Excerpt: 'Whales on Stilts'
Hear M.T. Anderson Read from 'Whales on Stilts'
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Lily Gefelty and her two friends, Jasper Dash, and Katie Mulligan, are all that stands in the way of an evil plot by a devious whale-human hybrid in this title recommended by librarian Nancy Pearl on Morning Edition and also by children's librarian Maria Salvadore. Together, they confront and confound an admittedly senseless conspiracy.
Excerpt: Career Day
On Career Day Lily visited her dad's work with him and discovered he worked for a mad scientist who wanted to rule the earth through destruction and desolation.
Up until then life hadn't been very interesting for Lily. There had not been very many mad scientists. She lived in a small town called Pelt. There was a supermarket and a library, and several minimalls with discount clothing outlets. The highway went through, and people were pulled over by the police if they drove more than five miles above the speed limit. It was that kind of town.
Most people didn't know that Lily herself was interesting. She watched things a lot, and thought about them a lot, but she didn't say much, except to her closest friends. She hid behind her bangs. When she needed to see something particularly important, she blew on her bangs diagonally upward, either from the left or the right side of her mouth. Her bangs parted like a curtain showing a nose-and-chin matinee.
Lily believed that the world was a wonderful and magical place. She believed that if you watched carefully enough, you could find miracles anywhere. The town's baseball team had a secret handshake that went back to the time of the settlers. A professor down the street had a skeleton hanging in his vestibule. Behind the dry cleaner, some ladies held newt races. There were interesting things like this everywhere, waiting to be noticed. Though Lily thought that she herself was too quiet and too boring to ever do anything interesting, she believed that if she just was watchful enough and silent enough—so silent that no one could even tell she existed—she would eventually see marvels.
Of course, she didn't expect that she would see any marvels at her dad's work on Career Day. She didn't know what he did at his job, but it didn't sound unusually exciting or flabbergasting. She thought it would be nice to know what her father did—that way she could understand a little bit more of what her father and mother talked about at dinner—but she certainly didn't suspect that the visit to her dad's work would eventually lead to daring escapes, desperate schemes, brilliant disguises, and goons with handguns.
No, frankly, it would have been hard to figure that out, based on what she'd heard about her dad's work from little things he said. For example:
• "I'll stop and get those shirts from the cleaner. It's on the way home from work."
• "A guy at work had his wisdom teeth removed as an adult."
• "I spilled it on my pants at work."
• "I'm going to be home late from work."
There was not much that suggested hidden lairs. Terrifying invasions. High-tech weaponry. That also goes for statements like:
• "I spent the whole day at work circling number threes for the Dorsey account."
• "I'll take the day off work for the Annual Invertebrates Festival."
• "At work we could really do with some air-conditioning."
• "The vending machines at work just got these little packages of muffins. Eighty-five cents. I could eat a whole package at once."
There really was not much to suggest that this would be a day unlike any other in Lily's life. When Lily got into her dad's car on the morning of Career Day, ready to hang out in his office, she was interested but not exactly expecting something thrilling.
Her dad drove for a while, eating cinnamon toast with one hand.
"I don't even know where you work," said Lily.
Her father gestured with his toast. "Edge of town," he said. "Abandoned warehouse."
"Abandoned?" she said.
"Yeah. Mmm-hmm." His mouth was full.
She asked, "What do you do?"
"Very complicated," he said. "Very."
The abandoned warehouse sat near the bay between a business called Nullco and a factory that made industrial filling. There were old chain-link fences around everything. Lily's dad parked in the lot. They got out and walked over to the abandoned warehouse. It was made of old bricks, and all the windows were black with soot and broken. There was a big spray-painted wooden sign that said:
THEre ARe ProBly ScoRpiOns!
Lily's dad lifted the sign and turned an old pipe that stuck out of the wall. A secret door slid open. He walked in.
Inside there was a desk with a receptionist. The receptionist said hello to Lily's dad and gave a big smile. "Good morning, Mr. Gefelty," she said.
"Good morning, Jill," he said. "How are things today?"
"I'm okay, I guess," said the receptionist. "Except I'm having pains in my knees from doing something stupid with a big round of cheese."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Jill," said Lily's dad.
He showed his badge, and the receptionist clicked a button that let them through a door.
They walked into a laboratory. People in lab coats were holding test tubes over flames. There were beakers and lasers and so on. Bunsen burners and alembics and computers. You know the drill. Everything looked incredibly top secret. Lily was blowing her bangs out of her face as quickly as she could. She glanced at everything they passed. She was amazed.
"What is this place?" said Lily. "Dad?"
Lily's dad looked bored. "Research and Development," he said.
She looked around again. He took her wrist and dragged her forward. "Come on, honey," he said. "They don't like people to look at what they're working on. After a minute the guards start shooting. First near your feet, then at your knees."
The guards stood with big guns next to all the doors, watching everything and frowning.
Lily rushed to catch up with her father. She grabbed at his sleeve. She whispered, "What do you make here?"
"I don't know," he said. "I'm in Sales and Marketing."
"Dad, you must know. There's something weird going on here."
"What's gotten into you?"
Careful to keep walking, she whispered, "This is like some sort of mad scientist's laboratory. What do you really make here?"
"Oh," said her father, laughing. "A ‘mad scientist's laboratory'? Nothing quite so sinister. I think your imagination has gotten the better of you. No, honey, it's all completely aboveboard. But it's kind of complicated to explain." He patted her arm. "Keep walking. The guards're looking antsy."
They reached a staircase and started up. Lily lingered behind, looking back at the lab.
"What's wrong?" her dad asked.
Lily blew the hair out of her face and looked straight at him.
"Oh, come on, honey," he said. "It's not really as suspicious as it seems. We're a midsize company devoted to expanding cetacean pedestrian opportunities."
She looked confused.
He smiled. "We make stilts for whales. See? Nothing suspicious."
Her father stuck his hands in his pockets and jogged up the steps, whistling. The tune was "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?"
"Dad...?" she protested, but her voice was too soft, and he was already a flight above her.
From Whales on Stilts: M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales by M.T. Anderson; copyright 2005 by M.T. Anderson. Used by permission of Harcourt, Inc.
Recording by M.T. Anderson from Whales on Stilts. Copyright © 2005 by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. Look for the audio version from Listening Library in July 2005.
Whales on Stilts!
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