Mr. Leroy’s voice crackled through the intercom speaker after a fifth-grader named Henry Newmeyer had led the entire school in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“This is your principal, Mr. Leroy,” he said, and Mrs. Pidgeon’s second- graders all laughed. They knew he was their principal. He didn’t need to tell them. It wasn’t like the day in October when Gooney Bird Greene had appeared in their classroom for the first time and said, “I’m your new student.” She’d needed to explain that, because nobody had had a clue who she was, and she had arrived wearing pajamas and cowboy boots, which made her somewhat mysterious.
But everyone already knew who Mr. Leroy was. He was Watertower Elementary’s principal and he was the best principal, the children thought, in the whole world. He was smart and funny and he wore the most interesting neckties, except for the blue striped one. He had explained that his wife’s mother had given him the blue striped one for his birthday, so he felt that he had to wear it now and then. He really thought it was a boring necktie, but if they ever met his mother-in-law they should not tell her that he thought that.
“I just want to alert you all to the weather forecast,” Mr. Leroy’s voice continued through the intercom. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, since it is January, but the prediction is for snow tomorrow.
“Walkers? Be sure to wear warm boots and mittens,” he said.
“That’s me,” Ben announced from his desk. “I’m a walker! I’m wearing my L.L.Bean boots tomorrow!” “Me, too,” Nicholas chimed in. “I’m a walker, too.” “And bus people?” Mr. Leroy went on.
“Me,” Keiko said in her very quiet voice.
“And me,” Chelsea announced. “I get on Bus Eleven at the corner of Cherry Street.” “Be sure to be extra well behaved on the bus,” Mr. Leroy reminded them, “because the driving might be difficult in the snow. We want all of our drivers to pay careful attention to the slippery roads, not to children who might be noisy or wiggly.” “That’s you, Malcolm!” someone called out. Malcolm grinned. It was true; he did have trouble sitting still. He was wiggling back and forth in his seat at this very moment.
“Of course,” Mr. Leroy continued, “if there is a lot of snow, you know what that means!” “Snow day!” the children all called out.
“Snow day! OKAY!” Tyrone shouted.
“Snow day,” Mr. Leroy said, like an echo, even though he couldn’t hear Mrs. Pidgeon’s classroom from his office. “But let’s hope not. We all have lots of schoolwork to get done, don’t we?
“Now,” he added, “some of you have noticed that I’m wearing my reptile tie this morning.” Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. “Yes, he is,” she said. “I saw it when I was having coffee in the teachers’ lounge. It gives me the creeps.” “I love that one,” Beanie said. “It has iguanas and everything!” “Komodo dragons!” Barry added.
“Oh, gross,” murmured Keiko, who hated anything that might possibly be slimy.
“Shhh,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, still laughing. She pointed to the speaker and reminded them to keep listening to the principal’s voice.
“So I’ll sign off by saying: ‘See you later—’ ” “Alligator!” the second-graders called out as the intercom went silent. Throughout the school, each class said “Alligator!” and then Watertower Elementary School fell silent as the teachers and children began their day.
“Well, class,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, “as you all know, usually I begin each morning by—” “Mrs. Pidgeon! Mrs. Pidgeon!” Barry Tuckerman was halfway out of his seat, waving his hand in the air.
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed. “What is it, Barry?” she asked.
“Look at what Gooney Bird’s wearing!” Barry said loudly, and pointed toward the desk where Gooney Bird Greene had just opened her spelling book.
All of the children giggled. They frequently giggled at Gooney Bird’s outfits. Ever since her first day as a new student, when she had worn pajamas to school, they had been amazed and astonished and amused and awed at the things she decided to wear. A ballet tutu, sometimes. Dangly rhinestone earrings once, though she took them off when her earlobes began to ache. Hiking boots with an organdy pinafore. Sandals with unmatched knee socks. Today Gooney Bird was wearing an oversize tie-dyed sweatshirt. She had worn that particular shirt to school before, so it wasn’t unusual. But today she had something on her head. A sort of a pale green helmet with ruffles and two holes through which her red ponytails poked out.
Gooney Bird looked up when she heard the giggles. What?” she said. “I’m trying to study for the spelling test. I can never remember whether it’s an a or an e in separate”.
“We were just noticing your, ah, your headpiece,” Mrs. Pidgeon commented.
“Yes. It’s my two-ponytail hat. On days when I have just one ponytail, I wear a baseball cap with my one ponytail sticking through the hole in back. But this morning I was brushing my teeth when I looked in the bathroom mirror and I said to myself, ‘Gooney Bird, I do believe today is a two-ponytail day!’ ” “I’ve seen you with your baseball cap on, Gooney Bird,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, “but never with this, ah, two-ponytail hat before.” “It’s brand new.” Gooney Bird turned her head to give the teacher a side view of the pale green ruffles and the ponytail holes. “Do you like it?” “Well, it’s unusual,” Mrs. Pidgeon replied. “I’ll say that for it.” “It’s underpants!” Chelsea shrieked. The entire class roared with laughter.
Gooney Bird sighed. She waited patiently until the class became quiet again. Then she said, “Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. Whatever am I going to do with you? You know what that word does to the class! Remember when we were writing stories and I explained that you could always get a laugh with armpit or bellybutton or underpants? But that’s a cheap laugh.” She looked back at her spelling book. “It’s an a. I have to remember that. Desperate has an e but separate has an a. It’s very confusing.” “My mom and dad are separated,” Tricia said with a sigh, “and it’s very confusing because I live in two houses, and sometimes my crayons are in one house but my coloring book is in the other.” “My mom and dad are desperate,” Malcolm said, “because they had triplets.” The class laughed. They all knew about the commotion the triplet babies were causing in Malcolm’s family.
“I see London, I see France,” Ben called in a singsong voice. “I see Gooney’s—” “Enough,” announced Mrs. Pidgeon. She glanced suddenly at Tyrone. “Tyrone, what do I see in your hand?” Tyrone put on his who-me-I’m-very-innocent face. Mrs. Pidgeon went to his desk and reached out her hand. “You know the rules, Tyrone,” she said, and he handed her the small cell phone.
“It’s for emergencies,” he said defensively.
“And what sort of emergency do you anticipate?” “Ah, a bear may be comin’ into the classroom.” “A bear,” murmured all the other second-graders.
“In come a bear, but Tyrone doan care, when the kids all yell he just dial his cell . . . ” Mrs. Pidgeon, who usually enjoyed Tyrone’s raps, glared at him and dropped the cell phone into the top drawer of her desk. “As I was about to say, I usually begin each morning reading a poem.” “Oh, I love when you do that. I love poemth,” Felicia Ann said. Her top front teeth were slow in coming in and she had a gap there that made it hard for her to say an s.
“That was a poem I was saying,” Ben pointed out. “France rhymes with— ” Mrs. Pidgeon strode to his desk and clamped a hand on his shoulder. “And this morning,” she continued, still with her restraining hand on Ben but smiling at Felicia Ann, “I had chosen a winter poem to read, but then suddenly, when Mr. Leroy was talking over the intercom about a snowstorm on the way, Tyrone, you . . . ” She looked over at Tyrone, who was busy folding a piece of paper into a cootie-catcher. He glanced up at the sound of his name. “Who, me? I didn’t do nuthin!” Then he corrected himself. “Anything, I meant. I didn’t do anything.” Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. “It wasn’t anything you did. It was what you said. You said . . . ” She looked around at the children. “Anyone remember? Tyrone said, ‘Snow day . . . ’ ” “ ‘Okay!’ ” several children called. “ ‘Snow day! Okay!’ That’s what he said!” Mrs. Pidgeon nodded. “And it occurred to me that Tyrone had created our morning poem with just those two words.” The class fell silent. They looked at her. Beanie raised her hand. When the teacher nodded at her, she said with a frown, “It can’t be a poem. It’s too short.” “There are no rules about how long a poem should be,” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “It only has to be long enough to say what you want it to say. And here is what Tyrone wanted to say.” She went to the board. Carefully, in her neat printing, she wrote: SNOW DAY!
The class looked at the words. Malcolm, who could never remember to raise his hand, called, “No way!” With the eraser, Mrs. Pidgeon removed the words. She smiled. Then she wrote: SNOW DAY!
Malcolm read it and grinned. “I made a poem!” he said in a surprised, proud voice.
“I did mine already,” Tyrone pointed out. “Snow day! Okay!” “Me, too,” said Malcolm. “Snow day! No way!” “I have one!” Keiko said, raising her hand. “Can I write mine on the board?” Mrs. Pidgeon gave her the chalk and Keiko wrote: SNOW DAY!
Next Tricia wrote: SNOW DAY!
“I never knew a poem could be little,” Felicia Ann said in her soft, shy voice.
“A poem can be whatever you make it be,” Gooney Bird pointed out. She got up from her desk, took her turn at the board, and wrote: SNOW DAY!
Mrs. Pidgeon looked at Gooney Bird as she stood at the board with her two red ponytails protruding from the ruffled holes. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask this,” she said. “I don’t mean to get a cheap laugh. But, Gooney Bird, are those underpants on your head?” Gooney Bird thought for a moment. Then she said, in a patient voice, “Once it was underpants. Now it’s a two-ponytail hat. It’s like a poem. It can be whatever you want it to be.
“Actually,” she went on, and reached for the ruffled fabric, “I’m going to take it off now. The elastic hurts my forehead.” “Gooney Bird,” said Mrs. Pidgeon with a smile, “you’re so absurd!” Goony Bird grinned. “Poem,” she pointed out.
“Look!” she said suddenly, turning toward the window. Outside, they could see the first flakes of snow beginning to fall.