"And," Gooney Bird pointed out as she gathered her lunch things, "he probably needs a brain-warming hat."
Mrs. Pidgeon was almost late for school! It had never happened before. Usually she was there early, preparing sharpened pencils, passing out papers, tidying the room.
But on this day she came dashing in at the last minute, her face pink and her eyes teary from the cold. She unwound her long blue scarf and hung it with her coat on the hook.
Then the bell rang. Mrs. Pidgeon scurried to her desk and sat down to catch her breath.
"Very close to tardy, Mrs. Pidgeon!" Gooney Bird said, with a tsk-tsk sound.
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm usually here way before you kids."
"Did your toothbrush fall in the toilet?" Malcolm asked. That had happened once to him.
"Did you have a very, very hard time choosing what to wear, and you started to cry because you finally had to wear your red sweater, which you absolutely hated?" asked Chelsea. That had happened once to her.
"Were you stopped by a bus driver asking directions, and it took forever to get him to the right place?" Gooney Bird asked. That had happened once to her.
Mrs. Pidgeon shook her head and began to answer, but she was interrupted by the intercom. The class all stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance, led by a sixth-grader named Mary Margaret O'Leary. Then they listened to Mr. Leroy's announcements.
Then, finally, Mrs. Pidgeon explained. "The nursing home called me because my mother had had a bad night. So I went there before I came to school."
"Oh, dear—nightmares?" asked Keiko. "I have nightmares sometimes. My mom gives me warm milk and opens my closet door to show me there aren't monsters."
"Did she wet the bed? Some people wet their beds and it wakes them up," Malcolm said. "Even people as old as eight, sometimes." He looked at the floor.
"Or maybe throw-ups?" asked Ben sympathetically. "I always get the throw-ups in the middle of the night. My mom says if she has to change my sheets one more time at two in the morning..."
Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. "No, none of those things. She was just wakeful, and feeling agitated. When they called me, I went and sat with her and we talked. Then she fell asleep so I hurried on to school. I'm sorry, class, but today I didn't remember to bring one of my mother's poems."
"What did you talk about?" Gooney Bird asked. She was at the hamster cage. It was her day to feed Harvey, the class hamster. Harvey had a diet of special pellets, but Gooney Bird felt that he needed something like a buffet to make his life more interesting. So she always arranged his pellets on different paper saucers, and she added bits of lettuce and bread crumbs that she borrowed from people's lunches. Today Harvey was having a smidgen of carrot for his salad course and a fingertip full of raspberry jam for dessert.
"Well, as you know, my mother is very old. So she has a whole lifetime of memories. I asked her to tell me some of the childhood things she remembered as the happiest."
"What did your mom thay?" Felicia Ann asked.
"Let me think." Mrs. Pidgeon half closed her eyes and listed the things her mother had remembered. "Birthday cake with pink candles. A yellow hair ribbon. A kitten named Jingle. The lace collar on her mother's Sunday dress. Ruffled curtains in her bedroom. A honeysuckle vine. And fireflies."
Gooney Bird closed and latched the door to Harvey's cage. He cleaned the leftover jam from his whiskers carefully and then went to his shredded-paper nest to take a nap. "You know what?" Gooney Bird said to Mrs. Pidgeon. "You did bring a poem of your mom's."
"Yes, you just said it. That list of memories. It was just like a poem. If you wrote the memories down on a paper and gave it a title like 'Mom's Memories,' it would even look like a poem."
Mrs. Pidgeon thought for a moment and then smiled. "I believe you're right, Gooney Bird. Maybe today at writing time we could each do a list poem. I'll put some ideas for lists here on the board so you can be thinking in advance. But now we'll get out our spelling."
Mrs. Pidgeon wrote four suggestions on the board:
These things make me laugh
Lunches I love
Beside the list, she wrote the day's ten spelling words:
The children all bent over their desks, copying the words. But they couldn't pay attention to the spelling.
"I'm having a can't-keep-my-thoughts-on-my-work moment," Malcolm announced loudly. "I keep thinking about a list of nightmare stuff."
"Me, too!" Beanie said. "I was trying to write the spelling words, but look!" She held up her paper and everyone could see the eraser marks. "I kept thinking about things that make me laugh!"
"Mrs. Pidgeon, may I make a helpful suggestion?" Gooney Bird had her hand raised. Today she was wearing her diamond ring. It wasn't a real diamond, but it looked like one. It was large and sparkly. Sometimes she let the other girls borrow it. Never boys, though.
"Of course," said the teacher. "What is it?"
"We could combine the spelling words with the list poems. Everybody could try to include some of the spelling words in a poem. That way, we'd kill two birds with one stone."
"Oh, no!" wailed Keiko. "Don't say 'kill birds'!"
"It was just a figure of speech, Keiko," Mrs. Pidgeon reassured her. "It means, ah, well, getting two things done at once. In this case, spelling and poetry writing. I think it's a good idea, Gooney Bird.
"Okay. It can be poetry time, class. List poems today. With some spelling words in them, please."
She passed out fresh pieces of paper. Then she turned her back to the class and went to a section of the board where there was still some blank space. "Here is my mother's poem," she said, and she began to write. She didn't notice that several of the second-graders had opened their desks to take out something.
Mrs. Pidgeon wrote:
It Makes Me Happy to Remember:
A cake with pink candles,
A yellow hair ribbon,
A kitten named Jingle,
The lace collar on my mother's best dress,
Ruffled curtains in my bedroom,
The fragrance of honeysuckle,
And fireflies on summer evenings,
So many fireflies.
I wonder where the fireflies have gone.
When she had finished, she turned to the class. To Mrs. Pidgeon's amazement, seven children—she counted—were now wearing underpants on their heads. Gooney Bird had once again donned her pale green ruffles. Malcolm had tightie-whities, and Ben was wearing boxers with smiley faces. Tricia was wearing white cotton with little blue flowers, and both Beanie and Felicia Ann had pale pink.
"Chelsea?" Mrs. Pidgeon said. "What is that on your head?"
"Thong," Chelsea explained. "Borrowed from my mom."
"And it helps?"
"Oh, yes," all of the children said. "Warms the brain."
"I'm bringin' some tomorrow," Tyrone said. "My brain is freezin'!"
"Me, too," said Nicholas.
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said with a sigh, "just as long as they are all absolutely clean."
As usual, Barry Tuckerman was the first one finished. Now, with his pencil down, his paper neatly folded, his hand shot into the air. "I'm done! I bet mine is the best! I'm the best poet in the class!"
"Poetry is not a contest, Barry," Mrs. Pidgeon reminded him. "There is no best or worst."
"Whatever," Barry said. "Can I read mine?" She nodded, and he stood beside his desk. He read:
These Things Make Me Laugh
by Barry Tuckerman, author
Then he sat down.
The class, including Mrs. Pidgeon, was silent for a moment.
Then Gooney Bird gave a loud sigh. "Barry, Barry, Barry," she said. "That was awful."
"You can't say poetry is awful," Barry said. "Poetry is whatever you want it to be."
"But it wath, Barry," Felicia Ann whispered. "It wath thimply awful."
"Did you want it to be unimaginative, Barry? And boring?" Gooney Bird asked.
Barry scowled and shook his head. He looked at his paper. "I guess not," he said finally.
"Well, let's revise," Gooney Bird suggested. "Let's add details. What is funny about these things? Why do they make you laugh?"
Barry shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
"Let's take them one at a time. What was your first thing?"
Barry looked at his paper. "Cartoons," he read.
"What makes you laugh about a cartoon?"
"When the superheroes go POW and ZAP," he said.
"Add that, then," Gooney Bird told him. He picked up his pencil. Around the class, other children picked up their pencils again and began to revise their own poems.
"Jokes?" Gooney Bird asked Barry. "Was that next?"
Barry had his tongue between his teeth and was busy writing. "Yeah, I'm adding more about jokes."
"And your dog." Gooney Bird looked around the class. "How many of you have a dog?" Many hands went up. "Do things about your dog make you laugh?"
Everyone nodded. Some children called out. "My dog's scared of thunder!" Tricia said. "He hides under the bed and we all laugh at him."
Barry looked up. "You know what?" he said. "Clowns don't really make me laugh. I think they're scary."
"Erase 'clowns,' then," Gooney Bird said. "Part of revising is deciding what to take out."
"Barry almost won't have nothin' left in his poem," Tyrone said. He sighed, then corrected himself when he saw Mrs. Pidgeon about to raise her grammar finger. "I mean, Barry won't have anything left. His poem gonna be short!"
"Short poems are okay, though," Beanie pointed out.
Barry wasn't listening to anyone. His face was scrunched up again in its thinking position, and he was writing very fast. "Done!" he announced.
"Read it again, Barry," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "and let us hear your revisions."
Barry stood. He read:
Things That Make Me Laugh
by Barry Tuckerman, great author
Cartoons that go
Why did the moron?
Or Knock Knock!
And my goofy dog
Because once he chased a mouse
And when my mom threw a towel
They were both bumps under the towel,
The mouse scurrying
And my brave dog ready
The class laughed and applauded.
"I used six spelling words," Barry said proudly, "and I wrote a good poem."
Gooney Bird went to him and gave him a high-five.
"Ouch," she said. "I should never do that when wearing a diamond ring."
"The really impressive thing," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "is that Barry wrote his list poem without wearing anything on his head except his own hair.