What books are your kids reading this summer?

July 16, 2013 in Family, Humor by Terry C. Markoff

Welcome to my Summer Reading post. I am going to introduce a new character to the world. His name is Mr. Funderburk. The story follows the adventures of his class...blended with his brand of humor. I hope you enjoy Chapter 1 of Mr. Funderburk Meets 5A. Matt Christopher was my inspiration for writing this book and That Kid in Right Field. I was not a very good reader when I was in elementary school, or middle school or high school for that matter. Matt Christopher is the author of over a dozen short sports novels (novellets?). They were written just for me...at about the third grade level. I still was reading them in high school, but I could have read more challenging literature by then. The problem that I had was finding another author who could draw me into his/her books that were appropriate for my age group. So enjoy..or not. Mr. Funderburk Meets 5A Chapter 1 As Joshua and Ritchie rode their bikes across the field that separates their school from the playground, they noticed the crowd. Dozens of people were swarming around the locked front doors of Castle Rock Elementary School. The two boys brought their bikes to a skidding halt. Dead leaves and small stones were sent flying in all directions. "What the...," Ritchie looked inquiringly at Joshua. "They must have put the lists up!" Joshua said excitedly. His hands began to sweat, and his heart skipped a beat. "They usually wait until the day before school starts," his voice conveying his rising excitement. Joshua wanted to drop his bike and run to join the others who were congregated about the main entrance doors of the school. Ritchie just stared at Joshua and said, "What lists?" "The class lists," Joshua said again. "Didn't they do that at your last school?" Just then Randy Carson ran toward them yelling, "I got Mr. Fun!" He repeated it again and again to anyone who would listen. Spotting Joshua, Randy streaked across the front lawn and leaped in the air landing right on top of Joshua. He wrapped his arms around Joshua in a bear hug and began shaking him. Joshua's foot slipped in some loose gravel, and he lost his balance. Both boys fell in a heap. Randy began laughing and mussing up Joshua's hair. Ritchie stared first at Randy and then Joshua dumbfoundedly. To his amazement his friend began laughing, too. He noticed that Joshua didn't seem surprised or disturbed by Randy's bizarre behavior. Joshua just kept laughing as he untangled himself from Randy and his bike. As Joshua brushed the leaves from his shirt and pants, Randy jumped up and ran off screaming to no one in particular, "I got Mr. Fun." The two friends watched Randy race down the sidewalk, jump the fence at the end of the softball field and narrowly avoid getting run over by Mrs. Brockmeister's SUV. He was still yelling at the top of his lungs as he made a right turn on Bedford Avenue and disappeared from their view. Joshua and Ritchie were still shaking their heads and grinning when they heard a girl's voice behind them. "Who did you get?" Joshua recognized Angel's voice before he turned around, but he almost didn't recognize her. She had cut her hair pretty short. She was smiling brightly. Joshua hadn't seen her since school got out early last June. Although she was a girl, she was his best friend. He didn't realize how much he missed her until he saw her standing there. He just smiled dumbly at her question and said, "I don't know yet." By the mischievious look in her eyes, he figured she already knew. "We were just about to find out," Ritchie said. After wheeling their bikes to the bicycle rack, the three of them proceeded to fight their way through the crowd. A few minutes later they found themselves standing in front of the entrance to the school. It wasn't difficult to figure out who was happy and who was not about their class assignments. Two 5th grade girls walked past Joshua. They had both been in his 4th grade class. Seeing the disappointment on their faces and the tears running down their cheeks, Joshua stopped and grimaced. Angel's reassuring smile restored his faith that all would be well. Ritchie asked, "Who are the fifth grade teachers anyway? Besides Mr. Funderberg?" "Burk..Funderburk," laughed Angel. "Well, there are five fifth grade teachers. Mrs. Buchanan. My brother had her a few years ago. She's cool. My brother said that she was pretty fair and would treat the class to ice cream at lunch whenever they went a whole week without any check marks." Joshua looked toward Angel for confirmation. "Mr. Teague is cool, too." Angel interjected. "He usually eats lunch with his class. Sometimes he takes them back to the classroom and pretends they are camping." "He gives alot of homework, though," Joshua reminded Angel. She shook her head in acknowledgement. "Don't know much about Miss Fazell, but she drives a new metalic red mustang." continued Joshua. Ritchie made a face and said, "Oooh, that sounds promising." Angel playfully punched him in the arm. "Mr. Funderburk, of course," Joshua continued, "and Mr. Gene." Both Angel and Joshua screwed up their faces. They both shuddered. "I'd rather not talk about him." Joshua just realized that he never asked Angel whose class she was going to be in. "Who'd you get?" She just smiled. Just at that moment, Angel noticed a mother in need. She slipped deftly through the crowd and tried to help a woman with a stroller and two other small children. She helped them navigate through a cluster of second graders who had just arrived in a van. By the looks of it, they were either returning from or heading to a soccer game. They resembled a sea of Jell-O as they bounced and wiggled their way through the maze of parents and students. Joshua felt someone push him from behind. Without even looking, he whispered to himself, "Kindergarten babies." Sliding to his left, he found himself directly in front of the class lists. Following Joshua's lead, Ritchie slipped in right behind his friend. Joshua noted that the lists were posted alphabetically and by grade level. Scanning the lists quickly, he found what he was looking for. He took a deep breath and searched Mrs. Buchanan's class roster for his name. He exhaled slowly. "Not there," he though. A quick peek at Miss Fazell's list told him he wasn't going to spend much time thinking about her hot car. A sudden disturbance in the parking lot distracted him and Angel. A woman was yelling at Brandon McDermot. She was waving her arms and pointing her finger in Brandon's face. The woman's son looked thoroughly embarrassed and tried to hide his bulky frame behind the flag pole. Joshua could hear the kid's mother as she continued to accuse Brandon of picking on her son all summer and then punching him in the face yesterday afternoon. She warned Brandon that the principal would hear about that. Brandon had apparently heard enough. He looked scornfully at her and sneered. He looked around the drop off area, craning his neck to the left and right before he spotted the woman's son, Basil. He shot him a "Wait til I get you tomorrow" kind of look. He motioned to his friends and swaggered away toward the playground. "What a jerk," commented Ritchie. "He's a bully and so is his brother," Angel informed him. "I hope he's not in my class," thought Joshua as he returned his attention the the remaining lists. Joshua purposely skipped over Mr. Funderburk's list. Instead he carefully scrolled his finger down the neatly typed class list that was taped under Mr. Gene's name. "Kerwin, Lemley, Martinez,..." he mumbled to himself. When he got to the O's, he involuntarily held his breath. "Ortiz, Rodgers." Overcome with relief, he turned around and grinned at Ritchie. Ritchie shook his head and rolled his eyes. "You guys are crazy," he laughed. "I've had enough fun for the day," he continued. "I told my mom I would be home by 4:00 o'clock, and I'm late. Ritchie quickly checked the next list. "I got Mr. Teague," he said. "See you guys tomorrow." Angel and Joshua waved good-by to their friend. Joshua turned back to the lists one last time. He finally found his name, Joshua Porter, on Mr. Funderburk's list. He was going to be in Mr. Funderburk's class. "This is going to be the best year ever." It took all his self control not to run off screaming like Randy Carlson had done only a few minutes earlier. Joshua checked the list again and found Angel's name. "You knew all the time." He smirked. "Now, to get out of here," Joshua laughed. Angel grabbed his hand as they tried to free themselves from the throng of students trying to squeeze their way to the front of the line. Several disinterested high schoolers had arrived with their siblings in tow. They were oblivious to the swarm of small children that surrounded them. They were on their cell phones. "Hey, watch it kid," said one of them as she stumbled over a first grader. The child's mother gave the girls a curt look before ushering him away to their vehicle. Joshua looked at Angel again and thought, "This is going to be an awesome year." Chapter 2 Joshua stood in front of his closet door assessing his needs for the upcoming school year when he heard his mother call his name. "Let's go boys. You know your father is going to be upset if he doesn't get a good parking place," she admonished. Joshua's dad was already honking the horn of his car impatiently. Joshua's family was making their annual pilgrimage to the mall to shop for school clothes. He could hear his two younger brothers arguing about who was going to have to sit in the middle. Joshua's older brother Nick, now a high school student, was way too cool to shop with his family. "Later," he said without looking up from his iPad. "Are you sure you don't want me to pick up something for you? Socks? Underwaer?" said Joshua's mother as she hurried past her oldest son. "Mom," said Nick with a note of irritation in his voice. Nick had already told his mom that he was going shopping later with some friends. Joshua skipped down the steps and jogged past his brother. "Later." Nick absentmindedly raised his arm in acknowledgement. Swinging the front door closed behind him, he jumped into his dad's car and put on his headset. However even the earphones couldn't block out the running arguement his brothers were having. "Mom, make him quit it," begged Brady. Taylor flicked Brady's ear one more time with his index finger. "You're a sore loser just because Mom let me sit next to the window," Brady scowled. Mrs. Porter turned to look at her sons and gave them 'the look'. The two boys exchanged dirty looks. Brady scooted closer to the window. The rest of the trip was uneventful until Joshua's dad turned down a one way street the wrong way. Several drivers beeped at him as they had to brake hard to avoid a collision, but Mr. Porter was intent on arriving at the empty parking spot he noticed before anyone else could take it. Making a wide turn, Mr. Porter triumphantly eased his car between two pickup trucks. "Timing is everything," he grinned. "Really?" said Mrs. Porter with a shake of her head. A knock on one of the rear windows on the passenger side caught their attention. A policeman on a bicycle was standing there with a pad in his hand. "Good afternoon, Sir," he said pleasantly. "May I see your driver's license and proof of insurance?" At this point Joshua's brothers were bright enough to realize that they needed to call a truce. At least temporarily. The mall was crowded this morning. Everywhere they turned signs were advertising huge sales. There were several 'Grand Openings' scheduled this day. Hired clowns twisted colorful balloons into dozens of amazing shapes. Face painters, mimes and jugglers helped create an atmoshere of excitement. Joshua whispered to his brothers, "I wouldn't be surprised if the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus weren't around here somewhere." By now Mr. Porter had already excused himself telling his wife that he was going to check out the bookstore. "Just give me a call when you guys are ready for some lunch." Taylor looked a Brady. "Did you see the look on Dad's face when that cop knocked on the window?" Both boys giggled. They hadn't gotten very far window shopping when Taylor squealed, "Flat tire!" Taylor had the annoying habit of stepping on the heels of his little brother's shoe. Brady's foot would then pop out of his shoe much to Taylor's delight and entertainment. Brady grabbed his shoe and smacked Taylor with it. "Mom, Brady just hit me for no reason," Taylor said indignantly. Joshua's mother took a deep breath and said, "Boys! Enough is enough! Now do you want to shop for school clothes or do I need to call your father and march you back to the car?" All three boys knew that there was little danger in that happening, but it might put their visit to the food court in jeopardy. They continued in silence for the next few minutes. As they walked past The Tasmanian Touch, a new Australian restuarant having its grand opening, Brady grabbed his mother's hand. He began pulling her towards one of the enormous fish tanks that flanked the entrance to the restuarant. Stingrays and other colorful salt-water fish darted back and forth alternately hiding between the coral and sea anemones. They all peeked inside out of curiosity. "Mom, can we eat here," pleaded Brady. "Can we, please. I promise I won't bug Brady anymore," begged Taylor. "We'll see," Mrs. Porter said without any commitment in her voice. Joshua knew what that meant but his two brothers kept pleading with her as she led them away. He was about to ask his mother if he could do a little shopping on his own when he spotted Brandon McDermot and his gang of middle school thugs. Theyhad just exited from one of the dollar stores. They were being loud and obnoxious. Brandon cast a few insults at some fifth grade girls who were shopping alone. They cringed when one of Brandon's friends approached them. "Hey, girls. Want some company?" he said. He went to put his arm around one of the girls. They both retreated a few steps and quickly reentered the store they had just left. "Come on, Lover Boy," chided Brandon much to the amusement of his cronies. Joshua turned away from them and was very relieved when his mother said, "Let's look in here." Several hours later, the Porter family headed back to their car arms loaded, tired, but happy. Joshua's dad got his book. Each of the boys got three new outfits and Joshua's mother found the perfect gift for Aunt Muriel. Brady was still working on the ice cream cone he had ordered after lunch. "Brady, watch where you put that thing," yelled Taylor as he wiped chocolate ice cream from the sleeve of his shirt. Mrs. Porter couldn't help laughing to herself. Three miles away in a small two bedroom house a phone rang. Mr. Funderburk lazily reached over and picked up his cell phone. "Hello, Honey," he said. His eyes opened wide. He quickly tried to pocket his phone. He fumbled it, kicked it accidentally under the couch and mumbled something about Plan B. After dropping to his knees, he reached under the sofa and grabbed his phone. Moments later he franticly returned from the master bedroom with a suitcase, his car keys, and a couple of books. He hastily punched in some numbers on his phone and waited a few seconds. "No, I don't want to order a pizza," he said incredulously. He looked at his phone as if it was crazy. He hung up and mumbled incoherently as he tried to reach his wife again. Chapter 3 Monday morning couldn't come fast enough for Joshua or Mrs. Porter. As far as Mrs. Porter was concerned, it meant the kids were going back to school. She did have one last ritual to perform and that meant getting up extra early to fix 'The Breakfast'. That's what her children called it. Every year on the morning of the first day of school Mrs. Porter made her family an elaborate breakfast. This morning the aroma of bacon filled the house. The sounds of eggs sizzling in a skillet provided any extra motivation her children might need to rise and shine. One by one her children left the warmth of their beds and drifted into the kitchen. They were bleary eyed but filled with the anticipation and excitement that the first day of a new school year generates. Joshua was the first to arrive. He lingered at the kitchen table for a moment before making his first big decision of the day. Milk or juice. He then walked deliberately to the refrigerator and grabbed a carton of apple juice from a rack on the door and sleepily wandered back toward the kitchen table. "Close the door, please," said his mother without turning around. Joshua made a slow U-turn and swung the door shut. He sat down and selected a freshly bake biscuit and began to nibble around its edges. The sound of shuffling feet and drawn out yawns alerted Joshua that his two younger brothers had arrived. His oldest brother, Nick, had left much earlier that morning to attend a football practice. "Something sure smells good." Even Joshua's father liked to cash in on this momentous occassion. Brady and Taylor almost immediately began to bombard their mother with questions. "Can I buy the school lunch? Do you think I'll still have to take a nap? Do you think my teacher will like me?" The questions came rapid fire and Joshua wondered how Brady was able to ask so many questions with a mouth full of bacon and eggs. "Are you going to walk me to class first this year?" Taylor said while shooting his little brother a dirty look. Brady ignored Taylor and continued on with his next questions. "Do you think Brenna will be in my class?" Brenna was his cousin. They had had the same kindergarten teacher. Before Mrs. Porter had answered any of her sons' questions, Brady said, "Are you going to pick us up after school?" Brady and Taylor stopped eating and interrupting each other long enough to give their mother a chance to answer that question. They looked at her hopefully. Mrs. Porter nodded her head and smiled. She then pleasantly answered all their previous questions as she quietly praised The Lord for the free and public school system. Although she did worry privately about the quality of education her kids would receive when they entered middle and high school. "So far, so good," she thought. After he had finished breakfast, Joshua convinced his mother that he was old enough to ride his bike to school and find his classroom without her help. As an added bonus, he knew he could avoid the inevitable arguements and complaints that were bound to arise between Brady and Taylor. His two brothers were already exchanging insults and making dirty faces at each other. Joshua decided that right now would be a good time to excuse himself. Picking up his backpack, kissing his mom on the cheek and telling her that breakfast was great, he opened the back door and jubilantly hopped down the steps. Before the door could close behind him, he heard, "Mom, these shoes are too tight." Quickly followed up by, "Taylor's looking at me." The last thing Joshua heard was Brady saying, "Make him quit it." followed by a crashing sound. Joshua followed a flagstone path that led to the garage and hopped on his bike. As Joshua pulled up to the bike rack in the front of the school, he waved to Richie. "Hey, Porter," boomed a loud voice from behind. He turned around and saw Boomer Clanton and George Reimer approaching. They were grinning from ear to ear. Boomer had a worn football tucked under one arm. "You guys want to play?" Boomer asked as he tossed the football in Joshua's direction. Even as Joshua was nodding his head in agreement, he remembered his mother's admonition not to mess up his brand new clothes on the first day. The four boys had just reached the back playing field whan they heard a whistle. They saw Mr. Gene waving to the students to come into the school. Joshua breathed a sigh of relief. He was safe at least util lunchtime. As the boys passed Mr. Gene, he reached out and indicated with wiggling fingers that he wanted Boomer's ball. "I'll take that. You know better than to bring toys to school." Mr. Gene was one of the fifth grade teachers, He was strict, but when a student was asked, "What do you think about Mr. Gene?" they would invariably make some comment about his head. It was huge and very round. He wore glasses that seemed to pinch his nose which made him look even meaner than his reputation. What little hair he had on his head he combed across the top of his head. "You can have it back at the end of the day," Mr. Gene said curtly. "Why is Mr. Gene so mean?" asked George. George like to rhyme. He took his last name very seriously. "I don't know, but I am glad I don't have him this year," said Joshua. The other 3 boys nodded their heads in solemn agreement. They made their way back to the front of the school and entered the building. The halls were decorated with welcome back posters and PTO membership drive incentives. A new 'school spirit' shirt was displayed in one of the glass cabinets. An 'Open House' reminder was stapled to a free standing bulletin board that stood smack dab in the middle of the main hallway. The boys continued their search for their new homerooms. They passed gaily colored banners which hung over each classroom door announcing the name and grade level of its residents. Parent volunteers were everywhere eager to assist in any way possible. Continuing to navigate their way through the crowded hall, they bumped into more and more fifth graders. Joshua suddenly stopped short as the boys entered the fifth grade hall. A teacher was standing in front of each doorway ready to greet their new students. Every doorway except Mr. Gene's. What caught Joshua's attention was that Mr. Funderburk was no where to be seen. Standing outside his classroom door was 'Grannie' Mattie. "See you later," said Ritchie as he patted his friend on the back and disappeared into Mr. Teague's room. Joshua's knees buckled. 'Grannie' Mattie was well known in the community. She had been a substitute teacher the previous school year. Joshua's eyes darted about hoping to find some explanation that might have caused this cruel trick of fate. Shock registered on his face. He began to get a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt like he was frozen in time until a passerby mercifully whispered, "She's just subbing for him today." Then he looked up and noticed the banner. Mr. Funderburk: 5A With renewed strength and hope, he walked up to Mrs. Mattie. "Good morning," she said. Before she could offer any other explanation as to why she was standing there instead of Mr. Funderburk, Alex Borgeson arrived. He looked panicked and then anxiously asked, "Where's Mr. Funderburk?". 'Grannie' taking pity on the two students gently said, "Mr. Funderburk will be here tomorrow." Both boys stepped into the classroom and were promptly greeted by their new classmates. Joshua looked around as the other students caught up on the news and reminisced about their experiences during the sumer months. He couldn't help but notice the pains Mr. Funderburk had taken to make his classroom such a neat place in which to work. The entire back wall was painted light blue. Puffy clouds were suspended from crossbars that crisscrossed the ceiling. A hot air balloon made of some kind of shiney fabric seemed to float in the air. A gentle breeze from an air vent allowed the balloon to drift slowly back and forth. Looking more closely, he noticed a poseable action figure standing in a basket that was dangling under the balloon. Angel walked up to Joshua and said, "Hey, I saved us two seats." She pointed at the vacant desks near the front of the room. "Did you hear the news about Mr. Funderburk?" she asked. Joshua stared at her blankly. "His wife had a baby yesterday." she informed him. The tardy bell rang and the rest of the students in the class took their seats. 'Grannie' ushered a few stragglers into the room and walked slowly to the podium set up just to the right of the teacher's desk. Chapter 4 "Good morning, class," Mrs. Mattie said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. AFilling in for any teacher is a challenge in itself, but being called upon to substitute for the most popular teacher in the school was positively unnerving. It was a most difficult challenge that 'Grannie' Mattie had accepted, but Mr. Funderburk had total confidence that she could masterfully complete this assignment. "Good morning," replied the class politely. Most of the students had heard the news by now. Mr. Funderburk's wife had a baby yesterday afternoon. He was at the hospital with his family. Mrs. Mattie smiled at the class reassuringly and said, "Mr. Funderburk won't be with us in person today." Scattered groans met this announcement. "But what I have here," she said as she lifted a CD for the class's inspection, "is the next best thing." She walked toward the television set that sat on a cart just to the right of the teacher's desk. She inserted the disc into the player and said, "Ta Da!" Suddenly Mr. Funderburk's face appeared on screen and brightened the atmosphere in the classroom. "Good morning, class," he said. There were a few giggles from Joshua's classmates. "Good morning, class," he said again with a little more emphasis on the word class. This time the entire class responded with a hearty, "Good morning, Mr. Funderburk." Mr. Funderburk smiled appreciatively. "That was much better." A few more giggles circulated around the room. Mr. Funderburk introduced himself to the students. He welcomed them to his class and assured the students that this year was going to be 'the best year ever'. He then proceeded to tell his students about his reward system, the new curriculums, and the supplies they would need the next day. The most amazing part of his presentation came during the 'Question and Answer' period. Mr. Funderburk would ask a question and stare intently at the class as if he could actually see his students. He would then scan the room with his eyes and call on a student whose hand was raised to answer the question. He would then thank that student and throw out another question. "How's he doing that," wondered Joshua. He glanced over and looked at Angel, but her eyes were glued to the television screen. Suddenly Angel's hand shot up. As if right on cue, Mr. Funderburk said, "Yes, Angel?" "Will we get to go on any field trips this year?" Mr. Funderburk grinned and said, "I'm glad you asked me that." He then proceeded to explain that his class would actually go on 4 such trips. Two with the entire 5th grade and two walking field trips with Mr. Teague's class. Those would entail exploring the surrounding neighborhoods. The teacher's eyes twinkled mysteriously. "I've got time for one more question." Joshua raised his hand along with about a half dozen other students. Mr. Funderburk had a concerned look on his face as he deliberated who to call upon. "Orson," he finally decided. "My birthday is September 15th," he said proudly. It was little wonder that the other students referred to him as 'Spacey Macey'. "That's nice," Mr. Funderburk said kindly. "Right now I am going to turn you back over to Mrs. Mattie. I have given her instructions as to the seating arrangements, which textbooks to hand out, and the obligatory paperwork that must go home to your parents." He concluded his morning briefing by reminding them to give Mrs. Mattie their utmost attention, respect and cooperation. "Have a great morning!" Mr. Funderburk waved to the class and the television screen turned blue. Mrs. Mattie started to hand out the first wave of printed information the students would have to take home to their parents. She said, "Mr. Funderburk has some more instructions for you after we come back from lunch this afternoon." Mrs. Mattie stepped back behind the podium and picked up a clipboard. Joshua leaned closer and whispered, "How'd he do that?" He was still confused as to how Mr. Funderburk was able to call on students to answer questions when he obviously had taped himself in advance. Angel shrugged her shoulders and gave her friend an 'I know something you don't know' kind of look. Later that afternoon,while one Mr. Funderburk was winding down the day at Castle Rock Elementary School, another Mr. Funderburk cooed and spoke baby talk to his squirming son. Mr. Funderburk looked at his wife who was lying back comfortably now in her hospital bed. She was smiling wearily as a nurse adjusted some pillows under her head. The proud new daddy looked into his wife's eyes. "He might be hungry again." Returning his attention to his son, he asked, "Does my little buddy want a slice of pepperoni pizza?" Mrs. Funderburk smiled and sighed. Her gaze shifted to a nurse wearing floral patterned scrubs and a surgical mask. The nurse was cradling another newborn child in her arms. She tickled the baby ever so gently under its chin. "Are you sure you're ready for this one?" the nurse asked the baby's father. "Bring it on," was his quick response. While his son was nestled under the crook of his right arm, Mr. Funderburk tucked his son's twin sister protectively on his lap. He turned back to his wife. "Life doesn't get any better than this," he laughed. Chapter 5 Joshua had trouble sleeping that night. He tossed and turned worrying about whether or not Mr. Funderburk would be back on Tuesday morning and who he would get as his reading teacher. He was also dreaming about Brandon McDermot harassing him in the hallways. It was with some relief to him when he heard his mother's cheery voice singing, "Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory." Joshua couldn't understand how anyone could be that happy so early in the morning. This morning the boys were offered a wide variety of choices. Toast, cereal, toaster tarts, and bagels filled the middle of the kitchen table. There was also an abundant supply of fresh fruit sitting in a bowl on the counter next to the refrigerator. Joshua ignored the fruit as usual and grabbed a bagel. He popped it into the toaster and poured himself a glass of grape juice. "Oh, yeah. You need to sign some papers." He reached for his backpack which was hanging on the back of one of the kitchen chairs and rummaged through it. While Joshua was preoccupied with his search, Brady shuffled into the kitchen. His footie pajamas alerted everyone to his arrival. He took a seat opposite Joshua and plopped his head down on the table. The sound of Taylor bounding down the stairs startled Brady. When he lifted his sleepy head, Joshua and his mother looked at each other and laughed. The entire side of Brady's head was covered in butter and crumbs. "What?" he whined irritably. Mrs. Porter quickly got hold of herself and wiped the crumbs from her youngest son's face and tenderly kissed him on the forehead. Monday had not been a good day for Brady. He fell off the monkey bars during recess in the morning. And somehow he lost the money his mother had given to him to buy ice cream after lunch. Joshua anxiously waited as his mother actually read the papers she was supposed to sign. "Mom, all you have to do is sign them," he pleaded. "This would have taken up a lot less time this morning if you had shown these to me yesterday," she reminded him. Joshua grimaced and took another bite of his bagel as he waited. "Thank you," he said as he scooped up the papers, stuffed them into his backpack and headed toward the back door. "Wait a minute," his mother's voice stopped him in his tracks. "I need you to walk your brothers to school this morning." "But I'm supposed to meet the guys at the playground," Joshua begged. "Just for today. I have a few errands I have to run this morning," his mother reassured him as she tousled his hair. Then she added, "Have I told you recently how much I love and appreciate you?" Joshua returned her smile and made his way back to his chair to wait. Thirty minutes later the Porter boys arrived at school. Ritchie was the first to greet them. Taylor spotted some of his new friends by the swings. "Later," he said before he bolted across the front lawn of the school to join them. "Where have you been?" Ritchie asked. Joshua pointed at his youngest brother by way of explanation. "We've still got a few minutes before the bell rings. Boomer brought his ball again." Ritchie continued. Ritchie pointed toward a small group of boys chasing Mr. Teague at the far end of the playground? "Mr. Teague told Boomer that he could bring his ball to school as long as he gave it to him before school started." "I can't today. I promised my mom that I would walk Brady to his classroom this morning!" Joshua said. Ritchie nodded his head understandingly. Changing the subject he said, "Hey, I heard that Mr Funderburk is here today." Ritchie noticed an immediate change in Joshua's demeanor. "Randy noticed him getting out of his car this morning." "Alright," Joshua laughed. He noticed how good it felt to laugh. Joshua turned back to his friend. "How did your first day go?" "Mr. Teague is pretty cool," replied Ritchie, "But he does give an awful lot of homework. He's already assigned us a research project," he added incredulously. Both boys turned their heads simultaneously when they heard the morning bell. Joshua grabbed Brady's hand and said to Ritchie, "See you at lunch." After Joshua safely escorted his little brother to Mrs. Frenley's classroom, she greeted them both With a smile. Mrs. Frenley softy patted Brady on the back of his head as she finished a conversation she was having with another first grade teacher. "Do you want me to come in with you?" Joshua whispered. Brady looked up at his teacher. She beamed down at him. He shook his head and scrunched up his nose as he looked at his brother and said, "No, thanks. I'll be O.K." Having successfully carried out his assignment, Joshua hurried off to find his classroom. Chapter 6 There was Mr. Funderburk standing at the door to his classroom. He was shaking each student's hand as he welcomed them by name. Joshua could hear him apologizing for not being able to be there on Monday. Every now and then he would wink at a student and thank them for something. He also was handing out bit of construction paper to each student as they entered the room. Joshua received a triangular piece. He looked at it curiously as he walked to his assigned seat. Angel was already seated and carrying on a conversation with the student behind her. Joshua noted the red square sitting on the top right hand corner of her desk. "Hey, Angel" he interrupted. "What's this about?" She looked at him and shook her vhead. "I haven't a clue." Just then a bell rang. A static noise from the speaker on the wall above the teacher's desk caught the class's attention. "Good morning, teachers, students, parents, and visitors. I want to welcome you back to school on this beautiful day. Would you all please stand with me as Marcie Jacinto leads us in the Pledge of Allegiance." Mrs. Blankenship was the principal of Castle Rock Elementary School. She always started each morning by picking a random student to lead the student body in the Pledge. She ended the announcements by saying, "I know that I am speaking to the church choir, but I mean it when I tell you to go out there today and give each new challenge your very best effort." Choir was an acronym for Cooperation, Honesty, Organized, Integrity, and Ready. Those were just a few of the qualities and characteristics she expected and demanded from the school population. Mr. Funderburk moved to the center of the room. All eyes were focused on him now. "I know you are wondering about the colored pieces of construction paper I handed each of you this morning. What do they mean?" He teased. He began to slowly and mischievously weave between the rows of desks and tables tousling one students hair, patting another on the back. "Actually I handed them out to you to make you think. Look more carefully at your....let's call it your puzzle piece." Mr. Funderburk sat on an empty table in the back of the room. "Tell me," he continued, "one characteristic of that scrap of paper." Several students tentatively raised their hands. Mr. Funderburk continued to move around the classrooms. The students followed his every movement. They turned their heads to the right, then left, and sometimes craning their necks to keep track of his ever changing location in the room. He finally stopped and from the front of the classroom said, "Victor." Always ready, Victor said, "I assume you are referring to its size, shape and color, but it also...." Mr. Funderburk raised both of his hands suddenly and said, "Whoa, Big Guy. Let's give someone else the opportunity to add their input." The teacher said, "Thank you, Victor, for providing us a great starting point." Joshua's focus on his teacher's whereabouts in the room was momentarily broken as he reflected on Victor's answer. He couldn't help but think back to last May at The Fourth Grade Awards Assembly. Victor had won just about every award ever created. George Reimer's outburst in the back of the room was greeted by nervous laughter from his classmates. George had jumped onto the seat connected to his desk and was prepared to demonstrate to his teacher his discovery. He raised his hand and said, "Mr. Fun. Notice mine has the shape of a square, but when I drop it from here, it floats in the air." He dropped his scrap of construction paper as he spoke. To his delight everyone watched as his square fluttered through the air and landed on Keisha's desk. "Thank you for your exuberance, Mr. Reimer. You are spot on, but in the future, please wait until I at least call on you." The teacher shook his head smiling. Joshua looked over at Ashley. Her was squinting as she inspected her piece more closely. She turned her red square over and discovered a word written in tiny letters at the bottom of her token. She raised her hand and waved it in the air. Mr. Funderburk acknowledged her and she said, "There is a word written on the back off my square." All around the room the students turned over their scraps of paper. "Hey, mine, too," said a loud voice from the back of the room. Heads turned, and Boomer blushed. "Oh, sorry," he said sheepishly to Mr. Funderburk. "No problem, Mr. Blanton." Before the teacher had wrapped up his fact-finding mission, he had compiled a lengthy list of characteristics peculiar to the tokens in the possession of his students. He turned away from the board, he said, "In order for us to begin our first class project, you must be able to prove to me that you can work in a collaborative manner." He added, "That means to work together. Now use what information you know to find out what you don't know." The teacher paused and waited until all eyes were on him. "I'll give you one hint before I sit down." Mr. Funderburk looked right at George as he spoke. "The colors help you stick like glue. The shape and words act as a clue. You cannot solve this riddle from your seat, so what are you waiting for? Get on your feet." George grinned as Mr. Funderburk plopped himself down on his swivel chair.