For Ages
8 to 12

Strangeville School Is Totally Normal is a part of the Strangeville School collection.

This new highly-illustrated series is guaranteed to make you laugh so hard milk will come out of your nose! Strangeville School is the wackiest, most dangerous school you will ever attend...and you'll desperately want to come back for more!

Harvey Hill just wants other kids to think he’s normal. So he’s happy to start fresh as the newest kid at Strangeville Middle School. Except Strangeville is anything but normal. Something sinister swims in the drinking fountain, the cafeteria could swallow you whole, and a giant rat named Cuddles is on the loose. And don't even get the vice principal started on the third-floor supply closet. In fact, don't even think about it. What supply closet?

At least Harvey has his guide and sort-of new friend Stella Cho to show him the ropes. School newspaper reporter, first chair flugelhorn, and hiding a secret of her own, Stella shows Harvey that maybe "normal" is overrated. But when Stella goes missing while trying to solve the secret of the supply closet (oh that supply closet!), Harvey must embrace what makes him unique to save his new friend and his new school.
 
Sideways Stories from Wayside School meets Welcome to Nightvale in this wacky new series! 

An Excerpt fromStrangeville School Is Totally Normal

Morning Announcements

Good morning, Strangeville School! This is Vice Principal Capozzi, filling in for Principal Gupta, who you’ll be happy to hear is recovering nicely from her unfortunate piranha incident yesterday.

I’ve been assured by Janitor Gary that all carnivorous fish have now been removed from the first-floor drinking fountains. So if you happen to see Janitor Gary today, make sure to give him a big Strangeville thank-you!

In related news, Nurse Porter informs me that we are temporarily out of Band-Aids. In the event of a paper cut, Nurse Porter recommends “having known better than to handle paper in the first place” and “honestly, you probably deserved it.”

Well said, Nurse Porter. Strangeville is lucky to have you!

Moving right along to the lunch menu, it looks as though today’s choices will include steamed Maine lobster on watercress; unseasoned, lukewarm gruel; and, oh! A special new menu item! Chef Louis is describing it as “complete and total darkness, but in meat loaf form.”

Mmm, mmm. Sounds delicious, Chef Louis!

On a more serious note, I’d like to remind all students to try to avoid angering the third-floor supply closet today. In fact, why not avoid the third floor altogether? I know I will!

And, finally, I’d like to welcome new student Harvey Hill to Strangeville School this morning. Harvey hails from back east and will be joining Mr. Sandringham’s fifth-grade homeroom. I’m told he has “brownish hair,” “average elbows,” and “definitely a nose of some sort.” So if you see anyone matching that description today, wish them hello!

This is Vice Principal Capozzi, signing off. Have a fantastic day, Strangeville School! But not too fantastic. You know the supply closet doesn’t like that. . . .

 

Harvey

In Mr. Sandringham’s fifth-grade homeroom, twenty-two sets of eyes turned in Harvey Hill’s direction.

Well, twenty-three sets of eyes, if you counted the classroom lizard, Mr. Pickles.

Harvey, who had not yet noticed Mr. Pickles and was, therefore, unaware of the lizard’s existence, did not.

It was fine.

Mr. Pickles was used to being overlooked.

One day, the lizard often thought, he would have his revenge. Mr. Pickles had plans. Oh, yes, Mr. Pickles had big plans. Terrifying plans. Plans that would make you shoot up in bed in the middle of the night, sweating from head to toe, if you knew them. Plans so dastardly evil, so incomprehensibly fiendish, that to even understand the smallest part of them would make your teeth chatter and your bones rattle and your very soul quiver in its boots.

But, anyway.

Enough about Mr. Pickles!

Let’s get back to Harvey.

“Would you like to come up and introduce yourself, Harvey?” Mr. Sandringham asked. He squinted thoughtfully at the new student’s elbows. It was difficult to see from the front of the classroom, but they appeared to be average. Then again, elbows were a tricky thing. Mr. Sandringham had been fooled by elbows before.

“Um . . . okay,” Harvey said, a touch of reluctance in his voice. Strangeville may have been his fourth new school in as many years, but introducing himself in front of the class never got any easier. He pushed himself out of his chair and made his way to the front of the room, feeling the weight of twenty-two pairs of eyes following each step (twenty-three, counting Mr. Pickles, of course).

“So, um, hi,” Harvey said, giving an uncertain wave. Harvey was tall for his age, with wavy brown hair, thirty-seven freckles, and a mysterious secret. “My name’s Harvey Hill. Which, I guess, you already knew.” He swallowed nervously, tugging at the bottom of his shirt. “My family just moved here from Boston, and, er . . . I like video games, and taking pictures, and . . . um . . . yeah. I guess that’s it?” he finished hopefully.

“Wonderful,” Mr. Sandringham said, beaming in approval. “I know we’re all hoping Strangeville will finally be a fit for you, Harvey! How are you liking it so far?”

Harvey shifted from one foot to the other. “Um, it seems . . . good? I liked the morning announcements. They were funny.”

Mr. Sandringham’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “Funny?”

“Yeah. You know, all that stuff about the piranhas, and the lunch menu, and the supply closet?” Harvey asked. “At my other schools, they never joked around in the morning announcements.”

Mr. Sandringham’s face paled.

The classroom grew still.

Even Mr. Pickles looked alarmed.

“I assure you,” Mr. Sandringham told Harvey, nervously twisting his necktie, “there is nothing funny about the supply closet.”

Harvey blinked.

The teacher straightened his shoulders, visibly composing himself. “Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll learn all about Strangeville soon enough. I’ve asked one of your classmates, Stella Cho, to show you around the school today. Stella, could you raise your hand?”

He peered expectantly around the room, but no hands appeared in the air.

“Oh dear,” Mr. Sandringham said. “Stella appears to be missing.” He clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Oh well, I’m sure she’ll turn up at some point. Students usually do! In the meantime, before the bell rings for first period, does anyone have any questions for Harvey?”

Twenty-two hands shot upward.

“Do you know where I left my hockey pads?”

“How do you calculate the square root of ninety-one?”

“What’s the fastest way to get to Toledo, Ohio?”

“Why do your own farts smell good, but everyone else’s smell bad?”

“What’s the meaning of life, anyway?”

“Excellent questions, everyone,” Mr. Sandringham said, beaming at his class. He turned to look at the new student. “Harvey?”

Harvey blinked again, taking a half step backward.

Twenty-two pairs of eyes (Mr. Pickles had fallen asleep by this point) peered up at him, waiting for his response.

“Um . . . ,” Harvey said, “could I have the bathroom pass, please?”
 

The Bathroom Pass

Harvey stepped into the hallway, cradling the bathroom pass carefully in his arms.

At Harvey’s last school, the bathroom pass had been a small, laminated piece of paper with the words bathroom pass written across the front.

At Strangeville, the bathroom pass was a goldfish bowl.

With every step, the water in the bowl sloshed back and forth, threatening to spill over the edges. Inside, a single goldfish swam in lazy circles, looking unimpressed.

The goldfish’s name was Brad.

(Don’t get too attached to Brad, by the way; he dies in chapter 18.)

Walking slowly, Harvey set off down the hall, searching for the nearest bathroom. Rows of lockers lined the walls, hung with brightly colored posters:

vote flarsky for class president!

chess club tryouts this week!

remember, the supply closet is always watching!

Harvey paused in front of the last sign, reading it several times.

He was just about to move on when the nearest classroom door flew open, making him jump. Water slopped down the front of his T-shirt, surprisingly cold and smelling slightly of Brad.

A girl poked her head out of the doorway, frowning at Harvey. She was short for her age, with a long black ponytail, thirty-eight freckles, and a highly developed sense of curiosity. “Are you here from the agency?”

“Um,” Harvey said. “I--”

“Never mind,” the girl interrupted, shaking her head. “You’re late!”

“Er . . .” Harvey glanced down at the goldfish bowl in his arms. “Actually, I was just . . . looking for the bathroom?”

“There’s no time for that now,” the girl said impatiently. “You’ll have to wait!” Reaching out, she hauled Harvey into the classroom, the goldfish bowl tilting dangerously to one side.

“I think there’s been a mistake,” Harvey said, stumbling through the doorway and into the empty science classroom behind her. “I’m--”

“Here about the rat problem,” the girl interrupted, finishing his sentence for him. “I know, I’m the one who called you, remember? Stella Cho,” she said, sticking out her hand. “Lead reporter for the Strangeville School Gazette. Also, fifth-grade student.”

“Oh,” Harvey said, recognizing the name. Balancing the goldfish bowl in the crook of his arm, he reached out to awkwardly shake her hand. “Hi. Actually, I think you’re supposed to be showing me--”

“Where Cuddles is,” Stella said, interrupting him again. “What do you think I’m trying to do? Anyway, I’m pretty sure he’s somewhere in the ventilation system.” She pointed at the open air-vent cover in the corner. A stepladder stood ready underneath.

Harvey peered up at the ceiling in alarm. “Cuddles?” he asked.

Stella sighed in exasperation. “The class rat!” She took the goldfish bowl from him and set it down on the nearest desk. “It’s my turn to feed him this week, but when I came in this morning, his cage was empty. He must have escaped. Just look what he did to everyone’s science-fair projects!”

She gestured toward the counter at the back of the room, which was lined with a display of brightly colored poster boards. The projects in front were in various states of disarray: baking-soda volcanoes tipped on their sides, oozing puddles of lava, and plastic petri dishes pushed to the floor, their contents spilling haphazardly onto the carpet. There were broken bottles and toppled models and a partially eaten diorama of the rain forest ecosystem.

“Oh,” Harvey said. “Right. Um, the thing is, I’m not really . . . I mean . . . maybe you should ask your teacher for help?” he finished hopefully.

“I’d love to,” Stella said. “Only Ms. Crumbleton disappeared last week.”

“What do you mean, ‘disappeared’?” Harvey asked.

“Vanished? Vamoosed? Went missing?” Stella paused. “You know, disappeared.” She shook her head disapprovingly. “According to the rumors, she left to get a new pen and never came back.”

“Oh,” Harvey said again. He reached up, clutching reassuringly at the straps of his backpack. “Well . . . Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to help, but--”

“Excellent,” Stella interrupted, giving a brisk nod of approval. “Let’s get going, then.”

And, before Harvey quite knew what was happening, he found himself blinking down at Stella from the inside of the air shaft. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“You’ll be fine,” Stella said, handing him a flashlight. “Just remember what I told you about Cuddles on the phone: there’s a slight chance he might have ingested some of the serum from Nevaeh’s science-fair project, so whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances--”

Brrrrriiiiiinnnggg!

The first-period bell rang, cutting her off.

“Oops!” Stella said, clattering down the ladder. “Got to run!”

“Wait,” Harvey called after her, panicking slightly. “Under any circumstances don’t do what?”

“I’ll check back after music class!” Stella called, ducking out the classroom door. “Good luck!”

Harvey stared after her, the flashlight clenched tightly in his fist. From the air shaft behind him came a loud and ominous thump.

“Well,” Harvey said aloud to the empty room. “That can’t be good.”

 

4

Cuddles

Okay, Harvey thought, inching forward on his stomach through the pitch-black ventilation shaft. Nothing to worry about. This is fine. This is all totally fine.

Another loud thump echoed through the air shaft. Harvey swept his flashlight back and forth in front of him, trying not to panic.

“Cuddles?” Harvey called out. “Is that you?”

His words echoed forlornly down the shaft, disappearing into the darkness ahead of him.

There was no reply.

Of course there’s no reply, Harvey told himself, crawling forward on his (utterly run-of-the-mill) elbows. He’s a rat. Rats don’t talk.

There was another thump, followed this time by an even more ominous scratching sound. It was like the scrape of twenty sharp little claws against a metal floor.

Only, for some reason, the claws didn’t sound so little.

“Cuddles?” Harvey called, snapping his fingers together hopefully. “Here, Cuddles! Be a good rat!”

His backpack bumping against the top of the vent, he pushed his way forward another few feet, coming to a T in the ventilation shaft. Either way he looked, the air shaft seemed to stretch into oblivion, the light from his flashlight fading away into darkness.

“Well, now what?” Harvey asked himself, peering back and forth down the tunnel.

From the right side of the tunnel came another thump, even louder than before.

Thump!

Scrape!

Thump!

Scrape!

“Cuddles?” Harvey whispered.

In the weak beam of his flashlight, two flashes of red suddenly appeared. An enormous rat emerged from the darkness, its huge, pointed teeth bared in a snarl and its strange, ruby-colored eyes glowing like fire.

It was the size of a golden retriever.

Harvey swallowed, wondering what sort of science-fair project Nevaeh had been working on. He wished he could reach his camera, but he’d tucked it away in his backpack for safekeeping earlier that morning.

In front of him, Cuddles let out a growl.

“Good Cuddles,” Harvey said faintly. He hadn’t even known that rats could growl until that very moment.

Cuddles growled again.

Feeling in his shirt pocket, Harvey pulled out the Reese’s peanut-butter cup that he had been saving for a midmorning snack. It was slightly squashed from his recent travels through the air vent, but still good.

“Mmm.” Harvey shook the peanut-butter cup enticingly in the giant rat’s direction. “Yummy.”

Cuddles lifted his chin, sniffing the air with his grotesquely whiskered snout.

“Cuddles want a treat?” Harvey asked hopefully. He tossed the peanut-butter cup in the giant rat’s direction, watching as the candy skidded across the metal floor and landed next to Cuddles’s massive, gnarled feet.

Cuddles lowered his head, sniffing the peanut-butter cup suspiciously.

“Go on, Cuddles,” Harvey urged. “Yum!”

In one swift movement, the giant rat snatched the still-wrapped candy from the floor, swallowing it whole.

Harvey abruptly realized that he didn’t have a follow-up plan. He was trapped in a ventilation shaft with an enormous mutant rat.

An enormous, hungry mutant rat.

An enormous, hungry mutant rat whose appetite he had just whetted.

There was a brief pause.

Harvey stared at Cuddles.

Cuddles stared at Harvey.

In the classroom below, Brad the goldfish swam in slow, lazy laps, unaware of the epic stare-down taking place above his head.

Not that Brad would have cared about an epic stare-down.

Brad’s entire life was an epic stare-down. Goldfish don’t have eyelids; he literally couldn’t blink, even if he wanted to.

Goldfish are also missing stomachs, which makes them hypersensitive to overfeeding. Their average life span is five to ten years, although the oldest goldfish on record lived for over forty years. In later life, Tish the goldfish faded from bright orange to a distinguished silver, but he remained healthy until shortly before his death. Upon his passing, he was buried in a yogurt container in his owners’ garden.

But, anyway.

Enough about goldfish!

Let’s get back to Harvey.

With every passing second, Cuddles was growing larger in front of his eyes.

It was as if an invisible mouth was inflating a large, rat-shaped balloon: with every puff, Cuddles expanded outward.

His enormous feet doubled in size, gigantic claws digging into the metal air shaft like nails on a blackboard. His snout lengthened and stretched; his red eyes bulged like baseballs. His body seemed to swell, his sides and back pressing against the walls of the ventilation system, straining against the metallic confines like an overripe watermelon about to burst.