Penrod, who would rather hide in the haystall writing bloody adventure stories, is obligated to appear in a children’s pageant as the Child Sir Lancelot. To further his humiliation, his mother and sister dress him for the performance in a silk bodice, stockings, and his father’s flannel underwear. Ridiculed by fellow cast members Maurice and Marjorie, he appropriates and dons a pair of the janitor’s capacious overalls, which brings down the house and ruins the pageant.
Penrod uses his Sunday School money to buy candy and attend a lurid cinematic melodrama about the evils of drink. Caught daydreaming in school, he attempts to excuse his inattention by describing the film’s events as factual and pertaining to his visiting aunt and cousin. His mother hears about the story and demands that her husband suitably punish their son.
Before dancing class adjourns for the summer, a cotillion is planned for the children to demonstrate their manners and dancing skills. Penrod aspires to invite Marjorie to be his partner, but Maurice beats him to it. He is subsequently turned down by eleven other girls, leaving only an eight-year-old who sobs when he asks her. Penrod and his friend Sam plan revenge on Maurice by concocting a mixture of hair tonic, outdated smallpox medicine, and mouthwash and selling it to Maurice as “lickrish water.” The potion makes Duke ill, but, inexplicably, Maurice enjoys the drink with no ill effects. Penrod then gets out of attending the dance by pretending to fall off the barn roof.
Two young African American brothers named Herman and Verman catch a raccoon and proudly sport deformities, such as having an amputated finger and being tongue-tied. Penrod and Sam stage a sideshow featuring these boys, the raccoon, some rats, and a dachshund. Posters and publicity bring several neighborhood children to the show, for which Penrod acts as ringleader. When attendance at subsequent shows lags and a rich boy sneers, Penrod adds this boy to the attractions, noting...
(The entire section is 823 words.)