SCENE 1, INTERIOR. AFTERNOON. CLASSROOM. The students are just returning to their seats after recess. The teacher begins to pass out chocolate-frosted brownies on small white plates. The class is instructed to enjoy them as the teacher wanders about between them. The kids are happily enjoying their dessert.
TEACHER: How is that brownie, Leslie?
LESLIE: [Grinning] It’s delicious, Mr. Z. Did you make them?
TEACHER: Indeed, I did. John, how do you like your brownie?
[The boy gives the thumbs-up sign as his mouth is full of the chocolately mass. He also smiles broadly].
BROOKS: Why’d you make us brownies, Mr. Z?
TEACHER: Just because I like you. I thought you deserved them.
[The class continues to eat their brownies as the teacher moves to the front of the classroom].
TEACHER: Now class, remember how I said I’d do a literature response after you all finished yours? [The class nods] Well, I am ready to do mine now.
[The kids grab slips of paper to write notes on about the report once it’s finished. The teacher picks a book up off the table but keeps it behind his back as he begins].
TEACHER: My book is by author, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It’s about a boy named Andy who is in the fifth grade. His school has a contest each year put on by a well-to-do family about various topics; it’s sort of a memorial for the son in the family who died a few years ago. The winner of the contest gets $50 in prize money. This year, the topic is ‘conservation.’ Well, the whole fifth grade is pretty upset because they don’t like this topic, and they decide to boycott the contest. This means that everyone refuses to do it. They’re hoping that Mr. Sudderman will change the subject if nobody enters.
Unfortunately, Andy’s cousin, Jack, enters the contest and now, if nobody else enters, he’ll be the winner. Already he’s working on an idea of conserving power by cooking food on vehicle engines. He believes that by grilling hamburgers and other food on car engines, money will be saved, thus conserving electricity as well.
Andy is worried that his cousin will beat him and comes up with an idea to help conserve food. Since insects are high in protein, he begins taking beetles, mealworms, and other insects that he chops up, and begins putting them in food. He starts off by taking a batch of brownies to his friends at lunch, with chopped up beetles in them instead of nuts. Only, he doesn’t tell his friends what they’re really eating.
[The teacher pulls the book out from behind his back and show the class the cover: Beetles, Lightly Toasted. There is complete silence in the classroom as several of the students stop in mid-chew, eyes wide. Several of them glance nervously at each other. One boy spits part of his brownie back onto his plate. Another student walks over to the trash can and throws the rest of her brownie away. Several kids make a break for the drinking fountain at the back of the classroom].
TEACHER: Soon, Andy is feeding his family mealworm egg-salad sandwiches, and other dishes that he dreams up. The problem is…will Andy end up winning the $50, but losing everyone’s trust?
[The teacher pauses and glances around the room with a sheepish smile].
TEACHER: For my project, I decided to make a very special brownie recipe.
[Most of the class is still staring silently at the teacher with open mouths. One girl’s hand tentatively rises into the air].
TEACHER: Becky, you had a question?
BECKY: Are…there…um…beetles…in…these? [She indicates the half-eaten brownie still on her desk].
TEACHER: Well, my project had to come from the book, didn’t it?
[Most of the class is still sitting in their desks, speechless. The teacher smiles again and then breaks out laughing. He lets the class know that the brownies are actually from a local bakery, and don’t contain any insects at all. A sudden sigh of relief wafts about the classroom as a few students begin to laugh. A few of them continue to eat their brownies, while others choose not to do so].
TEACHER: My project was not bringing brownies, but was instead a lesson on empathy. How many of you think you can relate to the characters in the book when they find out what Andy’s done to them without their knowledge?
[Two dozen hands immediately punch the air].
TEACHER: I would recommend this book to any kid who likes stories about friendship, mistakes, and ‘just desserts.’
[The class begins to write their reactions to the book report amidst quiet conversations, snatches of which can be heard throughout the room: That was the coolest literature response ever! He really had me going for a minute there. I wish I’d thought of that. I’m going to read that book now! Mr. Z is so cool. I wonder what beetles really taste like. I was never going to trust Mr. Z again if that were really true. Isn’t Phyllis Reynolds Naylor awesome? Do you think she really ate beetles when writing the book?].
[The teacher begins to eat one of the brownies himself, he moves back towards his desk. A boy catches his eye and grins at him].
JOEY: You know what, Mr. Z?
TEACHER: What’s that Joey?
JOEY: I’d have still eaten them, even if they had beetles in them.
[The boy grins].
JOEY: Yeah, my mom cooks a lot of gross stuff. But if beetles tasted this good, I’d eat them all the time.
[The boy pushes the last of his brownie into his mouth and begins to chew it].
JOEY: Beetles are my favorite…
TEACHER: If only there were beetles in them, Joey…if only.
[Fade to black].