Authors: Andrew Clements
for my son,
John Edward Clements
to Harrison Collins for giving me my first job as a teacher;
to Alfie Kohn for his book
The Schools Our Children Deserve;
to Charles P. Pierce for his
Boston Globe Magazine
article “Testing Times”;
and to Howard Gardner for his work to establish a broader definition of intelligence.
here were only about fifteen kids on the late bus because it was Friday afternoon. I sat near the back with Stephen, and he kept pestering me.
“Come on, Nora. I showed you my report card. I want to see if I beat you in math. Let me see what you got. Come on.”
“No,” I said. “No means no. I'm not opening it. I had to go to school every day, and I had to sit there and take the tests and quizzes when they told me to. But I have a choice about when I look at my grades, and right now I choose not to. So ask me on Monday.”
Stephen is my best friend, but I'm not sure he would have admitted it. If any of his buddies had been on the bus, he wouldn't have been sitting anywhere near me. In fifth grade a guy's best friend isn't supposed to be a girlâwhich is one of the most immature ideas in the universe. Your best friend is the person you
care about the most and who cares back just as much. And that's the way it was with me and Stephen. It wasn't a girl-boy thing. It was just a fact.
Stephen was persistent. He'd been having a hard time with his schoolwork for the past ten weeks, and he was obsessed with grades. So he wouldn't shut up about my report card. On and on and on. And our bus ride home took twenty minutes. “Come on, Nora. It's not fair. You know what I got, but I don't know what you got. I wanna see your grades. C'mon, lemme see 'em.”
Another fact: Sometimes no doesn't mean no forever. There was only about a block to go before our bus stop, but I couldn't stand Stephen's whining another second. Besides, the truth is, I was dying to know my spelling grade. I was sure about my grades in all the other subjects, but I thought I might have messed up in spelling. So I pulled my report card out of my backpack and slapped it into Stephen's hands. I didn't even care that my whole name was printed right on the label: Nora Rose Rowley.
“Here,” I said. “This is your prize for being the most annoying person in the world.”
Stephen said, “All riiight!” and he had those grades out of the envelope in about three seconds.
Stephen's face went blank and his mouth dropped open. And it was like he couldn't talk. Or breathe. He finally spluttered and said, “No
be right! Mrs. NoyesÂ .Â .Â . and Mrs. ZhangÂ .Â .Â . and
! These are the wrong grades!”
I ignored his amazement. I said, “Just tell me what I got in spelling, okay?”
Stephen's eyes flickered down the page and then he said, “YouÂ .Â .Â . you got a C.”
!” and I kicked the seat in front of us. “I
it! A lousy Câhow could I be so
Stephen was wishing he hadn't begged to see my grades, and his face showed it. He gulped and said, “UmÂ .Â .Â . Nora? I hate to tell you, but all your other grades areÂ .Â .Â .”
I cut him off. “I know what they are.”
Stephen was completely confused. He said, “ButÂ .Â .Â . but if you know what the others are, then why are you mad about the C in spelling? Because all the others areÂ .Â .Â .
! You got a D
! All Dsâexcept for that one C.”
!” I said again. “
Stephen struggled on. “ButÂ .Â .Â . but spelling is your
grade,” and to reassure himself he said, “. . . because a C is
than a D, right?”
I shook my head, and then I said more than I should have. “Not always,” I said. “C is
better if you're trying to get a D.”
confused Stephen. And I didn't want him to have time to think about it. I grabbed my report card back and said, “So what did you get in spelling?”
I knew the answer to that question because I'd already seen Stephen's report card. Plus, spelling is always his best subject.
Stephen said, “IÂ .Â .Â . I got an A.”
“And is that the grade you were trying to get?”
He squinted and then said, “UmÂ .Â .Â . yeah, I guess so.”
“Then you got what you were trying for, and that's good. That's a good grade, Stephen.”
He said, “UmÂ .Â .Â . thanks.”
We got off the bus at the corner and started walking along the street toward our houses. Stephen didn't say another word.
I could tell he was worried about my grades. And that was just like himâto be worried about someone other than himself. Which is why it was a good thing that Stephen had someone like me looking out for him.
Because I had gotten those Ds on purpose. I had meant to get
Ds. And those Ds were probably going to get me into big trouble.
But I didn't care about that.
I had gotten those Ds for Stephen.
y room was “a mess.” I was supposed to “get it all straightened up” before dinner. “Or else.” Mom's orders.
But I wasn't in the mood to clean. Or scared enough. So I just lay there on my bed, thinking. Which wasn't unusual. And the thought came very clearly that a messy room was the least of my problems. That was a fact.
I've always loved facts. That's because facts don't change. And I think that's why I sometimes hate facts too.
I've been discovering facts about myself for a long time. It's like I've been doing experiments for years so I can figure out what makes me meâthe facts of me.
Here's one fact I've discovered: I have the opposite of amnesia. I don't think I've ever forgotten anything. I can remember all the way back. I can remember the smell of the soft, blue cloth my mom tucked under my chin to
catch the drips when I drank baby formula from a bottle. I can remember each red polka dot on the hat of the stuffed clown puppet I slept with in my cribâtwelve dots. I can remember the yellow-and-white diamond pattern on the plastic liner of my playpen and the taste of those biscuits I chewed on before my teeth popped through my gums. I remember all that stuff.
And lying there on my bed, I remembered back to when I thought everyone else was just like me. Because that's the way it seemed to me in the beginning. I couldn't tell the difference between myself and everybody else. I thought everyone else was thinking and feeling and seeing the same things I was. But that was not a fact.
Thereâthe way I was thinking just there? That's another fact about me. I do that constantly, that kind of analyzing. I've always been like that.
Then my mind went racing through its filing system, and I remembered every detail of the day when I first started to see I was different.
It happened because of my big sister, Ann.
She was six years older, so it was like we lived on different planets. Whenever we got anywhere near each other, Ann's planet usually crushed my planet.
It was a Saturday morning right after I had learned how to walk, and Ann dumped a big, five-hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle onto the floor in our family room. The picture on the box showed a scene from a Muppets movie.
Ann thought she was this huge puzzle expert, and when I went over to watch, she said, “No, Nora. This isn't a
puzzle. Get away!”
I moved back a little, but I kept watching. I've never been scared of Ann. That's because I've always understood her. All Ann has ever wanted is for everybody to beg her to be the queen of the universe.
First Ann turned all the pieces picture-side up, and then she picked out all the pieces with straight edges. Those were the frame pieces because Ann always puts the frame of a puzzle together first.
After the frame was done, Ann started looking for a part of Miss Piggy's ear. So I leaned forward and put my pointer finger on a puzzle piece.
“Hey!” said Ann, and she pushed my hand away. Then she saw. I had pointed to the piece she was looking for. She picked it up, turned it around, and pushed it into place. Narrowing her eyes at me, Ann said, “Where's the one that goes here?” and she put her finger on a piece at the bottom edge of the frame.
So I pointed again and that piece fit too.
“And the next one?” asked Ann.
Again I pointed and again it fit. Because it wasn't hard for me. I could see all the pieces at once and I could see exactly where each of them went. They were right there, plain as day.
Then Ann got an idea, and it wasn't a very nice one. Reaching toward a part of the puzzle that was all Kermit-green, she put her finger on one piece and said, “What goesÂ .Â .Â . here?”
I ran my eyes over all those puzzle pieces scattered next to the frame. There must have been a hundred that were mostly green. Ann thought I was stumped. But I wasn't. I reached out and picked up one piece and gave it to her.
Ann said, “Nice try, Nora. At least you got a green one. Like I said, this is not a
So go away.” Then Ann looked at the piece in her hand and the part of the frame she still had her finger on. She turned my piece around once and brought it closer to the frame. It was the right piece.
“How did you do that?” asked Ann. Now she was more curious than jealous.
But I just looked at all the pieces and picked up another one. And Ann put it in the puzzle, hooking it on to the other piece I had found.
Then Ann said, “Here, Nora. You put some pieces in the puzzle. You just have to push each one down, like this, with your thumb. Start right here.”
I could feel how Ann was watching me. She had never looked at me that way before. I didn't know I was doing anything unusualâbecause for me, the puzzle was so easy. I didn't have to look and look and try out ten pieces to find a right one. I could just see the next piece. I didn't have to slow down and I didn't make any mistakes.
Ann ran and got Mom. Then I felt two pairs of eyes staring at me. So I stopped.
“Go on, keep doing the puzzle, Nora,” said
Ann. “Show Mommy. Find the piece for right there.”
Then Mom said, “Go on, honey. Help Ann do the puzzle. Go on.”
It felt like they were pushing me with their eyes. They wanted a performance. But I was just being me.
So I did nothing.
Ann said, “Come
Nora. Just one piece. Come
” and she grabbed my hand and pulled it toward the unmatched pieces.
I yelled, “
!” and I yanked my hand away. That was it for me. Puzzle playtime was over.