* Editor's note: A reverend's sons succeed in making their dad footloose in this modern retelling of the classic The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Once upon a time in a little village called Harlem, that's in New York City, there lived a man, Reverend Knight. Spelled with a K, like knight in shining armor. And like a knight, he was a very good man, a leader in the community, who preached a powerful sermon every Sunday. He lived with his 12 sons, whom he loved with all his heart: Brooke, Bobby, Joe, Snacky, Gerald and Jackie, Teeny Tiny Tappin' Theo, Lazy Leo, Big Fat Raoul, Billie and Willie and Michael.
Every housekeeper Reverend Knight hired either quit or got fired. Why? Because every morning the brothers' shoes would be worn to threads, messed up, torn up, stinky, dirty, tacky, jacked up -- you get the picture.
Reverend was at his wits' end. People came from far and wide to hear his sermons, and yet he couldn't solve the problems in his own home. One day Reverend Knight put a big two-page ad in Jet magazine.
WANTED: HOUSEKEEPER EXPERIENCED WITH BOYS 7 TO 17, BONUS TRIP TO JAMAICA IF TORN-UP SHOES MYSTERY IS SOLVED.
That Sunday he preached a powerful sermon, had the people really feeling the spirit. But he didn't let them do too much shoutin'. Thought it was undignified.
When the brothers and Reverend Knight returned home from church, a small woman dressed in bright colors was waiting on their doorstep. She talked like a sweet bird. Said, "I've come to help with the boys. My name is Sunday, sweet Sunday, because I bake pies and cakes."
Reverend confided that he really hoped that she could solve the mystery of the torn-up shoes. "There's something going on that the boys won't tell me."
Sunday, taking him by the hand, replied, "Rest your mind, Reverend. I'm sure the brothers will learn to trust me and tell me everything."
The brothers slept together in one loooong bed. Soon as Reverend tucked them in that evening and said good night, the door was locked. Sunday went right to sleep on the other side of the door. The brothers, tiptoeing quietly, got dressed, grabbed their dancing canes, and sneaked out through the secret doorway. They didn't know that Sunday had been sleeping with one eye open. She pulled a magic scarf that made her invisible out of her small bag and followed along.
The brothers danced their way 'cross the rooftops. Steppin' and stompin'.
Still invisible, Sunday followed them down a fire escape, down a shiny pole, to the Big Band Ballroom, the liveliest dance spot in the world. The girls were already there, waiting for the brothers to show -- ooo, talk about a party!
Each couple seemed to out-dance the other swingin'.
By the end of the night everybody's shoes were worn to threads, messed up, torn up, stinky, dirty, jacked up. And just before the sun came up, they all dashed out of the Ballroom.
Sunday ran ahead of them 'cross the rooftops. The brothers followed. Sunday hurried through the secret passage, and by the time the brothers got back, she was snoring like a little bear on the other side of their door.
The brothers piled their worn-out shoes in front of their bed and went to sleep. Sunday snuck back into the room. Swirling her magic scarf, she said, "Wooh Great Googah Moogah Sugah Boogah." And she made the torn-up shoes vanish and brand-new ones appear.
When Reverend came in to wake the boys, he found all their shoes in front of the bed, clean and sparkling.
Every night for a month the brothers would sneak out to the Ballroom. Every night Sunday, invisible in her magic scarf, would follow. And every morning their shoes would sparkle, brand new.
Finally the brothers waited for Sunday and got in her face.
Michael said, "We know you've been following us." Theo begged, "Please don't tell Dad."
Sunday said, "Boys, why do you keep this from him when he loves you so much?"
Michael answered, "Dad would never approve of us dancing like that. It doesn't fit with his image in the community."
Sunday said, "How do you know? You've never even talked with him about it."
Then Tiny Theo piped up, "Grown-ups are too old. You don't get kids, what we really like. Besides, none of you can dance anyway."
Well, Sunday broke into a dance routine that went from Jimmy Slyde to Fred Astaire to Bob Fosse all the way to Michael Jackson. The brothers could hardly keep up with her, and laughed like crazy trying. And that did it -- they were friends.
Then one evening Reverend Knight noticed the dog chewing on a torn-up, worn-out shoe. Reverend looked and saw another chewed shoe. He followed the trail to the old pantry. Opened the door and there he saw the torn-up shoes piled high, almost to the ceiling!
When Sunday and the brothers returned home from the movies, Reverend Knight was pacing back and forth in front of all those shoes. Sunday stared at the brothers, but they didn't say a word. So she stepped forward.
"Reverend, please don't blame the boys for keeping secrets from you. It's all my fault. I'll pack my things and leave tomorrow. Good-bye, Reverend."
The next day, Reverend and the brothers went to church. Then, with the rays of sun shining on his face, and the spirit of love touching his heart, Reverend gave the sermon of his life.
Looking right at his sons, he preached, shouted, and even started the prance. Talking about trusting the Lord and remembering how to trust one another. He got carried away, and he did the twist, the mashed potato and the monkey time. When he started the funky chicken, the whole congregation sprang to its feet and began to wail. The brothers shouted the loudest.
As soon as church was out, the boys rushed to their father. They told the whole story -- how they loved to dance, and sneaked out to the Big Band Ballroom, but were afraid he wouldn't approve, and how Sunday had only tried to give them time to face their father.
Reverend hugged his sons and asked, "Can you forgive me for keeping something from you?"
The brothers looked puzzled.
Reverend Knight said, "I used to be the best dancer at the Sock Hops. Now we better hurry and try to get Sunday back."
Sunday was just getting ready to board the bus when Reverend Knight, out of breath, knelt down right in the middle of the street. "Sunday, will you dance with me?"
He told her how sorry he was, and how she needed to come back home so they could be a family. The brothers surrounded her. She had to say yes.
Well, let the church bells start ringing! The brothers were so happy, they all started dancing, and the people on the street started dancing.
Oh, and they all lived happily ever after.
Excerpted from BROTHERS OF THE KNIGHT by Debbie Allen. Text copyright c Debbie Allen, 1999. Illustrations copyright c Kadir Nelson, 1999. Published by arrangement with Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.