We CAN’T Go Outside! 
Sean McCollum

First-Place, Katherine Paterson Prize, Picture Book

                    For Chuck—
                    who ALWAYS goes outside!



Tippy-tap. Tappy-tip. Drip! Drop! Drap!That’s the sound the rain made on the roof.

Raz sat at the window watching waves of water falling from the dreary sky. A soggy salamander crawled out of the drain and shook itself off.

“What’s the word, Thunderbird?” Dad asked.

Raz pointed out the window. “I want to play outside, but it’s raining too hard.”

Dad nodded. Then he frowned. Then his shoulders sank and sagged.

“Yes, my son,” he droned. “Damp days are great sinkholes of happiness. But there is no hope. All we can do is mull and mope. Because … 

“We CAN’T go outside!

“We must not pull on our sweaters, or rubber boots, or our crummiest jeans with the holes in the knees.

“We couldn’t slip on our slickers or slap on a cap. Shouldn’t leap out the door and splash—ka-PLOOIE—in a puddle or pool!”

“Or fling my Frisbee?”

“Rainy-day Frisbee-flinging strictly forbidden!

“Because AFTER we go and get terribly, horribly, helplessly wet, we’d have to come inside where it’s cozy and dry.

“We’d towel off our hair and wring out our socks …

“And cook cookies or bake cabbage to lift our saggy spirits.

“And we mustn’t do that. We shouldn’t do that. We COULDN’T do that. We might melt! We might drown! Or worst of the worse, track mud in the house!




Whooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … The air conditioner switched on. It had been huffing and humming all day.

Raz sat slumped on the couch. A pair of red sneakers waited like racecars on his feet. He watched from the window as the world get hot and hotter. He watched the daisies droop.

His mom bounced into the room. “What’s new, kangaroo?” she asked.

 “I want to play, but it’s too hot,” Raz said.

Mom nodded and frowned. “Bad luck, Mr. Duck,” she said. “But too much sun and fresh air isn’t good for anyone. So there’s nothing to do but tidy your toys and watch boring TV. Because …

“We CAN’T go outside!

“We can’t dress up in T-shirts and floppy hats.

“We shouldn’t smear on sunscreen, fill up a canteen, or put on cool sunglasses so we don’t have to squint.

“We mustn’t risk sunstroke and race your new shoes to the end of the block.

 “Or sizzle an old egg on the blacktop.”

“Or splash like otters in the sprinkler’s spray!?” asked Raz.

“No waaaaaaaay!

“Because AFTER we ran out and got horrifically hot, we’d have to come back inside where it’s breezy and cool.

“Where we’d soak our fried feet.”

“And treat our burnt brains with freezer pops!” 

“And we mustn’t do that. We shouldn’t do that. We COULDN’T do that. We might roast! We might sweat! We might start to stink!




Flittaflitta … flap flap flap. Flittaflitta … That’s the sound the moths made around the porch light.

Raz stood by the screen door. He sighed as the last sliver of sun disappeared from the sky.

“Why the long puss, Erasmus?” Grandpa asked.

Raz shrugged toward the sunset’s last glow. “It’s too dark.”

Grandpa itched his backside and scratched his beard. He clucked his tongue before he spoke. “Yep, another day is done. No more fun or folly to be had. For who knows what dangers lurk …

“Outside! Because we CAN’T go outside!

“We must not light our way with lamps or cover ourselves in coats.

“We can’t—no we couldn’t—slip and trip into the night and listen for owls, or sniff for skunks, or feel which way the wind is blowing.

“We couldn’t, no we shouldn’t, count how many bats zip past …

“Or play flashlight tag?”

“Unfathomable. Or lay on our backs in the prickly grass and find Pegasus, the starry steed. See?”

“Or shine our lights at oogly-googly alien eyes on a far-away planet!”

“Imponderable. Because AFTER we got completely, fearfully frightened, we’d have to escape inside where we’re sound and safe.”

“And eat melted marshmallows on peanut butter crackers!”

“Inedible! While reading about dastardly heroes doing dimwitted deeds!”

“And we mustn’t do that.”

“We shouldn’t do that.”

“We COULDN’T do that!”

“We might yelp!”

“We might yowlp!”

“Then fall over and faint!”




Tinkle, tankle, KLANG, KLANG, tankle, tinkle, KLANG. That’s the sound the wind chimes chimed by the back door.

Raz ambled into the living room. “Good morning, Sport! What’s the weather report?” he asked his little sister.

Zo-Zo pointed at the deep drifts of sparkling snow. “I want to play, but it’s too cold,” she said.

Raz folded his arms and planted his feet. He glared out the window at the windy winter weather. “We’re better safe in here than sorry out there,” he said. “Better warm inside than shivering misery, because …

“We CAN’T go outside!

“We must not pull on long johns under super slippery snow pants. Or wear six pairs of socks inside our boots.

“We shouldn’t, no we couldn’t, stick our hands in mittens and heads in hats and step into the cold like bold arctic explorers …”

“Making snow angels!”

“Carving out forts.”

“Feeding the birds!”

“Sailing your sled down a hill … over a bump, and into a mountain of puffy white powder!

“Because AFTER we faced the worst weather ever, we’d have to trudge back inside of our awful warm house.

“And take off our stuff so it can thaw for a month.

“And be scolded with cocoa and ginger snaps for risking our noses in the dangerous outdoors.

“And we mustn’t do that. We shouldn’t do that. We COULDN’T do that. Our nostrils will drip! Our toes might drop off! We could freeze into frigid, rigid kid-cicles frozen till spring!

“So we mustn’t go …

“We shouldn’t go …

“We couldn’t go …



When Sean was a boy, his mom had to set a timer to tell him to put down his book & go outside and play. He has been getting out ever since in the company of family & friends—up mountains, under seas, across deserts, & through the woods. Sean is the author of more than 50 books & lots of magazine articles for kids. Today, he is a digital nomad who has gotten lost in 64 countries—& counting. You can follow where he is & what he’s up to at kidfreelance.com.

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