Kelsey Green no longer heard any of the voices in her third-grade classroom. All her attention was focused on the book spread open beneath her desk.
Would the old key that had been buried in the earth for the last ten years open the locked door to the hidden garden?
Drawing in her breath, Kelsey waited as the key fitted into the keyhole.
The key turned.
Then with a squeak, the door opened slowly … slowly.
The sound of her name startled her. The voice was cross, as if it had been calling her name without success for some time.
She looked up from The Secret Garden. Mrs. Molina was glaring at her from the front of the classroom.
“Kelsey, the rest of us are focusing on page 163 in our math books. The rest of us are not staring down at our laps lost in a daydream. The rest of us are doing fractions.”
Kelsey felt sorry for the rest of them. But now she also felt sorry for herself. She knew Mrs. Molina was waiting for her to turn her full attention to her math book—the one book in the whole world that Kelsey did not love, or even like, but actually hated.
“Question fourteen,” Mrs. Molina said. “What is one-eighth plus one-eighth?”
Kelsey had no idea. She wasn’t completely sure what an eighth was.
Luckily, one of her two best friends, Annika Riz, sat right behind her. Annika whispered the answer, loud enough that Kelsey could hear, but not loud enough that Mrs. Molina could hear.
“Two-eighths,” Kelsey said.
“And two-eighths reduces to?”
Annika whispered the answer again.
“One-fourth,” Kelsey said.
Next to her, Kelsey’s other best friend, Izzy Barr, started to giggle, but stopped herself in time. Both Kelsey and Izzy were glad to be best friends with the third-grade math queen. Izzy would rather be out running than doing math. Kelsey would rather be reading than doing math. Annika loved math the way that Izzy loved running and Kelsey loved reading.
Mrs. Molina shot Kelsey a suspicious look, but called on someone else for question fifteen.
With Mrs. Molina’s attention directed elsewhere, Kelsey allowed herself to glance down at the book on her lap and finish the next few lines. Mary Lennox was finally standing inside the secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor! Kelsey didn’t dare turn the page to start the next chapter.
Instead, she listened as Simon Ellis got question sixteen right; Simon was good at everything. And as Cody Harmon got question seventeen wrong; Cody was bad at everything, or at least bad at math, spelling, reading, writing, science, and social studies.
Just as someone else was trying to answer question eighteen, the classroom door opened. In came the principal, Mr. Boone. Mrs. Molina’s voice turned friendlier as she welcomed him into the room. She saved her stern, math-fact-quizzing voice for her third graders. But even though her voice sounded friendlier, her face didn’t look any friendlier.
Mr. Boone settled himself on Mrs. Molina’s desk. Kelsey could tell from the way Mrs. Molina snatched a stack of papers out of his way that she didn’t approve of principals sitting on teachers’ desks. Mr. Boone was large, and he took up a lot of room. Mrs. Molina moved her coffee cup far away.
The best thing about Mr. Boone was his big, booming laugh. Kelsey had never been sent to the principal’s office; she wondered if Mr. Boone laughed even when naughty kids were sent to him for talking back to teachers or fighting on the playground. He would have to be strict and scolding sometimes if he was a principal, but it was hard to imagine. Mrs. Molina should be the principal, and Mr. Boone should be a third-grade teacher, preferably Kelsey’s third-grade teacher.
The second best thing about Mr. Boone was his beard—a thick, bushy Santa Claus beard, but black instead of white. A pirate beard, maybe, for a jolly, good-natured pirate.
“Good morning, third graders!” Mr. Boone shouted. He gave his big, booming laugh, even though he hadn’t yet said anything funny.
“I’ve heard that there are a lot of excellent readers in this class,” Mr. Boone said.
Kelsey sat up straighter in her seat. She quickly checked to see if everyone was looking at her, but they were all busy looking at Mr. Boone. She was definitely the best reader in the class—well, except for Simon Ellis. But even though Simon read a lot of books, long ones, too, Kelsey didn’t think he loved books the way she did. Nobody could love books the way she did.
“You’re going to get a chance over the next month to show me exactly how excellent,” Mr. Boone went on.
Kelsey sat up even straighter.
“We are going to have our first-ever all-school reading contest!” Mr. Boone laughed. Kelsey knew he didn’t think the reading contest was a joke; he was laughing because he thought it was a gloriously happy thing.
She did, too.
“Starting tomorrow, April first, we’re going to keep track of how many books each class reads. The class that reads the most books will have a pizza party with me—all the pizza you can eat. And if the whole school reads two thousand books by the end of April—two thousand books—I’ll…”
He paused for emphasis, until the class was completely silent, before he finished his sentence.
“I’ll shave off my beard!”
The class whooped and hollered.
Kelsey didn’t want to be the only one raising her hand, but she had to ask. “What about the person who reads the most books? Does she get a prize, too?”
Simon turned around and stared at her. She stared right back.
“Yes! I’m glad you asked! The person who reads the most books in each class will get his or her name on a permanent plaque in the school library, as well as a special signed certificate to take home. And, of course, you’ll help your class win the pizza party. And you’ll help me lose my beard.”
He laughed again, but the laugh was less big and booming this time.
Maybe he was hoping that Franklin School couldn’t read two thousand books in a month. If so, he was wrong. Kelsey could practically read two thousand books all by herself. Mrs. Molina’s class had as good as won the pizza party, thanks to Kelsey Green, reading queen. She could already see her name engraved on the library plaque, for future generations of Franklin School students to behold with admiration.
“Okay?” Mr. Boone asked the class.
“Okay!” they shouted, Kelsey loudest of all.
He hoisted himself off Mrs. Molina’s desk, and she quickly moved her stack of papers back into place.
Kelsey closed The Secret Garden and tucked it inside her desk. It would be book number one. One down; one thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine to go.
“All right, third graders!” Mr. Boone called to them as he headed out the door. “Ready, set, read!”
Text copyright © 2013 by Claudia Mills