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Written by Graham SalisburyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Graham Salisbury


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On Sale: September 08, 2009
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89394-0
Published by : Wendy Lamb Books RH Childrens Books
Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix Cover

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Calvin Coconut needs to fix things with Stella—and fast!

Stella from Texas is now officially a member of the Coconut household. As if getting a bossy babysitter isn’t bad enough for Calvin, Stella teases him mercilessly. What’s a nine-year-old boy to do? Calvin decides to “fix” her, and he dumps his neighbor’s cat Zippy on Stella’s bed, knowing she’s allergic. But when Stella breaks out in hives and misses her first big date, Calvin realizes his “zippy fix” went too far. He’s got to make it up to her, and decides to give her a birthday present. But he has no money. Along with the help of his loyal friends and little sister, Darci, Calvin works hard, and comes up with enough cash to give Stella the best birthday gift ever.

Graham Salisbury’s voice perfectly captures the inner workings of Calvin’s mind, and Jacqueline Rogers’ delightful pictures add zest and humor to The Zippy Fix.

From the Hardcover edition.


1 - Rodents of Hawaii

Manly Stanley the centipede, our class pet, looked out at us from inside a jar on our teacher Mr. Purdy's desk. He was frowning and pounding fifty of his one hundred legs on the glass. I knew what he was thinking: why were we _drawing pictures of things that would love to eat him?
Hey! he seemed to shout. What's going on out there? Let me see!

Julio, Rubin, Willy, and I were crowded around my desk working on a science poster. Our project was called Rodents of Hawaii.

We'd drawn pictures of a mouse, a rat, a guinea pig, and a gerbil. We wanted to put a hamster and a mongoose in there, too, but Mr. Purdy said hamsters were illegal in the islands. They could bring in diseases. And a mongoose is a carnivore, not a rodent.

We were stumped.

Manly Stanley raced up onto his rock and stretched his neck for a better look. "Hey, Manly," I said. "

You know of any more rodents we can draw?"

Julio snorted. "He should. Rodents love centipedes."

Manly Stanley cringed and scurried down into the shadows.

"Look, Julio. You scared him."


I tapped on the glass. "Don't worry, Manly, I'll protect you."

"Come on, guys," Rubin said. "We're wasting time."

I poked my chin with my black Sharpie. "Are moles rodents?"

"Yeah, moles!" Julio said.

"You got moles here?" Willy asked. He was from California and knew lots of stuff we didn't. "I haven't seen any."

"I got a mole in my armpit," Rubin said. "Want to see it?"

Willy laughed.Me and Julio looked at Rubin like, Are you for
real? Rubin put up his hands.

"I'm just saying."

Mr. Purdy walked by and glanced down at our poster. "Great work, boys. Keep _going."

We looked up and grinned. "We will, Mr. Purdy. But we can't think of any more rodents."

Mr. Purdy pinched his jaw. "Well now. Let's see. Why don't you think of yourself as a cat? What rodents might you see if you were hunting in the weeds?"

"Yeah-yeah," Julio said. "Be a cat. That's good, Mr. Purdy, thanks."
Mr. Purdy winked and moved on.

Rubin bent close and mumbled, "Just don't be a black cat, or else we might get bad luck."

Julio scoffed. "Then I'm a black one, _Rubin. Just for you."

"Black, yellow, green, or purple," I said. "Mr. Purdy had a good idea. So pretend you're a cat. What do you see?"

Rubin snapped his fingers. "A mouse."

"We already have a mouse," I said.

"We can have two."

Julio elbowed Rubin away from the table. "You're not helping, Rubin. Go breathe your dead squid breath on Shayla or something."

Mr. Purdy was leaning over Maya's desk, helping her. He looked at us over his shoulder.
Julio pointed at Rubin and started to say something.

I grabbed his arm. "Don't, Julio, you're going to get us in trouble."

Mr. Purdy gave us his raised-eyebrow look. He had been in the army and could really do that good, even better than Mrs. Leonard, the principal. "Is there a problem over there, boys?"

I gave Mr. Purdy my best smile. "No, Mr. Purdy. No problem. Right, Julio?" I banged Julio's arm.

"Just kidding," Julio said, white teeth gleaming.

Mr. Purdy nodded and turned back to Maya.

Rubin leaned close and tapped the table with his finger. "See what I mean? You just mention black
cats and you got trouble. You got to watch out. Believe it, or don't."

And I didn't.

Too bad...because Rubin was right.

2 - Zippy

After school I rode my bike home with Willy and Julio.
Usually I had to walk with my little sister, Darci. But she had a cough that morning and was over at Mrs. Nakashima's house while Mom was at work.

We rode straight up, with our arms hanging loose at our sides. It was so hot even the mynah birds were looking for shade.

When we cruised around the corner onto our street, I slammed on my brakes.
Julio nearly fell off his bike trying to keep from crashing into me.
Willy swerved and sailed into somebody's hedge.

"Why'd you stop?" Julio spat.


I dipped my head toward Maya's cat, sprawled in the middle of the street.
Julio looked at me like, Are you nuts? "You caused a wreck because of Maya's cat?"
Willy yanked himself and his bike out of the hedge and studied the scratches on his arms.

"Sorry," I said.

Willy waved it off. "I'm okay."

Julio stared at me.
"What?" I said. "It's a black cat."

"It was black yesterday, too. And last month and last year. So what?"

"Well, Rubin said-"
Julio threw up his hands. "Not Rubin again."

"No, but...it's...well."

Willy held his front tire between his legs and straightened out his handlebars. "They must be bad luck. Look how we crashed."

"That was Calvin," Julio spat. "Not the cat!"
I chewed on my thumbnail and considered the furry black mass lying in the middle of the road. His name was Zippy, but zippy he wasn't. He was lazy as a slug. Not very smart, either, because any cat that lounges in the middle of the street is looking to get run over by a car.

"You're right," I said, trying to shake Rubin's warning out of my head. "It's just superstition."
We got back on our bikes and coasted toward Zippy, circling him twice. Zippy stretched, his claws flashing out like knife blades.

Julio stopped and studied Zippy. "You are the laziest cat I've ever seen in my life, no question."
I got off my bike and kicked down the stand. "Come on, Zip." I scooped him up. "You stay out here in the street, some car's going to flatten you."

Zippy purred in my arms. I bet he weighed like a hundred pounds. "You should be out in the jungle chasing down the rodents of Hawaii."

Zippy gave me a lazy blink.

I set him down in the shade of a plumeria tree in Maya's yard. The grass was warm and soft, way better than the street. "I just don't want to see you get squashed, okay?"

Zippy gave me dirty looks.
I laughed. "You're something, Zipster."

"Laters!" Julio called from the street, heading home.

Willy jumped on his bike. "Me too."

I waved and turned back to Zippy. "Don't you give me bad luck, now. I did this for your own good. You listening to me, Zip?"

I scratched under his chin and left when he started purring again. I had no idea what a bad listener Zippy was.

From the Hardcover edition.
Graham Salisbury

About Graham Salisbury

Graham Salisbury - Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix

Photo © Jeff Pfeffer

I hope what gives my books their sense of authenticity, other than the natural inculcation of the island’s physical and cultural landscape, which ends up in my sentences by osmosis, is my use of language. In Hawaii we often speak what we call pidgin English, a kind of tropical patois. For example, in standard English, one would say, “I am going home.” In Hawaiian pidgin, it would be, “I going home.” A simple thing, but over the course of a novel, it becomes a bigger thing, a part of a character’s being. It resonates. Syntax, too, creates that feeling of authenticity. It comes to me naturally, thank heaven. I don’t have to work at it because I simply hear it. If I had to fake, it I’d be laughed off the face of the earth. So, growing up in the islands was my gift. My writing is just me spewing it back.

As for the work itself, I’m big on certain issues having to do with boys and growing up. I guess this is so because of my own fractured upbringing. Much of who I am is self-imposed. I am my choices, and I have chosen to walk a certain path. Important to me are such qualities as honesty, friendship, honor, loyalty, integrity, courage, work, and passion. Life for anyone is a series of choices, and I hope that fact gets some play in my books. Luckily for me, I have made some good choices. It could have been different. I could have taken pride in the wrong moves, as many boys do. It’s cool to be tough. Beating the spit out of someone is good for the rep. It’s honorable to attack someone who “disrespects” you by, perhaps, accidentally bumping into you (“Hey! You like I broke your face or what?”). Right. I could have fallen into that mindset. But I didn’t, and I lay all credit to that on one man: James Monroe Taylor, my high school headmaster.

At the end of my sixth-grade year, my mom saw the light—she kicked my sorry okole out of the house and sent me to boarding school. It was in the middle of Parker Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii, and was the most precious gift she ever could have given me. I loved it. For the first time in my life, I had something I really, really, really needed: limits. It was like being at boot camp. Mr. Taylor, as part of his training, took us into his home in small groups and lectured us on the good qualities of life, all that stuff that is now so important to me: friendship, honor, etc. Of course, it was my duty at that time to laugh it off. That fat old man was out of his head. But his words stuck, and because they did, whenever I was presented with a sticky situation, I was able to fall back on that foundation and use it to make the better choice. My mother and Mr. Taylor—my hat’s off to both of them.

In my career as an author, I’ve spoken to a bazillion kids, mostly in grades six through eight. It’s been fun, truly. But I had an epiphany one day, and my newest creation, Calvin Coconut, came to be because of it.

I once spoke to a large group of fifth and sixth graders in a huge gymnasium, and was leaving the school, heading down the hall with the teacher who had invited me. “There’s a third-grade teacher here in our school who just loves your books,” she said as we walked, “and she asked me to ask you if you would be willing to just stop by her class and say hi to her kids. They know about you, too, because she read them one of your short stories.”

“Sure,” I said. I’d never spoken to third graders. It might be fun.

Boy, was it.

The third-grade teacher and every one of her students were literally glowing with excitement, having the author in their classroom.

They gathered around, sitting in a semicircle on the floor. I sat in a chair next to the teacher, who reached over and picked up a plate of cookies.

The kids all leaned forward, eyes bright as a thousand suns, rascally twinkles in them.

“Would you like to try one of the cookies we made in class?” she said.

I didn't, but I was on duty. “Uh, sure,” I said.

She pushed the plate closer.

The kids did a magnificent job of stuffing back their giggles as I reached out and picked up a yummy-looking but—I could tell—very fake cookie.

The teacher grinned, and I played along and pretended to bite into it. “Bleecck!” I spat, and the kids roared, as if it were the funniest thing they’d ever seen in their lives.

And that’s what got me: those beautiful, beautiful faces, all looking up at me in pure delight.

I ended up telling them a story of when I got stuck in a mass of mud, a story I love to tell, and they laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

I left that school a new man, and vowed then and there that someday I was going to expand my writing to include this group. Because I loved those faces and yearn to absorb that energy.

I also wanted to include this younger audience because teachers have told me many, many times that they just can’t get their boys interested in reading. I know of their plight. I was one of those boys. I read only one book on my own in all my elementary school years: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

So Calvin Coconut and I have a job to do. Call Calvin Graham Salisbury light, because I’m bringing real-life situations and themes for discussion into every Calvin book, just like I do in my books for older readers. I won’t get heavy, I won’t get edgy, and I won’t be gratuitous. None of this is about me. It’s about every kid out there today who is just like the wandering fool I was. Besides the simple enjoyment of writing, my aim is simple: to build trust and turn boys into lifetime readers.

I finally became a reader at thirty. That’s how hard it is to get some boys to read. I’d like to help change that a bit. Because reading changes everything. Oh yeah.

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