illustration of a boy and dog walking between a janitor and a crossing guard

Illustrations by Alex Nabaum


R.1, R.2, R.3, R.4, R.6, R.7, W.2, SL.1, SL.2, L.4, L.5, L.6

The Broom Dog

It was just another school day . . . until it wasn’t.



    A school bus is many things. A school bus is a substitute for a limousine. A school bus is the students’ version of a teachers’ lounge. A school bus is the principal’s desk. A school bus is the nurse’s cot. 

    A school bus is an office with all the phones ringing. 

    A school bus is a safe zone. A school bus is a war zone. A school bus is a concert hall. 

    To Canton, a school bus is also a cannonball. A thing that almost destroyed him. 

    A thing that almost made him motherless.


    Canton’s mother is the crossing guard at Latimer Middle School. And to Canton, crossing guards seemed to have special powers. They were able to stop moving things. Able to slow traffic. Their vests were capes. Their whistles blew some kind of magic tone that forced drivers to hit brakes.

    That’s what Canton always thought, until a year ago. That’s when a little blue ball went bouncing into the street and a boy named Kenzi Thompson went running after it. Canton’s mom had turned her back just for a moment. And by the time she turned around, a school bus was headed right toward him. 

    There wasn’t enough time to blow the whistle. So Canton’s mother, Ms. Post, went chasing after Kenzi. He froze in the middle of Portal Avenue as the bus hit the brakes. Ms. Post threw her entire body into Kenzi, knocking him forward. The bus turned just enough to avoid hitting Kenzi but not enough to avoid slightly bumping her.

    But a slight bump from a bus ain’t so slight. But a broken shoulder and bruised hip is much better than a burial. But the whole thing was devastating to Canton.

Illustrations by Alex Nabaum

    Canton always waited for his mother after school. He killed time by helping Mr. Munch, the custodian. Mostly Canton just sat around listening to Mr. Munch complain about things like the bathrooms. But on the day Canton’s mother was hit by a bus, their conversation was cut short. Jasmine Jordan and Terrence Jumper came running back into the school screaming.

    “Ms. Post got hit by a school bus!” It was a sentence Canton never expected to hear. 

    By the time Canton and Mr. Munch got outside, sirens were already blaring down Portal Avenue.


kali9/Getty Images

    Ms. Post was back to work in a week. Whistle in mouth, vest strapped on, sling holding her shoulder in place. She went back to normal. She had to. Said it was just part of the job.

    But not Canton. He didn’t go back to normal.

    The afternoon his mother returned to work, Mr. Munch found Canton in the bathroom after school. He was sitting on the nasty tile floor in the corner, his head pressed against his knees. 

    “Canton, what you doing in here?” Mr. Munch asked. When Canton lifted his head up, Mr. Munch could see he’d been crying. He could also see that Canton’s chest was heaving like it was hard for him to breathe. Like it would break open. 

    Mr. Munch got down on the floor. Squatted beside Canton and talked him through some breathing exercises. “Come on, Canton. Count to 10 with me. One, two, three . . .” 

Motortion Films/

    Eventually Canton could breathe. Could talk. Could stand. Mr. Munch walked him outside. When they made it to Canton’s mom’s corner, Canton wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. Held her so tight she winced—her shoulder still a sack of broken bone.

    “Okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re okay,” she chanted in his ear.

    Mr. Munch realized there was no way this boy would let go of his mother so she could do her job. So Mr. Munch decided he would step into the street, stick his fingers in his mouth, and whistle. He put his hand up and yelled at the cars, “I’m tellin’ y’all right now, you hit me and I’m hitting you back!”

    Once the traffic stopped, he yelled for all the waiting students to “get on ’cross the street.” Then he turned back toward the stopped cars, daring them to move.



    The next day, Mr. Munch met Canton outside his last class, Mr. Davanzo’s social studies class. 

    “How you feeling?”

    “I’m okay.”

    “Still got the jitters?”

    Canton nodded, just slightly, trying to hide his embarrassment.

    “Wanna take a walk with me? I wanna give you something.”

    Canton and Mr. Munch walked the halls of the school, pushing dust and coins and candy wrappers with his broom.

    “When my daughter, Winnie, went off to college, my wife got so nervous. She’d call Winnie multiple times a day. And whenever Winnie wouldn’t answer, Zena would just . . . lose it,” Mr. Munch started.

    “Zena’s your wife?”

    “Yeah.” Mr. Munch grinned. “Best person I ever known. But she’s been through a lot. And it made her terrified for our daughter. What if something happens to her? What if she’s in danger? Zena would go on and on with these questions. Up all night, sick with fear all day.”

    “And what you say?”

    “Nothing. But what I did was buy her a dog.”

    “A dog?”


    They stopped at the custodian closet. The old man pulled out a million keys, flipping through them like pages of a book. “No dog can take the place of our baby girl—but I read this thing about emotional support animals.”

    “What’s that?”

    “Basically it’s like having a dog to make you feel better.” 


    Finally, he picked the right key and opened the closet door. 

    “I mean, what’s better than a dog, right?”

    They went into the closet. There were pictures on the wall of Mr. Munch’s wife and daughter. And the dog. A small, curly-haired thing with an underbite so ugly it was cute. At least Canton thought so. 

    But besides its cuteness, Canton kept thinking about all the things better than dogs. Like ice cream. And skateboards. And maybe a girlfriend one day. Or even a girl that’s a friend. And a good joke. Oh, and video games. Then, after all that . . . dogs were cool.

Illustrations by Alex Nabaum

    “Mr. Munch, why you telling me this?” Canton asked. He was thinking maybe Mr. Munch was trying to be his emotional support dog, except not a dog. His emotional support human. Something to keep his mind off his mother and the fear of a school bus hitting her again.

    “Why am I telling you this? Because I made you one.”

    “You . . . you made me a dog?”

    “Well . . . I couldn’t just buy you a dog. Your mom might not be okay with that. But I thought maybe this could help.” 

    Mr. Munch reached into a locker and pulled out the head of a broom, which he’d taken off the broomstick. The straw was curled and crushed. He had drawn big black circles on one side like eyes, and an oval with a tic-tac-toe board in the middle for the mouth. At the top, there were two pieces of cloth, cut into ears and glued in place.

Mike Flippo/

    “It’s . . . a broom.”

    “I cleaned it. Promise. And yeah, it’s a broom, until you do this.” He petted the straw as if it were fur—as if he were scratching behind the ear of a Yorkie.

    “So, you really think this is gonna help me?”

    “Can’t hurt to try?”

    The next day, after school, Canton tucked the broom dog under his arm. He slowly walked up to the corner to watch his mother, to guard the crossing guard. He leaned against the stop sign at the corner. And whenever Ms. Post had to step into the street, he would run his fingers through the broom dog’s hair. Eventually, he named it Dusty. 

    It’s strange, the things that work.


    It’s been a year since Mr. Munch gave Canton the broom dog. A year and a week since the accident. And things have gotten better.

    The bell rings, and everyone gets up to leave Mr. Davanzo’s class. 

    “Don’t forget tonight’s homework. Write about place. About people. About how they interact!” Mr. Davanzo shouts over the noise.

    Canton stops at his locker, reaches in to grab Dusty, and then heads for the door. He has to get to the corner before the first cross. That’s his thing. And when Canton finally makes it to the crosswalk at Portal Avenue, there’s his mother, Ms. Post. She is strapping on her vest and pulling the whistle over her head.

fon thachakul/ (Sign); Vagengeim/ (Girls)

    “There’s my sweet boy,” she says. They hug. “How was school?”

    “It was okay.”


    “Mr. Davanzo wants us to record humans interacting with the things around them.”

    “Well, get to it.” Ms. Post winks. Canton pulls a notebook from his backpack, along with Dusty the broom dog. Then he sets the bag down against the stop sign so he can sit and have a little cushion. The broom dog rests on his lap as he scribbles words and phrases.

Latimer Middle School.
Portal Avenue.
People stop.
People go.
People talk.
People hug. 
People frown.
People laugh.
People go off.
People go on.

Sanit Fuangnakhon/ 

    Canton glances up at people turning and crossing, waiting and talking. He hears all kinds of conversations. Gregory Pitts likes Sandra White. Satchmo Jenkins fears he might be eaten by a dog on his way home. Cynthia Sower is putting on a show at 3:33 p.m. 

    He watches his classmates slide from story to story. Watches his mother perform a kind of ballet. How she spins, steps into the street, blows her whistle. Puts a hand up for a bus to stop. Puts a hand out to wave the walkers through.

    When all the Latimer students have walked off, Ms. Post removes her vest. She slings it over her shoulder. Another day, job done.

    “Ready to walk?” she asks Canton.

    He nods. “Yeah.” Canton stands, the broom dog falling from his lap like he had forgotten it was there. Ms. Post picks it up. 

    “Sheesh. This thing has seen better days.” She looks at it. The felt ears are long gone. “I know it’s supposed to be a dog, but now it kinda looks like a bus.” She hands it to Canton. “The eyes are like the headlights, and the mouth is the grille. Funny.”

    Canton had never noticed that. The broom dog had just become a thing he had. A thing he knew was there if he needed it. But it had been a long time, he realized, since he’d actually needed it.

    “It’s all faded now anyway,” Canton says, grabbing his backpack. They stand on the corner, looking both ways before crossing.

    “Still want it?” his mother asks. Canton shrugs, tossing it up in the air. He catches it. Tosses it again. Loose straw separates from the bunch. He tosses it again. And more loose straw, falling down on them. Ms. Post laughs. “Look at that. A school bus falling from the sky.”

    Canton smiles, knowing a school bus is many things.

    So is a walk home. 

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