Stay a Spell
Did you ever wish you were an octopus? I mean, not in the squishy, looking-like-an undersea-alien kind of way—more like a “you know, having eight arms would be pretty cool right now,” feeling. Let me tell you, if I were to see a shooting star, or blow on a dandelion at this very moment, that would be my wish. Jada Reese, girl octopus. I could definitely use at least three more pairs of hands to finish organizing the mess in front of me!
It’s my own fault, of course. It always starts
with a brain flash. I see something on the Internet, or I hear a bunch of my friends talking, and this awesome new idea hits me. The problem is, it’s usually accompanied by the need to blurt the idea out before I think through all the details.
Like this clothing drive. As soon as I heard that the women’s shelter where our teacher Mrs. Donnelly volunteers needed winter clothes, I talked my friends Daniel and Abby into helping me organize an event at our school. I never imagined we would get such a great response from the students at Sands Middle School! Now our cafeteria is filled with boxes and bags stuffed with clothes, and it’s my job to make sure they’re all organized before they get sent to the shelter.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I still think it’s a great idea, and totally worth the lunch periods I gave up to organize it. Even better, it involves clothes, which are pretty much my favorite thing on Earth, next to my family and my friends, of course. I just wish I had thought it through a little more first. Maybe rounded up a few hundred extra volunteers, because I’m not sure we’re ever going to get all these clothes sorted in time.
“Coats in this pile,” I tell Daniel. “Sweaters here, pants over on that table. And shoes and sneakers in this box.”
“Yes, sir!” Daniel says, saluting me like I’m a drill sergeant.
I’m totally not like a drill sergeant, FYI. I mean, some people, like my little brother, have pointed out my tendency to be somewhat bossy, but they are exaggerating. I just have a very clear idea of what needs to be done. Nothing wrong with that, right?
“Check these out!” Abby calls over, holding up a pair of sparkly flared pants.
“AhhhMAZING!” I gasp.
I can’t help but run over and touch them. They’re sweet!
“These are so disco!” I cry. “Straight from the seventies!”
“What do you know about the 1970s?” Mrs. Donnelly laughs as she hands me a feathery scarf from the same box.
“Polyester bell-bottoms, platform shoes, wrap dresses.” I chuckle when I fling the scarf around my neck. “Mrs. Donnelly, I may have to study for
my history tests, but when it comes to fashion, I’m already an expert on every decade!”
“Then I might have to come to you for some fashion tips,” Mrs. Donnelly jokes.
“Anytime!” I laugh.
“Seriously, Jada,” Mrs. Donnelly continues. “Thank you for giving up your lunch periods to organize this drive. Everyone at the shelter is very grateful.”
“Oh, I’m just glad we could help,” I tell her. “I’ve been thinking there’s more we can do, like maybe a spring fashion show to raise money?”
“Hold that thought,” Mrs. Donnelly says. “It’s a good idea, but lunch period is almost over. Make sure to bring it up at our next We Are the Change club meeting.”
We Are the Change club. That’s another one of my great ideas. I saw a quote on a billboard, supposedly said by Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leader. It said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As soon as I read it, I fell in love with it. It’s so me! I want to be the change I wish to see in the world! I knew other kids felt the same way.
So I went to Mrs. Donnelly, who is in charge
of all the school clubs, and she agreed that “We Are the Change” was a great idea for a new club. Daniel and Abby joined right away, because, hello? Best friends. But soon we had more than forty kids coming to our meetings and volunteering at charity events. I knew I wasn’t the only one who wanted to be the change!
Then one day, Ms. Tremt, our librarian, gave us a lecture about being accurate in our research, especially on the Internet. I’m sure your teachers have reminded you about it too. Make sure you use accurate, reliable sources. Don’t believe everything you read. You know the drill.
Later, I started poking around on my computer and I came across this story about how lots of famous quotes aren’t exactly accurate. I decided to find out when exactly Gandhi said that quote. It turns out it’s not entirely clear that Gandhi ever said those words. Can you believe it? Stupid Internet, making everyone believe things that may or may not be true.
What I did find out, though, was that Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a
man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward him. . . . We need not wait to see what others do.”
I think it means kind of the same thing—maybe not exactly, but I had already started the club and named it and well, there goes another example to put in my “I should have thought through the details first” list.
So anyway, I take out my planner and jot down a reminder under the tab “We Are the Change.” I have to jot down reminders to myself all the time. If I don’t, some new big idea will get in the way, and I’ll forget to follow through on the big idea I just had. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost my planner. I guess I’d just have to drag Daniel around with me everywhere—he remembers everything! So not fair.
“See you after school?” Abby asks as we pack up our stuff and get ready to head to class.
“Sure, but I have to stop in the library first,” I say with a sigh. “Because this.”
I hold up my latest spelling test.
Prepare yourself for a shock. I know I sound like I’m pretty together and smart, and I don’t
mean to brag or be all like, “Hey, check me out. I’m Jada and I’m pretty together and smart.” I just know my strengths. But I know my weaknesses, too, and now I am about to reveal my fatal flaw. Can you handle it?
It’s spelling. Remember how I said I’m not so great with details? Well, I’m more than not so great with spelling details. I’m horrible. Like a fifty-three-on-my-last-spelling-test horrible. I am shockingly bad at spelling. But hey, I’m lucky enough to live in a time when most of my reports can be typed on my laptop and benefit from spell-check. So how important is spelling really when you get into the real world and don’t have to take spelling tests anymore?
“Your evil nemesis,” Daniel teases as he does a sinister super-villain sneer. “Spellllllling.”
Of course Daniel only has to look at a word once and he remembers how to spell it. Again, so not fair.
“It’s just one test, Jada,” Abby says. “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”
“I’m not,” I say. “But it’s not just one test, either. So I will be in the library, hitting the spelling
books. Even though spelling is my nemesis.”
“Okay,” Daniel says. “And by the way, that’s not spelled ‘O’ and ‘K.’?”
“Got it, wise guy.” I laugh.
When the bell for last period rings, I head down the hall to the school library. It’s become a pretty popular place since Ms. Tremt took over as the school librarian. She seemed a little strange at first, but once you get to know her, she’s really interesting and easy to talk to. She also always weirdly seems to know the exact book you’re looking for, which I guess is why a copy of How to Spell Your Way to the T-O-P is sitting on the table as soon as I walk in.
“Wow, thanks, Ms. Tremt,” I whisper to myself, not exactly excited about my new reading material. “How did you know?”
I grab the book and sit down at an empty table. I flip through the pages. It’s like torture. Here’s the thing about spelling. It doesn’t make any sense. Take this rule on page forty-three of How to Spell Your Way to the T-O-P:
I before E, except after C . . . or when sounding like “ay” as in “neighbor” or “weigh.”
Which makes sense, when you’re talking about words like “pie” or “weigh.” But then explain to me why W-I-E-R-D is circled in red on my test paper.
None of the other words circled in red on my test make sense to me either. They make my head hurt because they’re not logical, the same way “weird” is not logical if you’re following the spelling rule on page forty-three.
Algebra I get. There are very few red circles on most of my algebra tests, which is why I’m in the honors class. I know some kids are really struggling with the work we’re doing lately, but those problems make sense to me. “Weird” does not. To me, rules are not made to be broken.
I bang my forehead on the book. Maybe the spelling rules will seep in that way. I try to remember Ms. Tremt’s words the last time I was looking for some spelling help.
“English is not a logical language, Jada,” Ms. Tremt said. “It’s made up of many different influences. German, Latin, French, Greek, you name it. There’s a smidgen of this and a pinch of that in there. There is not one correct approach
to mastering it. You have to stop thinking about it like math.”
I don’t want to stop thinking about it like math, though. I want it to make sense, or to just go away. As if Ms. Tremt can sense my frustration, just as I slam closed How to Spell Your Way to the T-O-P, she appears, magically, in the middle of the library floor, surrounded by boxes of books.
Here is the really w-e-i-r-d thing. I may have been studying, but I definitely didn’t hear a door open, or anyone tiptoe into the room. And even if I hadn’t heard Ms. Tremt sneak in, there was no way I could have missed Matt, Grace, and Luis, my friends who just happen to somehow suddenly be standing right behind her.
What’s even w-e-i-r-d-e-r is that they look like they’ve stepped out of the movie Grease, all decked out in 1950s-style clothes. The saddle shoes and bobby socks that Grace is wearing haven’t been in style since my grandmother was in diapers. And Matt is a jock! He would never slick back his hair and wear cuffed jeans. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him out of his sweatpants.
“Well done, Grace, Luis, and Matt,” Ms. Tremt
says, loud enough for everyone in the library to hear. “That is a fabulous magic trick. A very exciting entrance indeed! We’ll need to work on it a bit more, but your costumes are perfect for your school project, Fashions Through the Times. Well done!”
The other kids in the library just shake their heads and get back to their books. I can tell they think it’s just another wacky Ms. Tremt moment. I disagree. I think it’s something bigger than that.
My logical brain is on high alert, so when Ms. Tremt pulls Matt, Grace, and Luis through a door that I never even knew existed before, I quietly follow them and see that they’re in a secret, empty classroom. How is it possible that everyone else in the library missed this?
Matt hands Ms. Tremt a shimmering metallic book. She turns right around and says, “Jada? Here’s the book we discussed.”
The Book of Memories. Ms. Tremt and I did have a discussion about it, a very intense discussion, a couple of days ago. It happened when I noticed her trying to casually sneak the book into a box. The book is way too glitzy to
casually sneak anywhere, though. It shimmers kind of like a ’70s disco ball.
Ms. Tremt told me that the book was special in ways that I could never imagine, but that she was holding it for someone else first, and when they were done with it, I was next in line. We talked about how reading a book—especially a great one—was like taking a trip through space and time, but how this book would take the reader on a trip in bold, new ways.
Those were exactly her words, by the way—“bold, new ways.” It sounded like some sci-fi mumbo jumbo, but it also sounded intriguing and exciting the way Ms. Tremt said it. Like it was a secret she couldn’t wait to share with me. And I couldn’t wait to dive in to it!
Now that it’s here, I can hardly believe I’m holding it in my hands.
I smile at Matt and say, “Did you have a nice trip?” Then I give a little laugh, because I know Ms. Tremt doesn’t mean a real trip. She meant reading a good book would take you on a trip in your imagination . . . didn’t she?
Matt turns pale and looks at me like he wants
to run away as fast as he can. And that’s just what he does. I couldn’t understand his reaction. I mean, who doesn’t love a good story, right? I couldn’t wait to start reading this mysterious book.