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'THE PENNY TREE': CHAPTER FOUR

NeXt is happy to print this five-chapter Breakfast Serial story by popular author Jack Gantos. The first chapter ran Sept. 29; the last chapter appears next week.

All the next day Pete kept up his watering routine, and I kept my mouth shut.

That night the whole family was sitting in the living room reading. Dad had the newspaper. Mom paged through a magazine. Betsy read a mystery.

Pete pulled out his old copy of "The Carrot Seed." He read it over and over. "This is the greatest book ever," he shouted, waving it over his head. "The little boy plants a carrot seed and waters it and waters it, and even though everyone in his family says it won't grow he still waters it because he believes it will. And then, boom, overnight it grows into a giant carrot. That's just how it is going to be with my penny tree because I believe in it!"

I slowly peeked over the top of my baseball stat book. Mom, Dad and Betsy were peeking up over their books -- and they were glaring at me. I smiled back. They didn't. Suddenly, I was beginning to feel bad about myself. Maybe I had gone too far. Maybe Pete was too delicate for my scheme.

"I'll be right back," I announced, and put my book down. I ran to the garage and got a garden spade. Then I went over to the neighbor's yard and dug up a plant that sort of looked like a little tree. Then I replanted it where Pete had planted his seed. I sneaked back into my bedroom and got a handful of pennies and some clear tape, then went back outside.

Quickly, I taped a few pennies on the branches. "This will make him happy," I said to myself, "and then we can forget about the penny tree."

The next morning Pete woke me by jumping up and down on my bed and shouting. "It grew! It grew! I'm rich. Come see."

I hopped up and followed him outside. "Wow," I said, and made my eyes get real big. "It worked." He bent down and held one in his hands.

"Why are they held on with tape?" he asked.

"That's not tape," I said. "Those are penny stems."

"Cool," he said.

Then he asked a question that I gave the wrong answer to. "If I leave them on the tree will they grow really big, like huge penny hubcaps?" "Nah," I replied, "they'll turn into nickels."

Pete's eyes bugged out. "Nickels!" he shouted. "Then I'll wait to pick them."

Oh, no, I thought. I did it again.

Next week: Can Jack find a way out of this mess? Or will Pete find a way to drain Jack's bank?

Jack Gantos, a National Book Award finalist and Newbery Medal honoree, is the author of more than 30 books, including the Rotten Ralph picture books, the Joey Pigza books and five "Jack" books. The above story is from "Jack on the Tracks: Four Seasons of Fifth Grade" published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Inc. Text copyright 1999 by Jack Gantos. All rights reserved. Check out www.jackgantos.com for more book info.