It was such a pleasure spending a week at the Magellan International School with these fifth- and sixth-graders and their inventive minds! The Magnificent Hippo Llamas dove straight into the camp and delighted me with their eagerness, cleverness, and humor every single day.
As reflected in their name, these sixteen writers graders love animals, and they wrote about everything from rhinoceroses to butterflies to sharks. We created “chimera” creatures, animals made up of parts two or more other animals and told stories about their lives, their origins, or their discoveries. We imagined abstract ideas like creativity and anger as though they were animals enclosed in a zoo.
We read and discussed writing by Nicolás Guillén, Franz Kafka, Patricia Smith, and Jacqueline Woodson, and their words inspired our own. To practice surprise and encourage experimentation on the page, we played surrealist games, like three-headed know-it-all and question and answer, and these games gave many of the stories below their initial seed.
I so enjoyed working with The Magnificent Hippo Llamas, and I hope you’ll enjoy their pieces below. Be prepared to laugh, gasp, and smile.
Badgerdog Teaching Artist
When I was about five years old, I won a bug catcher. That day, I caught a beautiful blue-winged butterfly. I live on a country lane in Fieldtown. My dad owns a farm where he grows corn, peas, cows, pigs, and horses. When I got home, I set Jane, my new pet butterfly, on the barn cabinet and decided to take my horse Snowflake for a ride.
I saddled her up and hopped on. We went around the farm and over to the pound. We then galloped to the corn fields, where my dad was picking the corn stalks. Then we headed towards the pig barn, where Grumpy, Snozzy, Lazy, Happy, and the three other pigs (whose names I could never remember) were sleeping and eating. Then I went over to milk Snickers. I grabbed the bucket and stool out of the dusty cabinet and started milking her. I then thought about my teacher and how we had just finished reading a Greek myth.
I then remembered Lazy, my favorite pig and how, when I was a child, she let me ride on her back. And I remembered Jane, my butterfly… What if? No that wasn’t possible.
Later, after a dinner of yummy biscuits, chicken, and creamy milk from Snickers, I took Jane up to my room. And since I had won Lazy from the county fair, she was my responsibility, so she slept with me. I brushed my teeth with my blue Cinderella toothbrush and put on my PJs and got in my bed, and my mom read me a story and tucked me in. Later that night, I woke up to the sound of the window shuddering. I stared up at the picture of my name in all blue letters: Rosie. Then I slowly drifted back to sleep.
In the morning, I awoke to the smell of eggs and pancakes. I noticed that Lazy was not in her normal spot, and Jane was not in her cage. I started to freak out when I saw some small fluttering by the door. I grabbed the bug catcher and trapped Jane inside and went downstairs to eat. Once I had finished, I went upstairs to check on Jane. When I looked in a magnifying glass, I saw that Jane was a little bigger. She even had a pig nose. Then I remembered Lazy.
Wait… I looked closer. “Jane” had pig feet and even Lazy’s old scar. OMG, I thought. I threw Jane (in her cage) into my saddlebag, jumped on Snowflake, and we rode off to the vet. The vet didn’t know what was going on and said to take Jane to the doctor. The doctor said to take Jane to Professor Louis. Professor Louis ran tests and did experiments that involved machines and needles.
Eventually, he concluded that I had invented a new animal! A pig butterfly, a putter. It was pink with pig legs, a pig nose, pig eyes and ears, and a pink butterfly body and blue wings with pink spots. Professor Louis thought Jane and Lazy had been struck by radioactive heatwaves. He said Lazy Jane would eat leaves and plants. When I got home, I decided that I would keep Lazy Jane a secret. Lazy Jane hangs out in the field till I come home from school. Then she eats dinner and sleeps.
—after Nicolás Guillén’s “The Hunger”
It flows out through the bars,
Bright blue eyes, wings like an angel,
Like a horse in a pen!
Free of heart and mind,
But unfree to roam wild.
It is always thinking of new things,
Like the wolf on the hunt
Or the lion as it roars.
If it could be free, free of this cage,
It would soar like an eagle
High above, where no one could stop it.
It beats its wings in the cage.
The girl stops as she passes the cage.
The girl feels the spirit of the animal
Deep within her heart.
She presses the key into the lock.
Free at last.
Larry the Swimming Grape
It was 2032. Humans and animals had become more intelligent, but they were not the only ones. So had grapes, and Larry the Grape was going further than any grape had gone before. He was going to the Olympics. He trained hard every day, jumping off the counter and swimming in a bowl with the fan blowing him the opposite direction.
Then it was time for the Olympics. He entered his name, got his gear on, and when he heard his name called with the rest of the swimmers, he got out of his seat and started walking.
His fellow swimmers did not seem to notice him, as they almost stepped on him three times, so he hitched a ride on someone’s shoe. When they called a name, they did it three times. He guessed they were honoring him. When he got to his spot, someone else was there, so Larry tried to get him to move, but he wouldn’t budge.
When the buzzer rang, Larry jumped into the water. When the water hit him, he felt the rush as he swam. He could feel the water helping him, and then he won, but there was no medal and no winner’s music. He guessed he’d have to wait, so he jumped into his grape bag to say hi to his friend Cherry. The next thing he knew, he was being swallowed.
—after “The Hunger” by Nicolás Guillén
Creeping, pouncing, shredding.
Always on the prowl.
A panther sneaking in the
woods, a lion crouching in the plains.
A shark swimming in the reef.
An eagle ripping into a fish.
This is anger, wanting revenge,
being resentful and mad.
Anger is cruel, it destroys
You cannot escape anger.
Not you and not me.
Project: Aquatius Monkius
Project: Aquatius Monkius.
Day 1: The lab just started. My lab just moved to a small, tropical island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. This project is run by the government. The public will not know about it at all. It is my job to keep a journal tracking the experiment. We are trying to make a part-monkey, part-shark creature. Our plan was revised more than thirty times.
First, we had a shark completely consume a yellow leaf monkey, which are native to this island. The lab then exposed it to radioactive waves for ten minutes. We put it in an enclosed area of water that was touching the shore, and we are going to keep the creature there overnight.
Sketch #1: Shark being exposed to radioactive waves.
Day 2: The project has gone horribly wrong! The experiment was not in its enclosed area this morning, but we still had a chance to see it and do some tests on it. The first time we checked on it, it was amazing. It had the head of a great white shark and the tiny body of a yellow leaf monkey. The monkey’s arms were replaced with shark fins, and it had a large shark fin on its back. The monkey’s legs and tail were normal, but they didn’t have any fur. It is very dangerous, and it will eat anything. Right now, I am on a boat with my team searching for it. Where did the team go? Who got ketchup all over the floor? What is that grunting noise behind me? Why do I see a monkey tail and a shark fin in the water? Oh no.
A black and white animal.
It looks stressful and in pain.
Creepiness on the outside,
but anger on the inside.
Heat sliding down the forehead,
thinking quietly about
revenge. I look closely at it,
thinking how much pain and
stress this animal is given.
A yellow and black spotted
animal. So sluggish and lazy.
Drooling everywhere, waiting
patiently to get out. The eyes
are barely open, gaining more
weight by the second.
An orange and black striped animal.
So loud and wild. Roaring
every second. Running rapidly
back and forth. Slipping and
falling. So dirty.
The Chronicles of the Goatster
One day, I wake up and do my daily routine. I go into the farm and “borrow” some chicken seed, then I go back to my cave and eat. By the way, I’m a Goatster, head and wings of a rooster and body and legs of a goat. I hear the farmer screaming, “It’s gone again!”
“There is someone breaking into the shed again!” exclaims the farmer’s wife. “That’s 3 days in a row!” They take the whole bag of chicken seed! We need to call the cops about this!”
That. Is. BAD! They can’t call the cops! I’m going to go back to those scientists! And technically that isn’t all true! When I’m done, I make sure not to finish it! I just leave one seed and put it in one of the animal pens. That’s fine, right? RIGHT? My best bet is to stay in my cave. That is the only place to hide anyway. Where I live, it is all flat ground surrounded by mountains. Wondering how I got here? I was running away from those scientists and fell down the cliff. That’s right. I fell down a CLIFF!
The farmers definitely called the police. They’re talking with one of them right now. I go to the back of my cave and try to blend in, although a giant chicken goat does not blend in well. Next thing you know, an officer walks by, he looks in the cave, widens his eyes, then walks back, humming and looking at the sky. What are the odds he saw me?
The next day, I do my routine. I “borrow” the chicken seed and go eat, and then I take a nap. I wake up to the sound of traffic and a large bump. All I can see is myself and a bunch of white. I wait for about an hour and then feel the truck screech to a stop. I hear people talking outside and immediately pretend to sleep. They take me outside, and I immediately make a run for it. As I run through the lab, I get lost. I go past all sorts of animal experiments. I feel so bad, so I let them out, but they run away from me fast. I finally get out. Now I’m a Goatster on the run.
—after Nicolás Guillén’s “The Hunger”
Never afraid to speak up
Like a peacock in a field of cows
Beautiful without knowing
When you least expect it
It will show
It cannot be contained
But will hide with the best
Until, until the day when it breaks free
It will soar high again
Not afraid to express itself
Not afraid to do anything
This is courage at its most
Hannah Van Houten
Today I woke up in the morning and turned on the news. They said we were going to have a big rain, so I had to bring my umbrella with me. Should I bring original or lucky shield or super bright yellow umbrella? I wondered. I decided to bring my lucky shield umbrella, just in case if I had bad luck, like someone punching me.
I went to my school after I prepared the lucky shield umbrella. Going to my school was fine. Then I went to the classroom, and I knew something was wrong. My friends and teachers looked like gorillas. I thought, What? Am I unconscious? It was weird.
After school, I crossed a street to go home. It was still raining. Suddenly, the raindrops formed like a huge hairy black monster. I turned on my phone radio, and it said gorillas (which were made by raindrops) were spreading a gorilla virus that makes people turn into gorillas. I protected myself with the lucky shield umbrella. I guess this umbrella is unlucky. Anyway, I think I’m the only one who can survive here. I protected myself with the lucky shield.
But I had a great idea. How about I feed the gorillas and treat kindly? I had this idea when other citizens started freaking out and punching gorillas. So, I started the action. Luckily, I walked in front of gorillas. Then I said, “Listen up gorillas! I will treat you very kindly, so please stop the raining gorillas!”
The gorillas talked together as a team and said very deeply and loudly, “DEAL!” But there was confusion. How would we turn gorilla people into actual humans?
I asked the raindrop gorillas, and they cast a spell on gorilla people, erased their memories of the raindrop gorillas, and turned people into humans again.
Once a year, it’s Pengrhino versus the Mousrat. They fight in New Zealand in a giant stone arena. If you step on one tile that’s a trap, you die. The Pengrhino has a penguin head with a rhinoceros horn, a rhinoceros body, and penguin’s feet. The Pengrhino waddles. It is about six feet tall and weighs 550 pounds. The Mousrat has a mouse face with rat teeth and tail. The Mousrat flies around the arena. It weighs 400 pounds and is five-foot-three. The Pengrhino gets its horn into the Mousrat’s stomach right off the bat. The Mousrat dodges all the attacks after that. The Mousrat jumps up after and sinks its teeth into the Pengrhino’s back. They fall off. The Pengrhino turns around and kicks the Mousrat out of the arena. The Pengrhino wins the animal games. Fireworks!
Once on a dark and scary night, a mad and crazy scientist with wacky white hair tried to make a hybrid of a kangaroo and a cow! He added lots and lots of strength potions so the animal would be impossible to defeat. That scientist wanted to rule the world, but something went wrong…
When the hybrid was created, it was given the name Kangacow. It didn’t listen to the scientist and punched him, so he became unconscious. The Kangacow ran out of the lab and hopped to the nearest town, Baltimore. The AFC Championship was going on — the Baltimore Ravens versus the New England Patriots. During the fourth quarter, Kangacow made baby Kangacows from his udders. They grew to full size in five seconds and rampaged the field. The crowd ran for their lives. Someone called the army, which surrounded the stadium with tanks and helicopters. The Kangacows started to multiply, and they hijacked the army and made those army men their slaves.
They did this to the whole USA in a matter of months! The scientist built a Kangaproof bunker and tried to make a formula to turn the Kangacows back into normal animals. The other countries tried to gang up on the Kangacows, but to no avail. The Kangacows destroyed the troops and vehicles.
To help take over the rest of the world, the Kangacows called the Swampmunks and Neagles. The Swampmunks were the Navy, the Neagles were the Air Force, and the Kangacows were the Army. They had a whole military force! They first attacked Russia and China because they knew they were the biggest powers after America. The Neagles guarded the Americans, the Kangacows guarded the Russians, and the Swampmunks guarded the Chinese. Then, something happened…
The Americans revolted and ran into broken tanks when the Neagles weren’t looking. They could shoot the Neagles with a tank’s machine gun and missile launcher, but the tank couldn’t move. Then they had an idea. The army men could distract the Neagles by detaching the machine guns and shooting the Neagles while the civilians could stay in the tank to shoot missiles. They kept the Neagles and strapped them to tanks. Then the Kangacows kept calling, but they didn’t come. The Kangacows sent the Swampmunks, but they were ambushed and kept them hostage. The Kangacows called the Swampmunks, but they didn’t come. They knew a big battle was coming…
Llamstrich on the Loose
Once upon a time, there was a scientist who bred animals in his lab, and one day he made a Llamstrich — half llama, half ostrich. It was hideous! When he looked at it, it had the body of an ostrich and the head of a llama. As soon as he grabbed his dart gun, the beast kicked the door to its cage and sped down the hallway. The scientist alerted the police, but as soon as they arrived, the Llamstrich was gone.
In an old house there lives a family of two, a woman and her son. They were llama farmers, but something was off. One llama looked different. First, it had feathers. Second, it had talons. The boy ran to his mother, but as soon as she came, it was gone. The Llamstrich could not find a safe place to hide! So it ran to the police and found a magic portal.
Llamstrich on the Loose, Continued
It was just time for bed, but I remembered I had to tell Egard something, and I asked, “Do you want to go on a trip?”
Egard nodded yes. “I already packed for us. Eight-thirty, and we’ll be on the road.”
I said, “Heh, heh. Be in the sky, I guess.”
Egard grunted and used his big gecko-gripped tail to hang on the ceiling. The rooster crowed, and Egard and I were awake. I put on my swim shorts and got my matching shirt and hopped on Egard’s large eagle head. He flapped his beautiful angel-looking wings and thrust out the door and into the sky.
An hour later, we stopped at our favorite seafood place. Once we finished that up, we got outside, and I checked Egard’s portal generator. It had full battery. He put his two front eagle-arms out. I looked, and to my surprise, we were over a parking lot, and everybody saw us. They were taking millions of pictures. The portal opened, and Egard flew through with ease. When we were going, I told Egard to do it alone.
Once Egard was through the portal, he was in an arena full of sadistic kittens. At the end of the arena there was the one and only Llamstrich, which was dressed in a combat suit, and then the Egard looked down. He was in a combat suit of his own. The kittens yelled fight!
Pete goes to the desert to look for a new species of animal. He gets to a huge hole in the ground that looks like it goes more than thirty feet deep. He’s big enough to fit in the hole, so he goes down. He sees some light at the bottom of the cave. He goes down to it. It takes him five minutes to get to the light. It flattens out, and he enters a small room. When he gets closer to the light, he figures out it’s green and slimy. He jumps over it and sees a straight tunnel forward. There’s more green stuff on the walls. He tries to avoid it, but he accidentally touches it. It burns him and dissolves.
He keeps going forward, and he sees a huge lump on the ground. Then it starts moving. He yells and tries to get out, but a wall of sand falls over the entrance. The giant thing has a huge head and a really small body and tail. The gigantic thing moves forward and snuggles on him. It starts licking him too and then starts digging through the wall back toward the light. The giant head thing goes through the hole and into the light. Then Pete has a good look at the creature and sees that its body is a squirrel and its head and teeth are a hippo. He decides he likes it and that he will call it Hippsquirrel. The Hippsquirrel starts going up. He follows.
When they get to the top, Pete picks it up and carries it into his truck. It seems okay with this. It keeps licking him, but that’s fine. Pete drives back to his house. It’s in the forest away from the city, so nobody can mess with him. He does research on the green light and finds out it’s nuclear radiation. That’s why Hippsquirrel is two different animals. After that, Pete tries to find out what it eats. Two hours later, he figures it out. Frogs! After that, Pete lives with the Hippsquirrel and takes care of it.
Hello, my name is Jerry the Rhino, and I live in a zoo. Here is a tale about my everyday life. I wake up at 7:00 and eat breakfast, which lasts until 8:00. I have a rest till 12:00. I’m so tired, but I know I can’t sleep for the whole day. I have to eat! I dreamed about sleep. Then I wake up and have lunch until 1:00. Nap time is the best. I sleep until 6:00, and then I have dinner, which lasts until 7:00. Then I take an amazing night’s sleep until 7:00. I repeat this day to day. I am the tired animal and nobody will ever stop my nap time!
The Story of Fly Guy, a.k.a. The Prowling Fly
Once upon a time, there was a fly who had a kid. That kid was named Fly Guy. Fly Guy loved to prowl everywhere. Soon he got the nickname The Prowling Fly. He left home when his mom died. He caught a plane to Abilene, Texas. Then he caught a cow trailer to England. Then he went to Spain in a taxi cab. Then he caught a submarine to Australia. That is where he started his hunting spree.
First, he tried eating a human, but he didn’t like it. So he went to the outback and saw a pretty fly named Annie Bell. They got married. They had a kid named Darwin Jeffery Wendell. Prowling Fly soon taught Darwin Jeffery to hunt. Prowling Fly killed a giraffe and loved it. Darwin killed an elephant, not realizing they were endangered, but it tasted good. One time, Prowling Fly killed a rhino. He didn’t like it. One time, he and Darwin Jeffery were trying to kill a lion, but Darwin Jeffery was swatted by the lion’s tail and died. Then Annie Bell left him because she was mad.
Then Prowling Fly was all by himself. Then a fly caught his eye. Her name was Kim Lardashian. Soon they had another boy, and his name was Ronald McDonald Wendell. Ronald loved chicken, so Prowling Fly found the most popular bird and told Ronald it was a chicken. Ronald made chicken nuggets. Everyone loved them. So Ronald left his parents and made a very cheap fast food place. It became famous nationwide.
Prowling Fly wanted a hunting partner, so he called an old friend. His friend was Silkie Spider. His friend was a good hunter. When Silkie got there, Silkie brought his wife, but Silkie had no kids. But the day Silkie’s wife got there, a mouse ate her. Silkie decided to go back home. So, Prowling Fly was on his own. Prowling Fly was hunting an elephant but was spiked by the elephant’s horn. He was never found.
Epilogue: You should never be scared of flies. Nothing was harmed in this story. Don’t think that in real life a spider won’t eat a fly. It will.