Third-grader Gavin and his friends aren’t sure what to make of the new boy in their class, Khufu. He sure doesn’t look or act like the other kids . . . and they suspect that he stole Gavin's bike! Meanwhile, Gavin’s great-aunt Myrtle is coming to stay with his family again, and Gavin is sure she’ll be teaming up with his big sister to boss him around the whole time. Offering spot-on storytelling, relatable characters and situations, and plenty of action, this gently humorous story about a diverse group of elementary-schoolers shows that even someone who seems strange can turn out to be a good friend, if you give them a chance.
About the Author
Coretta Scott King honoree Karen English is the author of It All Comes Down to This and the Carver Chronicles and Nikki and Deja series. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Laura Freeman has illustrated many books, including her own Natalie’s Hair Was Wild! and the Carver Chronicles series. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia. www.lfreemanart.com
Read an Excerpt
There is a new boy in Room Ten. At least, Gavin thinks the person is a boy. This person has on boy clothes and a boy shirt, but his hair is in two cornrow braids that hang down the back. He’s thin and short. Well, shorter than Gavin. And he has a piercing stare. He could be a girl. But the jeans are definitely boy jeans. So he’s a boy, and now he’s just sitting there, looking around, with his chin resting on his palm. The students finish putting their things in their cubbies and settle down to tackle the morning journal topic, “My Weekend.” Gavin wonders, Why is the topic always “My Weekend” on Monday mornings? Is Ms. Shelby-Ortiz seriously interested in our weekends? Isn’t there enough to think about with her own weekend? Ms. Shelby-Ortiz steps to the front of the class. Though no one is talking, she puts her forefinger to her mouth and looks around with a bright, cheerful expression on her face. Oh, no! Gavin thinks. Another one of her happy announcements where she’s the only one who’s excited. Are they going to get five more minutes of recess? Now, that would be exciting. It’s probably something like getting a salad bar in the cafeteria. His mom was excited when her job at the train station put a salad bar in the employees’ cafeteria. She talked about it for weeks. “Class, we have a new student joining us today!” All eyes swivel to the kid sitting in the chair beside Ms. Shelby-Ortiz’s desk. Everyone stares. He stares back. Then Ms. Shelby-Ortiz motions for him to join her at the front of the class. Slowly he pulls himself out of the chair and makes his way to her side. He stands there with a blank look on his face and his chin raised. A strange look, Gavin thinks. “I’d like to introduce you to Khufu Grundy. He’s going to be joining our class today.” Gavin puzzles over the name. He’s never heard of anyone having Khufu for a name. It sounds like a boy name, though. Immediately Deja throws her head back and frowns. She whispers, “What kind of name is Khufu Grundy?” Then she’s waving her hand all around until Ms. Shelby-Ortiz looks over at her and says, “Yes, Deja?” “What kind of name is Khufu?” she blurts out. Ms. Shelby-Ortiz looks puzzled. Khufu steps forward and says in a high-pitched voice, “Khufu is the name of the Egyptian Pharaoh that had the Great Pyramid of Giza built.” Deja’s frown deepens, and she glances at Rosario beside her. Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says, “Ahh. Class, we’ve seen the pyramids—in the book Erik brought to share. Remember?” The room is quiet. Gavin remembers the book, plus he’s seen a TV program about some pyramids somewhere far away. Then the new kid pipes up in that little mouse voice again. “Khufu was actually the second Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty in Egypt.” “That’s very interesting, Khufu, but can you tell us a little bit about yourself?” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz asks brightly. “What would you like to know?” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz seems a little surprised. Then she says, “Well, tell us about your old school and what you like to do for fun—hobbies, stuff like that. Do you have brothers and sisters?” “I’ll take your last question first, if you don’t mind.” Some of the kids turn to look at one another. “Sure,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says. Khufu clears his throat. “Well, I don’t have any brothers and sisters. I’m an only child. I don’t live with my mother, either. She’s an artist, and she lives in an artist colony in New Mexico.” Gavin sees that Nikki’s mouth has dropped open. She looks amazed. “So I live with just my father. My hobby is reading—all subjects. I like thinking. That’s what I like to do for fun.” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz steps forward slightly. “And what about your last school? Can you tell us something about it?” “I’ve been to ten schools,” he says with one eyebrow raised. “I liked my last school best. It was a school for geniuses. Everyone in my old school was a genius.” At this point, Khufu looks around at Gavin’s classmates as if he’s deciding whether each kid is a genius or not. His eyes rest on Gavin for an extra few seconds. “My, my!” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz exclaims. “A genius school. I must say, I’ve never heard of that kind of school before.” “Well, it’s true,” Khufu says. “If you don’t believe me, you can just call my old school and ask them. They’ll tell you. Oh, and I was born in Sweden, and I didn’t even speak English until I came to this country.” “Ah,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says. “Oh, that won’t be necessary, Khufu. I don’t need to call your old school.” Gavin glances around. Deja’s frown has deepened. There are more puzzled looks. “Hmm. A genius school,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz repeats. She begins to gather the books and supplies he’ll need. She places what she has in his arms and tells him to take the empty seat next to Gavin. “Gavin, raise your hand so he’ll know where to sit.” Gavin raises his hand. Khufu turns and stares at him again. Then he shrugs and makes his way to the table. Gavin tries to ignore Khufu as he puts his books and journal on his desk and places his two brand-new, freshly sharpened pencils on the desktop, taking care to line them up next to each other. Gavin goes back to his journal, noting that Khufu has opened up his own journal and, without hesitation, has begun to write and write as if he doesn’t even have to think first or take a small break to ponder some more. He must have had a great weekend, Gavin decides. His own weekend was unexciting. His older sister, Danielle, who thinks she’s so great because she’s finally become a teenager, ratted on him about shoving his shoes, pajamas, dirty jeans, and socks under his bed and then declaring his room clean. She also told his parents that he took the last of the Oreos up to his room to eat before dinner, and that he was playing video games instead of reading like he was supposed to. What a snitch. All because he tattled on her for bringing her phone to breakfast and texting under the table. So he had to clean his room and read for an hour before he could go outside and shoot hoops, play with his new video game, or ride his brand-new bike over to his friend Richard’s. It’s a BMX—silver and blue. Ever since he got it for his birthday, he’s been leaving it outside the garage so he can look out the window and stare at it and think, That’s my bike. As he’s struggling to get all this in his journal, he continues to hear the fast scratchings of Khufu’s pencil across his own journal page. It’s almost as if Khufu’s pencil can’t keep up with his thoughts. Gavin looks over at him. He’s hunched over his desk with a tense look on his face. What could he be writing?
* * *
“He’s weird,” Richard says as he and Gavin and Carlos make their way to the foursquare court. Carlos has the ball and is ahead of Richard and Gavin, dribbling as he goes. “Really weird,” Gavin agrees. “And I don’t believe that he’s been to ten schools. He’d be changing schools all the time.” “Yeah,” Carlos calls over his shoulder. “He’s lying.” The three boys look at Khufu, who’s sitting on a bench, reading a book. A book! Who reads a book at recess?
* * *
On Mondays, they have science at the end of the day—after math. This week, the students in Room Ten are working on their solar systems, made with Styrofoam balls, string, skewers, and coat hangers in different sizes. You can choose to hang the balls from a coat hanger or place them on skewers. Everyone is excited. The class loves the hands-on activities that go with science. Ms. Shelby-Ortiz is going through all the safety rules again. It’s a boring thing she does whenever they’re working with materials: No sword fighting with the skewers—and be careful with them because one could get hurt by the pointed ends; be careful painting the Styrofoam balls (you’re stuck with whatever mistakes you make). “What color are you painting Earth?” she poses, as if to trick them. “Mostly blue for water, with brown for the landmasses,” Antonia says without raising her hand and waiting to be recognized. Gavin notices Khufu staring at Antonia with a tiny frown and wonders what he’s thinking. Khufu has a squint to his eyes. “What about the biggest Styrofoam ball?” “Yellow for the sun,” several students offer. Suddenly there’s a shriek—coming from Nikki. She jumps up so fast, her chair topples over. “A spider!” she calls out, clutching her throat for some reason. Some of the girls react similarly, jumping up and scooting their chairs back. “You don’t have to be afraid,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says calmly. “It’s not going to hurt you.” “But Ms. Shelby-Ortiz,” Deja begins, sticking up for her friend, “it could be one of those poisonous spiders.” “Most spiders are harmless,” Khufu informs the class, though no one asked him. “Not the fiddler spider. Have you ever heard of the fiddler spider?” Rosario counters. “It’s also called the brown recluse, and of course I’ve heard of the brown recluse,” Khufu says simply. “Its bite can paralyze you. You won’t be able to walk or even talk,” Rosario declares. At this, Khufu smiles ever so slightly. “It can make your skin fall off,” Richard calls out. “No, it can’t,” Khufu replies. Some of the kids laugh. Ms. Shelby-Ortiz, who’s just been watching this exchange, goes over to Nikki’s desk and asks, “Where’s the spider?” “It got away,” Nikki says. “Good. Let’s get back to work.” She goes to the board and draws a circle. In the center, she writes, Sun. She draws nine concentric ovals around it. Then she calls on one kid after another to go up to the board and draw a planet on one of the ovals showing its size and its nearness to the sun. Everyone is eager to do this. All the kids in Ms. Shelby-Ortiz’s class love to draw on the whiteboard. When the solar system is completed and everyone is gazing at it proudly, Khufu raises his hand. “Yes, Khufu?” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says. “Ms. Shelby-Ortiz, that solar system would be way more interesting if we put Pluto in the eighth position away from the sun. Because there are times when Neptune is ninth away from the sun. You see, Pluto’s orbit around the sun is elliptical, and there are times when it crosses Neptune’s orbit and becomes closer to the sun than Neptune. The last time was in 1979,” he adds. Ms. Shelby-Ortiz smiles as if she already knew this but didn’t want to make things too complicated. By then, a lot of kids are staring at Khufu intently. It was jarring enough when they learned that Pluto wasn’t even a regular planet. That it was something called a dwarf planet—meaning way too small to be a regular planet. Now they had to picture Neptune kind of taking its place in the orbits. “Very good, Khufu. I’m impressed,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says—and he looks even more smug.