Principal Swamp Thing looked over the parents gathered in the cafeteria for the Monster Teacher Organization meeting. He smiled at the large crowd. Or at least the mucky ooze arched across his face resembled a smile.
Speaking with a gurgling, sloshing sound, Principal Swamp Thing—better known as just Swamp—brought the gathering to order. “Welcome fellow creeps. I’ve called this special session to discuss recent budget cuts.”
When Swamp said cuts, a lone wolf leapt to his feet and yelled, “Lamb chops!”
“Not meat cutsssss! Budget cutsssss,” a snake hiss-pered. Ducking his tail, the wolf slouched back into his seat.
Unfazed, Swamp continued. “Tonight the school board will vote on the future of our two main programs, math and reading. But first, we seek your opinion. ”
Swamp waited as several monsters murmured. His eyes narrowed into slits for a moment when he spotted Hilda standing in the shadows. Turning away from her, he lifted his arms and bellowed, “I say, forget reading! Its number is up! Math rules!”
In the front row, a group of goblins roared.
When the racket settled, a spider raised eight hands. “What’s so great about math?”
Swamp sputtered. Green algae dripped from his chin and pooled on the floor. “What’s so great about math? Math brings logic and order to our otherwise chaotic life. You never know when a mob might form and chase you across the countryside, but you can always count on math.
“Plus, our students thrive on number crunching.” He held up a handful of broken plastic. “Last week the third graders crunched through an entire truckload of calculators.”
When the crowd cheered its approval, Swamp gave Hilda a slimy look of triumph. She now stood beside him, shifting from foot to foot, waiting for her turn. He bowed out, glaring at the one eye on her Cyclops face.
Poor Hilda. By now, everyone seemed dead set against her. People just didn’t see eye-to-eye with Cyclops.
Hilda ambled to the microphone and cleared her massive throat. The crowd quieted. Even the monster extra body part pile was all ears.
Hilda began. “We monsters are creatures born from dreams and legends. Not one of you existed until a story breathed life into you. With words and imagination, with pen and ink, I was born. And look at me now!”
Laughter followed that comment, and Hilda cringed. Even among monsters, a Cyclops wasn’t much to look at.
“Besides, reading lets you explore new worlds, solve mysteries, or even…” Hilda glanced at Swamp, and licked her lips. “Or even read a math book.”
The crowd gasped.
"There are so many genres," Hilda continued. “I personally love unraveling a good mystery.”
A mummy mommy wrapped on her chair. “Unraveling anything is a crime,” she snapped.
“Mysteries aren’t for everyone,” Hilda stammered. “Some enjoy fairy tales, for example. Like the Three Little Pigs.”
“What?” shouted an angry vampire. “With all those sharp wooden sticks the second pig uses on his house? That would drive my little one batty.”
Hilda tried again. “Many children like Clifford the Big Red Dog.”
A skeleton shuddered. “I don’t have the guts to even look at the enormous bone in that dog’s mouth!”
Sweat beaded on Hilda’s forehead. “Dr. Seuss?”
“Uhhhhh. Uhhhhh,” groaned the zombies, which was all they ever said.
Hilda’s voice trembled. “There’s poetry. Shel Silverstein wrote some amusing lines in Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
A howl of protest arose from the werewolves. “SILVERstein! What a frightful name!”
Tears formed in Hilda’s eye. She swallowed back a lump in her throat. “Hasn’t any story ever captured your imagination?”
The cafeteria sat silent as a grave for several minutes. Finally, Lock Ness monster stood. “I’ve always enjoyed Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
The spider raised its hands again. “I like the spin in Mrs. Spider’s Tea Party.”
A group of ghosts groaned, “We like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”
“Rapunzel,” screeched a hairy monster, jumping to his feet. He sat back down when Medusa’s hair hissed at him.
With gills puffed up, Swamp squished forward. “Enough! It’s time for the school board to vote. Unfortunately two members are absent. Invisible Man is a no-show again and Frankenstein still hasn’t pulled himself together. Therefore if need be, I’ll cast the deciding vote.”
He turned to the school board members. “Sirs?”
“I have no thoughts on the matter,” said the Headless Horseman.
“We could draw straws,” Scarecrow offered.
“Can’t we keep both math and reading?” cried Hilda. She gripped Swamp’s shoulder. “Principal Swamp Thing, don’t you like reading?”
“I prefer eating books,” Swamp said, pulling away from her grasp. “Especially cookbooks.”
Hilda’s eye grew wide. “Wait a minute. Can you read?”
Swamp fidgeted with his fins but said nothing.
The corner of Hilda’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Cookbooks, huh? Principal Swamp Thing, did you know a cookbook combines both math and reading? The ingredient list gives you measurements to follow. That’s math. The recipe tells you how to combine the ingredients. That’s reading.”
“Oh,” Swamp said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“If I teach you how to read, would you consider reading—not eating—The Gingerbread Man?”
Swamp bit his lip. “That's a story? Perhaps.”
“Maybe you’d prefer Chicken Soup with Rice or Stone Soup or Jamberry or Blueberries for Sal.”
“Such books exist?” Swamp asked. His stomach gurgled.
“Yes,” Hilda said. “And nothing satisfies a hunger for learning like a good book. Reading give you power to devour books like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and How to Eat Fried Worms.”
Swamp’s knees buckled. He grabbed the microphone. Looking Hilda straight in the eye, he said, “Monsters, since the final vote falls to me, I’ve decided that we will keep both math and reading in our curriculum.”
“What about meat…I mean budget cuts?” the lone wolf yelled.
Hilda said, “We’ll raise our own budget money. How about a bake sale?”
…Principal Swamp Thing cheered the loudest.