Tantrum, wrote Lucy, sounding out the word in her head so she could spell it right: t– a–n–tr–um.
I must not throw a temper tantrum in class.
Unless absolutely necessary, she added to herself. Like today. There had been a perfectly good reason why she had emptied Jacinta’s pencil case all over the floor.
Lucy was in the Time Out chair now. She was supposed to look straight ahead, but she turned when she heard her teacher talking to Jacinta.
“And what’s your poem about?” said Ms. Denny.
“A unicorn,” Jacinta replied.
“Nice work, Jacinta,” said Ms. Denny. “Good girl.”
“I wrote it all by myself. Not like some people.” Jacinta looked over at Lucy and smiled a smile that grown-ups think is a friendly smile but kids know really means, “Ha, ha, ha. You’re in the Time Out chair and I’m not.”
Lucy gave Jacinta her best squinty-eyed look of hate, then turned to face the wall again. She imagined she and Jacinta were on a boat. A storm was coming. Jacinta had fallen overboard and Lucy was the only one who knew she was in the water. She was the only one who could throw her a life jacket.
“Please, Lucy!” cried Jacinta. “Please throw me a life jacket!”
“Well, I don’t know …,” said Lucy, imagining herself holding the jacket just out of Jacinta’s reach. “Are you going to tell the truth?”
“The truth about what?” said Jacinta.
“The truth about my poem.”
That morning, Ms. Denny had asked everyone to write a poem about their favorite animal. Lucy had chosen a two-humped camel, the same as her favorite toy, Nathan.
Writing poems was something Lucy was good at. She had worked hard on her camel poem all morning, doing lots of crossing out and rewriting.
When she was finished, Ms. Denny asked Lucy to read it out loud in front of the whole class. Lucy did so in her best speaking voice, and everyone clapped at the end. Then Ms. Denny gave her a pepper-mint from the tin on her desk. Ms. Denny only ever gave out peppermints for the very best poems.
Later, while their teacher handed out some work sheets, Jacinta leaned over and whispered, “You copied that poem.”
“What?” said Lucy.
“I’ve read it before,” said Jacinta. “In a magazine. You didn’t make it up. You copied it.”
Some of the other kids murmured their disapproval. The back-row boys, Paolo, Blake, and Girang, jeered. Lucy turned around and stuck her tongue out. She had a very long tongue that could touch the tip of her nose. She waggled it in the boys’ direction. Paolo pushed his lips together with his fingers and did his frog face.
“Lucy,” said Ms. Denny, “face the front, please. No bad behavior.”
Jacinta waited till Ms. Denny was farther away, then whispered, “Everyone knows you’re a copier, so why don’t you just admit it?”
“I am not!” hissed Lucy. “Take it back.”
She pushed her peppermint to the corner of her desk. She didn’t feel like eating it now. She wouldn’t enjoy it properly.
“Copier,” repeated Jacinta.
Lucy turned to her best friend, Harriet, for support. As usual, Harriet was sucking her long blond braid. Lucy couldn’t suck her hair because it was too short. She wore it in little pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head like faucets squirting water.
“Lucy never copied,” said Harriet, taking her braid out of her mouth. “So why don’t you be quiet, Jacinta.”
Jacinta pretended not to notice her. She doodled on her pencil case and sang softly to herself, “Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her poem.”
“I did not,” said Lucy.
“Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her poem,” said Jacinta a little more loudly.
A couple of the other kids joined in.
“Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her poem.”
“Settle down, class,” said Ms. Denny.
The rest of the children stopped singing but not Jacinta. She looked Lucy straight in the eye and mouthed the song without making any noise. “Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her poem.”
“I did not,” said Lucy.
“Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her poem.”
“Lucy,” warned Ms. Denny.
Jacinta smiled, still mouthing the words. Red-hot feelings rumbled inside Lucy. It was coming. Lucy knew it. Anger was pressing against her skin from the inside.
“Lucy copied her poem. Lucy copied her—Hey!”
Jacinta said the “Hey!” out loud because Lucy had gotten to her feet and grabbed Jacinta’s pencil case. She tipped it upside down so that pencils decorated with tiny unicorns fell on the floor. Unicorn-shaped erasers fell out too. And unicorn stickers. They scattered all over the floor in a big mess. Lucy shook the pencil case one last time and a unicorn stamp dropped out. Lucy kicked it so hard that it skidded under desks and chairs and hit the wall. Lucy hoped it got wrecked.
“Lucy van Loon!” said Ms. Denny. “Time Out chair! Now!”
One of the worst things about sitting in the Time Out chair was having to stare at Ms. Denny’s Good Attitude Chart. It listed the names of all the students in the class. Next to each name was a space for stars. Students who had a good attitude got lots of stars. If they had a bad attitude, they didn’t get any.
Lucy didn’t like the word attitude. Her dad used it sometimes when he was mad at her. “You need to change that attitude of yours, Lucy,” he would say, or, “Lucy, we don’t need any of that bad attitude.”
That’s what he’d said that morning when he’d reminded Lucy that her great-aunt was coming to visit.
“Tante Bep’s plane gets in this afternoon,” he said, “and I’d like you to be on your best behavior. Do you promise to be a good girl?”
Lucy couldn’t understand why Dad needed to ask. He should know she was a good girl. And anyway, Lucy and Tante Bep were going to have the best time sharing Lucy’s room and staying up late. Lucy was going to show Tante Bep all her things, and Tante Bep was going to tell Lucy stories about what it was like to live in Holland. She was even going to give Lucy a pair of Dutch wooden shoes called clogs. What was Dad worrying about?
The Good Attitude Chart had lots of names on it. Lucy’s eyes rested on Jacinta’s. She snorted. Eight stars already. She looked farther down the list. Harriet—five stars. Well, that made sense. Harriet always seemed to know what the school rules were. Even the secret ones Lucy had never heard of, such as that you shouldn’t sit under the tree in the playground because that was where the tough kids played.
Lucy kept looking till she got to her own name. Lucy van Loon—one star. The only person with fewer stars was Blake, and he glued kids’ faces to their desks!
One of the stars next to Jacinta’s name was peeling off. Surely she can spare one, thought Lucy. She peeked over her shoulder to see what Ms. Denny was doing. She was busy helping Girang.
Reaching up slowly, Lucy began to peel the star. It came right off on the tip of her index finger. She checked over her shoulder again, then stuck it next to her own name. She pressed down hard with the heel of her hand. There, she thought. I do have a good attitude. The chart says so.
Still, she had only two stars. Three would be nicer. Lucy jammed her thumbnail under another of Jacinta’s stars and worked away at it. When it finally came off, she pressed it next to her own name. It stuck for a moment, then curled away from the wall. Lucy licked the back of it to try to make it stick. She banged her fist over the top of it.
Excerpted from Lucy the good by Marianne Musgrove.
Copyright © 2008 by Marianne Musgrove.
Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.