Heroes & villains, p.1
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       Heroes & Villains, p.1

           Jon Scieszka
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Heroes & Villains


  Before We Begin . . . by JON SCIESZKA

  1. The Villain’s Guide to Being a Hero by CHRISTOPHER HEALY

  2. First Crossing by PAM MUÑOZ RYAN

  3. Need That Dog by SHARON CREECH

  4. How I Became Stink Daley by DEBORAH HOPKINSON


  6. Kalash by EUGENE YELCHIN

  7. General Poophead by LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

  8. The Warrior and the Knave by INGRID LAW

  9. The Hero of the Story by LEMONY SNICKET

  10. How My Mother Was Arrested for Murder by JACK GANTOS

  About Guys Read

  Back Ad

  About the Authors

  Also Available in the Guys Read Library of Great Reading



  About the Publisher


  I’ve always been interested in heroes. I remember wanting to be like the kid in The Carrot Seed who grows the giant carrot. I was pretty sure I could be as woodsman-amazing as Davy Crockett. I knew that one day I would be as good as Robin Hood, as helpful as Spider-Man, as cool as James Bond, and as crazy a fighter against injustice as my favorite hero of all—Bugs Bunny.

  Though I was also always just as intrigued by villains. The Grinch was a guy I wanted to know more about. I liked the raucous pirate Long John Silver. I admired the Joker for his can-do spirit. And I thought the Evil Queen was way more exciting than Snow White.

  But what makes a hero?

  What makes a villain?

  The dictionary says a hero is “a person admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” And that a villain is “a person who does mean, evil things on purpose.”

  But Guys Read thinks there is more to it than that.

  So we asked a bunch of our favorite writers and a couple of our favorite illustrators to consider the question of heroes and villains. And man, did they come up with the wildest answers.

  Inside this volume of the Guys Read Library of Great Reading, you will meet a kid whose drawings make him a hero, a villain who acts like a hero, a hero who becomes a villain and then a hero and then maybe not either.

  You will discover heroic deeds that need to be done behind the sucking black-hole vacuum-vortex thing in the back of a locker.

  You will decide if you would be a hero or a villain if your mother was arrested for murder.

  You will meet a famous American Revolutionary War general who was both hero and villain . . . covered in pelican poop.

  And check out the heroic-villainous cover and illustrations for all of this!

  Okay, I may have said too much already.

  Get in there, get reading, and decide for yourself—Hero? Villain? Or . . . ?

  Jon Scieszka



  There was a time when the mere mention of the name Deeb Rauber would send people into shrieking fits; make them curl, weeping, under their beds; or cause them to swoon, face-first, into their half-eaten porridge. This was a time, obviously, when people were very melodramatic. But even so, they had good reason to fear Mr. Rauber, whom you may perhaps know better as the “Bandit King.”

  For years, the bards had been chronicling the diabolical exploits of the dreaded Bandit King. From his first pretzel robbery at the tender age of six to his brazen yeti heist at the slightly-less-tender age of twelve, Rauber’s every devious stunt became fodder for nightmare-inducing bedtime stories. Though only on the brink of puberty, Deeb commanded an army of brutal thugs, stuffed his chambers to their ceilings with plundered treasure, and sat upon the throne of his very own, very dangerous kingdom: Rauberia. It was for these reasons and more that the Bandit King was not only the most infamous person in the Thirteen Kingdoms, but perhaps the most famous as well.

  Until the League of Princes came along.

  These days the League was the only thing the bards ever sang about. And why? A whole team full of Prince Charmings? That’s not a band of heroes, that’s the punchline to a lousy joke. And yet, ever since those goody-goodies from the tales of Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty decided to team up and save a few kingdoms, people hadn’t been paying nearly enough attention to Deeb anymore. At least that was the way Deeb saw it. When he snuck into Svenlandia’s royal bedchamber and stole the spun-gold nightshirt right off the sleeping king, for instance, he expected to hear people yapping about it for days. But what was the big new bard song that week? “The League of Princes Defeat the Goblin Horde.” And the week after that, did we have a hit tune called “The Bandit King Kidnaps the Hound of Carpagia”? No, it was “The League of Princes and the Merfolk Rescue.” Not even when Deeb trapped the entire Valerian royal family in a vat of molasses did he get a mention. And do you have any idea how difficult it is to get molasses out of royal velvet? No, that week the bards wrote “The League of Princes Help Three Goats Cross a Bridge.” It was enough to make an evil genius consider throwing in his stolen towel.

  “Today might be the day I call it quits, Vero,” Deeb Rauber said, tossing his short, spindly legs over one arm of his heavy, oaken throne.

  “And what is it you will be quitting?” replied the Bandit King’s right-hand man of the moment. Vero was a tall, dashing swordsman with a thin mustache and a thick ponytail. He spoke in a heavy Carpagian accent. “The nose picking, I hope. It is, as we say in my country, kind of gross.”

  “Villainy, Vero. I’m quitting villainy,” Deeb snapped. He flicked a booger at the swordsman to emphasize his point. “What’s the point of being evil if your presence can’t make people sour their pantaloons?”

  “There’s always the free doughnuts,” said another of Deeb’s black-clad followers as he laid a tray of pilfered baked goods by the throne.

  Deeb grabbed a cruller from the pile and licked off some powdered sugar. “Meh.”

  “This dreariness, sir—this cloud of blah that hovers over your head like a rich duke’s big, poofy wig—it is not so inspirational for the men,” Vero said.

  Deeb glanced around the room at his brawny, stubble-chinned minions. Normally, they’d be joking, roughhousing, and candy-bingeing. But today, they were moping about like a bunch of gnomes who’d lost their pointy hats.

  Deeb sighed. “It does seem like a waste to kick it in before I even grow hair on my chest.” He took a bite of his cruller, wiped his hands on his leather vest, and bounced the uneaten portion of the pastry off the head of a nearby bandit. “I just need to pull off a job big enough to grab the people’s attention away from those stinking princes and put it back on me where it belongs.”

  “I believe we have a few recently abducted visitors in our cells—fools who made the mistake of crossing the border into Rauberia,” Vero said, tapping the hilt of his rapier. “Perhaps one of them will merit some sort of ransom?”

  “I suppose. Well, parade ’em through here,” Deeb said, forcing a smile. “At worst, we can run ’em through the wedgie machine. That’s always good for a pick-me-up.”

  “Ah, there you go,” said Vero. “It is nice to see a glimmer of the old, sociopathic gang leader I am used to.”

  The first unfortunate soul brought before the king was a scrawny old man in a ragged shirt and peasant pants.

  “A farmer?” Deeb asked, sounding bored already. “Well, that’s useless. Ooh, unless you grow magic beans. You grow any magic beans?”

  The old man shook his head apologetically. “Just eggplants.”

  “Next!” Deeb shouted.

  The old man was dragged off and replaced before the throne by a tiny, sad-faced fellow in a dirty green suit. A beefy guard held the itty-bitty man up by
his ankle.

  “A leprechaun! Now we’re talking!” Deeb popped upright. “Where’s your gold, Leppy?”

  “I haven’t got any gold,” the leprechaun grumbled. “Ye’ve already stolen all of it. I can see most of me treasure sittin’ right there behind yer big bowl of licorice whips.”

  Deeb deflated. “Well, if you’ve got no gold, what good are you to me? Back to the dungeon!”

  “Wait!” the desperate leprechaun called out. “I can do a jig for ye!”

  Deeb rolled his eyes. “Dungeon.”

  “I can remove curses!” the leprechaun shouted. “Are there any curses ye want me to get rid of?”

  “Get rid of curses? Why would I do that? I love curses. Wanna hear some of my favorites?” And as the leprechaun was carried off, the Bandit King treated him to a long list of unsavory words.

  Vero, who sat on a treasure chest by the wall, furrowed his brow in concern. “Perhaps this next one will, as we say in my country, do the trick.”

  The third and final prisoner was a portly bald man.

  “All right, what’s your story?” Deeb asked.

  “I’m just a messenger, Your Bandit-ness,” the man said. “I was on my way to deliver a letter. I didn’t realize I’d trespassed on—”

  “Save it, mailman. Hand over the note.”

  The messenger reluctantly placed the parchment into the Bandit King’s sticky fingers. Deeb unfolded it, scanned it, and began chuckling. “Oh, this is rich.” He stood on his throne and read: “‘O, brave and noble League of Princes, the village of Fizzledorf is in dire need of your aid. For months we have been repeatedly set upon by a monstrous beast. The vicious creature has attacked townsfolk, destroyed homes, and devoured livestock. We fear it is only a matter of time before one of us becomes the monster’s next midnight snack. Please, bold princes, we beseech you—only heroes of your caliber could best a beast so ferocious and save what is left of Fizzledorf.”

  The messenger cleared his throat. “So,” he said. “As you can see, I really do need to get that letter to the League as quickly as possible.” He wiped the sweat from his brow. “If you’ll kindly just pass it back—”

  “Tell me what you know about this beast,” Deeb said, hopping down and pacing a tight circle around the messenger, his nest of black hair tickling the man’s nose as he passed.

  “Um, it’s big, like a bear,” the man said. “Huge fangs and claws. Powerful. Can shred a wooden door like a piece of cheese. There are these siblings who live down the road from me; the beast completely flattened two out of their three houses.”

  Vero laughed. “Just as in that bard song about the trio of piggies, yes?”

  “That’s right!” The messenger nodded vigorously. “‘The Tale of the Three Pigs.’ The bards changed a bit, but that’s pretty much the story of Fizzledorf.”

  Deeb stopped in front of the messenger and glared up into the man’s eyes. “Um, didn’t the wolf get boiled at the end of that story?” he said.

  “Like I said, the bards got some details wrong,” the man said. “And, um, I’ve seen wolves before, Your Bandit-ness. This creature is no ordinary wolf.”

  “You better not be lying to me, Bozworth,” Deeb said. “Know what we do to liars around here? Pants on fire. Literally.”

  Deeb sat down and stroked the beard he fully believed he’d have one day. He did so silently, and for quite some time. If the gears in the Bandit King’s mind cranked slowly, it was probably because they were gummed up with obsessive thoughts of caramel and nougat. After several silent minutes, he jumped to his feet, thrusting a finger in the air. “I’ve got it! Gather ’round, men. I’m about to pull off the greatest heist in the history of thievery.”

  “Please, sir, do tell us,” said Vero.

  “I’m going to this Fizzledorf place, and I’m going to kill their monster,” the Bandit King said, grinning wickedly.

  “So . . . ,” Vero began cautiously. “You are going to do something . . . helpful?”

  “No!” Deeb scoffed. “I’m going to steal the glory from the League of Princes! I’ve been going about this all wrong. If the people want a song about heroics and bravery and all that nonsense, then that’s just what they’ll get. Only this one’s gonna be starring me! You follow? What should have been the League’s victory is going to be mine! I’ll get all the credit! The Prince Charmings will be forgotten again as every bard in the Thirteen Kingdoms sings of the awesome power of the Bandit King!”

  “This plan,” Vero said. “It is . . . very interesting.”

  But Deeb didn’t seem to notice his deputy’s skepticism. He was too busy dancing in his piles of gold and shoving doughnut bits into his mouth.

  The messenger made a little cough. “So, can I . . . go?”

  “Oh, you’re going all right, Bozworth,” Deeb said. “With me, as my guide. Lead on, my potato-faced friend. Time’s a-wasting!”

  “Welcome to Fizzledump,” Deeb Rauber said, grimacing as if he’d just bitten into an overly garlicked pickle. “You sure this place is worth saving? Seems like the monster could only improve things around here.”

  He and his reluctant guide were sloshing down Fizzledorf’s muddy main road on horseback.

  “It used to look a lot nicer,” Bozworth said. He steered their mount while the Bandit King sat backward behind him, his feet resting up on the horse’s hindquarters. “The monster has done a lot of damage.”

  “Monsters can’t make a place boring, Bozworth. Seriously, check out that sorry excuse for a domicile over there,” Deeb said as they passed a tiny thatch-roofed cottage. “Bland walls, bland doors. I’m half tempted to throw a rock through those dull little windows, but that would be a waste of rock. Whatever loser lives there isn’t worth my vandalism.”

  The portly messenger pouted. “That’s my house.”

  “Ha! Called that one!” Deeb crowed. “You get what I’m talking about, though, right, Boz? This town has no sense of style. These people aren’t going to be ready for the likes of me.” Before leaving his castle in Rauberia three days earlier, Deeb had changed into a blue velvet suit—stolen from the young prince of Valerium—and accessorized it with the long-lost crown of the emperor of Frostheim. He’d kept his finery clean during their travels mostly by having Bozworth carry him whenever they got off the horse.

  Bozworth pulled back on the reins as drearily clothed villagers began to file out of their homes and fill the street. The messenger hopped down to exchange hugs and handshakes with his neighbors, but Deeb remained in his saddle, surveying the sea of gray linen and burlap before him. “Jeez,” he muttered. “Has nobody in this town heard of color?”

  A middle-aged woman in a nondescript gray dress peered up at him. “You look awful young for a Prince Charming,” she said. “Which one are you supposed to be?”

  “Charming? Ha!” Deeb stood up on his horse. “Listen up, Fizzledorks. You may have placed an order for the League of Pimples, because you thought that was your only option, but you lucked out—you got me instead! Bozworth told me all about your little monster problem, and I’m going to take care of it.”

  Several villagers smacked the messenger with their plain gray hats, and one kicked him in the shin.

  “Who are you?” one man asked Deeb.

  Deeb threw his arms wide and thrust his chest forward. “I am . . . the Bandit King!”

  A displeased murmuring rose from the crowd.

  “You’re just a kid,” exclaimed one elderly woman, waving her boringly straight walking stick.

  Deeb fought back the urge to spit on the entire populace of Fizzledorf. “Look, lady, I’m gonna let that slide because you’re about a hundred and ninety, and even Bozworth probably looks like a schoolboy to you. But the rest of you better understand this: next person to use the K-word gets a bagful of fire ants poured down their shirt.” With his toe, he nudged a squirming sack tied to the saddle, and the crowd’s murmuring abruptly stopped.

  “Yeah, I thought so,” Deeb said smugly.
br />   “You’re really the Bandit King?” asked a woman in a gray bonnet. “Like from all those stories?”

  “In the flesh.”

  “Are you going to rob us?” a man inquired.

  “Possibly. I haven’t decided. But either way, I am going to put an end to your monster.”

  “He really does want to solve our problem with the beast,” said Bozworth, shielding his face with his hands for fear of getting hit again. “And I say we let him try. He may not be the hero we were hoping for, but—”

  “Oh, I’m not a hero at all,” Deeb said, using Bozworth’s bald head as a step on his way down from the horse. “But heroes are overrated. They have to deal with so many unnecessary obstacles, like codes of honor, and ethics, and whether or not something is the ‘right thing to do.’ When you need a job done fast, call a villain. So, where’s this monster of yours?”

  The villagers all started talking at once, and Deeb whistled loudly to cut them off. “I need one person to assist me. One,” he said. “And not Bozworth. I am so Bozworth-ed out. You, in the hood—I’m deputizing you.”

  Deeb pointed to a gum-chewing girl about his age. She’d joined the crowd a bit later than the others, but Deeb’s eyes were drawn to her instantly; she was the only person in town wearing something that wasn’t gray. “Sweet!” she said.

  “Nice little red hood-and-cape combo you’ve got there,” Deeb said. “Stands out.”

  “Thanks. My granny made it for me,” the girl replied. “I wear it all the time. That’s why everyone calls me ‘Red.’”

  The Bandit King nodded. “I’m gonna call you ‘Hood.’”

  The girl narrowed her eyes at him from under her dark cowl. “Then I’m gonna call you ‘Woodsy,’ ’cause you came out of the woods.”

  “I’m the Bandit King. Call me Bandit King.”

  “Yeah, good luck with that, Woodsy,” the girl said with a smirk. “Anyways, nobody knows where the monster goes during the day. It shows up in town almost every day around dusk, chases people, wrecks stuff, and then runs off again.”

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