I have a wonderful new category for you to peruse. Children’s books do not get enough attention and I think to encourage children to read is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
Wobbles was excited. Well, tomorrow she was eight! Eight years old! If you couldn’t get excited over your first eighth birthday, and with a party too: well, you didn’t deserve to have it, she thought.
And Mum and Dad had just bought this new house, with a proper garden and a stream at the end of it, and if you couldn’t get excited about that, well you didn’t deserve to have that either, in her opinion.
Of course, Wobbles was not her proper name. That was Lisa Abigail Hardacre. But ever since she had been able to walk, her older brother Jeremy had called her Wobbles, and she had been stuck with that name.
Her school friends were nice and called her Lisa, but Jeremy still called her Wobbles at school, and the nickname had slowly spread around. So, at home and at school, she had to be Wobbles.
Birthday parties were the best, well they were when they belonged to Wobbles, but next best was a party to celebrate moving into their new Home. Dad had set up a barbecue, which he explained was not a Bar, but would still have a Queue for the food.
Unfortunately, Dad had decided that both parties could be held at the same time. This meant that scary Mister Tremble, their new next-door neighbour would be at her birthday party. Mister Tremble was scary because he always seemed to be in a dark mood, and he had big, black, bushy eyebrows. Wobbles was not sure that she liked him.
Big brother Jeremy quite liked Mister Tremble. He had visited the house next door, and been given lemonade and shown the various creatures Mister Tremble kept in cages. Well, they were tanks really, with glass sides so that Mister Tremble could go and glare at the poor captive animals. And waggle his eyebrows at them, until they hid under the twigs and leaves in their tanks.
“They are great!” Jeremy had told Wobbles. “He’s got spiders and snakes!”
Wobbles didn’t think that was great at all. She didn’t like creepy-crawlies. Jeremy had once had a big stuffed toy spider (which he called Boris) that looked very real. Mum had screamed and screamed the time she walked into his bedroom and saw Boris sitting on the chair by Jeremy’s desk. Dad had been very stern with Jeremy, and Boris had been moved into the big toy box after that.
“He’s got this young python,” Jeremy had told Wobbles. Wobbles wasn’t sure what a python was, so she didn’t
know if she had to be scared or not. “It’s like the snake on Jungle Book,” Jeremy explained. Wobbles had shivered, and run off to find something which was a bit more friendly to play with in her room.
Anyway, the day after tomorrow was the party. Tomorrow was Friday, so that meant Wobbles had to go to school. And on her birthday, too! Horrid!
“Why do I have to go to school today, Mummy?” demanded Wobbles at breakfast, staring at the bowl of Coco Pops her mum had put on the table in front of her.
Jeremy stopped eating long enough to give her a look. “I had to go on mine,” he told her. Wobbles glared at her brother.
“That’s enough, you two,” their mother told them, stopping the quarrel. “Now, clean your teeth, then get your school bags.”
All the way to school, Wobbles sulked. She hadn’t even been allowed her presents yet, as Dad had left early for work.
She cheered up though at school, when all the class sang “Happy Birthday To You” to her. Her best friend sang her name, “Lisa,” especially loud to drown out the other children singing “Wobbles” instead.
Mrs James, the teacher, glared at the children. But they just sniggered; so she made them all do a lesson on sums. Wobbles did not find it funny. Play-time came, and again only Ellie didn’t tease her, although the other girls did play with them.
“You are coming tomorrow, aren’t you?” Wobbles asked Ellie as they ate their lunch at the big blue plastic tables that the dinner ladies put out for them in the School Hall everyday. Wobbles didn’t think that she was having a very nice birthday today.
Big Brother Jeremy threw a chip covered in ketchup at her when he thought that the teachers were not looking: but luckily it missed. All of his friends laughed, anyway.
“Of course,” Ellie said. “My mum says that I’ve got to come home after tea though.”
“Why?” Wobbles wanted to know.
“We’ve got to visit my gran. She’s not well again.” Ellie’s gran was quite old now, so Wobbles understood. But still, she was a bit sad. Now, her party would have to be spent with Jeremy and his friend Jay, and it wouldn’t be as much fun.
Still, at home time, Wobbles cheered up. After all, it was her birthday, so presents just had to be coming. Mum had made her a nice tea, with her favourite things. Dad came home from work and gave her an especially big hug.
Wobbles was beside herself with excitement. Dad was home, they’d had tea, now where were her presents?
Mum walked over to the settee and pulled out a large plastic bag. But it wasn’t as large as Wobbles had hoped.
“Happy Birthday, darling!” said Mum.
“Yeah, Happy Birthday,” chimed in Jeremy. He, too, had a wrapped parcel.
“Oh, thank you, Mummy,” Wobbles said, giving her mum a hug. She didn’t give her brother a hug, of course. She didn’t quite like him enough today. So she settled for ripping open the wrapping paper on his present first.
“Pyjamas.” Wobbles was not very excited with this as a present.
“Well, open them!” Jeremy said impatiently.
Wobbles did as he said, and a big grin spread across her face, for there on the front was a big green dragon with a friendly grin.
“A dragon!” she shouted, cheering up. Dragons were Wobbles’ favourite animal, even though they didn’t exist anymore.
“I knew that you’d like that,” smirked Jeremy. Wobbles pulled the pyjama top over her head, but the top got stuck and Jeremy started laughing at her. She finally got enough of her face free to give him one of her special glares, but Jeremy didn’t seem to notice.
At last Dad leant over and said something quietly in his ear about his own birthday, and Jeremy shut up quickly.
Wobbles pulled the rest of the top down, and looked across to the big mirror that hung upon the wall.
“Look, Mummy!” she said. “When I breathe out he starts laughing!”
“Can dragons laugh?” asked Dad. “I thought that they snarled, and burnt things up by breathing fire on them.”
“Course not!” Wobbles told him. “They can be friendly when they want to be.” She glared at her big brother. “Only rude people get burnt up to a crisp!”
“Better watch out, Jeremy!” laughed their dad.
Mum handed Wobbles another brightly wrapped gift. “This one is from me.”
“Thanks, Mum!” Wobbles ripped the package open, and was pleased with the big book of coloured pictures and stories – about dragons. Quickly she turned some of the pages, and gasped at the wonderful dragons she saw.
Dad then handed her his present, which also was dragon related – this time it was a computer game, but this time the dragons were not friendly but angry and cross. Wobbles wasn’t so sure that she would like it, so she put it down to try it later.
Aren’t you fed up of silly old dragons yet?” asked Jeremy. “You know that they aren’t real.”
“Are so!” retorted Wobbles.
“Now, now you two,” Dad said quickly. “Jeremy, this is Lisa’s birthday. So why don’t you go and finish your homework for the weekend now, and then you won’t be worried about it tomorrow?”
Jeremy glared at his sister, but she was too busy with her dragon book to notice, and so he went off to his own room and his computer games about shooting things, whilst Mum put Wobbles’ favourite TV programme on.
The next day was Saturday, and that meant there was no school. Both Wobbles and Jeremy slept quite late, and when they got up and came downstairs Dad was already outside, whistling loudly and getting the barbecue ready for the party.
The children found Mum in the kitchen, making some cup cakes.
“Neat!” said Jeremy, and was reaching for the nearest cake, when his knuckles got a sharp smack from Mum’s wooden spoon.
“Later!” she said sharply. Wobbles sniggered, and Jeremy tried to kick her on the leg, but missed and kicked the table leg instead. As he was only wearing slippers it hurt, and he glared at his sister. Mum gave them both some cereal, and sent them outside to sit on the patio as the sun was shining.
“What time are people coming?” Wobbles asked Jeremy.
“Dunno,” her brother replied. “But I hope that Mister Tremble from next door comes round.”
Wobbles was not so sure, and said so.
“He’s promised to show me some of his creepy pets,” Jeremy said to her. “Wouldn’t you like to see them, too?”
“No!” Wobbles was very sure that she didn’t want to see any pet owned by Mister Tremble and his big, black, bushy eyebrows. They both looked round at a loud clang: Dad had just dropped the gas bottle that lit the barbecue onto his foot. He was shouting quite a lot of naughty words, and hopping about on his other foot, so it must have been a very heavy bottle. Mum opened the kitchen window.
“Dad!” she said very sternly. “Don’t swear like that in front of the children!”
Dad started muttering instead, and picked up the bottle and started fixing it to the barbecue. “Jeremy!” he shouted. “You and Lisa can get up and get all the chairs out of the garden shed!”
Jeremy stopped sniggering, and started sulking instead at being asked to help.
Wobbles was excited at the thought of the party though, and was keen to help. The shed was at the end of the garden, next to the steep bank of the stream. She had been told that she was not allowed to go to the stream without an adult, so being given permission to go to the shed was thrilling. She ran down the garden path, and pulled on the shed door.
As she did so she heard a strange noise, a sort of snorting sound, like a bad cough. Wobbles looked all around, but could see nothing that would make a noise like that.
“Is there anyone there?” she called, but there was no reply.
Wobbles went into the shed and lifted two plastic garden chairs. They were quite heavy, and she felt that she couldn’t manage to carry any more. Still, she thought, that meant that she had permission to come down the garden again.
Wobbles slowly carried the chairs up to the patio. Jeremy was still sitting there with a comic, and he just put his tongue out at her when she glared at him. Wobbles turned and ran back down the garden, making sure that Dad didn’t see her. Again, when she pulled on the shed door she heard the very odd noise. But now, she didn’t feel scared. Just that she really, really wanted to know what was making this noise.
Back she went to the patio with the chairs, and she was just turning back to go to the shed again, when Mum spotted her.
“Lisa!” Mum shouted. “You know that you are not allowed to go down there on your own.”
“Sorry, Mum,” Wobbles called back, and skipped around the side of the house. At the barbecue Dad was now bent right over with his head inside it, muttering to himself. As Wobbles watched, Dad pulled his head out and turned a switch. His hand waved around, and then found a box of matches on the shelf fixed to the side of the barbecue.
Dad smiled widely, struck a match, and waved it at the barbecue. There was a loud bang and he fell over backwards, his eyebrows on fire. Flames spurted wildly out of the barbecue, until Dad turned the gas down. Dad started shouting again.
Both Wobbles and Jeremy burst out laughing. Dad’s face was covered in soot, and it was clear that both of his eyebrows had gone up in flames. Mum’s head popped back out of the kitchen window.
“Dad! What do you think you are playing at! People are due here in half an hour. Now, put some sausages on the grill while I finish with this salad, then go and get clean!”
Both Jeremy and Wobbles sniggered as Dad went inside. Then Mum’s head came out of the window again.
“Lisa, I’ve got some bad news. Your friend Ellie can’t come. Her mummy says she isn’t feeling very well.”
Wobbles’ face fell. The party would not be as much fun without her best friend.
“Stay away from the barbecue, we don’t want any accidents,” Mum warned.
“She means any more accidents,” sniggered Jeremy as Dad came back out of the house, and started cooking sausages. He had washed his face, but he didn’t look very happy.
“Right, you two!” called Mum. “Come and carry some of these bowls out to the table.” As the two children went into the kitchen, the front door bell rang. The guests were starting to arrive. Soon lots of people were in the garden, talking loudly and pretending to eat the sausages Dad was burning on the grill.
Both Wobbles and Jeremy were soon ignored, as the grown ups started laughing and telling jokes. To Wobbles’ surprise, even Mister Tremble was not scowling as usual. Wobbles had an idea. To her shock, it was a naughty idea, for she was not normally a naughty little girl. She had overheard Dad telling Mum that she was probably saving it all up for when she was sixteen, but she hadn’t really understood what he meant.
Wobbles looked all around, but no one was paying her any attention. Even Jeremy had gone off to his bedroom with his school friend. So Wobbles sneaked off down the garden path on her own, towards the garden shed.
When she got close to the shed, she looked all around, nervously. Then she heard it – the same strange noise. What could it be? Who could be making it? There it was again. A large old tree grew out of the bank of the stream behind the shed. Wobbles crept behind the shed, and put her arms round as much of the tree trunk as she could manage.
There it was again! A sort of snort, or a sneeze or cough, all mixed up together. Wobbles held onto the trunk of the tree as hard as she could, and peered over the bank of the stream, and looked down towards the water.
There, looking out at the stream from a hole in the bank, almost hidden by the roots of the tree, was a small green dragon!