We went hiking on Saturday. It was about an hour and a half of driving to get there, and on the way we played a favorite game which I think we just call “guess what it is.” We all have different interests, so we tend to pick topics from our own knowledge base. Henry made us guess birds, Zuzu made us guess things from Harry Potter, Eli had us guess specific historic firearms, I made everyone guess children’s book characters, and Ramona had us guess animals. Dave didn’t do a category because his category was “driving the car and not getting lost.”
For example, one I did was “This badger likes to sing songs. Once she sang a song about a tomato. Once she ran away. She sang about rice once. She had an incident with a tea set that tested a friendship.” That turned out to be tough because I guess the people in my family don’t know that Frances is a badger.
So after many rounds of this, Ramona said, “I have an animal but I don’t know what it is.” Ok, yeah. Sure. But we were game. We asked a lot of questions, and these are the facts we could uncover:
- is blackish, brownish, grayish
- walks on two legs (“I think?” says Ramona)
- she saw it on a field trip
- webbed feet, so probably a bird?
- really big
- the most important fact she could remember: it always poops in the same place
Well sure, it’s obvious, right? Nope. We spent twenty minutes shouting bird names at her, and determined it wasn’t an ostrich, an emu, a chicken, a goose, a quail, a grouse, a puffin, or a chicken. Or an ostrich. Gosh, we were really sure it was an ostrich. She kept talking about how huge this thing was.
We got to the mountain and started hiking.
This puzzle was really driving Henry in particular up a wall. He’s one of those kids who knows his animal facts, and is right now going through a huge bird phase, so the fact that he couldn’t identify this mystery bird was making him very annoyed.
We figured out that she saw it when her class visited Pineland Farms (and yes, I would have called them to say, “which of your giant birds always poops in the same place?” if I’d had cell phone reception).
“How big was it?” we asked.
“About as big as Dave,” said Ramona.
Dave is 6-foot-3.
Henry was annoyed that farms (especially farms in Maine) would have an ostrich (because boy, were we stuck on the fact that this thing was surely an ostrich) (I should also point out that Henry is almost 14, and is annoyed by a lot right now). Then we started talking about how farms have all kinds of not-native-to-Maine animals, especially if there’s a tourist attraction factor.
“They might have ostriches and emus, llamas and alpacas…”
“That’s it!” shouted Ramona. “Alpaca!”
Alpaca. The giant bird was an…alpaca.
I’m sharing this story partially because it’s still making me laugh, but also as a reminder to those of you who write books for children that no matter how much nonsense you’re writing into your books, it’s probably not enough.