For Ages
8 to 12

Calvin Coconut: Zoo Breath is a part of the Calvin Coconut collection.

Calvin's mom says his new dog Streak smells bad.  Especially her breath. Calvin's convinced that Streak's stink is a good one, but he's worried. If he doesn't solve Streak's problem soon, mom might make him give his beloved new dog back to the shelter. So when his teacher assigns his students a discovery project, Calvin decides to discover the worst stinks—and find a solution to Streak's bad breath.

An Excerpt fromCalvin Coconut: Zoo Breath

A Good Stink    
"Ack!" Stella snapped, turning around in the front seat of the car. "Get that thing away from me!"   It was Sunday, and Mom was driving us to the grocery store. Stella was sixteen; she'd come from Texas to live with us and help Mom. She was in high school, studying ways to mess up my life. Me and my sister, Darci, were in the backseat with Streak, mydog.   Streak was sitting on my knees, hanging her head over the front seat. Breathing on Stella.   I gave Streak a hug and sat back, pulling her close.   She licked my ear.   Stella glared over her shoulder. "Did you just let that stinky dog lick germs all over you?"   "Streak doesn't have germs, and anyway dogs have clean tongues."   Stella shook her head and turned back.   I sniffed the top of Streak's head. "I don't smell any stink."   Stella mumbled, "You wouldn't."   Mom glanced into the rearview mirror. "Stella's right, Calvin. Streak does smell, especially her breath. Maybe she can stick her head out the window instead of hanging over the front seat."   I hugged Streak. So what if she was a little stinky? All dogs smelled, but it was a good stink, not a bad one. Still, I'd just adopted her from the Humane Society, and the last thing I needed was for Mom to make me take Streak back because she had badbreath.   I glanced over at Darci, who was bouncing Petey on her knee. Petey was a green, pint-size stuffed parrot with small dried beans in it. Mom's boyfriend, Ledward, had given it to her. Petey was Darci's favorite thing in the world. For now, anyway.   I leaned close and whispered, "Hey, Darce, smell Streak's breath and see if you think it stinks."   Stella had ears like an elephant. "Don't you dare! Don't fall for it, Darci. He's tricking you."   "I am not!" I said.   "Then smell it yourself."   "Pfff," I huffed, then scooted back to my side of the backseat.   I knew Streak's breath was terrible.   Stella smirked. "See, Darci? He won't even do it himself, and it's his dog."   "Will too," I mumbled. But didn't.   I inched Streak forward, aiming her breath at Stella.   "Calvin," Mom said.   Man, she had eyes in the back of her head.   I put the window down and let Streak hang her head out. She loved it. Spit flew off her tongue in the wind.   I was worried.   Really worried.   Because Mom and Stella had been complaining more than usual about Streak: how she smelled, chewed up everything in sight, left dog doo all over the yard, and shed hair in the house--even though she was only allowed in the kitchen to eat. She slept in myroom, which wasn't even in the house, but in the garage.   My friend Willy's dog got to be in his house.   I slumped in my seat.   Could Mom make me get rid of Streak? Would she?   One time Mom stepped in some of Streak's dog doo in the yard and nearly bit my head off. "I wish you'd gotten a fish for a pet!" Then she bought me a shovel and wrote on the handle with a big fat black Sharpie: Calvin's pooper scooper. "Use this everyday, rain or shine," she'd said. "Toss the stuff into the bushes, away from the house."   Fine. I did that. Rain or shine.   "I can take a lot, Calvin," Mom said now. "But that dog's breath is--"   "Disgusting!" Stella butted in.   I held Streak and stuck my head out the window with her. She was the best dog that ever lived.   But I was going to lose her.   It was just a matter of time.        

Next week in class, Mr. Purdy smiled and spread his hands. "Good morning, boot campers! It's Friday!"   "Good morning, Mr. Purdy," we droned.   I was only half listening because I was thinking about Streak, how she was always so happy to see me when I got home from school.   Mr. Purdy rubbed his hands together. He looked at us, flicked his eyebrows.   Aiy. First the arms, now the eyebrows. This could only mean trouble.   I looked out the window from my front-row seat. Another sunny morning at Kailua Elementary School. Nice day.   To lose a dog.   Stop!   I turned back to Mr. Purdy.   "Okaaay," he said. "Let's get started. Today I'm going to introduce you to something so fun you will think you're on vacation. Ready?"   We all perked up. Vacation?   Shayla bounced in her seat. "What is it, Mr. Purdy?"   Shayla sat next to me. She was a know-it-all pest, and to make things worse, she was always smiling at me. "She thinks you're cute," my friend Maya once told me.   Cute? Blaaach!   "Yeah, Mr. Purdy," Rubin shouted from the back. "We going on a class trip or something?"   "That we are, guys, that we are, because today I am going to introduce you to . . . discovery!"   Huh?   "Primary research," Mr. Purdy added.   It got so quiet I could almost hear the ants sneaking up on Shayla's pink-and-purple lunch box.   Doreen raised her hand. "Is that like looking things up and stuff?"   "That would be called secondary research, Doreen, or research that's already been done. This is called primary research, which means you'll be the first to do it."   Silence.   Mr. Purdy chuckled. "This will be fun, trust me. You're all going to be detectives. You're going to ask a discovery question, then answer it. You can interview people, make observations, gather and analyze things that haven't been analyzed before. Thinkof the possibilities!"   This was a vacation?   "Then," Mr. Purdy continued, "you will present your findings to the class. Boy, are we in for a fun time!"   You could have heard a mosquito burp in that classroom.   "Come on, boot campers," Mr. Purdy said. "You've got till next Tuesday. I'm going to show you how fascinating it can be to discover and study something new. And you can study whatever you want. No pressure, no rules, no limits . . . well, I take that back.I wouldn't want you researching the value of picking your nose or why you should sleep in class, of course."   That got a few snickers.   Still, this all sounded like work.   "I urge you to use props, too," Mr. Purdy added.   Rubin raised his hand and spoke at the same time. "What's props, Mr. Purdy?"   "Something to help you present your findings, Rubin. Let's say you discovered something new about cockroaches. Then to help you explain it to the class, you might bring in a cockroach in a container. That would be a prop. You can also make posters, takephotographs, or bring in various objects. Those would all be props."   "Cock-a-roaches," I said to myself.   Once, Mr. Purdy made us think of pretzels to start our essays. It was weird. But it worked.   "So," Mr. Purdy said. "What do you want to discover, detectives? What do you want to research that hasn't been researched before? Think about it."   Hmmm.   Maybe I could research something about Las Vegas. Dad had moved there about four years ago with his new wife, Marissa. He was Little Johnny Coconut, the singer. He made up that last name, and then he made it legal. Now it was our for-real last name.   Dad took our dog, Chewy, to Las Vegas when he left.   I smiled, remembering that little rat-nosed mutt. Dad kept him a lot cleaner than I kept Streak. But I figured, why give a dog a bath when she's just going to get dirty all over again?   Hey! An idea for my research project popped into my head.   It was a weird one.   I liked it.        

"How about movies, Mr. Purdy?" Ace asked. "Can we do that?"   "Sure you can. Just come up with a unique question to start things off. Something like 'Why do kids reach under their movie seats to see if someone stuck gum there?' Ask a question, then answer it."   "Ick," Shayla said. "I'm not doing that one."   I grinned, thinking of the question I'd come up with: Why do dogs have stink breath and how can you un-stink it?   Shayla said, "Can we work with a partner, Mr. Purdy?" She glanced at me.   I put my elbows on my desk and covered my face with my hands. Where was that dog breath when you needed it? If Streak had been on my lap I'd have aimed her nose at Shayla. But maybe even that wouldn't make her go away.   "Exactly what I had in mind, Shayla. You will work in teams of two."   Everybody sat up, trying to grab good partners. I glanced at Willy, Julio, and Rubin. Maya, Ace. Anyone but Shayla.   Mr. Purdy showed us a sheet of paper tacked to the bulletin board. "I've already chosen your partners. You may get up--quietly--and go see who your fellow detective is."   Chairs screeched back.   Stampeding feet rolled toward the front of the room.   I squeezed my way up to the bulletin board. My partner was--Julio!   Yes!   Someone slapped the back of my head and I turned. Julio flicked his eyebrows at me.   I raised a fist and turned back to the list. Who else was paired up?   Willy and Rubin.   Ace and Doreen. I glanced at Ace. How'd he feel about having to work with a girl? He seemed fine with it. He would. He liked everyone, and everyone liked him.   Who else?   Maya and . . . Shayla?   Really? They were total opposites.   I turned around to find Maya. This was too funny.   She was sitting at her desk looking like she'd just swallowed a fly.   Mr. Purdy clapped his hands. "All right, find your partners and come up with a research question. You've got ten minutes. Let the discoveries begin!"   "Maya," I said, leaning over her desk. "Did you see who you got?"   She gave me a look that said, Keep talking if you want your eyes scratched out.   I staggered over to Julio's desk, laughing my head off.        

At recess, I sat slumped under a monkeypod tree with Julio, Willy, and Rubin. Maya usually hung out with us, too, but she was hiding. Shayla was looking for her.   I shook my head, grinning. "Can you believe Maya got Shayla?"   "Never work," Julio said. "She'll eat dirt first."   "But she has to be Shayla's partner, right?" Willy said. "I mean, Mr. Purdy--"   Julio humphed. "You don't know Maya. Neither does Mr. Purdy."   "She'll do it," I said. "She won't back down."   Julio stuck out his hand. "Bag of dried shrimp says she doesn't."   "You're on," I said, slapping his palm. "So, partner, got any ideas? Because if you don't, I do."   Rubin wrapped his arm over Willy's shoulder. "Me and Willy got one."   "We do?"   "Yeah, listen. You know how Mr. Purdy said to ask a question? Well, this is it: What's better, Naruto or InuYasha?"   Me and Julio cracked up. "Serious?"   Willy looked confused. "What's Nar . . . what?"   Rubin patted Willy's back. "After school, come my house. I show you."   "They're books," I said. "Manga."   "Manga?"   Julio grinned. "Manga's like comic books. You read um backwards like they do in Japan. Rubin goes there every summer to stay with his grandparents."   Now Willy was really confused. He prob'ly didn't know manga from mangoes.   "Stick with me," Rubin said. "Our study will be the best, you watch."   Julio looked at me. "So what's your idea?"   "It's weird."   "So tell."   I thought a moment. "Okay. Here's the question: How come dogs got stink breath, and how can you make it better?"   Julio, Willy, and Rubin stared at me. Then they busted out laughing, rolling on the ground, holding their stomachs.   I should have kept my mouth shut.   Julio wiped his eyes. "I like it, I like it!"   "You do?"   "We can study stinks! We can collect them! Show that there are things way more stink than dog breath . . . you know, for props."   "Stinks can be props? How can you collect stinks?"   "I don't know. But gotta be a way, ah?"   I laughed. "Maybe there is."   Willy jumped in. "Stinkbugs could be a prop. We had those in California. Terrible smell. You can put one in a jar."   "Yeah," Rubin added. "And then you got stink eye and stink talk."   I slapped Rubin's arm. "You are so bazooks, Ruby-boy."   "Whatchoo stupits doing, making all this noise?"   I snapped up straight.   Tito Andrade, sixth-grade troublemaker, hovered over us. His friends Bozo and Frankie Diamond stood on either side of him. With those three you could never tell what might happen. They could rob you, beat you up, embarrass you, or make you cry.   Bozo grinned. "Look how scared, ah, Tito?"   Tito snickered.   Me, Julio, Willy, and Rubin kept quiet. We knew Tito was like a wasp. Sometimes he stung you, sometimes he just buzzed around your head making you sweat. Who knew?   Tito kicked my foot. "I axed you a question, Coco-punk, what's so funny?"   "Nothing."   "You just sitting here doing nothing? Like you stupit?"   "Yeah . . . I guess."   Julio, Willy, and Rubin kept quiet.   Frankie elbowed Tito. Lovey Martino, a sixth grader in tight jeans, was walking by.   Tito whistled at her. "Hoo, Lovey! Some nice, you! Come see Tito."   "Hanabata boy," Lovey said without looking at him.   I spurted out a laugh, then slapped my hand over my mouth. She'd just called him booger boy . . . to his face!   Tito must have liked it, because he grinned and forgot all about us. He, Bozo, and Frankie Diamond walked off to follow Lovey Martino.   I let out my breath. "That was close."   "Yeah," Julio said. "Okay, back to collecting stinks. So we start with--"   "Breath, bad breath, bad-bad-bad breath."   "Zoo breath," Rubin added. "The kind makes your nose go bent."   Julio poked Rubin. "Since you got zoo breath yourself, you going be our first subject. Open you mouth."   "Hey," I said, elbowing Julio. "Look."   Tito, Bozo, and Frankie Diamond were heading back our way.   Julio jumped up. "Let's get out of here."   We ran off and ducked into the boys' bathroom.   Rubin wrinkled his nose. "Ho, man! Something died in here, or what?"   Julio nodded. "A new stink for our list around every corner."   That rotten boys'-room air and those stalls of peed-on toilet seats gave me an idea. "I just remembered something. I got the first big stink we can study."   "Couldn't smell more worse than this bathroom," Julio said.   I clamped my hand on his shoulder. "My house. Tomorrow. Ledward's bringing it over."

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