The Capybara Conspiracy: A Novel In Three Acts by Erica S. PerlThe Capybara Conspiracy: A Novel In Three Acts by Erica S. Perl

The Capybara Conspiracy: A Novel In Three Acts

byErica S. Perl

Hardcover | October 11, 2016

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Fans of Tim Federle and Louis Sachar will love this hilarious story of what happens when the non-jocks kidnap their sports-obsessed school’s beloved mascot.
Seventh-grade playwright Olive Henry is frustrated by her middle school’s lack of appreciation for anything but sports. While the principal drones on and on during morning announcements about the sports teams’ victories, all non-athletic club meetings are relegated to the school basement, never to be mentioned on the loudspeaker. So Olive and her best friend, Reynaldo, hatch a plan to kidnap the school’s capybara mascot, planning to return it, heroically, just in time for the school’s pep rally and claim a reward: permission for their drama club to practice in the auditorium. And, hopefully, some overdue respect for the school’s non-athletes. But when an animal-rights student activist and an undercover athlete with murky motivations join in the conspiracy, their plans—along with Cappy the capybara—veer wildly out of Olive’s control.
Erica S. Perl is the author of When Life Gives You O.J., Aces Wild, Vintage Veronica, and a number of picture books. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works at First Book, the groundbreaking organization that provides books to children in need. Learn more about Erica at
Title:The Capybara Conspiracy: A Novel In Three ActsFormat:HardcoverDimensions:192 pages, 8.56 × 5.88 × 0.77 inPublished:October 11, 2016Publisher:Random House Children's BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399551719

ISBN - 13:9780399551710


Read from the Book

ACT I, SCENE I—FARLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL  Two kids are sitting in two chairs, facing the audience. A sign behind them reads principal’s office—wait here. There is a big bowl of apples sitting on an end table between the chairs. One of the kids, DEV, looks a little nervous. He is wearing a baseball cap and holding a file folder. The other kid, OLIVE, looks more nervous than DEV. OLIVE selects an apple from the bowl. She polishes and repolishes it, casting sidelong glances at DEV. Finally OLIVE can’t resist striking up a conversation. She leans over and asks . . . OLIVE: So, whatcha in for? DEV: Excuse me? OLIVE: You’re waiting to see the principal. What did you do? I mean what is it that you are alleged to have done? DEV: Me? Nothing! OLIVE: Good! Very convincing. And I like your approach. Deny everything. DEV: No, really! I just moved here, but my old school hasn’t sent over all the forms, so now I’m stuck here until they straighten things out. My name’s Dev, by the way. OLIVE: I’m Olive. Olive Henry. I guess the fact that I’m waiting outside the principal’s office might make you think I’m the kind of kid who gets in trouble. Well, I’m not! I only know what to do if you’re accused of something because my dad is a criminal defense lawyer. Ned “Not Guilty” Henry? I’m sure you’ve seen his ads on TV. (Sings) “1-800-N-O-T-G-L-T-Y, wasn’t me!” No? DEV: (Shakes his head) Like I said, we just moved here. OLIVE: Yeah, they’re pretty memorable. If you’d seen one, you’d remember it. I actually wrote that jingle. DEV: Oh yeah? OLIVE: Yeah. I usually write plays, but sometimes, for the right terms, I’m willing to be a hired gun. DEV: A hired what? OLIVE: Oh! Not like that! I meant I sometimes do work for hire. Writing work! Not gun work. I’ve never touched a gun, and I would never hurt anyone or anything. That’s why I can’t believe people said I . . . DEV: Said you what? OLIVE: (Carefully looking around to ensure no one is listening) Listen, can you keep a secret? DEV nods. OLIVE looks him over and seems to decide she can trust him. OLIVE: They said I killed Cappy. DEV: Whoa. Who’s Cappy? OLIVE: Seriously? You haven’t heard of Cappy? The capybara? DEV: The what? OLIVE: Capybara. It’s the world’s largest rodent. Cappy is, I mean was, our school mascot . . . before this whole mess. DEV: The school mascot is dead? OLIVE: He is?! DEV: You just said he was! OLIVE: No I didn’t. I said people said I killed him. But I didn’t! DEV: Wait a second. Isn’t a mascot, like, a guy in a costume? OLIVE: At most schools, yes. But Edmund Farley Middle School is not like most schools. At least not in the mascot department. Allow me to explain. . . . COACH K. walks onstage, carrying or leading CAPPY on a leash to center stage, where COACH K. stops and bows. While OLIVE continues, COACH K. demonstrates with props, including a football, a sweater for CAPPY, and oversized photos. OLIVE (CONT’D): The reason for this is that Coach Knicker­bocker, better known as Coach K., who coaches Farley’s football, basketball, and baseball teams, had a girlfriend . . . COACH K. displays a photo of her. OLIVE (CONT’D): who owned a lot of exotic pets. She skipped town, and he ended up the proud owner of the three pets she left behind: COACH K. displays a long photo of Gatie and an even longer photo of Pythie. OLIVE (CONT’D): a six-foot-long alligator named Gatie, a twelve-foot-long python named Pythie, and a capybara named . . . DEV: Barry? OLIVE: (Shoots him a withering look) Cappy. Pythie and Gatie went to the National Zoo. COACH K. puts his photos away. OLIVE (CONT’D): But as it turned out, the zoo had phased out its capybara exhibit—along with several other animals, like giraffes and hippos—to make more room for its elephant habitat. Or at least that’s what the coach said—everybody thinks it was really that he couldn’t bear to part with him. At any rate, one day Coach K. happened to swing by football practice with Cappy in the back of his truck. The team was in the midst of a six-game losing streak, and nobody could turn it around. Cappy climbed out while the coach was fixing a drippy Gatorade drum, and the next thing anyone knew, Cappy was pushing a football down the field with his nose. The whole team burst out laughing, then cheering, then raced Cappy to the end zone. It was like Cappy was the secret ingredient the team hadn’t realized they were missing. And the rest is history. Cappy attended the next game on a leash, wearing a ketchup-red and mustard-yellow Farley sweater, and the team won seven­teen to zip. In fact, Cappy was so popular that the team name was officially changed from the Farley Fiddler Crabs. Which, let’s be honest, was a questionable mascot to begin with, right down to the costume they always made some poor sixth grader wear. A short kid dressed up in a ridiculous crab costume enters, walking sideways, crablike. SIXTH GRADER: Go, Crabs, go! Scuttle, scuttle, scuttle! He exits, with COACH K. and CAPPY following him out. OLIVE: So now the official team name is the Farley Capybaras, or Caps, represented by none other than Cappy. The fact that Farley is the only middle school in America with a capybara as a mascot—not to mention an actual capybara—is a huge deal. Did you happen to notice the framed Sports Illustrated cover in the front-foyer display case? They did a two-page spread on Cappy. It doesn’t seem to matter that he looks like a shaggy oversized eggplant with legs. When Cappy’s on the field, Farley teams go on to greatness. Any questions? DEV: Yes. Why would you want to kill a giant rat? OLIVE: Not rat, capybara. And please stop saying that! (Sings) “1-800-N-O-T-G-L-T-Y, wasn’t me!” Look, here’s what happened. It all began last Monday. Here at Farley Middle School, every day starts the same way: with morning announcements. The bell rings and lights come up on a second area: a classroom. Students sit in two rows of chairs, all facing stage right so the students are seen in profile. The two middle chairs in the front row (closest to the audience) are empty for the time being. The chairs bracketing the two empty ones are occupied by PEP SQUAD GIRLS #1 and #2. All the kids are chatting and joking around before class starts. When the morning announcements begin, they settle down. PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY: (Speaking from a microphone stand off to one side, broadcasting to the school over the loudspeaker) Happy Monday, Capybaras! Principal Higgley here, and it’s a slightly overcast day at Edmund Farley Middle School, the winningest school in Northeast Central Maryland. I have it on good authority that the fog will burn off by midafternoon. Which is great news for our undefeated boys’ baseball team, facing off against Gorgonzola Prep at three-fifteen. Faculty, please note that all members of the team, as well as our fabulous pep squad, the Farley Flamethrowers, are excused from seventh period early today to give them time to suit up. The Lady Caps softball team is off today, but if you see any Lady Caps in the hall, give ’em a big hoof five on their twelve–two victory over Our Lady of Dubious Distinction! OLIVE: (To DEV) I know this may sound weird, but in sixth grade I actually loved middle school. It used to make me proud to hear that we were the best in so many things: baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, pep squad, you name it. Each time she mentions a team, students in the class hold up balls or equipment or do something to reference their sport. OLIVE (CONT’D): I mean, I’m not the best at any of those things. Arguably, I’m the worst at some of them. But in sixth grade, our school’s undefeated record made me feel vicariously victorious. Fast-forward to now: seventh grade. Every morning, every announcement, I’ve gotten a daily workout rolling my eyes, listening to the same things again and again and again. PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY: Blah blah blah baseball. Blah blah blah pep squad. Blah blah blah hoof five. OLIVE rolls her eyes each time to demonstrate. OLIVE: It started to dawn on me: Farley Middle School is so sports obsessed, even the morning announcements are as exhausting as a PE class. PEP SQUAD GIRLS #1 and #2 run over from the classroom to where OLIVE and DEV sit. They surround OLIVE, shaking their pom-poms while she eye-rolls, and escort her to the classroom, where she takes the stage-right-er of the two empty seats in the downstage row. DEV stays behind but remains the focus of OLIVE’s running monologue. PEP SQUAD GIRL #1: C’mon, let’s give those eye muscles a workout. And roll those eyes! Roll ’em! Rollll . . . and again . . . REYNALDO appears at the classroom door, late for class. PEP SQUAD GIRL #2: You too, Delgado! REYNALDO: (Eyes rolling, synchronized with OLIVE) I’m rolling, I’m rolling. OLIVE: Hey, Rey! (Calling out to DEV) That’s Reynaldo Delgado, my best friend. REYNALDO: Ahem, your 100 percent gorgeous best friend. OLIVE: (Sarcastically, to REY) Right, because I have six other best friends. REYNALDO: You wish there were six more just like me. OLIVE: (To DEV) I do wish. Then I wouldn’t have to share him with the whole school. Everybody loves Rey. REY’s eye rolling has now turned into a full-body dance, in which he’s accompanied by the PEP SQUAD GIRLS. PEP SQUAD GIRLS #1 and #2: Go, Rey! Yeah, Rey! Go, Rey! Yeah, Rey! REY dances to his seat, directly behind OLIVE, cheered on by his adoring mob of fans. PEP SQUAD GIRL #1 and PEP SQUAD GIRL #2 return to their seats. OLIVE: (To DEV) Rey and I met in homeroom last year. By some minor miracle, he landed in my homeroom this year, too. Okay, it was no accident. His mom is the school administrator— REYNALDO: And media specialist! OLIVE: —here at Farley Middle School. PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY:  . . . which is the seventh time the Capybaras have held the state record, for those keeping score . . . heh ­heh, keeping score. . . . OLIVE gets up in frustration and walks closer to DEV to complain to him. OLIVE: (To DEV) See what I mean about this school not prioritizing anything but sports? Have you heard our principal say a word about the Scrabble club? The Math Maniacs? Or my beloved drama club, the Farley Follies? You haven’t, have you? DEV: Well, you know, I haven’t really been . . . OLIVE: Exactly! And what have you heard instead? Football. Baseball. Synchronized snorkeling, even, probably! Edmund Farley Middle School has a team—or several—for every sport imaginable. I know this might sound crazy, but not everyone here plays sports. (In the direction of PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY) What about the rest of us? PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY: (Ignoring her because, remember, he’s on the loudspeaker and can’t hear her) . . . nineteen to nothing! The class erupts into cheers. REY reaches out his “hoof” to fist-bump OLIVE. REYNALDO: Don’t leave me hoofing! OLIVE starts to return to her seat, but before she can get there, PEP SQUAD GIRL #2 leans over to intercept the hoof bump. PEP SQUAD GIRL #2: (To OLIVE) Players only. REY and PEP SQUAD GIRL #2 bump “hooves,” or rather, hands curved downward to resemble a hoof. REY offers OLIVE his other “hoof” for a bump on the down low. OLIVE: (To DEV) Rey is so not a player. For Rey and me, a healthy eye rolling—or a really energetic round of ­charades—is about as close to a workout as we’re likely to get. We can’t help it. I prefer theater, and Rey likes . . . REYNALDO: Roller-skating, long showers, crunchy Cheetos, not the puffy ones . . . OLIVE: Yeah, okay, he’s got it. Since Rey is so . . . REYNALDO: Gorgeous. OLIVE: Stop it! I was going to say TALL. Since Rey is so tall, people presume he’s got game, until they’re in PE with him. He’s not exactly afraid of the ball. A crumpled-up note is passed by one of the girls to REY, who fumbles dramatically, falling out of his seat in an unsuccessful attempt to catch it. OLIVE (CONT’D): More like allergic to it. (Aside, to DEV) He’s good at pretending to like sports, though. That’s on account of his natural acting abilities, which is also why I cast him in all my plays. But the truth is, I’d find parts for him even if he couldn’t act, because most kids at this school would rather be on deck—(to REY) right, that’s a baseball term? REYNALDO: You’re asking me? OLIVE: (To DEV)—than on the stage. Hey, do you have any interest in acting? DEV: Uh, no. OLIVE: You should definitely try out! Even if you have no experience and are painful to watch, I’ll find a part for you. You know why? Because I am not about to be anyone’s dream crusher. I’ve been the crushee myself on too many occasions. It makes for some very dark days. REYNALDO: (Rising to his knees in prayer) Amen to that. OLIVE: (Helping REY back to his seat, then turning to DEV) BUT, last Monday was not going to be one of them. That’s because I had it (impersonating PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY) “on good authority” from Mrs. Delgado— REYNALDO: My mom. OLIVE: —that, for once, ONE of Monday’s morning ­announcements would be 100 percent sports-free. I knew because I wrote the script and slipped it to Mrs. Delgado with three fun-sized 100 Grand bars taped to the envelope. REYNALDO: Smart. My mom will do almost anything for Olive. But tampering with the morning announcements definitely calls for sweetening the deal. OLIVE: Want to hear what I wrote? Take it away, Rey. REY jumps to his feet and impersonates PRINCIPAL HIGGLEY, using a pencil as the mic. REYNALDO: (Clearing his throat) Ahem! This just in . . . another victory, this time by our creative Capybaras. Olive Henry, a seventh grader, has received a blue-ribbon citation in the statewide playwriting competition for Nevermore/Hush, an imaginative mash-up of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. This qualifies her to enter a new play in the Super Bowl of scripting: the National Festival of the Performed Word, which will be held later this month in Orlando, Florida. Let’s all put our hooves together in a round of applause for Olive Henry! OLIVE bursts into enthusiastic applause. DEV claps as well, to be polite. REY accepts the applause, then returns to his seat. OLIVE: That was awesome, Rey! (To DEV) Did you like how my script hit all the important notes? One, a nonathlete can still hit it out of the park; two, a girl—me—who will never be excused from seventh period early to suit up for anything can still do something impressive and noteworthy; and three, that girl is going to Florida!!! (She stands up to do a little victory dance and sing that last word.)

Editorial Reviews

"Humorous and cleverly constructed, this deserves a 'hoof five.'" —Kirkus Reviews "A delightful read that begs to be performed aloud." —School Library Journal"Perl’s novel zips along thanks to all the back-and-forth dialogue, and is well suited to be performed. An amusing tale." —Publishers Weekly“Funny, smart, fresh, and furry, The Capybara Conspiracy cracked me up. Move over, Macbeth. There’s a new play in town, and it’s funny! Plus, it’s got a 170-pound rodent. So put that in your beard, Mr. Bard!” —Andrea Beaty, bestselling author of Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer “A hilarious novel, written in play form, that is sure to inspire young actors, directors, and playwrights everywhere. Encore!” —Victoria Jamieson, author and illustrator of the Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl “Makes a perfect classroom read-aloud or play. This fun, funny book that tackles meaningful issues in a creative way is a pure delight!” —Donna Gephart, award-winning author of Lily and Dunkin and Death by Toilet Paper"A rallying cry for every artsy kid out there." —Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of The Lunch Lady series“A hilarious story celebrating our differences and the common threads that unite us. From its opening line to the final curtain call, this laugh-out-loud comedy full of clever characters and quirky drama had me hooked! Two hooves up!” —Jess Keating, author of Pink Is for Blobfish and How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied “The most hilarious and innovative read a young reader could hope to find. It’s a book, it’s a play, it’s a page-turning riot.” —Ned Rust, author of Patrick Griffin’s Last Breakfast on Earth “An incredibly original, extremely clever, very funny book.  And there's a capybara in it.  What more could you possibly ask for?” —Stuart Gibbs, author of the Spy School, FunJungle and Moon Base Alpha series. “A fresh, fun novel! It's a quirky story, told in three acts that absolutely beg to be shared out loud. Kids are going to have so much fun with this one!” —Kate Messner, author of All the Answers and The Seventh Wish