MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
My name’s Veronica Conti and I’m seven. That means I’ve had seven whole years to learn things. Here’s what I’ve figured out so far:
1. Everything tastes better when you put whipped cream on it. Even peas. Even—blegh! ugh! mercy!—broccoli.
2. When your big brother is acting super annoying, just pretend that a UFO is about to touch down any second and steal him. It makes you feel a lot better.
3. Everyone has problems.
Even worms have problems. I learned that when I tried to give my pet worm, Walter, a suntan. I left him on a big rock for a few hours, and when I came back, he was as dead as a doornail.
Grown-ups think kids don’t have problems. They think just because you’re a kid, your life is easy-peasy, all butterflies and rainbows and whipped cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ha!
I have a whole bunch of problems:
1. My big brother, Jude, who is nine.
3. My dad’s allergic to dogs, so I can’t have one even though I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really want one.
4. Did I mention Jude?
Thankfully, I’m pretty great at solving problems. Which is why I decided to start the Fix-It Friends. Maya was my first client. In fact, Maya was sort of the whole reason I started the group to begin with.
I met Maya on the first day of second grade. At recess, which is my favorite part of school. The rest of school can be pretty boring.
“It can’t be all boring!” my mom always says, as cheery and bright as a big yellow sunflower.
“Oh yes, it can.”
“What about writing workshop?”
“Writing makes my hand hurt.”
“Reading too much gives me a headache.”
“Are you kidding?” I say. “I’d rather eat a bathtub full of broccoli than do subtraction.”
“Broccoli is very high in calcium,” my mom says.
“Not the point, Mom,” I remind her.
“What about recess?”
She’s got me there. Recess is the super-supreme best. It’s when I get to see all my friends and turn cartwheels and jump rope and play tag, which is my all-time favorite! These are the people I play tag with almost every day:
1. Cora, who is my best friend. She has naturally curly hair, which is red, and freckles on her cheeks. If she were a dog, she would be a poodle. Sometimes I get jealous of her because I have always wanted red hair and curly hair and freckles and she has all three, which kind of isn’t fair. She says she is sometimes jealous of my hair, which is straight and blond, but I think she is just being polite. Cora is always polite. She loves school, even the most boring parts like practicing penmanship.
2. Camille, who is Cora’s twin sister. They’re identical. The really weird thing is that they have two five-year-old brothers named Bo and Lou who are twins, too! I am not even kidding. Camille has curly red hair just like Cora’s, but her hair is always cut short, and it’s a lot messier. Sometimes I find bits of twigs and leaves in her hair, and once there was even a big acorn in there! Camille is a whiz with balls, especially basketballs. She can spin one on her fingertip like a pro! If she were a dog, I think she’d be a cocker spaniel.
3. Minerva, who everyone calls Minnie for short. Her grandma is from Puerto Rico, so she taught Minnie how to speak Spanish, and Minnie can say absolutely anything. She has taught me how to say important stuff in Spanish, like “No brócoli para mí, gracias. Si me lo como, yo podría morir,” which means “No broccoli for me, thanks. If I eat it, I could die.” Minnie can play the piano with both hands at the same time. In fact, she is so good at the piano that she can sometimes play without even looking at her hands! She has silky black hair, which she wears in two braids, and she is very tall and skinny, just like a greyhound.
4. Noah, who is the shortest boy in the second grade and also the fastest runner. He reminds me of a beagle because of his enormous brown eyes and floppy brown hair. Noah is the quiet type, which is my favorite type for a boy to be. He is kind of mysterious, but I do know a few things about him. He absolutely hates when people talk about him being short, and he absolutely loves playing soccer. He wears a soccer jersey to school every single day. I think it’s because of his dad, who used to be a famous soccer star in Brazil. Now his dad has his own sports show named after him called The Rafael Rocha Radio Hour, so I think he is still kind of famous … or his voice is, anyway.
So that’s my tag group, and we have been playing together since first grade. Sometimes other kids join our tag game, and sometimes Jude comes over with his best friend, Ezra, and they teach us new kinds of tag like Air Tag and Backwards Tag and Dog Tag. Whenever we play Dog Tag, I’m a golden retriever because if I were a dog, that’s the breed I would be. Guess what kind Jude pretends to be? None! He is always the dogcatcher.
Usually, though, it’s just the five of us who play. Except if one of us is sick or injured. If you are really sick or injured, you go to the nurse, but if you are just a bit hurt, you sit with your lunch box by the fence.
I feel so sorry for the people who have to do that. It happened to me once, when I knocked my head into Camille’s head and we both had to spend the rest of recess sitting by the fence. It was pure torture, I tell you!
So there I was, on the first day of second grade, at recess with the tag group. Except Minerva was missing.
“Hey, where’s Minnie?” I asked.
“She has a headache, so Miss Tibbs told her to sit by the fence,” squeaked Cora.
Cora has a super-squeaky voice. I can imitate her voice, and it always cracks her up. She sort of sounds like she’s a mouse trapped in a girl’s body. What makes it extra funny is that Camille’s voice is real low and raspy, like a crocodile’s.
“Minnie is by the fence?” I asked.
I gasped. Gasping is my favorite sound effect. It makes people sit up and pay attention.
“Then what are we WAITING FOR?” I shouted. “Our friend needs us!!”
I dashed over to the fence. Sure enough, there was Minnie. Her hair was in two neat braids as usual, and she was wearing a beautiful red headband, too. Minnie looked tired. She was leaning her chin on her hand.
“HERE I AM, MINNIE!!” I shouted.
“Oh NO!” I yelled. “What can I DO?”
“Well, maybe you could talk a little more quietly?” she asked with a smile.
“Oh yes, of course!” I whispered. “Hey, maybe you have a headache from that headband. It might be pinching your brain.” I love headbands, but I can never wear them for more than two minutes because they make me feel like a giant is squeezing my head in his fist.
The other kids ran up and asked Minnie questions, like had someone been using a jackhammer too close to her, or had she eaten ice cream too fast? But I wasn’t listening, because that’s when I noticed Maya.
Maya was sitting on her lunch box, next to Minnie. Here’s what she looked like:
1. Very long black straight hair. Super long. Rapunzel long. Her hair was so long, she was sitting on it!
2. On top of her head was a pink winter hat with kitty ears and a nose. I wondered why she was wearing a hat when it was only September and still nice and warm out.
3. She was sitting perfectly still and straight, like she was a statue.
So, of course, I was just dying with curiosity about what kind of sickness or trouble she had. I couldn’t help but ask, “What’s wrong with you?”
She blinked at me really sloooowly and didn’t say anything. Her eyes were open wide.
“Ummm, can you talk?” I asked her.
“I’m going to guess what’s wrong with you, okay?” I asked.
“You threw up?”
She shook her head no.
“You hit your head?”
So then I tried a whole bunch of guesses in a row.
“You cut your finger or you sprained your ankle or you have a strep throat or an ear infection or you got your appendix removed or you’re under the curse of a goblin queen who is forcing you to sit on your lunch box or else she’ll eat you for dinner?”
No dice, as my dad says.
I looked closely at Maya then. Her eyes were opened so wide, and they were all wet, too, like she was about to cry.
“Are you scared?” I asked.
That’s when she nodded really big and fast.
Well, this made me even more curious, of course.
“What are you scared of?”
She just blinked.
“Men with beards?”
“Ladies with beards?”
She suddenly started nodding like crazy again.
“You’re scared of spiders!” I shouted.
I was so happy to have guessed it. But then I saw a big, juicy tear slide down her cheek, and I wasn’t happy anymore.
“Is that why you’re wearing your winter hat? To protect yourself from the spiders?” I asked.
She nodded and pulled her hat down lower on her head.
“But there aren’t any spiders here,” I said.
Then she whispered something, except it was in such a tiny little voice, I couldn’t hear it. So I leaned in reeeeeally close and put my ear right next to her face, and she said it again.
“Not just spiders. All bugs,” she whispered.
“Oooooh,” I said. She pointed to the garbage can by the fence, and sure enough, there was a big fat bumblebee buzzing around.
“But that bee is so far away!” I said. “He’s, like, a hundred miles away from you!”
“What if he flies over here?” she whispered.
“Then we’ll run away!”
“What if he chases us?”
“We’ll run faster!”
“What if he catches up? What if he stings us? What if his stinger falls off and gets stuck in my skin? What if I’m allergic to bumblebees?”
I could tell that she would keep asking what-if questions no matter what. She was that worried.
“Hey, I know!” I said happily. “I’ll squash him for you!”
Squashing bugs is one of my talents. I have squashed spiders, mosquitoes, flies, and ants, and once I even squashed an enormous cockroach.
Maya whispered, “But what if another one comes?”
Holy cannoli, was she scared bad. This wasn’t just your usual heebie-jeebies. This was serious. And seeing that tear on her face made me so gloomy, I decided I’d skip tag just this once and cheer her up instead.
I told her all my best jokes. I told her Why is six scared of seven? (Because seven ate nine!) and How do you make a tissue dance? (Put a little boogey in it!). Pretty soon she smiled, and then she even laughed a little.
I told her I liked her kitty hat, and she said it was from Tokyo, which is in Japan. She was born there, and she goes back every summer to see her grandparents. She said she has to ride on a plane for fourteen hours to get there. I couldn’t believe it!
Then the whistle blew, which meant recess was over and it was time for lunch. I told her my name super fast and asked what hers was.
“Maya,” she whispered.
“Okay, Maya, see you tomorrow! Same time, same place!” Then I grabbed my lunch box and raced over to the red doors, to go in for lunch.
The next morning, while I was getting ready for school, I had a great idea about how to make Maya feel better. I was going to bring my funny eyeglasses with the big fat nose and furry mustache attached!
I took absolutely everything out of my costume box, but I couldn’t find them. So I ran into the kitchen yelling “DA-AD! DA-AD!” and there he was, dressed for success, wearing his tool belt.
My dad is a super. I used to think that was short for superhero, but his job actually has nothing to do with superpowers at all, which is really too bad. I would love it if my dad could fly or shoot laser beams out of his eyes.
His job is a lot more boring than it sounds. He works at this big apartment building called the Monroe, which is near our school, and he has to fix all the things that break in people’s apartments. The coolest part about his job is that he has a lot of tools, like saws and screw guns and drills—but it’s not that cool, because he won’t let me touch them.
So Dad was wearing his tool belt that I’m not allowed to touch and pouring himself a cup of coffee. I have learned that it is a good idea to let grown-ups drink coffee before you try to talk to them in the morning.
I said, “Have some coffee, Dad.”
He took a sip, and I waited for the magic ingredient they put in coffee to work.
Then I asked, “Where are my funny glasses with the big fat nose and furry mustache?”
“Those are mine,” Jude said. He was sitting at the table reading Manga Mania and eating his yogurt.
Jude is always reading. Or drawing comic books. Or doing crossword puzzles or playing chess or video games. Everything he likes to do is stuff you do sitting down and being quiet. How boring can you get?
Everything I like to do is stuff you do loud and fast, like singing at the top of my lungs or turning three cartwheels in a row or playing with dogs. Jude hates dogs. He thinks they are smelly and gross. Which is exactly what I think about him.
“Those glasses are mine!” I said. “Nana gave them to me for Christmas!”
“Nana gave us both a pair,” he said, looking very satisfied. “But you wore yours when you were doing handstands, so they broke. The ones that are left are mine. And you can’t use them, because you’re totally irresponsible.”
He thinks he’s so great. It makes me furious. It’s no wonder I made a poster of him that says:
He made me promise never to reveal what his middle name is, and I keep my promises, even though it would serve him right if I told everyone his middle name was Ba— See? I stopped myself.
“But you can’t even wear those funny glasses, because you already wear glasses!” I shouted.
It’s true! Jude has worn glasses ever since I can remember. He’s nearsighted. That means he can see things that are near to him, but if he doesn’t wear his glasses, things that are far away look fuzzy.
He just ignored me, which is the most annoying thing he ever does.
Just when I was about to clobber Jude, I heard a tiny high-pitched voice behind me say, “Wonny! Wonny!” That voice could belong to only one person. My favorite person!
My little sister, Pearl, came running into the kitchen. She’s two years old. Here’s what she looks like:
1. Short blond hair that always looks messy.
2. Big, round blue eyes.
3. A body that’s so skinny, her pants are always falling off her butt.
If she were a dog, she’d be a Chihuahua puppy.
Jude and I both have the same straight blond hair and blue eyes as Pearl. All three of us look like one another, so sometimes I like to pretend we’re triplets. Jude says that’s impossible because we are all different ages and triplets all have to be born on the same day. He is what I call a party pooper.
Pearl was holding her favorite stuffed animal, which she sleeps with every night. It’s a big black furry rat named Ricardo, only she says it “Wicawdo.” Pearl loves rats. She loves rats so much that Dad says he has to be careful when he takes her on the subway because she always wants to pet the rats she sees on the tracks. So for her second birthday, Mom and Dad gave her Ricardo. My grandmother says Ricardo gives her the creeps.
Pearl calls me Wonny, which is her way of saying Ronny, which is a dumb nickname Jude gave to me when I was a poor, defenseless baby. My whole family calls me Ronny, and I just can’t stand it. So I told them no one can call me that anymore, except for Pearl because, well, she’s so cute and a baby and all.
So Pearl came running into the kitchen calling my name, and what was she holding in her little fist but the funny glasses with the big fat nose and furry mustache!
“My gwasses!” she said, handing them to me.
I had totally forgotten that Nana gave Pearl a pair of glasses for Christmas, too, and that smart little baby knew exactly where they were. You know where she gets her brains from, don’t you? Me, of course.
By that time, my dad had drunk enough coffee to be able to talk, so he said, “Okay, so I gotta ask, Ronny Bear—”
But before he could go on, I raised my eyebrows and gave him a look that said, Dad, we’ve talked about this about a million times!
And he said, “Sorry, I meant Veronica. Why do you need your funny glasses for school today?”
“Just helping out a friend in need,” I said. “All in a day’s work.”
“That’s what I like to hear,” said my mom as she walked into the kitchen. Mom was dressed for success in a flowery skirt and dangly earrings. She’s a therapist. I didn’t used to know what that meant, but then she explained it to me:
“People come to my office, and they talk to me about their problems and feelings. I help them think of ways to handle their problems or just feel better about them.”
“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “Your whole job is to listen to people’s problems? That’s so easy. A kid could do that!”
She laughed at me, but I wasn’t even joking.
I’m also kind of an expert on problems from watching TV at Nana and Nonno’s apartment. They’re my dad’s parents, and they live on the top floor of our building.
There are four floors in our building, which is the same building my dad lived in when he was a little boy. The bottom floor is where my mom has her office and sees clients. The second and third floors are where we live. The fourth floor is where Nana and Nonno live.
They are retired. At first I thought the word was tired, and I thought it was weird to have a party for someone who’s tired. But then my dad explained that being re-tired is when you don’t have a job anymore because you’re old.
When I am sick and stay home from school, I go to Nana and Nonno’s apartment, and it is so much fun. I lie on the couch, and Nana treats me like a queen. She brings me soup and tea and juice and Popsicles. And she lets me watch her shows with her.
She loves all kinds of TV shows, but her favorites are what she calls “talk shows,” which is weird because every show on TV has talking in it. They should be called “yell shows” or “cry shows” because that’s what people do on them. Real people who have awful problems go on these shows, and the host talks to them about their problems and then gives them advice or sometimes yells stuff at them, like “Get your life together!”
Nana gets all excited, and sometimes she yells at the TV, which I think is just so hilarious.
“Look-a dis guy! What a dummy-a!” she shouts.
Nana comes from Italy, and she has an accent, which I can imitate by just adding a to the end of every word, like “My-a name-a is-a Veronica-a!”
So I know a lot about problems because of the talk shows. But when I ask Mom to tell me some of the problems people talk to her about, she absolutely refuses. She says they’re private.
“I won’t tell anyone,” I promise.
She just laughs. She can be really stubborn when she wants to be.
It’s her job to help people, and she really likes it when I do that, too. So when she heard I was using the funny glasses to come to the rescue, she seemed really proud, which made me feel great.
Then I stuck the glasses on my face and felt even better because Pearl laughed so hard that milk came out of her nose. I just knew they would work with Maya.
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