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Grosset & Dunlap
TODAY
updated 12/12/2003 3:07:39 PM ET 2003-12-12T20:07:39

As Arthur Fonzarelli on the hit show “Happy Days”, Henry Winkler is going from “aaaay” to ayyyy-b-c. Winkler has just co-authored the first two installments in a series of children’s books called, “Hank Zipzer: The Mostly True Confessions of the World’s Best Underachiever.” The stories follow around a 4th-grader named Hank, a creative and charismatic kid who struggles to overcome his learning disability at school. Here's an excerpt of the first book, “Niagara Falls, Or Does It? (Hank Zipzer Series #1)":

It started to buzz. I looked up. The loud speaker above the door crackled and buzzed again. Then it started to shake. It was coming alive! “Hank Zipzer!” the loudspeaker said. “Report to Principal Love’s office at once.” I put my hands over my ears and slid down in my chair. How did it know my name? It was only the first hour of the first day of school, and already my name was coming out of that box on the wall.

Everyone in class stared at me. Some kids giggled. A few of them whispered. But not Nick McKelty. Nope-he cupped his hands over his big mouth and shouted, “Way to go,

Zipper Boy.” My teacher, Ms. Adolf, shot me a really nasty look. Show no fear, I thought. Walk the walk. I stood up and strutted to the door like Shaquille O’Neal taking center court. Okay, so I wear a size-four shoe and he wears a twenty-three-it’s the attitude that counts. I’m long on attitude. Short on shoe but long on attitude.

When I reached the door, I turned to my best friend, Frankie Townsend. “If I don’t come back,” I told him, “you can have my protractor.”

“Don’t forget to breathe in there,” Frankie whispered. “Remember, Zip, oxygen is power.”

Frankie is very big on oxygen. Whenever I’m nervous, he always tells me to take some deep breaths. He learned that from his mom, who is a yoga teacher. She’s really good at yoga.

In fact, she’s not good, she’s great. She is so flexible, she can lift up her leg and put her foot in her pocket!

Even though I was going to the principal’s office, I was determined to leave with style, my head held high. I flashed the class my best smile, the one where I show both my top and bottom teeth. Then, in the middle of maybe the greatest exit ever, the loudspeaker buzzed again.

“And don’t you dare stop in the bathroom, young man,” it said. Now how did it know I was going to do that?

Everyone laughed as I left. “No laughing in class!” Ms. Adolf shouted, banging on her desk with this pointer stick she has.

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That’s one of her rules. Ms. Adolf doesn’t believe in laughing. She thinks fourth-graders laugh way too much.

There are two fourth-grade teachers in my school. One is named Mr. Sicilian, and he’s really nice. He plays soccer with everyone at recess and never gives homework on the weekends.

The other is Ms. Adolf. She doesn’t play any games and gives two tons of homework even on weekends. My luck, I got Ms. Adolf. I could practically hear my heart pounding as I walked down the hall.

Principal Love has a way of making you nervous, especially when you don’t know what you’ve done wrong. I was trying not to think about him, so I looked at all the “Welcome Back” decorations in the hall instead. The halls in my school are painted yuck green. You know, the color of melted pistachio ice cream. But the decorations really helped cheer things up. I liked Miss Hart’s door, which had an underwater theme. All the fifth-graders in her class had pasted pictures of their faces onto octopus heads.

Mr. Sicilian’s was my favorite. All the kids’ heads were soccer balls. I told you he was cool.

When I reached the stairs, I thought about sliding down the banister, but I was already in enough trouble, so I took the steps-two at a time. My mouth was dry when I got to the bottom, so I stopped at the water fountain to get a drink.

Just as I took the first swallow, the loudspeaker buzzed again. “I’m waiting, Mr. Zipzer,” it said. Principal Love has the kind of voice that sounds like it belongs to a really tall man with a lot of bushy, black hair. But actually, Principal Love is short and bald except for a little fringe of red hair.

I ran down the hall. I couldn’t get in trouble for running in the halls if the place I was running to was the principal’s office, right?

When I got to the office, I took a deep breath. I looked up at the sign above the door. Leland Love, Principal, it said. I had been here before.

Many times. Too many times. Way, way, way too many times. Slowly, I pushed open the door. I walked inside and came face to face with the five of them. No, not people-there was only one person there. I’m talking about things. The things on Principal Love’s face: two eyes, two ears, and one mole on his cheek that looked like the Statue of Liberty without the torch. I don’t know if it’s possible for a mole to frown, but trust me, this one did not look happy.

“Approach me, young man,” Principal Love said.

I wanted to, I really did, but my feet were stuck on his carpet. It was as if I had big wads of gum stuck to the soles of my shoes.

“Were you or were you not tardy today?” Principal Love asked. I didn’t answer because I’ve found that when Leland Love asks a question, he likes to answer it himself.

“You were seventeen minutes late,” he said.

See what I mean?

“Did we not have this talk thirty times in third grade, fifteen times in second grade, and I won’t even refer to first grade?” Principal Love’s face twitched. It looked like the Statue of Liberty was doing a hula dance.

I tried not to laugh. That would have gotten me into even bigger trouble.

“We’ve had this talk many times,” he answered himself. See, he did it again.

I looked down at my feet, mostly to keep from staring at the Statue of Liberty mole. Once you focus on that thing, it’s really hard to take your eyes off it. I noticed that I had put on two different socks again. One had a Nike swoosh, and the other was just your basic Wal-Mart sock.

“If there’s one thing I want you to learn from your experience at PS 87, it is this.” Principal Love was using his bushy-hair-tall-man voice. “Are you listening, young man?”

“I’ve got both ears working, sir.” Actually, I was listening. I really was curious to hear the single most important thing I was supposed to learn in my whole entire elementary school career.

Principal Love cleared his throat. “Always be on time, when time is involved,” he said.

Wow. There it was. Now, if I could just figure out what it meant.

“Explain to me how it is possible that you were late on the very first day of school,” he said.

Okay, I’ll be honest with you. I am late a lot, but I don’t mean to be. In fact, I try really hard to have everything ready on time-my pencils all sharpened; my three ballpoint pens ready to roll; a protractor, a ruler and a compass in my pencil case. But this morning I had a problem. I’m pretty sure I remember putting my backpack on my desk chair before I went to bed. But somehow, and I don’t have an exact reason for this, my backpack played hide-and-seek during the night and this morning it took me twenty minutes to find it. It was in the coat closet by the front door. But try telling that to Leland Love.

“I’m waiting for an answer,” said Principal Love.

And all that squeaked out of me was, “Can’t explain it, sir.”

“Well then, absorb this,” he said, “because I’m only going to say it once. Punctuality and the fourth grade go hand in hand.” He paused, then said it again, just like I knew he would. “Punctuality and the fourth grade go hand in hand.”

I’m not sure but I think the Statue of Liberty on his face nodded in agreement.

Excerpted from “Niagara Falls, Or Does It?” by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. Copyright © 2003 by Penguin Putnam. Published by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.

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