For this spotlight, I had the pleasure of picking an excerpt from one of my own students. Zev is a quick-witted, totally goofy, and hard-working 9-year-old who always came to class with a well-structured, hilarious chapter. The following excerpt is only one of many chapters that I could have chosen–however, I feel that this piece is self-contained as well as self-explanatory, and so functions very well for our purposes. All we need to know is that the green aliens are the bad guys and the blue aliens are the good guys.
“Everyone, run! There’s a Glorf Gremlin!” said one of the green aliens.
“Aaaah!” screamed another.
“Wait! I’ve got an idea! We could tame him, then we could unleash him to the blue aliens and he’d kill a bunch of them,” a green alien said.
“Why are you so smart and I’m so dumb? That’s not fair!” protested another alien.
“Well deal with it! It’s your problem that you’re so dumb!” said the alien with the idea.
“But it’s your problem that you’re so smart!” said the alien.
“Guys! Stop fighting! In this book that I found on the wall about Glorf Gremlins, it says, ‘If you feed the Gremlin three glorfberries and five rubber bands every two hours then it will be tamed. But for it not to try to kill you, you must feed it a cookie-’ started an alien.
“Ok, ok, we get the gist. Let’s feed this thing some glorfberries and rubber bands!” said one of the aliens.
“What are you waiting for? Let’s feed it!”
“I’ve got glorfberries in my food supply kit,” an alien said.
“And I brought some rubber bands along just in case,” said another.
“Here, Gremmy, Gremmy! I have some glorfberries and rubber bands for you!” said the alien who brought the glorfberries. The Gremlin streaked across the room so fast that it was a blur. And before you could say ‘Glorf Gremlin,’ the Gremlin had eaten the glorfberries and rubber bands…
“Well that was easier than I thought,” said one of the aliens.
“So what should we do now?” asked an alien.
“Go fight, duh,” replied another. The green aliens started running towards the middle of the grassy field. The Gremlin faced the blue alien’s side and growled.
“That’s my boy, Gremmy. Go get the blue aliens!” said the alien that had the glorfberries. Then the blue aliens started coming out of a building that looked like an outhouse with flies swarming around it. The Gremlin ran faster than it did to get the glorfberries and rubber bands and started charging towards the blue aliens. But at about halfway there, the Glorf Gremlin stopped and ran in the opposite direction towards the green aliens.
“What’s it doing?” cried a green alien.
“Guys! I was trying to tell you! A cookie a day keeps the Gremlin away! In the book, it says ‘For it to not kill you, you must feed it a cookie every day!’”
Then a second Gremlin appeared from behind the green alien’s base and together the two Glorf Gremlins cornered the green aliens…
I laugh every time I read this excerpt. Zev utilizes a time-honored tactic of comedy here: bad guys, trying to gain the upper hand over the good guys, try an unconventional method of warfare, only to have it blow up in their face. Crabb and Doyle, Harry and Marv (Home Alone), Wile E. Coyote–this comedic trope appears across generations and forms for a reason. It works.
And Zev pulls it off masterfully here.
He first establishes their silliness and stupidity by creating an argument about that very subject: ‘“Why are you so smart and I’m so dumb? That’s not fair!” protested another alien.’ I just love this. He’s just smart enough to realize how dumb he is, which leads to anger–not at himself, but at his smarter friend for getting a better lot, as if intelligence were a kind of poker hand. The other alien retorts that it’s his problem for being so dumb, which sets up the quizzical and brilliant line, “It’s your problem that you’re so smart!”’
Then comes the plan. They’re going to tame the Gremlin using ‘glorfberries and rubber bands,’ setting their own destruction in motion. Their ultimate undoing is their lack of preparedness and haste: ‘“For it not to try to kill you, you must feed it a cookie-’ started an alien.” “Ok, ok, we get the gist.”’ Zev understands that the comedy only works if these aliens deserve it.
And finally, the execution. ‘Gremmy’ starts out toward the blue aliens, but turns around halfway and runs straight back to his captors. It’s subtle, but I like that Zev puts, ‘The Gremlin ran faster than it did to get the glorfberries and rubber bands…’ He’s getting our momentum moving in one direction, then switches abruptly–the gremlin is moving faster than it did to get the food, so it must really mean business now. But, no, wait, why has it stopped? And why is it heading back our way?!
Because a cookie a day keeps the Gremlin away, of course.