For Becky, Charles, George, Nate, and John
- A. C.
IF YOU ASKED the kids and the teachers at Lincoln Elementary School to make three lists - all the really bad kids, all the really smart kids, and all the really good kids - Nick Allen would not be on any of them. Nick deserved a list all his own, and everyone knew it.
Was Nick a troublemaker? Hard to say. One thing's for sure: Nick Allen had plenty of ideas, and he knew what to do with them.
One time in third grade Nick decided to turn Miss Deaver's room into a tropical island. What kid in New Hampshire isn't ready for a little summer in February? So first he got everyone to make small palm trees out of green and brown construction paper and tape them onto the corners of each desk. Miss Deaver had only been a teacher for about six months, and she was delighted. "That's so cute!"
The next day all the girls wore paper flowers in their hair and all the boys wore sunglasses and beach hats. Miss Deaver clapped her hands and said, "It's so colorful!"
The day after that Nick turned the classroom thermostat up to about ninety degrees with a little screwdriver he had brought from home. All the kids changed into shorts and T-shirts with no shoes. And when Miss Deaver left the room for a minute, Nick spread about ten cups of fine white sand all over the classroom floor. Miss Deaver was surprised again at just how creative her students could be.
But the sand got tracked out into the hallway, where Manny the custodian did not think it was creative at all. And he stomped right down to the office.
The principal followed the trail of sand, and when she arrived, Miss Deaver was teaching the hula to some kids near the front of the room,
and a tall, thin, shirtless boy with chestnut hair was just spiking a Nerf volleyball over a net made from six T-shirts tied together.
The third-grade trip to the South Seas ended. Suddenly.
But that didn't stop Nick from trying to liven things up. Lincoln Elementary needed a good jolt once in a while, and Nick was just the guy to deliver it.
About a year later, Nick made the great blackbird discovery. One night he learned on a TV show that red-wing blackbirds give this high-pitched chirp when a hawk or some other danger comes near. Because of the way sound travels, the hunter birds can't tell where the high-pitched chirp is coming from.
The next day during silent reading, Nick glanced at his teacher, and he noticed that Mrs. Avery's nose was curved - kind of like the beak of a hawk. So Nick let out a high, squeaky, blackbird "peep!"
Mrs. Avery jerked her head up from her book and looked around. She couldn't tell who did it, so she just said, "Shhh!" to the whole class.
A minute later Nick did it again, louder. "Peeep!" This time there was a little giggling from the class. But Mrs. Avery pretended not to hear the sound, and about fifteen seconds later she slowly stood up and walked to the back of the classroom.
Without taking his eyes off his book, and without moving at all, Nick put his heart and soul into the highest and most annoying chirp of all: "Peeeeep!"
Mrs. Avery pounced. "Janet Fisk, you stop that this instant!"
Janet, who was sitting four rows away from Nick, promptly turned white, then bright crimson.
"But it wasn't me ... honest." There was a catch in Janet's voice, as if she might cry.
Mrs. Avery knew she had made a mistake, and she apologized to Janet.
"But someone is asking for big trouble," said Mrs. Avery, looking more like a hawk every second.
Nick kept reading, and he didn't make a peep.
At lunchtime Nick talked to Janet. He felt bad that Mrs. Avery had pounced on her. Janet lived in Nick's neighborhood, and sometimes they played together. She was good at baseball, and she was better at soccer than most of the kids in the whole school, boys or girls. Nick said, "Hey Janet - I'm sorry you got yelled at during reading. It was my fault. I was the one who made that sound."
"You did?" said Janet. "But how come Mrs. Avery thought it was me?"
So Nick told her about the blackbirds, and Janet thought it was pretty interesting. Then she tried making a peep or two, and Janet's chirps were even higher and squeakier than Nick's. She promised to keep everything a secret.
For the rest of Nick's fourth-grade year, at least once a week, Mrs. Avery heard a loud "peeeep" from somewhere in her classroom - sometimes it was a high-pitched chirp, and sometimes it was a very high-pitched chirp.
Mrs. Avery never figured out who was making that sound, and gradually she trained herself to ignore it. But she still looked like a hawk.
To Nick, the whole thing was just one long - and successful - science experiment.
And Janet Fisk enjoyed it, too.
FIFTH GRADE WAS different. That was the year to get ready for middle school. Fifth grade meant passing classes. It meant no morning recess. It meant real letter grades on your report cards. But most of all, it meant Mrs. Granger.
There were about one hundred fifty kids in fifth grade. And there were seven fifth-grade teachers: two math, two science, two social studies, but only one language arts teacher. In language arts, Mrs. Granger had a monopoly - and a reputation.
Mrs. Granger lived alone in a tidy little house in the older part of town. She drove an old, pale blue car to school every morning, rain or shine, snow or sleet, hail or wind. She had a perfect attendance record that stretched back farther than anyone could remember.
Her hair was almost white, swept away from her face and up into something like a nest on the back of her head. Unlike some of the younger women teachers, she never wore pants to school. She had two skirt-and-jacket outfits, her gray uniform and her blue uniform, which she always wore over a white shirt with a little cameo pin at the neck. And Mrs. Granger was one of those people who never sweats. It had to be over ninety degrees before she even took off her jacket.
She was small, as teachers go. There were even some fifth graders who were taller. But Mrs. Granger seemed like a giant. It was her eyes that did it. They were dark gray, and if she turned them on full power,