"Let's just say the matter is under control," Chester slyly tells his pals Harold and Howie. But what on earth does he mean? It seems that Bunnicula, the vampire rabbit, is back to his old ways -- or so Chester thinks, having found pale vegetables drained of their juices scattered about the Monroe family kitchen. And now, once and for all, Chester is determined to save the world from this threat. But why has Bunnicula -- so frisky just a short time ago -- been so listless and tired of late? Is this part of Chester's scheme? Can Harold let Chester get away with hurting an innocent bunny, no matter what his harebrained suspicions are? It is not long before the Monroes notice Bunnicula's condition and rush him to the vet, and then the chase is on, ending up with a dramatic confrontation in a most unusual (and dangerous!) location.
Chapter One: The End How unexpectedly the end can come. Had I even thought such a thing was possible, I might have noticed the warning signs that Friday night one May when, ironically, I was feeling so at peace with the world. I remember the feeling well, for although a general sense of contentedness is part of a dog's nature, keen awareness of just how fortunate one is comes along less frequently than you might imagine. This was one of those rare moments. I was stretched out on the bed next to my master, Toby. I call him my master because while there are four members of the Monroe family, it is the youngest who treats me with the greatest kindness and consideration. On Friday nights, for instance, Toby, who is allowed to stay up late to read, shares his stash of treats with me. He knows how much I love chocolate, and so he's always sure to have at least one chocolaty delight ready and waiting for me. (Some of my readers have written expressing their concern about the potentially detrimental effects of chocolate on dogs, to which I can only say that while it is true some dogs have been known to become ill from eating chocolate, others have not. Luckily, I fall into the latter category. Also, I hasten to remind my readers that I, like the books I have written, am a work of fiction.) Parenthetical digression aside, I return to that Friday evening in May when I lay happily snuggled up next to my favorite boy, my mouth blissfully tingling from the lingering taste of my favorite food -- a chocolate cupcake with cream in the middle, yum. Toby's hand rested on my head, which in turn rested on his outstretched legs. The warm spring breeze wafted through the open window, gently carrying Toby's voice as he read to me. Toby is the kind of reader who devours books -- and long books, at that -- unlike his older brother, Pete, whose reading is limited to a series of truly gross horror novels called FleshCrawlers. (Believe me, I know they're gross; I chewed on one once and the cheap glue they use on the bindings made me sick as a -- you should pardon the expression -- dog. Give me Literature any day!) Lulled by Toby's voice, I remember thinking how perfect my life seemed at that moment. My best friend, Chester, had undoubtedly settled himself in on the brown velvet armchair in the living room below and was now contentedly sleeping or shedding or reading. He, like Toby, is a voracious reader, which may surprise you, given that he's a cat; but, again, in the world of fiction, anything is possible. Consider the other two members of the Monroe menagerie: Howie, a wirehaired dachshund puppy who Chester maintains is part werewolf, and Bunnicula, a rabbit with fangs. While Chester doesn't concern himself much with Howie's howling, seeing it as irritating but harmless, he does work himself up into a fancy frenzy from time to time over the dangers he imagines Bunnicula poses to our vegetables, our family, the town in which we live, and, when he's really on a roll, Civilization as we know it. Now all of this may seem very strange to you, but to me it is just life. I couldn't picture it any other way. Over time, the eight of us in our family -- four people, four pets -- have settled into the comforting rhythms of a song without end. Or so I thought. I had been only vaguely listening to the story Toby was reading. I knew that it was about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Watson because those stories were all that Toby had been reading for weeks. I had grown fond of Holmes and had often thought that his friendship with Watson was something like mine with Chester. I was therefore unprepared for the terrible event that concluded this particular tale, in which Watson tells of the final confrontation between Holmes and his archenemy, the evil Professor Moriarty. "'As I turned away I saw Holmes, with his back against a rock and his arms folded, gazing down at the rush of waters. It was the last that I was ever destined to see of him in this world,'" Toby read. I lifted my head and woofed. Was it possible? Would Holmes perish? Could an author be so cruel as to kill off his most beloved character? As if he could read my mind, Toby looked down at me with a forlorn expression on his face. "Are you worried about what's going to happen?" he asked. "I wish I could tell you the story has a happy ending, boy, but...Well, I guess I'd better just finish reading." I listened attentively to every word. You may imagine my shock when it was revealed that Holmes and Moriarty, locked in a deadly embrace, tumbled from the precipice overlooking Reichenbach Falls into "that dreadful cauldron of swirling water and seething foam," where they were lost forever. I couldn't believe it! The author had really done it! He had killed Sherlock Holmes! I would have written him an irate letter then and there if I'd known where the Monroes kept their stamps -- and if it hadn't occurred to me that the author had been dead for three-quarters of a century. I began to whimper and Toby, whose own eyes were glistening, bent over me and crooned, "There, there, boy. It's only a story." But Toby is a sensitive lad, and I knew that for him, as for me, there was something more here than a story. There was the painful recognition that all too quickly things can change. I didn't like it. I wanted my world to go on as it always had. I wanted to be sure that Friday nights would always mean treats with Toby, that Chester would always be my friend, that Bunnicula would always be in his cage by the living-room window, and that Howie would always, for reasons no one understands, call me Uncle Harold and Chester Pop. I jumped down from Toby's bed with an urgent need to check downstairs and be sure that everything was in its proper place. "Hey, where're you going, boy?" I heard Toby call. I turned back to give his hand a quick lick, then bounded from the room and down the stairs. "Chester!" I cried out as I turned the corner from the hall into the living room. His chair was empty! "Chester! Where are you?" I called into the darkened room. As my eyes adjusted, I could see that Howie was not curled up under the coffee table where he should have been. Where was everybody? Thank goodness, Bunnicula at least was where he belonged, sitting in his cage, gazing out at the empty living room. I trotted over to his cage and said hello. Slowly he turned his head in my direction, and had I known then what I would later learn, I would have seen the listlessness in the movement, might even have detected the lack of luster in his normally sparkly eyes. Do I only imagine it now, or was there something behind that glassy gaze that was saying, "Help me, Harold"? How easy it is to look back and see everything so differently At the time, I was just relieved he was there. I didn't pay him any more mind at that moment because the door to the kitchen creaked open just then and through it appeared Chester, licking his chops. "Where were you?" I said, trying to sound less alarmed than I felt and failing miserably "I called you and called you." Chester parked himself next to me and nonchalantly turned his tongue's attention to the tip of his tail. "For heaven's sake, Harold, get a grip on yourself. I was in the kitchen having a little snack. Knowing your inability to go without food for less than five minutes at a stretch, I assumed you'd be joining me. Now what's all the excitement about?" "Well, I, that is..." I let my sentence drop, feeling foolish all of a sudden to be so worked up over a mere story. I might have reminded myself of the many times Chester had not only worked himself up but practically turned the house upside down from his hysterical overreaction to something he'd read -- but then Chester is a cat and prone to overreacting. "It was just -- just something I read," I told him. He snickered. "I understand. The list of ingredients on candy wrappers can be alarming." He chortled to himself as I tried to think of a speedy comeback. Unfortunately, I am notoriously slow at speedy comebacks, so I gave up the effort even as I silently rejoiced that this exchange was proof that life in the Monroe house was proceeding as usual. If further proof was needed, Howie came skipping down the stairs, his toenails clicking wildly. He raced to our sides and skidded to a halt. "Boy," he said breathlessly, "that was so scary!" The poor kid was quivering. "What happened?" I asked. I noticed that Chester had stopped bathing his tail and was staring intently at Howie. His eyes were sharp. His ears were perked. He was ready to make his move on whatever had so frightened the impressionable young puppy. "W-well," Howie stammered, "there was this giant p-p-potato, see, and he ate up everything in the refrigerator and when seventh grader Billy-Bob Krenshaw went to get milk for his cereal -- " "Hold it right there!" Chester snapped. Howie, who always does what Chester tells him, froze, his, jaw dropped open, and his tongue unfurled like a flag hanging off a porch on a windless Fourth of July. "Are you talking about what I think you're talking about?" Chester went on. We waited. "You can move your mouth now," Chester said. "Thanks," said Howie. I was talking about FleshCrawlers number nineteen, The Potato Has a Thousand Eyes. I was reading it over Pete's shoulder. Until he told me I had to leave because I had breath like the bottom of a garbage pail, which I resent because I haven't been near the garbage for a whole week, not since that time the baby-sitter left the lid off, which reminds me -- " "Howie!" "What, Pop?" "Do you have a point to make here? Do you know what I mean by a point?" "Yes, I have a point to make!" said Howie. "And what was your other question? Did I know what a point meant? Of course I do. I had an appointment just last week with the vet. Get it, Pop? Get it, Uncle Harold?" Howie chuckled merrily while Chester began to fume. I could have cried at how normal everything was. "My point," Howie said, "was that the story was really scary. Especially the part where Billy-Bob's pet is transformed into a french-fried poodle." Chester shook his head in disgust. "Who writes this drivel?" he asked. "Drivel?" said Howie. "I don't know what drivel is, but I can tell you one thing. M.T. Graves does not write drivel! Besides, it could really happen -- you said so yourself, Pop." "What could really happen?" "Vegetables can be dangerous." "I've always said that about spinach," I interjected. "Don't you remember when you were worried that Bunnicula was attacking vegetables all over town, draining them of their juices, and you said the vegetables would turn into vampires, too? Remember, Pop? You had us going around staking them through their little veggie hearts with toothpicks!" "Well..." said Chester. I couldn't tell if the memory was making him proud or embarrassed. He's often poised between the two. You know how cats are -- you never know if they're going to make a cool move or a fool move, and most of the time neither do they. Howie pressed on. "You do still think Bunnicula's a vampire, don't you?" "Of course," Chester said. "And you do think he's a danger to vegetables, right?" Chester hesitated before speaking. "Let's just say, he used to be a danger. I don't think we have to worry about that any longer." "What do you mean?" I asked. Then I remembered. "Oh, because the Monroes feed him a liquid diet, he no longer drains vegetables of their juices. Is that it?" Chester's face took on an odd expression. "Let's just say the matter is under control, Harold. At last." "But, Chester," I said, "Bunnicula hasn't attacked any vegetables since he escaped that time. Surely you're no longer worried about him." "Oh, I'm no longer worried about him. No, I'm not worried at all." And with that, he jumped up on the brown velvet armchair, bid us good night, and, after circling and pawing at the seat cushion for a good five minutes, proceeded to fall into a deep and seemingly untroubled sleep. Howie and I meandered over to Bunnicula's cage. "What do you think Pop meant about everything being under control?" Howie asked as we regarded our lethargic chum. "Chester just likes to hear himself talk sometimes," I told Howie. "And he likes to believe that Bunnicula is a threat. But I don't think he'd do him any real harm. After all, he's one of the family." Howie smiled. "My brother, the bunny," he said. "Hey, that reminds me, Uncle Harold. Did you read FleshCrawlers number thirty-three, My Sister the Pickled Brain? It is so cool. See, there's this girl named Laura-Lynn O'Flynn who has this twin sister, and one day she asks her to help her with this science experiment and something goes way wrong and the next thing you know..." As Howie nattered on, I thought about what I'd said to him. Although I was pleased to find life carrying on as usual in the Monroe household, I was troubled that something might once again be fanning the spark of Chester's suspicions and animosity toward an innocent rabbit -- one we called a friend. Did I really believe Chester would do Bunnicula no harm? After all, he had tried to destroy Bunnicula once. How far would he have gone? How far would he go now? I had no answers and I did not like where the questions were taking me. It was only later that night when I was fast asleep that the pieces came together as they do in dreams -- the lifeless look in Bunnicula's eyes, Chester's mysterious comments, and the disturbing scene from the story Toby had read to me earlier. Was it one thing in particular, or was it all of the pieces floating dreamlike through my slumber, that put the questions into my mind that would not go away: Might Chester and Bunnicula be headed for their own fateful plunge from the precipice? Could this be the end of Bunnicula?
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About the Book
“ . . . Hilarious and poignant . . . An upbeat and reassuring novel that encourages preteens and teens to celebrate their individuality.” —Publishers Weekly
« “Howe tells the truth about the pain and anger caused by jeers and name-calling in a fast, funny, tender story that will touch readers.” —Booklist, starred review
Bobby, Skeezie, Addie, and Joe are “the misfits.” Bobby is fat. Skeezie dresses like it’s 1957. Addie is tall, brainy, and outspoken. And Joe is gay. They’re used to being called names, but they know they’re better than the names they’re called.
Besides, they’ve always had each other when times got tough. And surviving seventh grade looks like it’s not going to be easy. Starting with Addie’s refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance and her insistence on creating a new political party to run for student council, the Gang of Five, as the four friends call themselves, is in for the year of their lives. It’s a year in which they learn about politics and popularity, love and loss, and what it means to be a misfit. After years of insults, the Gang of Five is determined to stop name-calling at their school. Finally, they are going to stand up and be seen—not as the one-word jokes their classmates have tried to reduce them to, but as the full, complicated human beings they are just beginning to discover they truly are.
• Why do you think the author chose the character of Bobby Goodspeed to tell the story of The Misfits? Could you see another character narrating the novel instead? How would the novel be different with another narrator? How is Bobby wise beyond his years?
• The Misfits is a uniquely written novel. Part of the story is written in prose and part of it is in a play format. Do you like this style of writing? Did it help you to learn more about the characters as you were reading?
• Celebrating one’s individuality is a strong theme throughout The Misfits. Which characters “celebrate their individuality” more than others?
• We don’t learn that Bobby’s mother has died until halfway through the novel. Does learning this important fact about Bobby’s life enable us to understand him better? Why do you think the author chose to withhold this information about Bobby until halfway through the story?
• Other characters in The Misfits have also endured a loss. These losses have shaped their personalities and have affected each of them differently. Discuss how this is so. Is there a “right” way to deal with loss?
• How do you feel about the character of Addie? Do you find her frustrating, or refreshingly honest? Would you be friends with Addie if you had the opportunity? Can you sympathize with Ms. Wyman regarding her feelings toward Addie? Do you think that Ms. Wyman was once a little like Addie when she was younger? And how is Addie ultimately like Ms. Wyman?
• Bobby, Skeezie, Addie, and Joe rebel against name-calling and base the platform for their new political party on banishing name-calling. However, they are guilty of calling people names themselves. Cite examples throughout the book where they fall into this trap. Do you think they realize that they are name-callers? Is name-calling a natural part of who we are or is it learned? Can name-calling ever be a positive thing?
• Examine and discuss the following pairings: Bobby and Mr. Kellerman, Addie and Ms. Wyman, Joe and Colin. How does each relationship demonstrate how people who seem outwardly very different can actually be very much alike?
• The role of family is significant in the development of each character in The Misfits. Talk about each character’s connection with his or her family. How do the families help to define each character?
• Bobby is surprised to discover that Pam was not popular when she was his age. How is this eye-opening and ultimately inspiring for Bobby? Do you think that Ms. Wyman, Mr. Kellerman and Bobby’s dad were “popular” when they were in seventh grade, or do you think they were more like the Gang of Five?
• Bobby tells his friends that his dad says, “It’s better to just get along [and] not make waves . . . [B]ringing attention can be a dangerous thing.” Why do you think he said this to Bobby?
• Mr. Kellerman makes the comment that “we’re all so ready to believe the worst about ourselves . . . we just accept them without even thinking about what they mean or even if they’re true.” Do you agree or disagree with him?
• Although the No-Name Party ultimately loses the student council election, Bobby puts the loss into perspective by saying “sometimes it is about winning something much bigger.” How does the No-Name Party “win” anyway? Can you think of other examples where something has been lost, but something much bigger has been won?
• The ending of The Misfits gives a glimpse into the Gang of Five’s future. What surprised you about the ending of the story? Can you try to predict how your circle of friends at school will end up one day? • After finishing the story, do you think Addie, Bobby, Skeezie, and Joe are really misfits?
• Does The Misfits present a realistic portrayal of life in middle school or junior high? Why or why not?
• After reading the book, do you wish that any of the characters were your friends? Who and why?
• Do you think it’s possible for two boys or two girls to go out together in your school? Why or why not?
• What do you think of the expression, “That’s so gay,” or “He/she is so gay”? Does being gay or not affect your opinion?
• Is your school and/or your community a safe place to be a “misfit”?
• What is the difference between seeing someone as “different” from you and “less than” you?
• Do you think it’s possible for a mixed-race couple to date in your school? Why or why not?
• Why does Addie refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance? What do you think of her position? Do you agree or disagree with the position of the principal, Mr. Kiley?
• Of all the characters in the book, who do you think shows the most courage and why?
• Do you think the resolution of the story is realistic or a fairy-tale ending? Is it better for fiction to reflect the way things are or point the way to how things could be?
• Is it possible for unpopular kids to be friends with—or go out with —popular kids? If not, what gets in the way of making this possible?
• Addie, Joe, Bobby, and Skeezie are strong characters. What are their strengths and how do these strengths help them?
• Addie makes assumptions about DuShawn. What are they and what does she learn that’s different from what she thought? Discuss other assumptions the characters make and what they’re based on. What assumptions do you make about groups or types of people?
• Discuss the character of Kelsey. What is it that makes someone “painfully” shy?
Activities and Research
• Research the history of name-calling. Did you know that in the past, people were jailed or even killed for calling people names? Research historical situations where this was an outcome of name-calling. Can name-calling still carry significant consequences in today’s world? When has name-calling been used to oppress people?
• Cite situations today where name-calling is used to ruin a person’s reputation. Provide current examples involving celebrities, members of the media, politicians, or local figures by reading the newspaper or scanning the Internet for several days or a week.
• Find out more about the different political parties that exist in the United States, other than the Republican and Democratic parties. Why and when were these political parties launched, and what do they stand for? What party would you join?
• If you had the opportunity to create a new political party for a school election, what would your platform be? How would you promote the party? Design several potential election posters with different logos and share them with your classmates.
• Talk with your parents, grandparents, a teacher, or an older sibling about their experiences in middle school or junior high. Do they reveal anything surprising? Did you have any preconceived notions about that time in their lives, only to find out that they were actually very different?
• Research the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the controversies that have arisen over its use in schools and students’ refusal to participate in its recital.
• Research the experiences of gay students in the past and the present. An excellent resource is www.GLSEN.org, the website of GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network).
• Write about your own experiences of being a misfit, or what you imagine it is like for others who don’t fit into the mainstream in your school.
This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
James Howe is the author of more than ninety books for young readers. Bunnicula, coauthored by his late wife Deborah and published in 1979, is considered a modern classic of children’s literature. The author has written six highly popular sequels, along with the spinoff series Tales from the House of Bunnicula and Bunnicula and Friends. Among his other books are picture books such as Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores and beginning reader series that include the Pinky and Rex and Houndsley and Catina books. He has also written for older readers. The Misfits, published in 2001, inspired the antibullying initiative No Name-Calling Week, as well as three sequels, Totally Joe, Addie on the Inside, and Also Known as Elvis. A common theme in James Howe’s books from preschool through teens is the acceptance of difference and being true to oneself. Visit him online at JamesHowe.com.
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