlier.
Almost everybody stood up, except Freak and me and two or three other kids. But the majority of the lunchroom, including Fiona, who was two tables away, and all the adult monitors and the food-service ladies, turned and faced the window.
"That's different," I said.
"Yeah," agreed Freak. "Last week they faced the wall."
Everybody clapped twice. Then they crossed their hands in front of their faces, tugged on their earlobes, put their hands on their hips, and launched into an ear-splitting performance of the song "Oklahoma." For two and a half minutes everybody assured us that Oklahoma was doing fine, it was grand, and, while it might not be terrific, it was certainly okay.
Then everybody sat back down, finished their round of applause for Rudy Sorkin, and picked up their conversations right where they had left off. The lunchroom filled instantly with its usual noise.
Excerpted from What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World by Henry Clark. Copyright © 2014 Henry Clark. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book to read to 4,5,6 graders very good from a teacher
This is a wild, goofy ride of an adventure story, laced with slapstick humor and hair-raising stunts for the young, along with clever allusions and puns for the aware, making it a perfect read-out-loud parent-child experience. Three ordinary 12-year-olds are pressed into service to do nothing less than save the world from an evil mastermind whose only weakness is a bad case of CCD -- Compulsive Collecting Disease. The proceedings run apace with frequent nods to prior fantasy adventures, including A Wrinkle in Time (a tessering couch, portals into a parallel world, the hot air balloon from The Wizard of Oz; and the original Superman comic. The story culminates in the auction of the world's rarest Crayola. To give you a sense of the proceedings, a preliminary auction included the coveted red crayon, "used by the Surgeon General to draw blood." Have fun!