The Fabulous Flight

The Fabulous Flight

by Robert Lawson


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"[C]hildren are going to be charmed ... only such a good fantasy writer as Lawson could write about his adventures so plausibly ... And the author's pictures get better and better as the story progresses." — Kirkus Reviews
"[Lawson's books] will live for generations." — The Horn Book
Peter Pepperell abruptly stopped growing at the age of 7, after which he started getting smaller. But while his body became tinier, his mind got bigger and so did his sense of adventure. When he learns of an overseas madman who's threatening the world with a compact but powerfully destructive weapon, the 4-inch-high boy climbs on the back of a friendly seagull and heads for Europe to disarm the evil scientist — and to do a little sightseeing along the way.
Author Robert Lawson was awarded both the Newbery and Caldecott medals for his writing and illustrating, and his images for The Fabulous Flight add mightily to the story's whimsical delights. Long out of circulation, this book is back in print and ready to delight a new generation of young readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486823324
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 04/18/2018
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 527,153
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Robert Lawson (1892–1957) had illustrated more than 30 children's books — including the ever-popular Mr. Popper's Penguins — before writing his first book, Ben and Me, the story of an ingenious mouse who inspires many of Benjamin Franklin's inventions. Lawson was awarded both the Newbery and Caldecott medals for his writing and illustrating.

Read an Excerpt



Until he reached the age of seven Peter Peabody Pepperell III was a perfectly normal child. In fact he was a little brighter than the average and perhaps a trifle larger.

But shortly after his seventh birthday, for no reason that anyone could discover, he suddenly stopped growing. It was quite puzzling, for his health was excellent, he was active, energetic and had the usual ferocious appetite that goes with that age. It was puzzling to his parents, but not especially alarming. Each day his mother weighed and measured him, but for several weeks both height and weight remained stationary.

"Just a temporary phase," his father guessed. "He has been growing quite rapidly and now there has to be a slight pause while the rest of his system catches up. These fluctuations in the growth rate are noticeable in all Nature; trees, flowers, vegetables and so forth. They are especially pronounced in the marine crustacea."

"What are they?" Peter asked.

"Clams, crabs, oysters, lobsters, crawfish, barnacles, mussels, coral polyps – there are a great many."

"I'd like to be a crawfish," Peter said, "they can run backwards as fast as anything." He demonstrated the locomotion of a crawfish, knocking over the small table which bore his mother's cherished crab-claw cactus.

"Suppose you try imitating a barnacle," Mr. Pepperell suggested, "or perhaps a coral polyp."

This lack of growth was merely puzzling, but when Peter did again begin to grow his parents really became upset. For he began to grow smaller!

At first his mother could not believe it, but after several successive measurements proved that he had grown almost three-eighths of an inch shorter, with a corresponding decrease in weight, both parents decided that Dr. Chutney should be consulted at once.

Dr. Chutney had taken care of Peter Peabody ever since he was born, in fact for some time before. He knew Mr. and Mrs. Pepperell very well indeed. So well that he didn't pay much attention when Mrs. Pepperell told him of their problem.

"All right, all right, Mary," he said. "Mustn't get excited, mustn't get excited. Everyone's liable to make a mistake, but we'll look at him if it'll make you feel better."

"I feel perfectly all right," Mrs. Pepperell answered, "and I haven't made any mistake. Measure him yourself and weigh him yourself and write it down – and paste it in your hat. I know I'm right."

So with much jocularity Dr. Chutney weighed and measured Peter, wrote down all the figures on a little blue card and put it in a filing cabinet. He scratched a prescription and gave it to Mrs. Pepperell.

"A teaspoonful after each meal," he said. "Just a little tonic. Bring him around again in a couple of weeks. Good-by Peter, and don't grow down any more – grow up. Ha, ha."

"I wish you would," Mrs. Pepperell said.

She brought Peter Peabody back at the end of two weeks and after Dr. Chutney had weighed and measured him he looked greatly puzzled. He got out the little blue card with the last measurements, studied it and looked still more puzzled.

"It's impossible, Mary," he finally said, "quite impossible, but you seem to be right."

"I don't see why that's so impossible," she replied, quite sharply.

"I mean about Peter," he said. "There does appear to be a positive decrease in height and weight. We'll have to look into this."

For ten days or so Dr. Chutney looked into it, and into Peter Peabody, with fluoroscopes, bronchoscopes, X rays, microscopes, cardiographs and all sorts of things. Peter Peabody didn't mind especially, because none of it hurt, but it was a bit tiresome. At the end of this period Peter had grown a quarter of an inch shorter and Dr. Chutney had to admit himself stumped.

"I can't understand it, Mary," he confessed. "It's completely beyond me. Obviously a disturbance of the sacro-pitulian-phalangic gland (we call it sac-pit for short) but whether a recession, a degeneration, or a reversal I am not prepared to say."

"What would that mean – in English?" Mrs. Pepperell asked.

"Well, it's this way. The sacro-pitulian-phalangic gland regulates the growth of the human body. Ordinarily it ceases to function about the age of twenty, when the subject has attained full growth. In rare instances it, the sac-pit, degenerates at a very early age – hence we have dwarfs. In other cases, also rare, it continues to function long after the normal time – then we have giants – "

"I saw a giant at the circus last summer," Peter Peabody offered. "His name was Wottaman Werner. He shook hands with me and he had pictures of himself with his autograph on them. They cost a quarter and Father wouldn't buy me one. I didn't want it anyway."

"– As I was saying," Dr. Chutney went on, "the sac-pit usually ceases its functions at about twenty. If Peter's growth had merely ceased we could deduce that the sac-pit had stopped work at an unusually early age and that he would retain his present size throughout life – which wouldn't be so bad –"

"No, I could be a jockey," Peter Peabody said.

"But this recession, this reversal of growth, is something completely unheard of. I think you had best see Dr. Squarosa at Johns Hopkins. He is the greatest authority on the sacro-pitulian-phalangic in this country, perhaps in the whole world."

"I'm not interested in the whole world," Mrs. Pepperell said, "and Baltimore is terribly hot at this time of year, but I suppose we'd better try him."

So in due time she and Peter drove up to Baltimore and spent a week with Aunt Dora. That is, they visited Aunt Dora, but they spent most of the week in Dr. Squarosa's offices. He was much like Dr. Chutney except that he used even longer words and had a beard. He put Peter through all the tests that Dr. Chutney had and a great many more.

Peter rather enjoyed the visit because Aunt Dora always had wonderful food and four ship models that her grandfather had built, but he didn't care much for Dr. Squarosa. Dr. Squarosa wore thick glasses that made his eyes look like owls' eyes and his beard smelled of cigar smoke. At the end of the week the Doctor gave Mrs. Pepperell his pronouncement.

"This, Madam," he said, "is the most remarkable case that I have encountered in forty years of practice. My investigations have convinced me that in this child the functions of the sacro-pitulian-phalangic gland have, in some unaccountable manner, become reversed. In short, instead of causing him to grow larger it is making him smaller. Did he, by any chance, suffer any severe shock, or blow, or accident about the time that this change became noticeable?"

"I fell out of the apple tree last fall," Peter volunteered, "and hit my chest on a rock. It hurt like everything, but Dr. Chutney said it wasn't important."

"He always says everything isn't important," Mrs. Pepperell said.

"This may possibly have been the cause of the trouble," the doctor went on, "it is also possible that a similar fall or blow might restore the gland to its normal functioning."

"But we can't go around throwing Peter out of apple trees or pounding his chest with rocks all the time," Mrs. Pepperell protested. She told Peter to go out and play with the nurse and turned to the doctor again. "Does this mean – an operation?" she asked hesitantly.

"I am afraid an operation is out of the question," Dr. Squarosa answered. "The sac-pit is so closely interconnected with the entire nervous system that any attempt to operate might have disastrous results. It might turn him into a hopeless imbecile – or an interpretive dancer or something."

"Heaven forbid," Mrs. Pepperell exclaimed hastily. "I'm rather relieved though; I hate the idea of operations ... But Doctor, where will this all end?"

"That is what puzzles me," Dr. Squarosa confessed. "However, things are not as distressing as they might seem. Peter is a fine boy, a bright, healthy child and extremely likeable. His mental development, which is excellent, will continue at the usual rate. He is now seven, so he will be fourteen before his size becomes infinitesimal. In those seven years science may possibly find some solution; I shall work on the problem myself. Or some unforeseen event may cause the gland to resume its normal functions. I shall, of course, keep in close touch with you. Good luck, and don't take it too hard."

Mrs. Pepperell collected Peter, who was practicing first aid by putting a splint on the nurse's left arm, and they went back to Aunt Dora's.


The Workshop

Mr. and Mrs. Pepperell had a long talk about the situation, although there was nothing much they could do about it. Neither was particularly upset. Mrs. Pepperell did feel somewhat disappointed because she had wanted Peter to grow six feet two inches tall and become a General or a Colonel as most of her brothers had.

Mr. Pepperell, however, pointed out that even if Peter had become six feet two he might not have become a General or a Colonel; he might have only been a Major. As Mrs. Pepperell particularly loathed Majors she felt much better about the whole thing.

"And his clothing problem will be so simple," she said cheerfully. "For years I've done nothing but let down trousers and sleeves and let out seams. Now all I have to do is to start taking them in again."

Mr. Pepperell was even more cheery about it. "By George," he laughed, "when he gets really small he'll be a great help to me in my work. Lately he's been getting quite large and clumsy, but if he gets smaller and keeps getting brighter it will be wonderful."

What Mr. Pepperell referred to as his "work" was really his hobby. This consisted of making tiny models of every conceivable thing. His actual work was in the State Department in Washington.

In the State Department Mr. Peter P. Pepperell II was a dignified and highly important figure, one of the most important and respected there. But the moment he got home he forgot all about the State Department and usually made a beeline for his workshop.

The workshop occupied the whole of a one-story wing on the north end of the Pepperell home. The house was a big rambling structure out in the country near Washington. At one time this wing had contained a large billiard room, a conservatory and several small rooms. Mr. Pepperell had thrown them all into one huge space and taken it over for his own – and Peter's. At one end was a fireplace surrounded by comfortable, usually dusty, armchairs. On each side of the fireplace were shelves filled with (to a boy) fascinating books.

Along one side of the long room ran a bench that bore an endless array of lathes, drills, grinders, buffers, sanders, routers, buzz saws, band saws and every other sort of machine that one could ever want, as well as a great many that one would never want. Ranged in neat racks and cabinets were ranks and battalions of sharp well-oiled tools. Shelf after shelf was filled with boxes of nails, brads, screws, bolts, nuts and rivets. In what had been the conservatory were a forge and an anvil for metal work. Before a north window stood a drafting table where Mr. Pepperell could plan his various projects.

Once in the workshop, when he had donned a greasy old smock, gotten his hair full of sawdust, his hands covered with oil and a few smudges on his face, Mr. Pepperell lost all resemblance to a high State Department official. He became just an enthusiastic, messy young boy.

Not that he was messy in his work. The models he built were exquisitely accurate and beautifully finished. There were models of all sorts of ships, from Old Ironsides to the latest type of submarine. There were models of naval guns and field guns and siege guns. He built model steam engines, gasoline engines, coaches, carriages, houses, furniture and airplanes. But his greatest pride and Peter's joy was the Pepperell Central Railroad.

This had been under construction for a year or two and had now grown so elaborate that its tracks threatened to usurp the entire workshop, large as it was. There were two terminals, each with a maze of tracks and switches. There were signal towers and a complete electric signal system. There were towns and factories and farms along the right of way. There were water towers, grain elevators and coal elevators. There was a dock with freight sheds, cranes, chutes and tipples. There were tunnels, culverts and crossovers. There were suspension bridges, drawbridges and lift bridges that really worked. As for rolling stock there was every type of locomotive from stubby switch engine to streamlined Diesel, every sort of car from de luxe Pullman to coal-laden gondola.

All this, elaborate though it was, was regarded by Peter and his father as merely a beginning. They were continually planning new expansions and new equipment. Mr. Pepperell drew up plans and consulted a contractor with the purpose of doubling the size of the workshop wing.

It is little wonder that Peter loved his father and this small boy's paradise of a workshop. It is little wonder that Mr. Pepperell loved his son and actually looked forward to his growing smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter.

Peter himself was the least concerned of anyone over this reversal of his growth. Indeed he was quite happy over it. For one thing it got him out of school, which was a great joy.

As he had grown smaller in body his mind seemed to develop even more rapidly than before, so his promotions were regular and frequent. This put him in classes where the other boys were much larger than he and made them appear as rather backward louts, although many of them were not. This, in turn, led to considerable hard feeling, for parents were always saying to their sons, "Why aren't you as smart as that little Pepperell boy? Goodness, he can't be more than half your age." If they protested that he was, it was dismissed as nonsense – no one that tiny could possibly be ten or eleven or whatever it happened to be.

To avoid embarrassment all around the Pepperells decided to remove Peter from school and continue his education at home, which suited him perfectly.

A young niece of Mrs. Pepperell's came to live with them and tutored Peter every morning. Barbara was a charming girl who had wanted to be a tap dancer but somehow had gone to college and gotten educated instead. She not only had a brilliant mind and gorgeous blond hair, but was lots of fun as well. So Peter's education progressed rapidly and pleasantly.

"Moreover," Mr. Pepperell pointed out, "he has the great privilege of associating with me a large part of the time, an opportunity for which many a young man would cheerfully give his eyeteeth."

"Any young man who wanted to become a mechanic might," Mrs. Pepperell answered. "I had hoped for something higher for Peter."

She spoke rather sharply for she was still a bit nettled over her recent dinner party. A few nights before the Pepperells had entertained several extremely important guests. There were two Justices of the Supreme Court, an Admiral, a General, the Australian Ambassador and, of course, their wives. It was all very delightful but, unfortunately, after dinner the gentlemen had retired to the workshop for their coffee and cigars. There they were joined by Peter and there, despite repeated summonses, they had remained the entire evening, shamefully neglecting their social duties – and wives.

The two Supreme Court Justices had an extremely undignified squabble as to which should be chief Train Dispatcher at the Eastern terminus of the Pepperell Central Railroad, a dispute which required all Mr. Pepperell's well-known diplomatic tact to settle. The Australian Ambassador buried himself in one of the dusty armchairs by the fire with a book on the Flora and Fauna of the Great Barrier Reef and refused to be disturbed.

Mr. Pepperell and the General had a long argument on the correct handling of one of the model cannon, which necessitated firing it off several times. Barbara came in to shoo Peter off to bed, but remained to flirt with the Admiral who, although exactly three times her age and several times a grandfather, always enjoyed that sort of thing. At the moment he was attempting, quite unsuccessfully, to operate a wood lathe. He had cut one thumb and this together with spatters of flying oil had made quite a mess of his full dress uniform. Barbara cleaned him up as well as she could and persuaded him to take on the less dangerous job of chief Signal Operator of the Pepperell Central. It was high time, for the two Justices, through sheer stubbornness and lack of cooperation, had managed to have several bad train wrecks.

Peter acted as General Superintendent and chief trouble shooter, and occasionally as messenger to the pantry to order more refreshments. When it was time for the guests to depart he sat on the Admiral's shoulder while they all sang, "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."

A grand time was had by all – except Mrs. Pepperell. Spending a long evening with five ill-assorted, uncongenial and impatient wives had been quite a strain and not at all her idea of a good time. It is not to be wondered at that she was a trifle irritated with the workshop and its attractions, but her irritations never lasted long.


Excerpted from "The Fabulous Flight"
by .
Copyright © 1949 Robert Lawson.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. Peter
2. The Workshop
3. You're in the Army Now
4. Gus
5. Threat to Civilization
6. Total Mobilization
7. Wings over Manhattan
8. The Long Hop
9. Fog, Fish and France
10. The Professor
11. The Tale of Fisheye
12. The Rocket's Red Glare
13. The Glory That Wasn't Rome
14. Operation Dunk
15. Back to Normalcy

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