by 4th grade students at Burnsville Elementary in collaboration with Susie Wilde, 2011
Morning sun poured into the Yancey County Library as Quillbur strolled the aisles, listening to the neighborhood animals reading together. Cardinals cuddled, snakes snuggled, a cat and her kitten curled close, bunnies whispered wonderful words about winter vegetables, and Mr. Turtle dawdled over stories with his grandson.
Quillbur looked down at his spiny self. “I never got hugs when I was a baby porcupette,” he muttered, “I wish I’d been born completely furry.”
Books always made him feel better so he waddled to the middle of the library and breathed in the woodsy smell of new pages. He grabbed Where the Porcupine Walk Ends and soon lost himself in the pleasure of poems.
“What are you reading, Quillbur?” asked Mr. Whitetail, the librarian.
Startled, Quillbur sat bolt upright and tossed his book in the air.
His spikes rose up and jabbed the cover and pages of the book as it fell down. Parents gasped and shot fierce looks at Quillbur. “That’s my kitten’s favorite book and you wrecked it!” meowed Mother Cat.Her baby burst into tears, “Now I have no favorite book to read.”
“You scared me,” Quillbur told the librarian, “and when I get frightened I can’t help what my quills do!” Digging his claws into the cover of the book, he tried to pull out the quills, but several pages came out along with them, and fluttered to the library floor. Mr. Whitetail didn’t scold, but by the scowl on his face, Quillbur knew he was in big trouble. In a voice as quiet as snowfall Mr. Whitetail said, “Unfortunately, Quillbur, the library has a policy.When you ruin a book, you have to replace it before you can come back.” He pointed his hoof toward the door.
Quillbur was devastated. The library was his favorite place. He blurted out a quick apology and lumbered outside with the torn book under his arm.
“I hate my quills, but I love the library,” he said. “Maybe I can fix this book.” He tried patching the tears with sturdy leaves, but the pages only caught in his quills. He patted river mud into the scratches and holes, but only made the book and himself dirty. He spent hours trying to make the book look like new, but finally gave up and threw it to the ground in frustration. Sad Quillbur turned towards home, his eyes so tear-blurred he bumped right into a tree. Bits of birch bark danced around him, like the pages that had fluttered from the library book. “Wait,” Quillbur said aloud, “I can make my own book!”
He gathered thorns and used them to trim bark into pages. The thorns poked, but Quillbur stuck with it. He collected pine sap for glue and fastened pages to the book’s spine. The sap made his fur snarl, but Quillbur stuck with it. Shreds of bark clung to his pesky quills, but Quillbur stuck with it. He gathered twigs to straighten the covers. By the end of the day he had paper cuts on his paws and was gooey with sap, but holding his book made him smile.
Until he opened the book to read. It was blank. It would never be a book without words. He hung his head and shuffled back to his den. When he was halfway home he heard pounding feet and a terrible growl. “Scat, Spikey! Get away from my berry bush!”
Quillbur raised his head and looked directly into the razor sharp teeth of a bear.Terrified Quillbur had his usual reaction–his quills stood straight up. Instantly red liquid dripped down from the bush above.
“You wrecked the very branch of pokeberries I’d saved for after my nap!” grumbled Bear.
“I…I…I…I’m very sorry for poking your pokeberries,” stuttered Quillbur. As he hung his head, he noticed rich red juice glistening on the leaves by his feet. That pokeberry juice looks just like ink, Quillbur thought. He had quills. Now he had ink. He’d find the words.
Quillbur scoured the woods and found a pokeberry bush far from Bear’s den. The next morning as he squeezed berries into a broken bottle, he thought about what he wanted to write. By the end of the day, he had plenty of ink and lots of ideas. He picked up one of the unbroken quills he’d shed last season, gripped it in his claws and filled the pages with his very own words.
A week later, Quillbur marched back to the library and nervously handed Mr. Whitetail a book with a crimson cover that read Where the Porcupine Walk Begins. “I couldn’t fix the book I messed up,” he mumbled, “so I made a new one.”
The librarian turned the pages carefully, reading every one. “Quillbur,” he said as he turned the last page, “this book is even better than the one your quills tore.” He reached down and hugged the porcupine gently.
Quillbur grinned, turned twelve backflips and shouted, “Am I allowed back in the library now?”
“Of course you are, Quillbur,” said Mr. Whitetail.
Quillbur scurried into the children’s section with the book tucked under his arm. Behind him trailed the kitten, who wasn’t crying anymore. Now he smiled from whisker to whisker, eager to check out the book that Quillbur had written.