Monday, April 1, 2013

   April Fool's Day

  I know why this hasn't sold, and in all probability, never will sell. At almost 1500 words, it's not a picture book, but a picture story book.  Too long "for today's young readers or lap top listeners." Too long for inclusion in a children's magazine. (Why do I keep writing this sort of story?) But somewhere there's a child who will like it, and if you think you know such a child, and share it with him or her, you will be making us both happy.  (Incidentally, if you read Stella's Elevator, you'll see that this is practically the same story as that. I changed the locale and the plot hinge because I had been told that the static location of Stella's elevator limited potential illustrations.) I actually like April Fool Bus better, but if you have a preference, I'd be glad to know which you like better.

  April Fool's Day has never been one of my favorite days of the year. I have a dim memory of a morning in my childhood when my father sent me next door to ask our neighbor, Earl Davis, if he would lend Dad a tool with a complicated (and fictitious) name. Mr. Davis told me to tell Dad that he didn't have one of those, but maybe Dad would like to borrow a different tool with a name even harder to remember. Back home, Dad said--you guessed it. I don't know how many trips I made between our house and the Davis's second floor apartment, my short legs beginning to ache, my feet shod in the hated babyish "hightops" I was forced to wear because of "weak ankles" before at long last Mrs. Davis took pity on me and carried me home. I can still the laughter of the two men--not exactly laughing at me, (my heart wants to insist) but revelling in their own inventive nomenclature.

  Dad died the day before 9/11. I have always been glad he missed it. In the later years of his life, he mellowed, and it is hard for me to acknowledge that he did have a slight streak of cruelty he had to fight--not always successfully.
  In spite of the many years of love and support he gave me, some memories still hurt.
  A writer dips into the dark well of memory and finds that the rich dipperful she brings up to present sunlight may transform itself into something new and happy.
So healing comes.

April Fool Bus

        Every day at 8:04, the cross-town bus stopped at Harper's Station. Every day the same people boarded the bus. Mrs. Bartholomew, second-grade teacher with her bag of books, got on first. Mrs. Lau and her twins, Peter and Pauline, on their daily grocery shopping trip, climbed on next. Jose Ruiz, who supervised the care of all the city’s sidewalk trees, followed the Laus. Last came Willard J. Brewster. Mr. Brewster was going to the downtown library to do Research.

        They all nodded quietly to one another and quietly got on the bus. Everything was the same every day. Just the way Mr. Brewster liked it.
        But one Monday a new driver sat in the driver's seat. "Hi there," she said.  “My name is Elsie. Welcome to the Cross-town bus."

        "Hello," answered Pauline and Peter.

        "Do you know what’s black and white and red all over?" Elsie asked.

        "A newspaper," said Pauline, who knew the old joke.

        "I was thinking of a sun-burned penguin," Elsie said, “or an embarrassed zebra.” Pauline and Peter laughed.

Mr. Brewster sniffed. He dropped in his fare without answering Elsie's cheerful hello.

        "All aboard that's going aboard," called Elsie, starting up the bus.

        Usually the ride down town was silent, but not this Monday. At every stop Elsie had a smile and a friendly greeting for everyone.

        "Got all your homework done?" she teased a group of high school students.

        "Not finished yet," answered one. "Drive slow."

        When Mrs. Lau and the twins got off at Findlay Market, Elsie called, “Save some bargains for the rest of us."

"Friendly, isn't she?" Mrs. Martin asked Jose Ruiz.

        He chuckled. "Si, muy amable."

        Mr. Brewster gave his newspaper pages a shake. "A man can't concentrate with all this chatter," he said angrily.


        Tuesday morning a big sign hung above Elsie. The sign read, "Tell me something I don't know and get a free donut,."

        "Today's our birthday," said Pauline. Peter nodded.

        "I didn't know that! Have a birthday donut," said Elsie.

          "In Mexico I ate sweet tortas. Here I eat sweet donuts. So now I grow nice and fat, gordo,” said Jose Ruiz.

            “So gordo means fat! I love learning Spanish words. Have a donut."

            Mr. Brewster walked right by the donuts. "Don't you want to say good-morning and tell me something new?" Elsie asked him.

            "No, I don't," said Mr. Brewster. "Sweets cause cavities, and eating on the bus is unhygenic."


             On Wednesday, a new sign hung above Elsie's seat. "Friday is costume day," it read. "Prizes given for funniest, scariest, most beautiful."

              “What fun!" said Mrs. Martin. "I'll come as Peter Rabbit. I can carry a basket of carrots."

              "What will you dress up like?" Jose Ruiz asked Mr. Brewster.

               "Nothing," Mr. Brewster answered shortly. "I'm not going to make a fool of myself.”


               “Oh, I like your costumes,” Elsie said on Friday when the twins hopped on.”

          “You’re a bird?” Peter asked.

              “Elsie’s a pigeon,” Mrs. Martin cried. “Someone’s let the pigeon drive the bus. Wait till I tell my class!”

           Soon the bus was full of passengers in costumes, all laughing and talking. A boy named Charlie, who was going to Clown School, blew up balloons and twisted them into animal shapes. The passengers cheered as he made dachshunds and rabbits and elephants. All but Mr. Brewster. He didn't even say thank-you for his giraffe.


        The next Monday was Share Your Breakfast Day.

Tuesday was Paperback Book Exchange Day (Mr. Brewster got 101 Hamburger Recipes, even though he hadn't brought a book to exchange)       Wednesday was Quiet Day so the high school kids could study while everyone else read their new books. Mr. Brewster didn’t mind that day at all, but Thursday was Pet Picture Day and he got tired of saying he didn’t have a picture because he didn’t have a pet.

 Friday was April Fool's Day. Elsie was ready.  When her first passenger climbed on board, Elsie told him, "Your shoestring's untied."  He started to kneel, and Elsie crowed, "April Fool!"

        As each new passenger climbed on, Elsie played an April Fool trick. Soon everyone was laughing and waiting for the next joke.

        Finally, Elsie drew up to Mr. Brewster's stop. Mrs. Martin got on, then Jose Ruiz, then Mrs. Lau and the twins. Finally Mr. Brewster climbed aboard. "Good Morning," said Elsie. Mr. Brewster grunted. He dropped his fare into the box.

        "Sorry," said Elsie. "You'll have to pay an extra nickel. Fare's been raised for men carrying newspapers."

        "What?" demanded Mr. Brewster. "That’s an Outrage. Unfair. Discriminatory.”

        "April Fool!" laughed Elsie.  All the passengers laughed too, seeing Mr. Brewster red-faced and angry. They waited for him to laugh. 

But Mr. Brewster wasn't in the mood for jokes. "It should be against the rules for bus drivers to play tricks on passengers." he stormed. "Bus riding is serious business. I'm going to complain to the city!"

        Monday a new sign hung above Elsie. "Due to passenger complaints, there will be no more fun on the bus," it read. "Bus Riding is serious business."

        At the bus stop the next morning Mr. Brewster noticed that Mrs. Martin, Jose Ruiz, and Mrs. Lau were looking at him in a decidedly unfriendly way.  As a matter of fact, Peter Lau stuck out his tongue till his mother noticed and scolded him for bad manners.

        When Mr. Brewster sat in his seat, Jose Ruiz turned his head toward the window.       

        "I don't care," Mr. Brewster thought.

        But days went by, and still no one talked to him. The other passengers exchanged greetings and chatted. He tried saying hello himself, but people only nodded. Mr. Brewster began to feel lonely

        One Friday began just like any other day. After the bus made its last stop before it entered the highway to town, all the seats were full.

        Down the ramp and onto the expressway sailed the bus.

        It sailed along until....

        a hundred brake lights flashed on the cars ahead.

        A hundred horns began honking.

        Elsie slowed the bus. The cars beside her and the cars in back slowed down also.  Then everything stopped.

        It was a huge, colossal, nerve-jangling traffic jam!

        As they sat still, hemmed in by cars in front, cars behind, and cars beside, people began to fidget.

        "I'll be late!" thought Mrs. Martin. "Who will watch my class?”

        "Who will tell my men what to do?" Jose Ruiz fretted. "Maybe we should get out and walk," he suggested.

        "Not on the highway! Too dangerous!" Elsie protested.

        "But there's nothing to do!" wailed Peter.

        The passengers sat in grumpy silence. Minutes ticked by. Mr. Brewster finished his newspaper.  He looked sideways at Jose Ruiz.

        Jose looked so miserable Mr. Brewster felt sorry for him. But after a minute, a little smile crept across Mr. Brewster's face, and he reached into his briefcase. No one noticed as he pulled out something small and bright and red. But in a minute, heads jerked up, and faces turned as Mr. Brewster put the kazoo to his lips and the cheerful strains of "I've been Working on the Railroad" buzzed through the air.

               At first he played alone, then Elsie started singing. Then Pauline and Peter. Soon everyone on the bus was singing.

        At the end of the song, Mr. Brewster strode to the front of the bus. "Splendid! Splendid!" he said happily. "Now, does anyone know 'You Are My Sunshine'?"

        Everybody did, so Mr. Brewster played and everyone sang. Then they sang,  "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain," and “Row, row, row your boat.” One song after another, till suddenly, for no reason anyone could see, traffic began moving again.

        Mr. Brewster smoothed his mustache, put away his kazoo, and took his seat once more. Everything was back to normal. But not quite normal. As people came to their stops, they paused to pat Mr. Brewster on the back.

        "So much fun!" Mrs. Martin said. "Maybe you could play for my class one day?"

        "Muchas gracias, thanks so much," said Jose Ruiz.

        "Will you play again sometime?" asked Peter.

         “Momma’s birthday is next week,” said Pauline. You could play Happy Birthday for her.”

        Finally it was Mr. Brewster's stop. He paused by Elsie on his way out. "Splendid ride!" he said.  "Oh, er, why don't you just take down that sign, the one that says no fun allowed?"

        From then on, every Friday Mr. Brewster led the Cross-town Bus passengers in singing and kazooing their way to town. And so a year passed. Till one morning the following spring, when Mr. Brewster got on the bus and dropped in his fare.

        "Wait!" said Elsie, "You gave me a nickel too much!"

        "Don't you remember?" asked Mr. Brewster. "Starting today men with newspapers have to pay a nickel extra."

        "They do?" asked Elsie in surprise.

        "April Fool!" said Mr. Brewster.




  1. Dear Mrs.Derby,
    I really like this post I love the book . I am mad they did not puplish it! The names in it are unique.

    Vermont school second grade
    one of Ms.Young's kids in class, Maysen

  2. I really like the brief intro's and discussion you post before the stories.