Polly Porcupine’s Prickly Problem
by Max Elliot Anderson
Polly lived among green hedges along with nine other brothers and sisters. Their nest was made of dry leaves and grass. From the day she was born, Polly wanted to fit in with, and be like, all the other porcupines nearby. A few weeks later the time came for her and the others to leave their mother and the nest, but not before Polly had learned everything she needed in order to find food or how to make her own nest.
Her mother took great care to show her little ones how to dig for beetles, ants, termites, grasshoppers, worms, and other insects. Polly got pretty good at digging in the ground. As she dug around in the dirt, she made little grunting sounds.
One morning, she saw a much larger porcupine near her hedge. Since Polly was so gentle and friendly, she walked over to meet this new friend.
Polly cleared her little throat. “Hello,” she said. “My name’s Polly. What’s yours?”
The porcupine looked up, snorted, and said, “Lance.”
“Lance? That’s a different name, isn’t it?”
He grinned. “I got it because I can stick my quills into anyone who comes too close.”
Polly stepped back slightly. “Am I too close?”
He shook his head, then leaned down and continued eating from a pile of leaves and twigs on the ground in front of him.
Polly studied Lance for a few moments. “What’s that you’re eatin’?” she asked.
With his mouth still full, it was almost impossible to understand Lance when he mumbled, “Plants.”
When she heard that, Polly laughed so hard she fell on the ground and rolled up into a little ball. Only her small quills still stuck out.
Lance swallowed, then asked, “What’s so funny?”
She stood up, caught her breath and said, “Why are you eating your pants?”
He swallowed again. “Plants, not pants.”
“Do you like eating them?”
Lance grinned. “Pants or plants?”
That made Polly giggle. “Plants, of course.”
“Sure. What do you eat?”
She wiped her nose. “Bugs and stuff I can find in the dirt.”
Lance wrinkled up his face. “Yuck. Porcupines don’t eat that kinda food. Who told you to do it?”
She stood a little straighter. “My mom. Why?”
He simply shook his head. “Here, try some of this.”
Wanting to fit right in, Polly grabbed a fist full of clover, stuffed it into her mouth, and began to chew. But in only seconds she spit it back out and wiped her mouth. “Pitooey! How do you eat that stuff?” she asked.
“Because we porcupines eat all kinds of plants, leaves, and twigs.”
Polly looked at the long, lethal quills all over Lance’s back. “Is it true when you’re older and bigger like you, that porcupines can shoot quills at their enemies like spears and arrows?”
Lance grinned. “We like them to think so.”
She tugged at one of her small quills, but it wouldn’t budge from her back. “Then how do they work?”
“Like I said, quills are for anything that gets too close. Then wham-o, they run away as fast as they can.”
“So how do they work?”
“It’s simple. If anybody tries to bother me, or put their nose too close, I just smack into them, and the quills get stuck in their nose or cheek. And they’re real hard to pull back out.”
Again Polly tried to pull out one of her small quills. “Kinda mean, isn’t it?”
“Better then letting them get me, I’d say.”
“But how come mine won’t come out?”
When he heard that, Lance stopped chewing. He looked at Polly, then fell on the ground, put his feet in the air, and started laughing. With his mouth crammed full of leaves, he said something. “Because you’re…” but Polly could only understand the first part of it. She didn’t like being laughed at, so she slowly slipped away. In the distance she could still hear Lance laughing.
The next thing she saw caused Polly to stop walking. She stared straight up, and high on a branch she spotted another porcupine among the green leaves. “Hey,” she gasped. “Whatcha doin’ way up in that tree?”
The porcupine looked down and told her, “I’m a porcupine, we like to climb trees.”
Polly shook her head. “No, you don’t.”
“Oh, yes we do. Just look at me. I’m in a tree, aren’t I?”
She continued staring up at him.
“Why, where do you live?” he asked.
She puffed up a little. “I was born in a nest with nine brothers and sisters.”
“Well, porcupines live in burrows and trees. And I didn’t have any brothers or sisters.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Just wondering, that’s all.” She stepped forward and began trying to climb the tree just as Spike had done, but she couldn’t even make it to the first branch.
“What are you doing down there?” Spike asked.
Polly grunted and groaned as she struggled to hold onto the tree bark. But it was no use. She kept tumbling back to the ground. “How come I can’t do it?” she asked in a huff.
Spike couldn’t help himself. He started laughing, and when he did, he lost his balance, nearly falling out of the tree.
“Why are you laughing at me?” Polly demanded.
“You can’t climb a tree.”
That made Spike laugh even harder. All Polly heard him say was, “Because you’re….” Then he grabbed onto the tree with the help of his tail and strained to pull himself back up onto his branch.
“I don’t like it when someone laughs at me,” Polly muttered as she walked away from Spike and his silly tree. She reached back again and pulled as hard as she could on one of her tiny quills, but it refused to come out. Then she felt the end of it. Doesn’t feel like my quills would stick into anything, she thought.
Just then Polly heard a screeching hawk, high up in the air. Without even thinking she fell to the ground, rolled up into a little prickly ball and stayed there until the sound was gone.
She walked slowly along the path, thinking about the two porcupines she has just met. Polly decided to hurry off toward her nest to see if her mother was still nearby. Polly found her along her home hedge. “Mom? What are you doing?”
Mother looked up. Her nose was covered with dirt. “Eating. Why?”
“But how come we eat bugs and not leaves and twigs?”
Her mother’s beady eyes widened a little. “What?”
“Yeah. And why can’t I climb a tree?”
Her mother wiped the dirt from around her mouth. But before she could answer, Polly said, “And another thing. My quills won’t come out. How’s a porcupine supposed to fight off other animals with these useless quills?”
“Porcupine?” her mother asked.
Polly nodded as she pulled on another quill. “See?” Sadly, the quill stayed stuck.
Her mother walked over and stood beside Polly. “I’ve taught you about everything you need to make a nest, find food, and be safe.”
A small tear ran from Polly’s beady little eye, down her cheek, and off the end of her small pointy nose. “But,” she sniffled, “I can’t do any of the things all the other porcupines do.”
Her mother’s head tilted to one side. “Porcupines?”
Polly sniffed again. “Sure, like climbing trees, eating leaves, and stuff like that.”
A soft smile spread across her mother’s small face. “Well, dear,” she began, “that’s because you aren’t like them.”
Polly’s blinked her eyes. “I’m not?”
“Of course not.”
Her little cheeks wrinkled into a pouty face. “Why?”
“Because. You’re not a porcupine…you’re a hedgehog, silly.”
Now Polly’s mouth fell open as she thought for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No wonder!”
2. What was Lance doing that Polly thought was strange?
3. Who did Polly meet next?
4. Why was Polly sad?
5. Why was Polly different?