“I want you to finish page twenty-seven in your spelling book tonight,” Mrs. Fielding reminded her class. “And your oral reports on what you want to be when you grow up are due Monday morning.”
The boys and girls buzzed eagerly about their oral reports. Only Carlos sat silently staring at his desk. His friend Robert smiled at him. After six weeks in his new school, Carlos had made only one friend—Robert. Somehow it was easy to talk to Robert.
The recess bell rang, and the chattering class hurried outside.
“Hey, Robert! C’mon! We’re starting a game!” It was Steve, the captain of the class baseball team.
“Great!” Robert called back. “Can Carlos play too?”
Steve hesitated. “I guess so. Is he any good?”
“He’s good,” said Robert. He turned back to Carlos and said, “Come on, Carlos, show them.”
But Carlos pulled back. “No,” he mumbled, “not today. I—I just don’t know how to talk to them. And when I don’t talk, they think I don’t know how to play baseball.”
“Carlos, you’ve got to talk to people,” Robert told his friend. “What are you going to do when you have to give your oral report next week in front of the whole class?”
“I don’t know,” Carlos answered glumly.
Robert smiled encouragingly at his friend. “Come on, Carlos, let’s play catch and not worry about it now. We’ll think of something for your report.” He tossed the ball to Carlos. “It’s easy to have friends. Just show them you’re friendly.”
After school Robert walked home with Carlos. As they climbed the steps, a man opened the front door.
“Uncle Ernesto!” Carlos yelled excitedly, hugging his uncle.
After he introduced Robert to Uncle Ernesto, Carlos told Robert that his uncle’s hobby was making puppets and putting on plays. “Uncle Ernesto lets me help with the shows sometimes,” said Carlos. They all went inside, and Uncle Ernesto brought out his new puppets to show the boys. Carlos picked one up and demonstrated how the strings made the puppets appear to wave, dance, and even talk.
“Aren’t you nervous doing a show in front of people?” asked Robert, admiring a little donkey puppet.
“Not really,” answered Carlos. “It’s as though I’m one of the puppets instead of me. I feel much braver then.”
“I guess I understand,” said Robert. “I feel that way when I’m a player on the field.” He thought for a moment, gently wiggling the strings on the bullfighter puppet. Suddenly his face lit up and he exclaimed, “Say, Carlos, why don’t you let the puppets give your oral report to the class! You could talk, but everyone would be watching them.”
Carlos grinned happily. “That’s a great idea!”
On Monday three other students gave their reports before Carlos gave his, and everyone was impatient to see what was in the large box he had brought with him. When it was finally Carlos’s turn, he asked for permission to set up a small puppet stage on Mrs. Fielding’s desk.
The curtains opened, and even Robert was surprised to see two baseball player puppets. Carlos made them look as if they were playing catch while they talked about baseball. Carlos really knew a lot about baseball. Steve and the other boys looked at each other in surprise.
The puppets batted and ran and slid, and the class was delighted as they listened eagerly to Carlos’s report.
“You are part of a team,” said one of the puppets in a deep voice, “so you try to do your best for your friends.”
“That’s why I want to be a baseball player,” the second puppet said in Carlos’s natural voice. Then the puppets made funny little bows and bounced off the stage.
The class whispered noisily, and Steve spoke up. “That was great! He really knows the game.” Later, at recess, Steve walked over to Robert and Carlos. “Hey, you guys, let’s play ball. We need you both on the team.”