Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champby Claudia Mills, Rob Shepperson (Illustrator)
The students in Miss Molina's third grade class are abuzz with excitement about the upcoming spelling bee, where they will be competing against the two other classes in third grade. Simon Ellis, who just happens to be good at a lot of other things, is also very good at spelling. But Simon's best friend, Jackson, tells him that it's getting boring losing to Simon all the time. Simon is stuck in an impossible situation: Jackson will be mad whether he spells all the words correctly for their team or if he makes a mistake on purpose and causes his team to miss out on the all-you-can-eat pie buffet. Simon's competitive spirit takes over until he realizes that sometimes the best way to win is to take a chance and let other people shine.
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Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ
By Claudia Mills
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Claudia Mills
All rights reserved.
Simon Ellis sat sprawled on the floor next to Jackson Myers, trying to make his best friend in the whole world plunge to his doom.
It was Sunday afternoon, and they were at Jackson's house, video game controllers in hand, playing Jackson's newest game, Galaxy Warriors. Simon was warrior Xalik, and Jackson was warrior Satu. If either player was knocked off his platform in interstellar space, it would mean instant death.
Xalik fired his laser beam at Satu.
Satu shot a string of fireballs at Xalik.
Xalik sprang over the top of them and countered with another quick laser.
Satu flew backward and fell, then leaped up again to fire another torrent of fireballs at Xalik.
"Wait!" Jackson paused the game to dart after his ferret, Ferrari, who was scrambling out the door of his bedroom and heading toward the stairs. Simon waited to save Xalik from defeat, disgrace, and death as Jackson headed after his pet.
Simon and Jackson had been best friends since preschool. They usually played at Jackson's house, because Jackson was the only one who had a game system, plus a big TV in his room to play it on. What Simon's room had instead of a TV was two tall bookcases crammed full of books, most of which Simon had read. Simon wondered what it would be like to have two tall bookcases and a big TV. There was no rule saying that if you had one, you couldn't have the other.
Jackson returned with Ferrari, careful to shut his bedroom door this time. The little ferret scrabbled down Jackson's arm and up Simon's. Simon used to be nervous around Ferrari, but he had worked hard to get comfortable with having a small furry creature climbing all over him. Now Ferrari was his second-best friend after Jackson.
Simon thought he had a good chance of beating Jackson at Galaxy Warriors today. Jackson played video games more often than Simon did, but Galaxy Warriors was a brand-new game, so the two boys were evenly matched.
Besides, Simon was coordinated with his hands from playing the violin for four years, starting at age five. Plus, he was just good at strategy. Once he started playing a game, even if Jackson had a head start, he caught on quickly. Just the way he caught on quickly to fractions and decimals in math, or could memorize all fifty states and their state capitals, or get a perfect score on practically every spelling test.
"Ready?" Jackson asked, picking up his controller again.
"Ready!" Simon replied.
Xalik fell back, landing inches away from the edge of the platform.
Then Xalik recovered from his fall and ducked more of Satu's fireballs.
He unleashed one last powerful laser beam at Satu.
Satu flew far off the end of the platform and plunged into space.
Victory for Xalik!
Simon felt himself beaming. He scooped up Ferrari and wiggled him in the air like a victory trophy.
"Do you want to be Xalik next time, and I'll be Satu?" he asked.
Jackson didn't answer.
When Simon turned to look at him, Jackson was scowling.
"What?" Simon asked. Was he holding Ferrari the wrong way? Gently, he set Ferrari down on the carpet beside Jackson.
But Jackson's scowl only deepened. "If you're Xalik, Xalik wins. If you're Satu, Satu wins. Doesn't it ever get boring, winning all the time?"
Simon didn't know what to say.
"Because it sure gets boring losing all the time," Jackson muttered.
Simon found his voice as the little ferret climbed up Jackson's leg. "I don't win all the time. Nobody wins all the time."
"Name one time you've ever lost at anything."
Simon couldn't believe Jackson had to ask this. "I lost at Amphibian Apocalypse last week. Remember? You beat me three times in a row."
"Because you had never played the game ever, and I'd played it like ten thousand times, and then after I beat you three times, you beat me four times in a row."
"But you still beat me three times first," Simon reminded him.
Jackson picked up Ferrari and dropped him back in the wire cage that stood on a low table next to the bed. He shut the cage door with an angry click, as if it were poor Ferrari's fault that Simon/Xalik had fired his laser so well. Jackson was being unfair not only to Simon but to Ferrari, too.
"You said to name one time I didn't win, and I just named three," Simon said, hoping that Jackson would stop being mad. But even though this was completely true, Jackson's expression didn't change.
"You don't even have a game system in your house," Jackson said, his tone accusing.
That was true, too, but it meant that Simon was the one who had something to complain about. Jackson was the luckier kid, with a TV, a game system, and a ferret of his own.
"And you still beat me at video games!" Jackson said. "You're better than I am at math. And reading. And spelling. Oh, and running."
Simon couldn't deny it. But he just happened to love math, reading, spelling, and running. It made sense that if you loved something, you'd keep on doing it, and then you'd get good at it. He tried to think of something Jackson was better at.
"You're better than I am at soccer," he offered. Jackson's soccer team had made the playoffs this spring.
"You don't play soccer!" Jackson retorted.
"So I'm not better at it!"
"But if you did play soccer, you would be," Jackson said wearily.
Jackson turned off the TV and made a big show of setting the game controllers side by side on the bureau, even though he usually left them on the floor for his little brother to trip over.
What was Simon supposed to say?
Okay, maybe he didn't lose at very many things. But he did lose sometimes.
And right now he was afraid he might be starting to lose his best friend.
* * *
On Monday morning, Simon was glad to see Jackson waiting for him as usual on the blacktop outside Franklin School before the first bell, even though Jackson had still been cross when Mrs. Ellis had come to pick Simon up right after their quarrel.
"Hey," Jackson said, giving Simon a sheepish smile.
"Hey," Simon said, with a sheepish smile of his own.
Maybe things were going to be okay with Jackson, after all.
After the flag salute and morning announcements, their third-grade teacher, Mrs. Molina, told the class to listen closely to the news she was about to share. Mrs. Molina was strict. She even looked strict, with wire-framed glasses and hair pulled back sternly from her face. But Simon liked her.
"Class, a week from this Friday is our Franklin School spelling bee. You'll be competing against the other third-grade classes."
Simon felt a jolt of excitement. He had never been in a spelling bee before. The Franklin School bee was just for third, fourth, and fifth graders.
"What do we get if we win?" one kid asked.
"The main thing you'll get will be the satisfaction of being such good spellers."
Simon's classmates looked disappointed.
"But Mr. Boone has also come up with a special prize that he'll tell you about later."
Now the class cheered. They all loved their chubby, funny, always-enthusiastic principal.
"Is everyone going to spell in the bee?" Kelsey Green asked. "Or do our best spellers compete against the best spellers in the other classes?"
Simon knew that Kelsey loved reading and spelling as much as he did.
"Each class will be divided into teams, and everyone competes, working together as team members."
Simon didn't like the sound of that. He never signed up for team sports like soccer or basketball. He preferred individual sports like running, where how you did was totally up to you alone.
"But our strongest spellers will certainly have an important role to play," Mrs. Molina added.
"Si-mon! Si-mon!" someone started to chant.
Kelsey tossed her short brown hair. Simon knew she wanted the chant to be "Kel-sey! Kel-sey!" But he couldn't help flushing with pride at hearing his classmates treat him as their star speller.
Then he heard Cody Harmon mutter, "Super Simon. Super-Duper-Pooper Simon." Cody was the worst in the class at most of the things Simon was best at.
Simon thought he heard Jackson laugh. But maybe it was somebody else.
Simon pretended he hadn't heard, but Cody's comment stung, and Jackson's laugh, if it had been Jackson who laughed, stung even more.CHAPTER 2
Mr. Boone popped his head into Mrs. Molina's room after lunch. Actually, he popped his whole self into the room. Some of Simon's favorite words to describe Mr. Boone were exuberant, ebullient, and effervescent (though he wasn't quite sure if ebullient had one l or two, and if effervescent had one f or two). Was there a reason that so many words that meant energetic and exciting started with the letter e?
"Boys and girls!" Mr. Boone boomed. "It's t-i-m-e for the annual Franklin S-c-h-o-o-l spelling b-e-e!"
The class laughed, not so much because that was a funny thing to say, but because it was funny Mr. Boone who said it.
"Who's a good speller here?"
Hands flew up, although Simon knew for a fact that half the class was terrible at spelling. Jackson sometimes wrote there for their or they're. Cody mixed up to, two, and too, practically the shortest words in the entire dictionary. The only words shorter than to were a and I, which even Cody didn't misspell.
Cody, Simon noticed, was the only kid in the class who hadn't raised his hand in response to Mr. Boone's question. At least Cody was honest.
"Who likes pie?" Mr. Boone asked then.
This time every single hand went up, including Cody's.
"Well," Mr. Boone said, "I myself am a terrible speller."
Simon doubted that was true. How could someone who wasn't good at spelling get picked to be a principal? You'd think a principal would have to be good at every subject taught in school. Maybe someday he himself would be a principal.
"But," Mr. Boone went on, "I am very good at baking pies. Too good, in fact."
He patted his round middle regretfully as the class laughed again.
"So," Mr. Boone said, "I'm going to invite the winning team in each grade to be my guests at a pie buffet featuring pies baked by yours truly." He pointed to himself.
"What about the teams that don't win?" Jackson asked. "They'll want pie, too."
Mr. Boone thought for a moment. As a pie lover, he seemed to think it quite reasonable that everybody would want to eat pie.
"All right," he finally said. "If I see everybody trying his or her b-e-s-t, busily studying all your spelling w-o-r-d-s, I might be able to come up with a piece of pie for everyone. But only the members of the winning team will get the full pie buffet with my famous honey pie. Or else it wouldn't be a prize for a spelling bee, right? Does that sound fair? Now, I know Mrs. Molina has a lot of m-a-t-h she wants to t-e-a-c-h you."
Mrs. Molina always had a lot of math she wanted to teach.
"So I'll b-u-z-z on over to another c-l-a-s-s."
And then Mr. Boone was gone, buzzing loudly as he departed.
Simon had never tasted honey pie, but it certainly sounded like the best possible prize for success in a spelling bee.
He raised his hand, and Mrs. Molina called on him.
"How are you going to pick the teams?" he asked.
Mrs. Molina adjusted her glasses. Simon recognized that as her favorite stalling technique.
"The other teachers and I are still figuring that out. We're meeting after school today to finalize the plans."
Why did there have to be teams at all? Why not just let the best spellers stand up in front of everybody and spell, the way Simon had seen kids do in the televised finals of the National Spelling Bee?
He thought about raising his hand to ask Mrs. Molina if there had to be teams. If the teachers hadn't figured out how to set up the teams, maybe there was still time to change their minds so that kids could compete as individuals. That way he and Kelsey could go word-to-word against each other, nice and simple. The best speller would win. Maybe it would be Kelsey. Maybe it would be Simon. Either way, Simon's success or failure wouldn't have to depend on anyone else.
But he didn't want Cody to make another crack about "Super Simon" and hear Jackson laugh.
Instead, he listened as Mrs. Molina told the class that she was going to clear off the big bulletin board at the back of the room to make a word wall. It would be covered with blank paper on which everybody could write his or her favorite words, starting on Wednesday.
"We want to make the next couple of weeks a big, wonderful word party," Mrs. Molina finished, sounding almost as enthusiastic as Mr. Boone himself. "Don't post our regular third-grade spelling words on the word wall. Go on a word hunt for the best, juiciest words you can find."
"Can we write as many words as we want?" Simon asked.
Maybe that was a Super Simon question, too. But he couldn't help himself.
Mrs. Molina smiled. "The more words, the merrier! During the bee, we'll start with some of the spelling words you've been tested on all year. But then, if no teams are getting eliminated because those words are too easy, we'll move on to more challenging words taken from the word walls in the three third-grade classrooms. So do your best to find words that can stump the other teams."
As Mrs. Molina turned to the math lesson, Simon jotted down some amazing words that he could write on the class word wall.
He started with all those great e words for describing Mr. Boone. Then he added even more excellent e words to the list:
Exhilarating. He hoped he had spelled that one right. Did it have an e in the middle, after the l, or was the a correct?
All words Simon would use to describe a spelling bee, even if it had to have teams.
* * *
After school Simon had his violin lesson.
Jackson didn't take private music lessons, though he had told Simon that he wanted to play the tuba when they started instrumental music in fourth grade. Simon could imagine his friend blowing into the huge brass tuba, puffing out his cheeks as fat as he could. Just the thought of it made him chuckle.
Simon's violin teacher, Dr. Lee, was from Korea. She wasn't a medical doctor. She was a doctor of playing the violin.
"So what is new with you this week, Mr. Simon Ellis?" she asked as he hung up his jacket on the hook by the entrance to her studio.
Simon told her about the spelling bee.
"Ah," she said. "We can spell words in the language of music, too, you know."
She picked up her violin and played four notes. Each note was a beautiful, shimmering thing when Dr. Lee played it.
"Did you recognize the word?" she asked.
She played the first note again.
"F," she said.
The next note was higher.
The note after that was lower.
The final note was higher than the note she had just played but lower than the note she played first.
"E?" Simon guessed. "Face!"
He liked the idea of spelling words this way. Of course, the only letters of the musical alphabet were the notes of the scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Still, there were a lot of words you could spell with those letters. Bed. Bead. Feed. Beg. Cab. Gab. Bee.
It would be so cool to be able to send a message to a friend in the secret code of music. Maybe once Jackson started playing the tuba, Jackson's tuba and Simon's violin could talk together in their own private language and puzzle everyone else.
But Simon didn't know if Jackson would think that idea was as cool as he did, or if he would think it was dumb.
As he took his violin out of its case, Simon remembered back to second grade when he and Jackson had their own private game called Bird War. It was a game they invented themselves, played in the backseat of the car while one of their parents was driving them somewhere.
Each boy took a stuffed toy bird and placed it on top of the seat in front. When the driver at the wheel turned around a corner, one of the birds, or both, might fall off its perch. If Simon's bird fell off and Jackson's bird didn't, Jackson got a point. If Jackson's bird fell off and Simon's bird didn't, Simon got a point.
Excerpted from Simon Ellis, Spelling Bee Champ by Claudia Mills. Copyright © 2015 Claudia Mills. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Meet the Author
Claudia Mills is the acclaimed author of many books for children. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Rob Shepperson's most recent book is The Memory Bank, a collaboration with Carolyn Coman. He lives in Croton on Hudson, New York.
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