Authors: Judy Cox
On the sixteenth day, Mrs. Lopez showed them how to candle the eggs. “We can see what's going on inside as the chicks develop,” she told the class. Daniel held an egg up to the flashlight. Inside, he saw the tiny beating heart of the embryo. He drew a picture in his journal.
On Saturdays, Daniel volunteered to help Mrs. Lopez turn the eggs. At first all the kids wanted to help, but by the second weekend only Daniel and Mrs. Lopez were left.
“Aren't they ever going to hatch?” Daniel asked Mrs. Lopez.
“Be patient,” she said. Daniel sighed. He was tired of being patient.
After day eighteen, though, they didn't have to turn the eggs anymore. “The eggs need to rest for the last days,” Mrs. Lopez told them. The class still continued with their notes in the egg journals.
Daniel hovered over the incubator every chance he got, so he was the first one to see the eggs hatch. On the twenty-first day after the class got the eggs, Daniel was returning to his seat from the pencil sharpener. He checked the incubator for the millionth time.
. Daniel peered through the window.
Could that sound be coming from inside?
Tap. Tap. Tap
. The noise was so soft that it might have been Max tapping his pencil on his desk. It might have been Katrina tapping her toe. It might have been Mrs. Lopez tapping her ruler.
But it wasn't. Daniel looked close. He saw a tiny hole in one of the eggs.
“It's hatching!” he cried.
All the kids gathered around, pushing to get a better look. Mrs. Lopez told the tall kids like Max and Katrina to kneel in front of the table. She let the shorter kids like Allison, Sam, and Harry stand behind them. But Daniel kept his place right in the front.
The egg rocked back and forth. Cracks appeared in the shell.
“Look!” yelled Sam. “A chick! I can see it coming out!” The shell split. Daniel could see wet, yellow feathers. But the chick still didn't come out.
“I think it's stuck,” said Allison. She frowned. “Can I pull the shell off?”
“No,” said Daniel. He shook his head, but he didn't look up. He didn't want to miss a thing. “You can't help.”
“That's right,” said Mrs. Lopez. “Rule number one. No touching the eggs while they are hatching. The chick has to be strong enough to break out on its own.”
Daniel leaned closer, folding his arms on the table. “You can do it, little guy,” he said softly. “Come on, chicky.”
Finally Daniel saw the rubbery membrane break. The egg rocked harder. The shell split apart. Out popped the wet chick.
“Ick!” said Katrina. “It's all slimy!”
“That's normal,” said Mrs. Lopez. “Soon it will dry and look fluffy.”
The chick had a big head and little wings. It tried to stand, but fell a few times before it could. Its feet were huge and it had dark eyes. Was that the egg tooth on the top of the beak? Daniel knew that chicks have a sharp point on the top of the beak for pecking a hole in the eggshell. A few days later that tiny tooth would fall off.
After the first chick hatched, other eggs began to pip. Other chicks started hatching. The kids leaned close. Everyone had something to say. Everyone talked at once.
“I think they're ugly!” said Katrina.
“No they aren't,” said Max. “They look like baby dinosaurs!”
“This is amazing!” said Fiona.
“Here comes a wing!” shouted Harry.
“He's coming out,” said Allison. “Oh my gosh, this is so cool.”
“Let me see!” ordered Sam.
“Wow! See how it pushes? Mrs. Lopez, can I hold him?”
Mrs. Lopez laughed. “We can't hold the chicks until they are dry.” Carefully, she scooped each wet chick up and set it under the heat lamp. When the chicks dried, their feathers fluffed out like dandelion puffs. Daniel grinned. He liked the perfect tiny beaks, claws, and combs.
When four chicks were settled under the heat lamp, Daniel turned to Mrs. Lopez. “When will the other eggs hatch?”
“They might not,” said Mrs. Lopez. She looked tired. “I think we are pretty lucky to get four chicks.”
In the end, five of the eggs hatched. The next day, Mrs. Lopez moved the five chicks to the brooder. The class had built the brooder out of a cardboard box lined with straw and shavings. There was a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm. There was a food tray and water bottle.
Each chick looked a little bit different. One chick
was pale cream with black feet. It had a little topknot of fluff. One chick had brown stripes. One was black with yellow stripes. Two chicks were yellow, but one was big and one was little. Daniel thought the tiny chick looked like an Easter decoration. That chick was Daniel's favorite. It peeped steadily.
“We should call that one Peepers,” said Daniel. He turned to Mrs. Lopez. “Which are girls and which are boys? Because my mom said I can't bring home a rooster.”
Mrs. Lopez shook her head. “This is the first time I've hatched eggs,” she said. “I'm no expert. You'll just have to wait and see.”
Daniel thought the next three weeks were the best three weeks of the whole school year. Every day, he fed and watered the chicks. The other kids helped, although some lost interest. Not Daniel. Every spare minute of the school day found him glued to the brooder.
The chicks were wobbly at first. Sometimes they fell asleep standing up. They sat down suddenly. But now all the chicks were steady on their feet. Each chick had a tiny ridge on its head where the comb would be. Their wing feathers had started to grow. A constant
came from the brooder.
“It's enough to drive one nuts,” said Mrs. Lopez. But Daniel liked it.
“They stink,” said Allison. But Daniel didn't mind. As the chicks got bigger, the brooder had to be cleaned out more often.
Daniel really liked the one he named Peepers. When Daniel came to feed them, she was always first in line. She cocked her head at Daniel. She looked at him first with one bright, shiny black eye, then the other. Daniel picked her up. He stroked the fluff on her head with one finger. She closed her eyes. He could almost feel her purr like a kitten.
Two weeks after the chicks hatched, Dad announced that it was the perfect Saturday to start the garden. “Organic veggies,” he said, pulling on a pair of gloves. “Zucchini! Peas! Tomatoes!”
“Beans!” said Mom, waving a trowel.
“But no lima beans,” said Kelsey. “Can we grow pumpkins for jack-o'-lanterns?”
“Strawberries for me?” asked Emmy.
Dad ruffled her hair. “Strawberries for all of us. Pumpkins, too.”
“But I told my friends I'd meet them at the mall!” said Tyler.
“No work, no eat,” said Dad. That was that. The rain had stopped, so after Daniel fed his pets the whole family headed to the backyard.
The Millers' backyard wasn't like any other backyard in their neighborhood. Instead of a grassy lawn, they had patches of dirt. Instead of a swing set or swimming pool, they had a rickety tree house in a big maple tree. Instead of flower beds, they had weeds.
“I'm too busy to worry about the yard,” Mom always said.
“Besides,” added Dad, “weeds are just wildflowers. Good for the birds! Good for the bees!”
After Dad rototilled the garden plot, Daniel helped Tyler spread compost. First Tyler shoveled it into the wheelbarrow from the bin. The barrow tilted from side to side as Daniel pushed it over to the tilled dirt. Dad grabbed a pitchfork. Emmy and Kelsey poked at the compost with trowels. Mom sorted out seed packets and strawberry plants.
“How's the chick project going?” Dad asked. He pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“The drawing is next week,” said Daniel. “I hope I get Peepers. She knows me. She comes when I call.”
“I want a chick, too,” said Emmy. “I want a green one.”
“To lay green eggs. Hey! Green eggs and ham!” Kelsey laughed at her own joke.
“These are real chicks,” Daniel told her. “They don't come in green.”
“Didn't you say there's fifteen kids signed up? And there's only five chicks?” asked Tyler, shoveling more compost.
“So you have only a one-in-three chance to get a chick,” Tyler pointed out. “Bad odds. Plus, somebody else might pick Peepers.”
Just then Kelsey yelled, “Poison!” The big orange cat skulked in the weeds, stalking birds.
“That cat!” said Mom, clapping her hands to scare him away. “He's a menace to the neighborhood.”
“Certainly to the neighborhood birds,” agreed Dad.
Finally the day for the drawing came. Mrs. Lopez put all the slips in a jar. She shook it.
“The chicks need to be picked up by Friday,” she said. “Remember, no animals are allowed on the bus. So please arrange for someone to come get them.”
She shook the jar and reached inside. Daniel leaned forward. He chewed his lip. He had to get a chick. He just had to.
Mrs. Lopez drew the first name. “Sam,” she called. Sam cheered.
One by one, she drew names.
“Max.” Max pumped his fist in the air. “Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!” he yelled.
“Allison.” Allison clasped her hands. She shook them over her head like a prizefighter.
Only two chicks left. Daniel's heart beat so hard he thought it would slam right out of his chest.
“Hooray!” Katrina's smile stretched ear to ear.
That was it. All five chicks were spoken for. Not one for Daniel. His shoulders slumped.
But Harry waved his hand. “Mrs. Lopez!” he called. “I forgot to tell you. My dad changed his mind. He said I can't have a chick after all.”
“I'll draw another name,” said Mrs. Lopez. Her hand hovered over the jar.
Daniel clenched his hands.
, he thought.
Let it be me. I'll eat all my vegetables for a month. I'll help Tyler mow the lawn. I'll wash the car. I'll never call Emmy a dummy head again
Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Mrs. Lopez's hand slid into the jar. She pulled out a slip of paper. She unfolded the slip of paper. She raised it to her eyes. Her mouth opened. “Daniel.”
“Yes!” Daniel could feel a grin split his face. His heart settled back down. One chick was his.
After school on Friday, Daniel waited in the classroom for Dad. Today was the day he got to take his chick home. Because his was the last name drawn, he didn't get to pick. He'd have to take the last chick left. That was Mrs. Lopez's rule. He hoped it would be Peepers.
The chicks were growing up. They still had skinny pipe-cleaner legs, but they had feathers on their wings. They had lost the puffy, fluffy look.
Their peeping filled the classroom.
Sam sailed in from recess. “Sorry, Mrs. Lopez. My mom changed her mind. No chick after all. Can I have a lollipop instead?” He knew Mrs. Lopez kept lollipops in her desk for good behavior.