In a Class of Their Own
On the first day of school, Mr. Harry Valentine Jupiter--Aesop Elementary's only fifth-grade teacher--rose early. After brewing himself a cup of rose hip tea (harvested during his recent trek through the Andes Mountains), he sat down at his Tang dynasty writing table to review his class list.
Yes, they were all there--every single one of his students from last year.
These were the kids other teachers called "rambunctious," "high-energy," and even "naughty." No one dared teach them.
"Not for love or money," their former first-grade teacher, Ms. Bucky, had said. Her time with the children had left her with a tooth-grinding problem.
"Not for all the tea in China," their former second-grade teacher, Mrs. Chen, had added. The muscles in her chin still twitched from the experience.
"Ye gods, no!" their former third-grade teacher, Mr. Frost, had yelped. "Another year with them and I won't have any hair left!"
Only one teacher had been willing to take on these kids--Mr. Jupiter. He had journeyed with them through fourth grade. Now he looked ahead to fifth.
"It will be as thrilling as bungee jumping off the Empire State Building," he told himself, "as challenging as discovering the lost city of Atlantis; as rewarding as catching (and releasing) the Loch Ness monster."
Plucking a green feather from his Aztec headdress, he used his obsidian ceremonial blade to cut the feather's tip into a pen point. Dipping the quill into his bottle of ox-gall ink, he opened his parchment grade book and wrote each student's name with a flourish.
He paused a moment, sipping his tea and thinking. Then beside each name he added a few personal notes.
Ashlee Anderson--Possesses the optimistic, encouraging heart of a cheerleader; is fond of unicorns.
Stanford Binet--Always prepared--always! Never ceases to amaze me with the depth and breadth of his knowledge, which can make him a tad bit superior at times.
Bernadette Braggadoccio--Her bold, brash, and blustering exterior conceals, I believe, a highly inquisitive mind. Just ask her!
Ashleigh Brown--Ditto on the heart of a cheerleader and unicorn collecting. Why haven't I noticed this similarity before? Hmmm . . .
Rose Clutterdorf--Always a ray of sunshine in the classroom, despite her best efforts; and she always manages to smear and wrinkle whatever she comes in contact with.
Lillian "Lil" Ditty--A poetic little soul, she hears the music in words; will burst into verse whenever the muse calls--in the middle of math, during a spelling test . . .
Emberly Everclass--Disciplined, and until last year's bout with chicken pox, had never missed a day of school; an analytical thinker, he loves reading, especially mysteries.
Jackie Jumpbaugh--This girl plays a mean game of tetherball, and kickball, and basketball, and floor hockey, and . . . you name it, she excels at it.
Melvin Moody--What to do about meek, overlooked Melvin? His classmates ignore him, but I believe he has hidden talents; will he expose them this year? I'll keep my fingers crossed.
Ernest Moomaday--Rembrandt with crochet needles, he has a real gift with yarn; in a week this boy could cover a football field with a perfectly crocheted inverted-V-stitch cozy.
Humphrey Parrot--Observant; a true mimic, perhaps his way of thinking things through, or . . . is it something else? Have Nurse Betadine check his hearing.
Rachel Piffle--Shy, painfully shy, but you can see the intelligence in her eyes. Will she find her voice this year?
Missy Place--Clever, but absentminded; loses everything . . . anything: mittens, textbooks, backpack, lunch box (we've yet to find that lunch box).
Hamilton "Ham" Samitch--Has the appetite of a Saint Bernard--no doughnut is safe.
Victoria Sovaine--Can be somewhat self-involved; has yet to discover her true inner beauty, but I have hopes.
Amisha Spelwadi--Quick-minded and competitive; school legend has it that she spelled the word a-m-b-i-d-e-x-t-r-o-u-s in her sleep during kindergarten naptime.
Calvin Tallywong--Strangely fond of the taste of cedar--as in wooden pencils; bright but mathematically challenged.
Bruce Vanderbanter--One half of the comedy team of Vanderbanter and Wittier; tossed out some of the best one-liners I've heard since I toured the Mongolian vaudeville circuit. I must work harder not to laugh at his jokes.
Leonard "Lenny" Wittier--The other half of the above-mentioned comedy team; a quick, nimble mind--without a lick of discipline.
Ashley Zamboni--I am told he can burp the alphabet, although I've not yet had the pleasure; a bit sensitive about his name, and with the middle name of Valentine, I understand.
From the Hardcover edition.