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Ethan Winfield has never been an academic or athletic star like his older brother, Peter. But does that make him a failure? Of course not. Still, Ethan and his best friend, Julius Zimmerman, decide that they qualify to found an exclusive club: Losers, Inc.
No sooner have they done this, however, than both boys fall in love with the new student teacher. Ethan knows right away that to impress Ms. Gunderson he has to excel. Instead of reading the shortest book for his report, he has to read the longest. Instead of working with Julius on the worst project for the science fair, he has to make the best one--alone.
Unfortunately, it isn't Ms. Gunderson who falls for Ethan, but Lizzie Archer, class nerd. The teasing is unbearable! So without regard for Lizzie's feelings--and over Julius's objections--Ethan helps hatch a plot to prove that he's not Lizzie's boyfriend. The result is that even as he reports on a book that's longer than any Peter read in the sixth grade, and prepares a potentially winning science project, Ethan feels that he doesn't deserve anyone's love--not Ms. Gunderson's, not Lizzie's, not Julius's, not his own.
Claudia Mills, creator of Dinah Seabrooke (Dynamite Dinah, Dinah for President, Dinah in Love, Dinah Forever) and other overachievers, portrays a boy who needs a reason to strive, finds one, then realizes that success isn't enough. Smart, funny, and down to earth, this hero engages and entertains as he struggles mightily to grow up.
About the Author
Claudia Mills is a highly regarded author of books for children, mainly middle-grade novels. Her most recent novel, Dinah Forever, was closely analyzed by The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books in its "The Big Picture" review, and was among the list of "Bulletin Blue Ribbons 1995." According to a starred review in School Library Journal, "As in previous books, Mills is particularly effective in her creation of complex relationships between characters."
Claudia Mills teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where she lives with her husband and their two sons.
Claudia Mills is the acclaimed author of many books for children. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
By Claudia Mills
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1997 Claudia Mills
All rights reserved.
Ethan Winfield straightened his shoulders as he stood against the measuring tape on the back of the kitchen door, trying to make himself taller. He placed his hand on top of his head, glad for once of the blond cowlick that refused to lie flat. Then he turned around and checked where his fingers had touched the tape. Four feet, ten and a half inches.
Still four feet, ten and a half inches. He hadn't even grown a quarter of an inch since his mother had made the most recent mark on the chart back on his twelfth birthday, two months before, in November.
Ethan let his eyes fall on the tape again. His brother, Peter, was only two years older than he was, but at fourteen, Peter was a full eight inches taller. "Of course Peter's taller. He's two years older!" Ethan's mother had told him the last time she heard him complaining about his height. But when Peter was twelve, he'd been two inches taller than Ethan was now. Also, Peter had always had better grades and a shelf full of sports trophies. It wasn't fair.
This past year Ethan had begun writing a book called Life Isn't Fair: A Proof. It wasn't a real book, just a list of experiences that made Ethan and his best friend, Julius, wonder whether the universe had something in particular against the two of them. For example:
Monday, January 20. Julius Zimmerman didn't have his math homework to turn in. Mr. Grotient said, "I'll have to take five points off for that, Zimmerman." Lizzie Archer, AKA the Lizard, didn't have her math homework to turn in. Mr. Grotient said, "Well, turn it in first thing tomorrow, Lizzie."
Tuesday, January 21. Ethan Winfield made six perfect baskets in a row on the playground before school. During gym class, when Coach Stevens was watching, he missed six baskets in a row.
Wednesday, January 22. The cafeteria ran out of dessert. The last person to get a dessert was the person right in front of Ethan Winfield and Julius Zimmerman.
Thursday, January 23. Ms. Leeds called on people in alphabetical order to give their book reports, and everybody got theirs over with except for Ethan Winfield and Julius Zimmerman, who had to go all by themselves the next day.
Friday, January 24. When Ethan and Julius finally did their book reports, Ms. Leeds told them that the books they read were too short, even though she never told the class ahead of time that the book-report books had to be a certain length. Ethan's book had 64 pages. Julius's book had 72 pages. The Lizard's book had 276 pages.
The notebook was almost full. Usually Ethan had at least one unfair thing to add to it every day. Now he could add that he hadn't grown even a quarter of an inch in two whole months. Maybe he had stopped growing. Maybe four feet ten and a half inches was going to be his full adult height, and he would spend the rest of his life shorter than every single sixth-grade girl, except for the Lizard, who apparently hadn't grown since she starred in Thumbelina in second grade.
Ethan poured himself a bowl of cereal and drowned it in milk. He had read that some farmers were giving their cows a special growth hormone that showed up in the milk. He took an extra swig from the jug before putting it back in the refrigerator, just in case.
* * *
It was a tradition in the Winfield family that Ethan and Peter made dinner every Saturday night. The tradition had begun when they were both still in elementary school. Back then Saturday night dinner had usually been frozen pizza, topped with whatever the boys could find in the refrigerator. But lately the dinners had been real food, prepared from real recipes in real cookbooks.
When Ethan came downstairs after a long, boring hour spent struggling with math homework, he found Peter in the kitchen, flipping through The Joy of Cooking.
"How about Swedish meatballs?" Peter asked. "Over noodles. And there's some stuff in the fridge for a salad."
"Sounds good," Ethan said. He was hungry already. But Peter was always the one who decided what they would make. Ethan peered down at the open page of the cookbook. "Or how about Hawaiian meatballs? Over rice."
Peter shook his head. "We don't have any pineapple."
"Did you look? Sometimes Mom stores extra cans up high."
But when Ethan searched the pantry shelves, he didn't find any canned pineapple. Canned pears, canned peaches, canned fruit cocktail. No canned pineapple. He should have known better than to bother checking. Peter was always right. It was one of the most annoying things about Peter.
As Ethan began mincing the onions for the Swedish meatballs, he tried to remember if Peter had always been right, even way back when they were little. All of Ethan's memories were the same. Peter racing ahead on his two-wheel bike, without any training wheels, as Ethan struggled behind on his small plastic tricycle. Peter swimming the length of the big pool as Ethan clung to his inflated tube in the baby pool. Not that Peter wasn't nice. He was nice. Almost too nice sometimes. But many of the entries in Life Isn't Fair: A Proof mentioned Peter.
Ethan had made two just that morning:
Saturday, January 25. The regular West Creek newspaper, not the dumb West Creek Middle School News, had a picture of Peter Winfield on the front page of the sports section, scoring in Friday night's basketball game. Ethan Winfield has never even had his picture in the dumb West Creek Middle School News.
Saturday, January 25. One girl from Peter Winfield's class called him seven times on the telephone. No girl has ever called Ethan Winfield. Of course, Ethan Winfield does not want any girl to call him. Ethan Winfield would hang up if any girl called him. But it is still true that no girl has ever called him.
As it turned out, the Swedish meatballs were delicious. Ethan had three helpings, spooned over hot, buttery noodles. Ethan's dad had three helpings, too.
"You boys could open a restaurant," Ethan's mother said. "If you ever want a job cooking for Little Wonders, let me know." Little Wonders was the preschool where she worked as a teacher. "Our kitchen staff could definitely use some new ideas. What else did you two do this afternoon?"
"Nothing," Ethan said.
"Nothing," Peter said.
It was one of their favorite replies to their mother's questions.
"Peter, I saw you got a letter from Representative Bellon in the mail. Was that anything interesting? Had you written to him about something?" she asked next.
Ethan almost never got any mail. But last year he had written to Representative Bellon about gun control, for a fifth-grade assignment on writing the business letter and the friendly letter. Representative Bellon had written back, thanking him for his concern. Ethan still had the letter.
"Actually," Peter said, obviously trying not to look too pleased, "he was congratulating me on placing third in the state on that math thing I did last fall."
"Oh, honey! Go get the letter. We want to see it!"
Peter rolled his eyes at Ethan, but he retrieved the letter from his room and handed it to his mother. She read the letter out loud, then passed it to Ethan's father. Ethan's father didn't say anything, but he beamed at Peter.
"We have to frame this!" Ethan's mother said. "We can hang it in the hall, with all of your school pictures." Then she stopped and looked quickly at Ethan. "Do you still have your letter from Congressman Bellon?" she asked him. "We can frame both of them."
"No," Ethan lied. "I threw it away."
He was going to throw it away, too, as soon as he got to his room. His letter was nothing like Peter's. Everyone in his entire class had written a letter to Congressman Bellon, and everyone had gotten the same letter back. "Dear _____. Thank you for your concern about _____. Caring young citizens like you are vital to the future of America. Sincerely, Andrew Bellon." The only kid who had gotten a different letter had been Lizzie Archer. Somehow even Representative Bellon had known that you couldn't write back to the Lizard with a form letter.
His mother gave Ethan a worried look. He pretended not to see it. He carried his empty plate to the dishwasher. Then he slipped upstairs to make another entry in his book.
* * *
On Sunday afternoon Julius came over to shoot baskets at the hoop on Ethan's garage door. Although it was January, the bright Colorado sun sent the temperature soaring into the sixties, melting the snow that had fallen the day before.
Ethan made a few baskets, but he missed plenty, too. Julius missed every time. Unlike Ethan, Julius was tall for his age, but his long arms were spindly and awkward. When Ethan watched Julius play basketball, it began to seem physically impossible that any human being could actually catch that large round ball and throw it anywhere near, let alone through, a hoop that was hung so high and hard to reach.
Finally Julius dropped to Ethan's front step, panting. "Let's face it," he said to Ethan cheerfully. "When it comes to sports, you and I are losers."
Ethan laughed, because Julius had a way of making everything he said sound funny. But Ethan hadn't missed every single basket. He had gotten at least half of them — well, some of them. He might not be as good a basketball player as Peter, but he wasn't as bad as Julius, either.
"We could form a club," Julius went on. "It would be open only to losers. Like, you'd have to be bad at a certain number of things to qualify. You'd have to miss the most baskets in P.E., and read the shortest books for English class, and have the worst experiment at the science fair."
Ethan laughed again. He and Julius always did read the shortest books for English class, and they always did have the worst experiment at the science fair. He had to admit that the club sounded perfect for the two of them. "And math," he added. "You'd have to get the most problems wrong on every math test."
"We'll call it ..." Julius broke off, as if waiting for a brilliant idea.
"Losers, Inc.," Ethan suggested.
"That's it!" Julius said. "I'll be the president, and you can be the vice president. Unless you want to be president?"
"Nah. The club was your idea." Besides, Ethan figured, it was more loser-ish to be vice president than president, even of a club for losers.
"We need a motto, too," Julius said. "Like 'Winning isn't everything.' Or 'Losers, and proud of it.'"
Ethan had a sudden inspiration. "I have it: 'Some are born losers. Some achieve losing. Some have losing thrust upon them.'"
"Did you make that up?" Julius demanded suspiciously.
"I heard it somewhere," Ethan said. "About greatness. You know, some are born great ..."
Peter rode his bike into the driveway, home from a hike in the mountains. "Hey, Ethan, Julius," he said. "How's it going?"
"Okay," Ethan answered for both of them.
Still on his bike, Peter held up his hands for the basketball. Ethan threw it to him. From halfway down the driveway, Peter took aim. The ball arched gracefully through the air and swished through the net without touching the backboard.
So Peter was perfect. What else was new? Ethan was glad that he and Julius had formed their crazy club. There was something satisfying about being a founding officer of the one organization of which his brother could never be a member.CHAPTER 2
On Monday morning, Ethan biked to school behind Peter and met Julius by the bike racks. Sometimes Ethan and Julius shot baskets together before school; today they just sat on the curb at the edge of the blacktop. Ethan scuffed his feet in the dirty sand dumped there after Saturday's snow.
"Hey," Julius said in a low voice. "Look."
Ethan looked up. He didn't see anything. Peter and his eighth- grade friends were shooting baskets at the far hoop. A bunch of girls watched them, giggling together. Farther along the curb, Lizzie Archer was sitting all alone, her wild red curls hanging down over her face. She was scribbling something in the notebook that she always carried with her. Probably she was writing a poem. The Lizard was always writing poems.
"Over there," Julius said.
Then Ethan saw her. She was tall, around Peter's height. Maybe twenty. Or even older. Old enough to be a teacher. But she didn't look like any teacher Ethan had ever seen. The most unteacherly thing about her was her hair. It fell down her back in long, shining, silky waves, almost to her knees. She looked like Rapunzel. And her hair was pure gold, as if Rumpelstiltskin had spent all night spinning it out of straw. Her face was beautiful, too. And her clothes were beautiful. On top she wore a big, bulky sweater, but under it she wore a thin, swirly, shimmery skirt, even longer than her hair. She stood watching the kids at play.
"I think" — Julius spoke in a thick, trancelike voice — "I think I'm in love."
This was not the first time that Julius had been in love. Julius had already been in love with two movie stars, one lead singer in an all-girl rock band, and a checkout cashier named Stephanie who worked at King Soopers. Ethan couldn't take any of Julius's love interests very seriously, but at least none of them had lasted more than a week or two. Rapunzel was definitely the best-looking one yet.
The bell rang. Ethan and Julius joined the crowd of sixth graders. Ethan saw Rapunzel enter the school by the front door.
In homeroom, during morning announcements, Ethan found himself wondering what someone like Rapunzel was doing in West Creek Middle School. She was too young to be somebody's mother. Maybe she was somebody's sister. Or a substitute? Ethan had never seen a substitute with hair like that.
On the way to first-period science class, Ethan and Julius looked into every classroom off the main hall, hoping for another glimpse of Rapunzel. They didn't see her. But when they turned into the science room, there she was, deep in conversation with Mr. O'Keefe.
"Good morning, class," Mr. O'Keefe said when all the students were in their seats. "I'd like to introduce our new student teacher, Ms. Grace Gunderson. Ms. Gunderson will be working with you for the next five weeks, as part of her teacher training at the university. She's going to explain what she has planned for us."
"Good morning," Ms. Gunderson said. Her voice was as beautiful as her hair, and face, and skirt. It was soft and low and a bit husky. Ethan glanced over at Julius. Julius looked ready to faint.
"I'm going to be working with you on your science fair projects," Ms. Gunderson went on. "I think you all know that the West Creek Middle School science fair will take place on Thursday, February 27. I hope some of you develop projects that will be chosen for the regional science fair or even the state science fair. But most of all, I hope this will be a chance for all of you to learn more about the beauty and wonder of science."
If Mr. O'Keefe had ever talked about the beauty and wonder of science, Ethan would have snickered. He wasn't snickering now.
Ms. Gunderson explained more about how the science fair projects should be organized. Then she said, "Now I want you to form small groups for brainstorming about science fair ideas. I'll be circulating among your groups to begin talking with each of you individually."
After they had counted off, Ethan found himself in the first group, with three other boys — not Julius — and two girls, including Lizzie Archer. Ms. Gunderson pulled her chair over to join them.
"In science we start out with questions," Ms. Gunderson said in her low, throaty voice. "What questions about our physical world would any of you like to try to answer?"
Ethan had plenty of questions, but he kept them to himself. Why wasn't he growing? How come some people were better at things than other people? How could anybody have hair that long and smooth and silky without a single tangle?
No one else said anything, either, even the Lizard, who usually talked all the time in class with great, embarrassing gusts of enthusiasm. But she was more enthusiastic about English and social studies and art than she was about science.
Finally David Barnett spoke. "Well, I guess — maybe something about electricity. Like dry cells. Or batteries, or something."
"Do you have a particular question you would like to ask about electricity?" Ms. Gunderson asked.
"Not really. I just like to hook up wires and stuff."
"Electricity, then!" Ms. Gunderson gave David an encouraging smile, but Ethan could tell that, five minutes into her first day as a student teacher, she was already feeling discouraged.
"Anybody else? Remember, today we are just brainstorming. You don't have to have a well-formulated hypothesis you plan to be testing. We're just looking for a question, a real question, something you would really like to find out."
Lizzie raised her hand. "I'd like to know whether — well, this really isn't a science question, exactly — but whether ... You see, I write poetry sometimes ..."
All the time, Ethan thought.
Excerpted from Losers, Inc. by Claudia Mills. Copyright © 1997 Claudia Mills. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My name is robert and i want to know who is my friend my imaginary friend bob is my only one and he thinks im weird
This Fun Story of innoscent School Crushes And Mischief is a Wonderful book for all ages It all starts out in Sunny Calarado where the two boys, Julius and Eathan are playing Basketball but not doing to well so they decide to start a Club with just them called 'Losers Inc.'