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While trying to take Madison's mind off her parent's divorce, Mrs. Wing asks her to create a web site for the school, but unfortunately, someone keeps changing the site, creating more problems.
Fifteen minutes into the start of the school day, and Madison Finn had already chewed off all the orange glitter polish on her left hand. It was one of Madison's thirty or so nervous habits, right up there on the list next to sweating when she tried to play the flute and fleeing the scene when she was embarrassed. She was very skilled at fleeing.
Mrs. Wing stood in front of the classroom. "Here in the twenty-first century, technology teacher and librarian have morphed into one happy being," she said. "Just call me super-cybrarian, kids."
"Uh, that's Mrs. Cybrarian to us, right?" Egg (a.k.a. Walter Diaz) said aloud, his voice warbling.
Mrs. Wing smiled. "Yes, Mr. Diaz! Now, last week we talked about how a digital portfolio is made." Mrs. Wing stood up at a lectern in front of the class. She always stood there, sometimes leaning on her elbows. The beads around her neck would jangle and clink as they hit the smaller podium. "I know everyone can text with one finger and play Monkeyvilla with another one. But I also want you to know how computers really work— how hardware is assembled and how code tells a computer what to do. Mr. Diaz has been kind enough to explain some of these things to us."
She glanced over to Egg's desk and he grinned a real Grinchy grin.
"Anything for you, Mrs. Wing," he said.
Madison flared her nostrils. The only thing she hated more than Egg's constant crushing on teachers was when he was being extra cocky. Today he was doing both!
Ever since Madison and Egg were kids, he had crushed on pretty female teachers. First it was kindergarten's Miss Jeremiah; now it was the seventh-grade cybrarian.
Mrs. Wing fit into Egg's crush category perfectly. She was prettier than pretty, Madison thought. Her long hair was swept up into a French twist and she wore a long plum-colored skirt, a neat white blouse, and a red bead necklace. She moved around the room as if she were walking on cotton balls, floating from computer station to station, beads plink-plink-plinking together.
"Now, what I'd like to review with the class are some basic computer skills," Mrs. Wing continued. "And then I think we will be all ready to move ahead and test-drive some of the many terrific applications available to us online."
Lance, a quiet kid who always sat at the back of the classroom, raised his hand and shook his head, dejected. He didn't get computers and felt way left out. He was not ready. Not by a long jump. Or was it a shot put?
Madison shot Egg a glance, but, thankfully, Mrs. Wing said she'd explain it again later.
"There are so many ways to manipulate information digitally," Mrs. Wing went on. "You can build a whole universe on a web page. Just think about using technology to express yourself. Think about what that could do for all of you. Go way beyond your games and instant pics become a technological pioneer!"
The classroom let out a cheer.
Madison chuckled at the "go beyond your games and instant pics" comment. Madison and her Mom took plenty of posed "selfies" when they were in Brazil that summer.
"Looking around, I can see already that I have a classroom filled with technological wizards," Mrs. Wing commented. "And yes, even you, Lance."
He smirked and someone on the other side of the room snorted. Madison realized it was Egg's best friend, Drew Maxwell. He always laughed at the wrong moments. And as soon as he'd snorted, Egg snorted too. And then this kid P.J. Rigby snorted. And then Jason Szelewski, Beth Dunfey, Suresh Dhir—everyone snorted.
It sounded like a pig farm!
Mrs. Wing didn't get mad, though. She just sort of snorted right back.
"Well, I can see we'll be having a lot of fun in here, class. Just let's make sure it's not at someone else's expense, okay?"
Madison saw Egg making puppy-dog eyes at the back of Mrs. Wing's head when she said that. Turning away, Madison plugged in her personal flash drive and booted up her files.
Nothing at Far Hills Junior High is what I expected. I thought it would be way different than middle school. NOT. I figured there was no way the same people from Far Hills Elementary would be geeks or popular but that is just the way it is, like the same thing as last year but in a different building. Dad says I always overthink this kind of stuff but it's just so hard to hold back a thought sometimes.
Mrs. Wing is sooo smart, so she probably will catch me right now writing personal stuff, and not school stuff but oh well. She's all the way on the other side of the room.
I like the way her beads look like red jelly beans. I wear a ring on almost every single finger, but I don't go for necklaces so much. Maybe I should?
Something about seventh grade was inspiring Madison. With a new laptop and the e-reader Dad got for her birthday, maybe she could become a techno-queen.
"Mrs. Wing's so cool, right?" Egg nudged Madison and stared as Mrs. Wing flew around to the other side of the classroom.
Madison looked down at her desk. Egg was just embarrassing.
"Egg," Madison whispered back. "Aren't you bored? We know this stuff already."
"Bored? Nope!" Egg replied, pie-eyed. "What do you want? More work?"
Madison sneered. "Don't you want to learn something new?"
"Learn? Geesh, you sound like a mom," Egg's pal Drew butted in.
"Yeah," Egg said, copying him. "You sound like my mom!"
The two boys pretended to be really scared; then they laughed and high-fived each other.
"Well at least I don't have a crush on someone who acts like my mom," Madison blurted— a little too loudly.
"Shhhh!" Drew suddenly warned, yanking Egg's fleece. "Incoming."
Mrs. Wing had heard the ruckus. She was headed back toward their computer stations.
"Mr. Diaz. Miss Finn. Mr. Maxwell Problem here?" Mrs. Wing asked.
Madison and Egg looked at their monitors and grunted at the same time in the same monotone. "No, Mrs. Wing. No problem."
Then she looked over at Drew.
He tried not to react. But it's hard to hold back a snort.
"Do I need to separate you three?" Mrs. Wing said, tapping her foot. Madison thought she would stay like that forever, huffing and puffing and looking disappointed, but in less than a minute she gave up. Mrs. Wing had to help Lance, who was lost in Basic again.
Madison glared at Drew and Egg. "Don't get me in trouble, guys!"
"Maddie, you are a stress puppy," Egg said. Drew nodded in agreement.
Madison gave them both another nasty look and they all went back to their computer screens.
Of course Madison was overly sensitive these days to begin with. She missed her parents. Both of them were gone for work this week.
Dad was out of town on business, all the way across the country. He was meeting with the design firm that had helped set up his Web site. He was launching a new business again. Madison couldn't remember what exactly it was going to be.
Mom had left yesterday. She'd headed overseas on a business trip for Budge Films, a movie production company that made small nature documentaries. During the summer, Madison had been able to travel along with her mom on another journey—to South America—to film rare tree frogs. But there was no more traveling allowed together now, not during school days.
Mom always said, "You have more important things to take care of during the school year, Maddie. Like getting your junior high diploma."
So while Mom was meeting with lots of French people and eating plates of pommes frites, Madison stayed put in Far Hills. She and her dog, Phin, were camped out for the duration at Aimee's house.
Staying at Aimee's was a treat. Aimee Anne Gillespie wasn't just Madison Francesca Finn's best friend. Madison liked to think of her as a sister. They had known each other since birth.
"Um, Mrs. Wing? Could you help me out with this?" Egg was mooning in the teacher's direction again. Madison wanted to gag. He may have acted all tough and smart, but in computer class Egg was definitely soft-boiled.
While the rest of the class continued working on their assignment, Madison tried to sneak online. The system connected, but she couldn't get on to her favorite site, TweenBlurt.com.
No Access! See your Cybrarian!
On these classroom computers, there were built-in blocks preventing students from online access except at designated times. Madison knew Mrs. Wing had put up all the blocks. She knew how to keep everyone focused on the assignment and only the assignment— didn't she?
This was going to be a long week.
Madison could feel the low dull ache that burns inside when you really, really miss someone.
And it wasn't just Mom or Dad.
Madison missed her purple blow-up chair, her file cabinet, her miles of files, and all her other stuff. Madison missed the way her bare feet felt on Mom's wood floors and the way the kitchen table rocked on one side when you leaned on it. She missed the way her pug Phinnie liked to curl up in front of the dishwasher during the dry cycle.
Right now, thinking about it too much, Madison missed everything about home. Or at least about the way home had used to be, when Mom and Dad were still together.
"Psssst!" Drew suddenly whispered over to Madison. "Are you having trouble getting online?"
Madison nodded. She was having all kinds of trouble. But she was glad to know she wasn't the only one bored with the assignment.
"I know a secret back entrance," he said, still whispering so Mrs. Wing couldn't hear. "I can tell you the secret password that only the teachers are supposed to know."
"Oh really? Then how do you—?"
Madison dropped her head down a little because Mrs. Wing was slowly making her way over to their desks.
The cybrarian code would have to be cracked later.
"And we are outta here!" Madison's brain whirred as she zipped up her orange backpack.
"Uh, Madison Finn, could you hold on a moment?" Mrs. Wing held up her hand for Madison to wait around. Everyone else who was still in the room stopped and stared.
"Oooo, you're in trouble now!" Egg whispered.
"Oh, shut up," Madison grunted under her breath. She scratched her cheek. It was so hot. Everything was happening in slo-mo.
"Later for you, Maddie." Egg was ready to walk out.
"Want us to hang outside?" Drew said to Madison. "I mean, we can wait here in the hall."
Egg was getting impatient. "Come on, Drew-fus. Let's make like a tree—"
"Don't leave!" Madison buzzed. "What do you guys think she wants? Do you think she knows I was trying to get online? I mean, I know I shouldn't have been working on my own disk in class, but do you guys think—"
Madison had never ever been asked to stay after class. And she had never ever ever been asked to do it in front of a whole bunch of kids either, let alone ones who didn't know her. It was the worst moment of seventh grade so far. Madison was panicked.
Drew shrugged. "Maddie, it's probably nothing."
Egg looked over at Mrs. Wing. "I wish she was keeping me after class."
Oh boy.CHAPTER 2
Madison slumped into a blue chair near Mrs. Wing's desk.
She felt blue, too.
"Madison, I noticed you seemed a little distracted in class," Mrs. Wing began.
"Distracted?" Madison repeated with concern. She gazed over Mrs. Wing's head so she wouldn't have to look her in the eye. As usual, she expected the worst kind of news.
"Well, you seem bored," she said, beads clacking again.
Madison frowned. "I do?"
"And I don't like seeing that," Mrs. Wing continued.
"Well, why would I? You are obviously good at computers. And I'm your teacher. I want to keep you challenged. Not bored."
Madison tilted her head to the side. "You do?"
"Of course," Mrs. Wing chuckled, which broke the tension a little. She sat on the edge of her old metal desk. "I want this to be your favorite class, of course. Isn't that what all teachers are supposed to say?"
Madison smiled. "But this is my favorite class. And I am not just saying that. Really. Truly."
"Madison, are you interested in doing something special with the Technology Lab this year? Usually I ask eighth graders to do this, but—"
"Class elections are coming up and I'm the faculty advisor. I am responsible for getting the elections up and running on the Web. The school wants your classmates to vote online for the very first time this year. Far Hills just got a brand-new proxy server over the summer!"
"Proxy wha?" Madison asked.
"Server. It's a computer that will support our own special network right here in the building. And what I need is someone to help me to maintain the site—download photos, results, and other new information on a regular basis. Then we will have everyone in seventh grade vote online."
Madison didn't know what to say.
Mrs. Wing just grinned. "So, Madison, what's the verdict? Would you be interested in helping out?"
Madison nodded, but no words came out.
"I take that as a yes?" Mrs. Wing joked.
"Yes!" Madison said at last.
"As you know, we have less than two weeks until the election, so I will need you to stay after school to work on the site, answer e-mails, and other work. We can talk specifics tomorrow. Does that sound like something you might be able to do?"
Madison nodded with delight. She felt as if someone had just handed her a winning Lotto ticket. She really could be techno-queen.
"So." Mrs. Wing held out her hand to shake. "Are we a team then?"
"Yessss!" Madison gushed again. After Mrs. Wing gave her a permission slip for Mom or Dad to sign, Madison grabbed her backpack and started for the door. "I can't believe this, Mrs. Wing. I can't. I swear I will be the best, best, best Web-site person ever."
Mrs. Wing laughed. "I'm sure you will be. See you tomorrow."
On her way out of the room, Madison's mind turned to mush. She had never been asked to do something like this by a teacher before.
"What did she say?" Egg said, leaping out from a bank of lockers.
Madison jumped. "Oh, Egg you scared me—"
"We were waiting for you all this time," Egg said. "Spill it."
The first bell was ringing. Aimee and Fiona walked up to the lockers.
Fiona Waters was Madison's newest best friend from over the summer. She and her family, including twin brother Chet, had moved to Far Hills from California. Even though she was a little bit spacey, Madison liked Fiona a lot.
"Hey, Maddie," Fiona said, "what's going on? Were you just in computer?"
"Yes, she was," Egg chimed in. "And Mrs. Wing kept her after class. She was about to tell me."
Madison scowled at Egg. "What is your problem?"
"Hey, Walter," Fiona said coyly. Of course Egg was too busy bugging Madison to give Fiona a hello or even a smile.
"Did you say 'Walter'?" Aimee asked, shaking her head. She laughed. "Fiona, his name is Egg. Nobody calls him Walter except his mother."
Fiona looked a little embarrassed.
"Maddie, are you gonna tell me or what?" Egg asked again.
"Well, gimme a chance, all right?"
Madison was busting to tell Egg and everyone else what Mrs. Wing had said to her after class. But everyone else wouldn't shut up.
"Hold it!" Aimee said. "Did something happen in class?"
"Did you get into trouble?" asked Drew.
"Just tell us!" Egg yelled.
"I am TRYING!" Madison yelled and then quickly lowered her voice. "I am trying to tell you but you guys keep talking. Okay. What happened is that Mrs. Wing says she wants me to help her run all of the online elections for Far Hills Junior High."
"She what?" Egg wasn't smiling.
"Hey, that's pretty cool," Drew said.
Madison continued, "She wants me to be Election Web Manager or something like that for the school Web site."
"You?" Egg slapped his forehead.
"Yeah, me. What's wrong with that?"
"What about me?" Egg said.
"You can't have everything your way, Egg," Aimee snapped.
"That is so awesome, Maddie!" Fiona chimed in.
"Yeah, way to go," Drew added.
Aimee grinned. "Maddie, you will totally be the best person for the job."
Egg backed himself up against a bank of lockers. "But I am the one who taught you how to go online, Madison. It should be me who gets this, not you!"
"Egg, just chill out," Aimee said. "It is no big deal."
"It is a deal," Egg said. "This is a big, fat, hairy deal."
"I'm sorry, Egg." Madison stood there for a moment waiting for Egg to say something else, but he didn't.
The second bell rang, echoing in the hall.
"Look, you guys, I gotta run!" Drew waved as he wandered away. "Got a class "
"See ya. Drew." Madison waved back. "Egg?"
Egg was already walking in the other direction.
"What a pain," Aimee said.
Madison hated the fact that Egg was annoyed, but she also knew that no matter what was said right now, tomorrow he would get over it and they'd be friends just as before. She hoped.
As she, Aimee, and Fiona moved off toward their next class, a voice called out from near the water fountain.
Finnster was a nickname Hart Jones had called Madison way back when they had been in first grade. It was a dorky name and she hated it, but he did it anyway. After second grade, Hart had moved away, but now he was back and the name was back, too.
Aimee chuckled under her breath. She elbowed Madison in the side. "Hey, I think he likes you."
Excerpted from Boy, Oh Boy! by Laura Dower. Copyright © 2001 Laura Dower. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Barnes & Noble.com: Name a few of your favorite children's books. Why have you chosen them as favorites?
Laura Dower: A few? When I was younger, I worked my way through the children's library in my town until I'd read almost everything! Spending summers in Maine as a kid made me love Robert McCloskey all the more -- especially Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Make Way for Ducklings. I also read each of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books at least ten times (partly because my name was Laura, I am sure). Other favorites: the Frances books by Russell Hoban; Amelia Bedelia; The Velveteen Rabbit; Roald Dahl's books; and the Nancy Drew mysteries. Finally, I read everything by Judy Blume (when I read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? back in the late '70s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, too).
B&N.com: What inspired you to create the character of Madison Finn? What do you like most about Maddie?
LD: While brainstorming ideas for a seventh-grade book series with my editor, the idea for Madison tumbled out of my brain. Actually, her name was originally "Morgan" inside my head, but I decided to change it because I liked the idea of calling her Maddie as a nickname. Sometimes character names happen because they just sound right, whereas the "insides" of the characters come from a deeper place. I like Madison because she is in the middle of everything -- not at the top, not at the bottom. That's where most of us sit. I also admire how she stays interested and committed to her ideas. The files are a way to organize her thoughts -- but they're also a way to preserve and explore her wide range of feelings. Best of all, Maddie is a little bit of a spaz (like I was in seventh grade and like I still am -- LOL).
B&N.com: Where do you get your ideas for each of the new story lines in every book?
LD: I keep my eyes and ears open all the time. My desk is packed with files of clippings, articles, and random doodles. The Internet is a great idea sparker, too. I go to a search engine and plug in a word. Each new web page triggers another new idea, and so on. Then I sit back and pull them all together, thinking about how the characters in my books would react and respond. Ideas come from taking a walk outside, talking to my best friend on the phone, anywhere. The key is that I write things down. I may not need one idea today -- but I will need it someday. Ideas are sneaky -- they will disappear if you don't jot them down. I carry around a mini-notebook everywhere I go.
B&N.com: Are any of your characters from From the Files of Madison Finn based on people from your real life?
LD: Sure! There are bits and pieces of my friends and family in everything that I write. Madison has a lot of me in her, especially the "overthinking" part. I, too, am an only child, and my parents also divorced (but when I was much younger). Ivy is every girl in school who ever made fun of me, talked about me, or picked on me -- help! There were lots of those, unfortunately. But I also had great friends -- Fiona, Aimee, and Lindsay are all composites of the people from my real life. Many of the junior high teachers are also based on my own experiences from seventh grade. Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Danehy were, in fact, the names of my real English and science teachers back then, although I've changed their personalities in the books quite a bit. And I have a real Gramma Helen who is just as sweet as the one in the books. B&N.com: What do you like best about being an author? Do you have any suggestions for aspiring young writers?
LD: Being an author gives me this warm feeling way down in my belly. Writing gives me a reason to be creative all the time. And I have four key ideas about writing to share with wannabe authors:
1. Just READ. Everyone says to be a good author, you should read; and that's truer than true, as Madison would say. To write well, you need to feed your head. Books are the most nourishing, I think, but magazines, comic books, and the newspaper count, too. You can't put out if you aren't putting fuel in.
2. Just WRITE -- anything -- even if you think it stinks. Don't worry about mistakes, dumb ideas, or even bad spelling. You will improve! Carry around one of those little notebooks. At first, you probably won't even take it out of your bag, but wait! One day, during a beautiful sunset or on a long bus ride, it will be there, and you can write everything down at the moment when it happens.
3. Learn how to REWRITE. Once you write in your notebook or on the computer; then try to revise. Have fun crossing stuff out and writing new stuff to take its place. Play around with words. Don't be afraid to say something with fewer words. Spend your time searching for the right ones by using a dictionary, thesaurus, etc.
4. Be PATIENT. For all the words you write down that don't make sense, there will be that one page, paragraph, or sentence to make you say, "Ahhh! That's it!" Believe me, it's worth waiting for.