First Day of School
Beep, beep. Six thirty. I turned off the alarm, threw off my covers, and popped out of bed. My insides did flip-flops. There was something exciting about the first day of school. Especially when it was everybody’s first day of school. Not like last year, when we moved to Pensacola in October and I was the only new kid in class. This year, the first day of school meant new notebooks, new pencils, new shoes, new teacher, and a new seat at the back of the class. Everything would be new except for me.
I wondered if Mr. Clark would be my teacher this year. He gave out treat coupons when students got the correct answers. Or maybe I’d be assigned to Mrs. Lindsey. She designed the butterfly garden outside the fifth-grade wing. Her students got extra time outside to take care of the garden.
Instead of sitting in the front of the class like my teacher, Ms. Gordon, made me do last year, I planned to pick a seat at the back near the window. That way I could watch butterflies dart around the salvia in the garden. It was going to be a get-off-the-bus kind of year.
Then I walked inside the school and everything changed. The school secretary grinned at me from behind the registration table.
"Good morning, Piper Reed! How was your summer?"
"How did you know my name?" I asked her. There were hundreds of kids at our school.
"Piper Reed, everyone knows your name. You’re famous at Blue Angels Elementary School." She handed me a piece of paper. "Here’s your room assignment."
"There must be a mistake—308 was my room last year,” I said.
She shook her head. “There’s no mistake. We have more fifth-graders this year, so we had to put one class in the fourth-grade hall.”
Getting room 308, again, meant I’d have to change my plans. I wouldn’t be able to see the butterfly garden. Then I remembered the tree outside the window. Instead of watching butterflies, I’d watch squirrels and birds.
On the way to class, I ran into Michael and Nicole. Michael didn’t look happy either. “Room 308 again. Boring!”
“I’m in room 405,” said Nicole as she headed toward the real fifth-grade hall.
Michael and I walked into 308 together. It even smelled the same—old paste mixed with stinky sneakers. We rushed to the back of the room and chose seats in the row nearest the window. Outside, a cardinal landed on a branch of the huge tree. Watching birds wasn’t like watching butterflies, but it was better than the blackboard.
A moment later, Ms. Gordon walked in. How could a teacher forget it was the first day of school? Maybe she forgot something in her old desk drawer.
“Sorry, Michael and Piper,” she said, “but that’s not going to work. You two need to take your former seats, where I can keep an eye on you.”
I stayed seated. “Ms. Gordon, this is a fifth-grade class now.”
Just then, Hailey entered the classroom, followed by show-off-know-it-all Kami.
“Hi, Ms. Gordon,” Kami said, prancing to the same seat where she sat last year. “I’m so glad you’re our teacher again.”
I picked up my new notebooks and new pencil case and walked to my old desk. The first day of school loses all its specialness when you get last year’s teacher and have to sit in your same old seat in the same old classroom.
That first week dragged like an ant climbing Mount Everest. We reviewed fractions, learned how to write in different tenses, and studied our vocabulary lists. It was exactly like last year, only Nicole wasn’t there. Lucky Nicole got Mrs. Lindsey and had already started working in the butterfly garden.
“We planted purple coneflowers today,” she told me. “They attract the Viceroy butterfly.”
Finally Saturday arrived. The Gypsy Club was due at my house any minute. Paint fumes filled the living room. Mom was busy painting the backdrop for my big sister, Tori’s, middle school play. Her drama coach asked Mom to create it since she was the art teacher at the elementary school. She’d set up a makeshift table out of plywood and two sawhorses. It ran the entire length of the living room, leaving no space for the Gypsy Club. We’d have to find a new place to meet.
Last year, when I was in fourth grade, Mom substituted for our art teacher who was on maternity leave. Now Mrs. Kimmel wanted to stay home with her baby. So Mom got to be the art teacher officially. At first I thought it would be cool having Mom as a teacher, but I soon learned there weren’t any benefits. She never said my art projects were the best, even if they were.
My little sister, Sam, was probably the only one who got special treatment because she was six and the baby of the family. My parents thought everything Sam did was spectacular. They practically broke into applause whenever she remembered to feed her goldfish, Peaches the Second.
While I tried to figure out where to hold the meeting, the doorbell rang. I answered the door and found the other three Gypsy Club members—Michael, Nicole, and Hailey.
“Follow me,” I told them. We had no choice but to go to my room—the room I shared with Sam. This afternoon, she’d posted a sign on the door that read QUIET! WRITER AT WORK!
Inside the room, Sam sat cross-legged on the bed with a thick tablet on her lap. She was probably writing another princess story. That’s what spelling bee prodigies do in their spare time. They weren’t like normal six-year-old kids who ride bikes and play hide-and-seek. Spelling bee prodigies read and write for fun. Tori wasn’t a prodigy, but she liked reading and writing, too. Chief said someone had to break the mold. I guess I was the mold breaker because I hated to read and write.
When we entered the room, Sam frowned. “Hey! I’m busy writing.”
Hailey plopped on to Sam’s bed.
“I have to have my Gypsy Club meeting here,” I told her. “Mom’s backdrop is swallowing the living room.”
“Well,” said Sam, “if you’re going to have the meeting here, then I get to be in the Gypsy Club.” She was always trying to weasel her way in.
“No way,” I told her. “Besides it’s my room, too.”
Sam glared at Hailey and Nicole. “Then Gypsy Club members aren’t allowed on my side of the room.”
Hailey bounced up from Sam’s bed and switched to mine. But Nicole stayed seated. “I love stories,” she told Sam. “What is yours about?”
Sam smiled, probably thrilled to have an admirer. “A princess.”
“Nicole,” I said, “come over on my side. We need to start the meeting.”
Nicole slowly inched over the invisible line that now divided our room.
I stood at attention. “Everyone stand so that we can say the Gypsy Club creed.”
Together we recited the words that began each meeting. The creed reminded us that we were Navy brats, moving every couple of years or sometimes sooner.
Excerpted from Piper Reed gets a job by Kimberly Willis Holt.
Copyright 2009 by Kimberly Willis Holt.
Published in First Edition-2009 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Excerpted from "Piper Reed Gets a Job" by Kimberly Willis Holt. Copyright © 0 by Kimberly Willis Holt. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Kimberly Willis Holt
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