Mr. Leroy’s voice crackled through the intercom speaker after a fifth-grader named Henry Newmeyer had led the entire school in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“This is your principal, Mr. Leroy,” he said, and Mrs. Pidgeon’s second- graders all laughed. They knew he was their principal. He didn’t need to tell them. It wasn’t like the day in October when Gooney Bird Greene had appeared in their classroom for the first time and said, “I’m your new student.” She’d needed to explain that, because nobody had had a clue who she was, and she had arrived wearing pajamas and cowboy boots, which made her somewhat mysterious.
But everyone already knew who Mr. Leroy was. He was Watertower Elementary’s principal and he was the best principal, the children thought, in the whole world. He was smart and funny and he wore the most interesting neckties, except for the blue striped one. He had explained that his wife’s mother had given him the blue striped one for his birthday, so he felt that he had to wear it now and then. He really thought it was a boring necktie, but if they ever met his mother-in-law they should not tell her that he thought that.
“I just want to alert you all to the weather forecast,” Mr. Leroy’s voice continued through the intercom. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, since it is January, but the prediction is for snow tomorrow.
“Walkers? Be sure to wear warm boots and mittens,” he said.
“That’s me,” Ben announced from his desk. “I’m a walker! I’m wearing my L.L.Bean boots tomorrow!” “Me, too,” Nicholas chimed in. “I’m a walker, too.” “And bus people?” Mr. Leroy went on.
“Me,” Keiko said in her very quiet voice.
“And me,” Chelsea announced. “I get on Bus Eleven at the corner of Cherry Street.” “Be sure to be extra well behaved on the bus,” Mr. Leroy reminded them, “because the driving might be difficult in the snow. We want all of our drivers to pay careful attention to the slippery roads, not to children who might be noisy or wiggly.” “That’s you, Malcolm!” someone called out. Malcolm grinned. It was true; he did have trouble sitting still. He was wiggling back and forth in his seat at this very moment.
“Of course,” Mr. Leroy continued, “if there is a lot of snow, you know what that means!” “Snow day!” the children all called out.
“Snow day! OKAY!” Tyrone shouted.
“Snow day,” Mr. Leroy said, like an echo, even though he couldn’t hear Mrs. Pidgeon’s classroom from his office. “But let’s hope not. We all have lots of schoolwork to get done, don’t we?
“Now,” he added, “some of you have noticed that I’m wearing my reptile tie this morning.” Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. “Yes, he is,” she said. “I saw it when I was having coffee in the teachers’ lounge. It gives me the creeps.” “I love that one,” Beanie said. “It has iguanas and everything!” “Komodo dragons!” Barry added.
“Oh, gross,” murmured Keiko, who hated anything that might possibly be slimy.
“Shhh,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, still laughing. She pointed to the speaker and reminded them to keep listening to the principal’s voice.
“So I’ll sign off by saying: ‘See you later—’ ” “Alligator!” the second-graders called out as the intercom went silent. Throughout the school, each class said “Alligator!” and then Watertower Elementary School fell silent as the teachers and children began their day.
“Well, class,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, “as you all know, usually I begin each morning by—” “Mrs. Pidgeon! Mrs. Pidgeon!” Barry Tuckerman was halfway out of his seat, waving his hand in the air.
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed. “What is it, Barry?” she asked.
“Look at what Gooney Bird’s wearing!” Barry said loudly, and pointed toward the desk where Gooney Bird Greene had just opened her spelling book.
All of the children giggled. They frequently giggled at Gooney Bird’s outfits. Ever since her first day as a new student, when she had worn pajamas to school, they had been amazed and astonished and amused and awed at the things she decided to wear. A ballet tutu, sometimes. Dangly rhinestone earrings once, though she took them off when her earlobes began to ache. Hiking boots with an organdy pinafore. Sandals with unmatched knee socks. Today Gooney Bird was wearing an oversize tie-dyed sweatshirt. She had worn that particular shirt to school before, so it wasn’t unusual. But today she had something on her head. A sort of a pale green helmet with ruffles and two holes through which her red ponytails poked out.
Gooney Bird looked up when she heard the giggles. What?” she said. “I’m trying to study for the spelling test. I can never remember whether it’s an a or an e in separate”.
“We were just noticing your, ah, your headpiece,” Mrs. Pidgeon commented.
“Yes. It’s my two-ponytail hat. On days when I have just one ponytail, I wear a baseball cap with my one ponytail sticking through the hole in back. But this morning I was brushing my teeth when I looked in the bathroom mirror and I said to myself, ‘Gooney Bird, I do believe today is a two-ponytail day!’ ” “I’ve seen you with your baseball cap on, Gooney Bird,” Mrs. Pidgeon said, “but never with this, ah, two-ponytail hat before.” “It’s brand new.” Gooney Bird turned her head to give the teacher a side view of the pale green ruffles and the ponytail holes. “Do you like it?” “Well, it’s unusual,” Mrs. Pidgeon replied. “I’ll say that for it.” “It’s underpants!” Chelsea shrieked. The entire class roared with laughter.
Gooney Bird sighed. She waited patiently until the class became quiet again. Then she said, “Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. Whatever am I going to do with you? You know what that word does to the class! Remember when we were writing stories and I explained that you could always get a laugh with armpit or bellybutton or underpants? But that’s a cheap laugh.” She looked back at her spelling book. “It’s an a. I have to remember that. Desperate has an e but separate has an a. It’s very confusing.” “My mom and dad are separated,” Tricia said with a sigh, “and it’s very confusing because I live in two houses, and sometimes my crayons are in one house but my coloring book is in the other.” “My mom and dad are desperate,” Malcolm said, “because they had triplets.” The class laughed. They all knew about the commotion the triplet babies were causing in Malcolm’s family.
“I see London, I see France,” Ben called in a singsong voice. “I see Gooney’s—” “Enough,” announced Mrs. Pidgeon. She glanced suddenly at Tyrone. “Tyrone, what do I see in your hand?” Tyrone put on his who-me-I’m-very-innocent face. Mrs. Pidgeon went to his desk and reached out her hand. “You know the rules, Tyrone,” she said, and he handed her the small cell phone.
“It’s for emergencies,” he said defensively.
“And what sort of emergency do you anticipate?” “Ah, a bear may be comin’ into the classroom.” “A bear,” murmured all t...