Friday, January 23, 2009

Walk-On Woodchuck: Substitute Groundhog by Pat Miller

The day before Groundhog Day, Groundhog woke up sick. His muscles ached and his throat hurt.

"You have a bad case of the flu, you do," said Dr. Owl. "Bed rest for two days."

But Groundhog is a conscientious public servant with no built-in sick days. Tomorrow is the big day in woodchuck world, and someone has to be on the job to predict the arrival of spring.

Then Groundhog gets a thought. "I'll advertise for a substitute groundhog," he thinks. And he quickly fashions a sign to post at the Hidey Hole Diner:


Obviously, Groundhog hasn't given much thought to his own job description, and as he works his way through the long line of applicants at the door of his den, he realizes that not just anyone has the right stuff for the job.

Mole has no problems with the going down in a dark hole part of the job, but when he auditions for the big February 2 appearance part, he flunks the bit where he has to be able to actually see his shadow. Hmmm. Next!

Eagle is full of self-confidence as he points out that he has, well, an eagle eye that can spot a shadow a mile away. The problem is, Eagle has some reservations about the ergonomical working conditions inside Groundhog's hole. "Will there be room to stretch my wings?" he asks. Well, er, no; not a perk of this job.

Bear has no problem with a snug, warm hole in the ground. "This is perfect," he exults as he slips into the comfy den. But Bear's problem is with the waking-up part of the job. As Groundhog waits for him to pop up and look for a tell-tale shadow, Bear just, um, "snores on." (Sorry, Karma Wilson) Don't call us; we'll call you!

Obviously, Groundhog needs a lively weatherman who won't forget to wake up and zip out of the hole on cue. "I can do it!" says squirrel, and he shows off his high energy level as he springs out of the den and runs up and down a nearby tree. Unfortunately, he's too hyperactive to remember the most important part of the job--looking for his shadow. Groundhog is feeling sicker by the minute, and there seems to be no neighbor who is right for the job.

"Howdy there, Groundhog. How about give me a chance? My name is Armadillo."

A cowboy-attired armadillo tips his ten-gallon hat and reels off his resume.

"I live in a hole. I like small spaces. I see my shadow just fine. And I will pop up and stay up."

Hired! Groundhog Day is saved again, and what's more, when the big day is done, Armadillo invites the wheezy weatherman to head back to Texas, where it's already spring, for a timely cure for the flu.

Pat Miller's Substitute Groundhog, ably and humorously illustrated by Kathi Ember, is a great read-aloud for this special day. For a complete "groundhog roundup" for the younger set, see my reviews from yesteryear for some top-of-the-morning-to-ya woodchuck sagas here. For an independent reader's introduction to all things groundhog, take a look at Michelle Becker's Groundhog Day (Rookie Read-About Holidays).

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