Knock About with the Fitzgerald-Trouts


By Esta Spalding

Illustrated by Sydney Smith

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“Witty, full of heart and genuinely fun to read…a wacky, lighthearted romp.” — The New York Times Book Review

Welcome to the further adventures of the plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings, who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless, but the kids can drive.

In this second installment, the delightfully self-reliant siblings continue their search for a home. This time, their pursuit will bring them face-to-face with a flood, illegal carnivorous plants, and the chance to win an extraordinary prize at a carnival. Will they finally find a place to call home?



In early June of last year, I was kayaking home from a visit with my (then) friend Johnny Trout at his cabin on Wabo Point when my boat was attacked by an animal that I can only guess was a giant squid. The last thing I remember was seeing five enormous, fleshy white tentacles (covered with pulsing suckers, each one as big as a toilet plunger) reaching up out of the waves and latching on to the bow of my boat. I turned my head from the sight only to find myself looking into the eye of the terrible beast as it rose up out of the water. It was an eye so large that I saw in it my own life-size reflection—upside down—and for a moment it seemed as if the animal had already swallowed me whole.

I must have lost consciousness because I remember nothing else. I've been told that I was found some hours later, floating faceup in my life jacket in the harbor, and that I remained unconscious for several weeks, in a hospital bed, hovering between life and death.

It was during this time of unconsciousness that the events described in this book took place. I have pieced them together based on the accounts given to me by the four oldest Fitzgerald-Trout children, and I have confirmed what they told me by talking to as many other witnesses as I can find. But I have been warned by my lawyers that if this book is going to be published, I must make clear from the start that the events I am describing—including the criminal activities that Kim, Kimo, Pippa, and Toby swear they witnessed—have not yet been heard in our island's courts by a judge or a jury. In other words, the actual ownership of the boat in question has not yet been decided, and the Fitzgerald-Trout children may, in fact, be the ones on the wrong side of the law. But I don't think so. I think I know whose story to trust.

—E. S.


Kim Fitzgerald-Trout might have been only eleven years old, but she was a very experienced driver, so as she turned onto the road that descended the dark slopes of Mount Muldoon, she slowed her little green car. Her four brothers and sisters were laughing into the darkness around her, repeating lines from the movie they'd just seen at the drive-in. It was only the first week of summer vacation but they had already been to the drive-in twice, which meant that Kim had driven the same road only a few nights before. Still, she drove carefully. The road was surrounded on all sides by a forest of maha trees. Kim didn't want to risk an accident in the battered old car whose engine made a gurgling noise even when it wasn't driving down the steepest mountain on the island.

Kim's brother Kimo, who was the second oldest and sat beside her in the front of the car, saw her fingers clenched on the steering wheel. He nudged her gently with his shoulder, his way of asking if everything was all right. "It's too dark," Kim answered, flicking on the high beams that illuminated more of the road.

"Well done," Kimo said in a phony English accent, and they all laughed appreciatively. It was a line from the movie they had just seen called The Nosy Ninja, about a basset-hound ninja who solved crimes by sniffing out the villains. At the end of the movie, the nosy ninja had discovered the stolen diamonds stuffed into a rump roast being overcooked in an oven. That's when the police inspector had patted him on the head and said, "Well done, nosy ninja. Just like this rump roast."

Pippa, who was eight years old and sat in the backseat behind Kimo, shook her fist in the air and repeated the villain's last line from the movie: "You oughta mind your own business, nosy ninja."

"The nose knows," Toby, the second youngest, said, making a sniffing noise just like the basset hound, then pretending first to smell the jar that held his goldfish and then the bald head of Penny, his baby sister, who sat beside him in her car seat. Penny cooed gleefully, letting loose a slurry of spit-up onto her doll, Lani.

Most children, when they leave a drive-in movie theater, go home and get in their beds and go to sleep, but the Fitzgerald-Trouts were not most children. When they left the drive-in, they stayed in their car, which was their home and which gave them the freedom to go anywhere they wanted.

At night they parked at a campsite beside Pea Tree Beach where they slept under the stars and swam in the morning, cooking their oatmeal breakfast over a familiar campfire. They all had gotten used to this setup and had even begun to enjoy it. But not Kim; she was adamant that they should live someplace more permanent. Kim was very fond of to-do lists, and the number one thing on her to-do list was Find a house. She had done this once before, when she'd led her siblings through dangerous woods and found an abandoned cabin on Wabo Point. The owner of the cabin had turned out to be Kimo's father, Johnny Trout.

Now Kim glanced over at Kimo and saw that he was looking at her too. They were only a few months apart in age and their names were almost the same, so they liked to think they were almost twins and could read each other's minds. Maybe they could, because at that moment Kimo was also thinking about the cabin on Wabo Point and how things had gone so wrong when his father returned. A look of worry clouded Kimo's face.

"Don't," Kim said quickly, then changed the subject. "Why would anyone hide diamonds in a rump roast?"

"I'd hide them in a freezer with some ice cubes," said Kimo, grateful to be thinking about something besides his father. "Or maybe I'd hide them in a bank."

"Smart," said Toby.

Pippa wiped her glasses on her T-shirt and scoffed, "You wouldn't steal them in the first place. You're not a villain."

"But if I were…" said Kimo.

"You wouldn't be," said Pippa, putting back on the glasses that magnified the dark freckles around her eyes. "You're not greedy. Villains are always greedy."

"Villains weren't always villains," said Kimo. "Something happened to them to make them that way."

"Spoken like someone who will never be one," snorted Pippa, just as a bright flash of light pierced the windshield. Kim threw a hand up over her eyes. She could hardly see the road now, but between her fingers the light flashed again. She blinked as if blinking could make the flashing stop, but it couldn't, and for a second she was driving blind. She hit the brakes, steering toward the shoulder, where the little green car rumbled to a stop just as Toby yelled from the backseat, "Look at that!"

Toby was pointing to a creature standing some distance away in the middle of the road. The creature was human in its dimensions but made entirely of metal that glinted in the moonlight.

Kimo shook his head and said, "Are we dreaming?"

"Probably an alien," said Toby, who had always hoped to meet one.

"Alien schmalien," scoffed Pippa. "I don't think an alien would be carrying that." She pointed to the long object that dangled from the creature's hand. It was an ax. Kim, who was a great reader of books, thought the creature looked like the Tin Woodman from Oz, though it seemed to her to be made of a softer kind of metal.

"Whatever it is, it's heading toward us," said Kimo, suddenly nervous. "Roll up your windows! Hurry!" He saw that the metal man was waving its free hand in the air. "What do you think it wants?"

Before any of them could answer, the creature called out, "Help!"

Kim tightened her grip on the steering wheel. What to do? She looked at Kimo and asked, "Should I drive?"

"Please, help!" the creature called out again, and Kimo thought how it would be irresponsible of him to let a giant metal man carrying an ax get any nearer to his brother and sisters. On the other hand, he and his siblings had had their own share of trouble in life and were sympathetic to anyone (or anything) that called out for help. "Let's keep the windows up and ask what it wants," Kimo said to Kim.

Kim nodded, and rolled her window down a crack, shouting to the creature, "We want to help you, but put down your ax or we'll drive away!" The creature, now only a few yards from the car, did as it was told, setting the ax down on the muddy shoulder of the road and raising its hands in surrender.

"All right," said Kim, "you may approach." She was speaking very formally, as if this might defuse the bizarre situation. The metal man took a few more steps toward the car, but just as it was about to reach them, a loud shriek rose up from the maha trees that bordered the road. The children turned and saw the dark sky full of even darker wings. Thousands of birds—screaming and cawing—had suddenly flown out of their nests and were circling above.

"What's going on?" This was Toby, who nervously clutched the jar that held his goldfish, Goldie.

"Something scared them," Kim reasoned.

The metal creature was outside the windows now, banging on the glass. "Let me in before it starts!"

"What starts?" Kim shouted back.

"Knockabout!" the metal man shouted just as there came an earth-shattering rumble, the sound of millions of tons of rock being torn apart, the sound of the planet's vast and ancient tectonic plates shifting. The metal man was right; it was a "knockabout," which was what the inhabitants of the island called an earthquake.

The car began to buck like a horse. Its tires were jumping up and down. Then, suddenly, everything around the car was moving, even the road. The maha trees swayed so that first one branch then another bent and touched the ground. It was as if a giant had picked up the earth and was amusing himself with it. Turning it this way and that way. Shaking it. Playing with it like a toy.

Strapped in her car seat, baby Penny began to wail with fear. Pippa, who felt a ferocious and protective love for the baby, scrambled out of her own seat and slid down in front of Penny's so that she could face the baby and hold her hands, comforting her.

Meanwhile the metal creature was outside the bucking car, trying to hold on. It gripped the door handle and shouted, "Let me in!"

Forgetting himself, Kimo reached into the back and flipped up the door lock. The back door swung open, and instantly the metal creature moved into the churning vehicle.

For several long seconds the car bucked up and down, bouncing the children and the metal man around inside it. Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the shaking stopped. Everything went still: the car, the road, the trees. Even the birds stopped their shrieking and quickly disappeared back into their nests in the maha branches.

It took a second for the children to catch their breath and realize the knockabout was over. The danger had passed. It took another second for them to realize that the metal creature was now in the car with them. So the danger hadn't passed. During this second, the creature reached its metal paws up and, with a little tug, began to pull off its metal head.

Toby screamed and covered his eyes, so he didn't see what the others saw: The creature's "head" was really only a big, soft metal mask—like an inside-out oven mitt with eyeholes cut from it. Underneath the mask was the face of a grown-up. She had long black hair and bright green eyes. She was smiling. "You can always tell when something big is coming. The birds fly out of their nests all at once like that. They sense it."

"Sense what?" asked Kimo, who was no longer afraid.

"A knockabout," said Kim, catching the woman's meaning.

"There have been more and more of them lately."

"Yup," the children agreed, almost in unison. They had noticed it too. There were knockabouts every few days when the whole island seemed about to capsize, like a fragile boat tossed on the ocean's surface.

"Thanks for stopping," said the woman, whose enormous eyes made Kimo think of satellite dishes. "My name is Leaf."

"Are you a space alien?" asked Toby, who had uncovered his eyes and was sounding hopeful.

"I'm a scientist," Leaf said, looking around at the patchwork of children. They had varying degrees of brown hair and brown skin. Some had black eyes and some had green.

"Scientist?" Pippa was confused. "What's with the getup? You look like something from a horror movie."

"I study plants that grow around the crater of the volcano," Leaf answered. "This is a lava suit. I wear it so I can get close to the volcano and take samples of the plants without getting burned."

"There are plants that grow on volcanoes?" Kimo had studied volcanoes in school and didn't remember hearing about that.

"Of course there are," said Leaf, opening her eyes even wider. "You should know about volcanoes. You're an islander."

"He's a Fitzgerald-Trout," said Kim. She didn't like the way the woman never seemed to blink, but just stared at them with those flying-saucer eyes.

"Whoever you are. You should know about the place where you live. You should know that volcanoes destroy most plants completely." Now Leaf's voice dropped to a whisper so the children had to lean close to hear her. "If you don't know that, then you won't be able to help when you're needed."

"Needed? Who needs us?" This was Toby, whispering into the air. Kim and Kimo looked at each other, unsettled.

But Leaf didn't answer the question. Instead she said, "Mount Muldoon has started leaking lava. It's a dormant volcano, but it's woken up. Ask the birds—they fly out of their trees whenever the lava comes."

Kim noticed that Leaf's eyes sparkled as she said this; the woman seemed to be excited at the thought of the volcano spewing fiery liquid rock. The thought made Kim shudder. "We'd better get out of here," she said, starting the car.

"Wait," said Leaf, opening the door. "Let me grab my ax." The children looked at one another. They didn't trust grown-ups, especially grown-ups with axes. Pippa, who had a temper that rivaled even the fiercest volcano, growled at Leaf, "You have to put your ax in the trunk." Her brown freckles darkened as she spoke, making her look like she might explode.

"All right," said Leaf, giving a small shrug and running to get the ax.

"Well done," Kimo said to Pippa, then added, "just like this rump roast."


The ride to Leaf's research station at the foot of Mount Muldoon was very uncomfortable. Toby had to sit on Pippa's lap in the backseat and she kept accusing him of squashing her. "You're grinding your bones into my legs," she snapped.

"I'm not trying to," Toby groused. He didn't speak very often so it was a measure of his annoyance that he was talking now.

Leaf kept saying how sorry she was and how much she appreciated the ride. "It's not your fault he has sharp bones," Pippa said.

"It's my fault he has to sit on your lap," Leaf offered.

"I do not have sharp bones," Toby wailed. He looked for a second like he might cry, but then he pulled himself together and glared at Pippa.

"You sure have sharp eyes," Pippa said. It was true. Toby's glare could change the weather in a room.

Kim and Kimo looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes. They were both thinking the same thing: Grown-ups make everything difficult. Take their parents, for example. Between them, the children had five different mothers and fathers; their family tree was impossible to keep track of, but the one thing that was clear was that all five of their parents were terrible. For instance, none of them had offered the children a place to live; instead those five parents had left the children to fend for themselves, living on their own in the little green car that they parked at the beach.

The children's parents were so terrible that the Fitzgerald-Trouts considered themselves lucky not to have to live with any of them.

Kim, Pippa, and Toby would not have wanted to live with their father, Dr. Fitzgerald, a scientist who had moved them all into the car before he'd flown off to a different, distant island to pursue his research. Nor would they have wanted to live with Pippa and Kim's greedy mother, Maya, who had been thrown in jail for stealing billions of dollars.

Kimo, Toby, and Penny's mother was Tina. She was a country-and-western singer whose songs sometimes topped the island's music charts. Tina was a very vain woman who, when she visited the children, spent half her time checking her reflection in a mirror or window. The other half she spent telling the children how terrible they looked. She told Kim to brush her hair, Kimo to clean his clothes, Pippa to sit up straight, and Toby to wipe his nose. As for baby Penny, who was less than a year old and had been left in the car by Tina with a bag of diapers and eighty dollars, Tina now claimed that the baby was getting fat. "You need to put that baby on a diet," she snarked at the older children.

"A baby can't go on a diet!" Pippa shouted in a flash of anger. It was bad enough that Tina had abandoned the baby to the care of her siblings, but now she was criticizing the way the older children were raising the baby. Pippa had frowned at her and said, "You don't understand a thing about babies."

Tina had shaken her head and wagged her finger at Pippa. "Don't frown. It makes the skin on your face wrinkle. You don't want worry lines. They're very unattractive." The moment became legendary among the children, who would often turn to one another when times were tough and say, "You don't want worry lines. They're very unattractive."

Penny's father was Tina's husband, a man named Clive who was often seen around the island wearing a blue tuxedo that matched his blue convertible. Penny—who was bald—looked a lot like Clive, but that was the only way to tell that he was her father. The few times Clive had brought envelopes of money to the children (so that they could buy food and diapers), he was careful not to get close to the baby. "I think I'm allergic," he explained to the older children. "That time I held her, I broke out in hives." A father allergic to his baby? The Fitzgerald-Trouts had always known there were a million ways to be a terrible parent, but now they knew there were a million and one.

As bad as Clive was, he couldn't compete with Kimo's terrible father, Johnny Trout. As far as all of them were concerned, Johnny was the worst parent of all because of what had happened the night he'd returned to his cabin on Wabo Point.

Thinking about this brought Kim back to thinking about her to-do list and the number one thing on that list: Find a house. Not having one was making her worry more than usual. She frowned and then immediately heard Tina's nagging voice in her head. But it was Kimo who spoke: "You don't want worry lines. They're very unattractive." He and Kim both laughed. They really had been thinking the same thing.

"We're almost there," Leaf said, causing Kim to startle. For a few minutes, she had forgotten the scientist was in the car. "I really appreciate the ride. I hope it wasn't out of your way."

"We don't have a way," Kim offered. "It's summer and school's out so we're taking a vacation."

"We're driving around the island," Kimo added.

"Seeing beaches we've never seen." That was Pippa.

They could have told the woman that they needed a home and that they were on the lookout for an abandoned house, but the Fitzgerald-Trouts were private children and very proud, with an innate mistrust of grown-ups. There was no way they were going to admit their situation to this one.

"Sounds like fun," Leaf said, and no one disagreed with her. It was fun even if they all had to sleep in the car on nights when it rained. "Turn right," Leaf said, pointing to a narrow dirt road that cut a path through the trees. Kim flicked on her turn signal and maneuvered onto the bumpy road. They drove in silence, watching the headlights paint the maha trees.

After a few minutes, they pulled up in front of a small wooden building. The sign out front read MOON EAR TATION.

"What's moon ear tation?" Kim asked.

"Sounds like a disease," said Kimo. "Something that makes you dizzy."

"Do you study the moon?"

"I like the font," Pippa said. "Helvetica." Pippa was crazy about fonts and knew the names of all of them. "But the spacing is all wrong."

"It's supposed to say Muldoon Research Station," Leaf explained, "but the sign is made out of mushimush wood, which the jabberwills have been eating. They crawl out of their burrows at night and chew up the letters."

"I wouldn't live anyplace where there were jabberwills," Kimo said.

"They're perfectly harmless," Leaf said. "They have long teeth, but they only eat plants. Not people."

"Be careful anyway," Kimo warned.

"It is very odd," mused Leaf. "I've never known jabberwills to eat mushimush wood. They don't usually have a taste for it." She shook her head. "The forests are changing."

"How?" Toby asked.


  • "It's goofy, sweet, and buoyant with good will--Pippi Longstocking for our more hyperactive times."—Horn Book
  • "Spunk, spirit, and ingenuity only begin to describe these fascinating children."—School Library Journal
  • "With quick chapters, a compelling mystery, clever kid characters, and humorous antics galore, this lighthearted, cheer-worthy adventure should find an easy audience among middle-grade readers."—Booklist

On Sale
May 9, 2017
Page Count
320 pages

Esta Spalding

About the Author

Esta Spalding grew up on a tropical island where she never wore shoes. She has since lived all over the world. When she’s not writing, she kayaks, bakes, and assembles whale skeletons with her husband, a marine biologist.

Learn more about this author