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In 1947 in Maine, a raging fire that threatens their farm...
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In 1947 in Maine, a raging fire that threatens their farm and the nearby town makes the members of Meg's extended family see their strained relationships in a new light.
Meg Yeadon heard the younger kids run out for recess. Half her mind was on the division problems Mrs. Boudreau was writing on the blackboard. The other half was on her brother, Paul, who had just started first grade this year and wasn't too good at defending himself against the bigger kids in the schoolyard.
Meg was pretty sure she could hear his voice raised against the others. Listening hard, she was able to single out Joan Barter's mean-sounding taunt. Joan was the bully of the lower grades.
Meg stabbed her pencil into her workbook. As soon as the point snapped, she headed for the pencil sharpener, which was beside the window that overlooked the schoolyard. Cranking the sharpener handle as slowly as she could, she peered outside. It looked as though all eleven kids from the lower grades were in on a game, tossing an odd-shaped ball over Paul's head. Only it wasn't a ball. Meg knew that. It was a huge, perfectly formed paper wasp nest. It floated from hand to hand, while Paul darted first at one kid and then at another in an effort to retrieve his treasure.
Meg glanced around the classroom. Mrs. Boudreau was still at the blackboard. Meg figured it would only a take a minute or two to straighten out the situation in the schoolyard. She could be back at her desk before Mrs. Boudreau noticed she was gone.
Meg slipped out through the open door. Miss Wylie, the lower-grades teacher, who should have been paying attention to the kids in the yard, was nowhere to be seen.
Meg took the steps two at a time and tore around the side of the school. Pelting across the yard, she forgot to be careful about keeping quiet. "That'sPaul's," she bellowed as she charged into the knot of kids.
"That's Paul's," someone mimicked. It had to be Joan, who had dared to defy Meg last year when her cousin Orin had been the butt of Joan's teasing.
"He said it was his cousin's," another kid retorted.
"It is," Meg responded, "Was. Orin found it in the woods. It still had wasps. He got stung."
"Poor Orin," cried Joan. "Poor borin' Orin."
Joan, who was in the third grade, was already bigger than Meg. She had a voice to match her size and used it to belt out Judy Garland songs and to make fun of kids she didn't like. Just now that voice mocking Orin hit Meg like a punch in the stomach. Hot all over, she sucked in hard. Even last year it hadn't been easy to tackle Joan. But Meg had had years of practice with bigger kids, who never regarded scrawny Meg Yeadon as a threat. This time she caught Joan sideways, with one leg bent and twisted just enough to trip her up. Down went the bully, still clutching the delicate paper wasp nest.
Paul wailed, "No!"
The other kids backed off as Miss Wylie appeared. "Meg Yeadon," she snapped, "get off. Joan Barter, get up."
"She took my brother's wasp nest," Meg protested. "She was throwing it."
"Look what you've done," Miss Wylie scolded as the nest rolled away from Joan, gray shreds dragging in the dirt.
Meg glared at Joan. "You broke it," she said.
"it can be wrapped up again," Joan answered. "Only one side's busted."
"it was perfect," Meg charged. "Now it's spoiled." She glanced at Paul, who had picked up the crumpled nest and was trying to pat it back into shape. "Let me try," Meg said to him.
"No," said Paul. "You knocked her on top of it."
Meg was sent back to her classroom. She could feel the other kids' attention, even though they all had their backs to her as she walked inside. It was the most interesting thing that had happened in school since this morning, when they had heard the fire whistle blow and trucks and cars had headed down Meeting House Road.
Mrs. Boudreau acted as though nothing were amiss. She let Meg get all the way to her desk and partway into her chair before saying, "Meg, won't you need your pencil to finish your work?"Meg had to get up and walk back to the pencil sharpener. She allowed herself one glimpse into the schoolyard. There was Paul, sitting on the dusty ground, trying to blow air into the wasp nest as if it were a balloon he could inflate with his breath. Fire in the Wind. Copyright © by Betty Levin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted July 6, 2014