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The Day It Rained Cats

Sheera’s life would never be the same.

By Linda Sue Park
From the May 2016 Issue
Lexile: 710L (story); 930L (essay)
Other Key Skills: inference, word choice, character, foreshadowing, key ideas, plot, symbolism, tone

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Think About: What does Sheera gain from the experience of learning to lev?

When cats came raining down from the sky, I knew it was because Grandma was angry. I saw a cat plummet past my window, followed by two more, so I clapped my book shut and rushed outside.

Grandma’s face was all screwed up as she glared over the fence. Then our calico tom, Harry—short for Hairball—flew out the nearby crab-apple tree and into her arms, screeching.

“About time!” she scolded. “Where have you been?”

Two more cats plunged toward the ground. I managed to slow their descent so they could land on their feet. The three cats I’d seen from the window had fallen into our juniper hedge; they scrambled out indignant but unhurt.

“Grandma, what happened?” I asked.

She lowered her gaze. “I—I wanted to feed Harry,” she said. “I called and called and he didn’t come, so. . . .”

I realized then what had happened: Grandma had tried to lev Harry, and had ended up levving our neighbors’ five cats as well.

Something wasn’t right. Grandma was an incredible levver. Every Halloween, I would design a jack-o’-lantern, and she would carve the pumpkin—without touching the knife. She could thread a needle just by looking at it. Before she retired, she was a manager at a recycling plant—a very tidy plant, because she levved all the newspapers into huge stacks and all the bottles into bins. Now she organized garage sales.

Her levving had always been perfect. How could she have made such a mistake?

On a September Saturday two years ago, right after my eleventh birthday, Grandma and I were eating breakfast. I had my eye on a perfect piece of bacon when it flew off the plate and hit me on the chin.

Grandma slapped her hands together. “That’s it,” she said. “It’s time to decide.”

Everyone had to make the decision when they turned 11. If you wanted to be a levver, you had to start training within a week of your birthday. At least two hours a day, usually more. It took a whole year of training before the skill became permanent. If you slacked off or stopped, you lost the ability.

That was it. Your only chance. As far as anyone knew, not one person had learned to lev after the age of 11.

Grandma fixed a laser gaze on me. “It’s hard work,” she said. “If you give up, it’ll be a waste of my time as well as yours.”

I knew what she was thinking. When my older brother Kai turned 11, he started training with Grandma. But he stopped after a few weeks. With school, soccer, and online gaming, he couldn’t find the time—and sure enough, he lost the ability. If it bothered him, he never showed it. None of his friends were levvers. Probably none of my friends would be either. Levving had been more popular back in the day, but now that everything was so automated, most people thought it was pretty pointless.

I remembered Grandma’s reaction when Kai announced that he didn’t want to train anymore. Her face had gone blank, which was somehow worse than if she’d gotten angry.

“Did you know that these days, only 1 in every 200 people is a levver?” Grandma said now. “It’s a dying art.”

I took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking about this forever,” I said. “I want to be able to lev like you.”

She was silent for a long moment. I started to squirm.

“Okay,” she said at last. “It’s your litter box.”

Grandma was always saying things like that.

I let out my breath in a whoosh. “I won’t let you down,” I promised.

And at that moment, I really meant it.

Levving basics: You have to totally zone in on whatever you want to lev, like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. The bigger or heavier it is, the harder it is to lev. Trickiest of all? Levving something that’s moving.

On only my second try, I levved the flap of an envelope. Over the next month, I progressed to heavier objects. A paper cup. A plastic spoon, then a metal one. By January, I could lev the TV remote. Each time I succeeded, Grandma gave me a little nod.

And then I got stuck on a can of baked beans. No matter how hard I tried, it didn’t budge.

If you need a new definition of boredom, try staring at a can of baked beans for two hours. Sometimes Grandma let me take a break by levving stuff I’d already mastered. But she always made me go back to the beans.

It was the Friday of what I’d come to think of as Bean Week. After school, I did my homework, then my usual chores—feeding Harry, making the salad, setting the table—all the while thinking glumly about the evening ahead: me and my new BFF, an immobile can of beans. Just before we sat down to eat, my phone buzzed with a text from my (human) best friend, Sandra:

--IRONWEAVER!!! TWO TIX!!! PICK U UP AT 7!

IronWeaver was a book series Sandra and I were obsessed with, about a girl who has the power to manipulate metal objects. Book Three had finally come out. Its release was such a big deal that the bookstore had given out 500 tickets, which were gone weeks ago.

--WHAAAAA? HOW? I texted back.

--Someone at my mom’s work. KESTREL LEE signing!!!

It was all I could talk about at dinner. When finally I stopped to take a breath, Grandma cleared her throat.

“What about the beans?” she asked.

I stared at her, my mouth open. Dad and Mom and Kai all got quiet.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I said. “I can do a double session.”

Grandma took a sip of water, staring at me over the rim of the glass.

“Slippery slope,” Mom said.

“Yeah,” Kai agreed. “You think you’re just going to miss one day, but then—” He raised his eyebrows.

I was not like Kai. I wasn’t going to quit. This was a super-special exception.

“Grandma, it’s Kestrel Lee,” I begged. “I’ll never get another chance to meet her.”

“You don’t know that,” she said. Then she shrugged. “It’s your shower curtain.”

When Sandra and her dad came to pick me up, I opened the car door and looked at Sandra’s face, all smiley with excitement. Then, as if from a distance, I heard myself say, “I can’t go. See if you can get a book for me.”

Tears stung my eyes as I slammed the car door before I could change my mind.

The book signing was the first of many events I missed that year. Instead of going to the mall with Sandra on Saturdays, I hung out with the can of beans. The day my friends went to the water park, I memorized the beans’ sodium and carb content. While everyone else was at Sandra’s uncle’s barbecue, I was counting the number of beans on the label (53).

I was afraid that Sandra would stop calling. I started getting up early to train so I would be free in the afternoons and evenings. It was exhausting: I was so tired that even when I did go somewhere with my friends, I often didn’t have much fun.

As for the beans, I did manage to tip the can over—once. Otherwise, I could only get it to sort of shiver a little. At least I was making progress with other stuff. By July, I could empty a laundry basket and fold everything except my parents’ sheets.

One hot afternoon in August, Grandma asked me to help her organize a garage sale for the Lewises, who lived around the corner. Grandma would lev the heavier things, and I’d do the lighter ones.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis were in the garage, sorting stuff into piles. Their two kids—Molly, 4, and Liam, a toddler—were blowing bubbles on the front stoop. I levved the rejected items into boxes, and Grandma levved the boxes to the curb. After about an hour, the pile of boxes was as tall as me.

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis began arguing about how much to charge for a lamp carved like a fish.

“Ugly thing,” Mrs. Lewis said.

“Ugly? This is a king salmon. It’s majestic.”

“In the ocean, maybe—not in the living room.”

Grandma cleared her throat. “Sheera, give me a hand with this,” she said, pointing to a broken planter. I wondered why she didn’t just lev it, but then I realized that she thought the Lewises needed some space.

We shuffled out of the garage, each holding one handle of the planter. Molly ran past us, with Liam right behind her, laughing. They were chasing a giant bubble toward the street.

Just then, a big gray SUV came barreling around the corner. The pile of boxes was blocking the two kids from the driver’s view.

“MOLLY!” Mrs. Lewis screamed.

 “Quick, Sheera,” Grandma said, her voice calm but urgent.

I knew what she wanted: for me to lev the lighter thing. Grandma froze, staring at Molly, while I fixed my gaze on Liam.

He was so much heavier than a can of beans! And he was moving, too. Sweat broke out on my forehead, and my tongue itched (which always happened when I was tense). Liam rose a few inches into the air. I held my breath, my eyes straining, bugging out, the roar of the SUV’s engine growing closer.

 Gasping for air, I dropped Liam at the end of the driveway. Meanwhile, Grandma had levved Molly onto the lawn.

The SUV drove past, the driver unaware of what had almost happened. The kids didn’t know why their parents were suddenly hugging them and crying.

Grandma walked over and gave me a quick hug. “I knew you could do it,” she said.

I was so surprised that I forgot to hug her back. Grandma was not big into hugs.

That night, I levved the can of beans so easily, it almost hit the ceiling.

The very next day, Grandma started making mistakes. First she levved the wrong book off the shelf. Then she levved a bag of garbage short of the trashcan and made a terrific mess. A few days later, she almost scalded herself when she dropped a cup of tea. I told my parents I was worried. They said they would check into it, but didn’t seem to think it was urgent—until Grandma levved a fork at dinner one night. It shot into the air, heading straight for Kai. I tried to redirect it, but it was moving too fast.

“HEY!” Kai shouted as he ducked.

SPRONGGGGG! The fork impaled itself in the wall calendar. It had missed Kai by mere inches.

In the silence that followed, I thought I saw tears in Grandma’s eyes.

We learned that other families had been through the same experience. There was no cure, but we read about ways to cope. We redid Grandma’s bedroom so the only things in it were soft or small and light.

Then came the day she levved all those cats.

Dad called a family meeting. “Ma,” he said gently, “We think it’s time for you to stop levving.”

Grandma bristled, then looked really, really sad. I wanted to hug her, but like I said, hugging wasn’t her thing.

School started again. Grandma stayed in her bedroom, coming out only for meals. I tried to train myself, watching YouTube videos for ideas, but it wasn’t the same, and I worried that my progress was slowing.

Then one day, she burst into my bedroom, nearly tripping over me and my pre-algebra book.

“Sheera!” she called. The snap and gleam had returned to her eyes. “It’s your birthday soon. You know what that means?”

“Um, that I’ll be 12?”

“It means that your ability will be permanent.”

She paused to let the words sink in.

“I can’t lev anymore, so from now on, you will do it for me.”

“But I’m not half as good as you are—”

“In that case, you’d better get better fast.”

We started working on the subtleties of levving. Like threading a needle. We spent a lot of time discussing technique: Was it better to lev the needle upright, or parallel to the ground? Our sessions began to feel less like training and more like—well, a partnership. I guess you could say that while I was learning to lev, she was learning not to.

Grandma never levved anything again. In the winter of eighth grade, she fell and broke her hip, and somehow that turned into pneumonia. She passed away in the spring. By then she had taught me every last thing she knew. I had a long way to go to match her skill, but she had left me the map of how to get there.

Not long after her death, I found a card tucked inside my copy of IronWeaver 3. On the front was a sketch of a vegetable garden—rows of green sprouts with a border of flowers and tomato plants.

Sheera, it said, It’s your garden.

I love you always.  –Grandma

I thought I knew what she meant. My garden: My choices, my time, my hard work. And my pride, too.

I smiled and blinked away tears. Then I levved the card into the air and made it flap open and closed, like the wings of a butterfly.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ (3 minutes)

2. READING AND DISCUSSING

4. SKILL BUILDING

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

In a well-organized paragraph, explain how Sheera changes over the course of the story. Use text evidence to support your ideas.

For Advanced Readers

Imagine that Sheera has a younger cousin who will soon have to decide whether to learn to lev. Write a letter from Sheera to her cousin, offering advice on which path to choose. Include details from Sheera’s experiences.

Literature Connection: Texts that explore the hero’s journey

 “The Grandfather” 
by Gary Soto (short story)

 “Two Kinds” 
by Amy Tan (short story)

 “The Wise Old Woman” 
 retold by Yoshiko Uchida (Japanese folktale)