August 01, 1999|By Janell Cannon

Editor's note: A young python doesn't want to grow up and become slow and boring like the older snakes in the tropical jungle where he lives.

On a small tropical island, the sun rose high above the steamy jungle. A mother python was sending her hatchlings out into the forest the way all mother pythons do. "Grow up big and green -- as green as the trees' leaves," she called to her little yellow babies as they happily scattered among the trees.

But Verdi dawdled. Why the hurry to grow up big and green? he wondered.

Maybe some of the older snakes in the jungle could tell him.

Umbles, Aggie, and Ribbon were lazing on some branches nearby. Verdi peered at their droopy green bodies. "It's not polite to stare," chided Aggie.

Umbles burped and groaned. "It's taken nearly four weeks for that last lizard to digest. I surely do like lizards, but lizards don't like me." "Why don't lizards like you?" asked Verdi. "Don't interrupt," Umbles grumbled. "Dear me," whined Aggie. If I don't shed soon, this itchy skin will drive me bananas."

Verdi tapped a tune with his tail as he waited to speak. "Stop that, Verdi. It makes me nervous," Ribbon complained.

Verdi couldn't imagine being in such a hurry to be like them. And he really wanted to keep his sporty stripes.

But one day, Verdi's skin began to peel, revealing a pale green stripe stretching along his whole body.

He raced down to the river, grabbing up a mouthful of rough leaves.

If I can't run this green off, I'll scrub it off, he thought.

His frantic splashing caught the eye of a large bottomfeeder cruising the murky depths. "Yummm," the old fish hummed. "Lunch!"

Before the fish could haul Verdi under, the frightened snake bit him on the nose. Ah-POOH! With a blast of his rubbery lips, the green fish sneezed, sending Verdi into the air.

Slapping into the soggy shore, Verdi skidded out of reach. "Whew, that was close," he sputtered. Every inch of his body was covered with wet, gloppy mud. "It sure beats being green."

But the soft brown muck dried into a hard gray shell and Verdi could barely move. If he even budged, the stuff cracked off in jagged chunks. As each piece fell away, Verdi could see that his body was even greener than before.

Launching himself from the treetop, Verdi became dizzy with delight, sure the bright sun and his lofty speed would turn him golden again.

Plummeting through the trees, Verdi landed in a crooked sprawl across a log on the forest floor.

He couldn't move. "Help," he croaked.

As usual, the greens had been watching Verdi's antics. They moved quickly to where he lay.

They gently lifted Verdi up to a safer place, where they could watch over him while he healed.

Neatly splinted to a branch, Verdi had no choice but to listen to the greens as they gabbed.

The greens rambled on about their days of glory, and Verdi settled in on his branch.

Finally one afternoon, Umbles said, "Looks like you are ready to go again." He carefully untied Verdi from the branch. "You are welcome to come with us," said Aggie.

Verdi wasn't ready to join them. He wasn't sure where he wanted to go, so he just stretched and stayed put until the sun went down.

He listed to the forest come alive. . . .

Verdi became so green that he blended perfectly with the leaves.

One fine morning as Verdi basked in the sunshine, two small yellow snakes approached. They tapped and fidgeted as they stared. "Get a load of that old green guy," one of them whispered. "Do you think he ever moves?"

The other snickered. "I seriously doubt it."

They're just like I used to be, thought Verdi. And I'm now what I was afraid to be. He looked as his big green body and slowly smiled. "How would you like to climb trees with me?" he asked. "With you?" The yellows were astounded. "I may be big and very green, but I'm still me!"

Text and illustration from VERDI, copyright (c) 1997 by Janell Cannon. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company.

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