Claudia and the Genius on Elm Street

Claudia and the Genius on
Elm Street


Ann M. Martin




Chapter 1.


"Honey, watch where you're going with that. Don't spill it on the — who-o-o-oa!"

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was staring at the TV, bored stiff with this commercial that had come on for about the twentieth time. In it, some girl spills a huge glass of chocolate milk on a living room carpet (white, of course). Her mom gets hysterical, then sprays the stain with some carpet cleaner. Out of the can rushes a team of hungry cartoon gremlins. Ta-da! The gremlins eat the stain and the mom hugs the girl, who smiles cutely with one front tooth missing. Happy music plays in the background.

So realistic. I mean, does anyone ask how the gremlins got in the spray can? Wouldn't the mom and daughter run away screaming if they really saw those disgusting things? And what happens to the gremlins after they fin-

ish? Do they hang out in the house forever? Ew.

All I wanted to do was watch this documentary about the artist Andy Warhol. (I'm really into art, and I figured the show might inspire me.)

I know what you're thinking. I should have taped the show so I could zap through the commercials. Well, I did tape it. Or at least I thought I did.

It wasn't until 4:10 on Friday afternoon that I realized I'd goofed. There I was, walking through our living room. My sister, Janine the genius, was reading the newspaper. She looked up at me and said, "You know, that special you wanted to watch already started — "

"I know," I said, nodding confidently. "I'm taping it — "

That's when I looked at the VCR. and saw that it wasn't lit up. I quickly turned it on and saw 1:00:00 on the display, which meant I'd already taped an hour of something.

"What happened?" Janine said.

"I don't know," I answered. I rewound part of the tape and played it. It was this weird movie about aliens attacking a hippie commune or something. "I programmed it from four to five, but — "

"A.M. or P.M.?" Janine asked innocently.


There I stood, Claudia Kishi, the Dunce of the Kishi family. I had taped the Late Late Late Show.

Which is why I ended up watching the Andy Warhol documentary right then and there, complete with commercials.

It was worth it, though. At least I thought so. Warhol would paint an ordinary object, like a Campbell's soup can, in a way that made you want to look at it — as if it were the most interesting thing in the world. He also made wild-colored silkscreen portraits of legendary movie stars, like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and Elvis Presley.

Well, Janine sat through about thirty seconds of this before she announced, "I don't understand how you can call that stuff art." Then she walked off, probably to study advanced calculus or physics or something else just as fun-filled.

Janine is only a junior in high school, but they ran out of classes hard enough for her, so she's taking courses at a local college. Me? I'm thirteen, and in eighth grade at Stoney-brookMiddle School, in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. I have a hard enough time with normal classes. The first time I heard Janine mention "calculus" I thought she was talking about a Roman emperor. Then she showed

me her book. You know what the strangest thing was? Calculus is supposed to be a kind of math — but there were hardly any numbers! It was mostly a bunch of squiggles and letters. Janine tried to explain it to me, but I suddenly felt like I'd taken a sleeping pill. Boring!

As you can gather, my sister and I could hardly be more different. We do both have dark hair and almond-shaped eyes (our family is Japanese-American), but that's about it. I'm into wild clothes and different hairstyles. That afternoon, for instance, I was wearing a man's paisley vest I'd found at a yard sale, over a striped button-down shirt with tuxedo-stripe black Spandex stirrup pants, held up with pink-flecked black suspenders. My hair was pulled straight back with a paisley comb, and I was wearing electric-pink ankle boots. The boots really set .off the formality of the rest of the outfit, sort of like the punchline of a joke. I think you can tell a lot about people from the way they dress. If you saw me, you might think: artistic, fun-loving, good sense of humor. At least I hope you'd think that.

If you saw Janine, you'd think: smart, very smart, unbelievably smart. Her hair is always in a page boy, and she'd be perfectly happy wearing a white Oxford blouse and a gray pleated skirt every day. Janine's main accessory is a book cradled in her right arm. Exactly

the way you'd expect someone with a 1961.Q. to dress.

That's right, 196. "Normal" is 100, "bright" is 120, and "genius" is 150. So what does that make Janine? It scares me just to think of it.

I used to be kind of resentful of my sister. I thought she could do no wrong in my parents' eyes. (My dad's an investment banker and my mom's a librarian, so they're both into Achievement and Applying Yourself.) For a long time only my grandmother Mimi understood my interests. Mimi lived with us, but when she died I felt so ... alone in my family. Now things have changed. Janine and I get along pretty well, and my parents are beginning to realize that I'm serious about my art (and good at it). And since Mimi's gone, I have a picture of her on my bedroom wall for inspiration. Actually it's a photo of Mimi when she was my age, and it's amazing how much she looks like me.

Somehow I can't imagine that Mimi ever had a room like mine, though. It's . . . well, multipurpose. For one thing, if s the place where I sleep. (No kidding.) For another, it's my studio. I have supplies stashed everywhere — brushes, palettes, an easel, paints, charcoal pencils, plaster of paris, old newspapers for papier-mlch£, and a box of small beads and objects for jewelry making. My walls might as

well be called "the Claudia Kishi gallery."

That's what you notice the moment you walk into my room. What you don't notice is all the hidden stuff — junk food and Nancy Drew mysteries! Those are my secret passions. They're stuffed under my mattress, tucked away in corners and drawers, folded into sweaters in my closet. Why? Well, my parents don't approve of junk food, and they don't like the Nancy Drew books because they think I should be reading "literature." Actually I have nothing against literature. I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I even liked Oliver Twist, despite the fact that it took forever to read (and weighed about a hundred pounds). But to me, reading is kind of like food. You can't eat filet mignon all the time. It's nice to have some ice cream and cake. Nancy Drew mysteries are my ice cream and cake.

Oh, I should mention something before you think I'm a complete pig — I give away a lot of my junk food. You see, my room is also the official meeting place for a club my friends and I belong to, the Baby-sitters Club. And there's nothing like having Doritos or Snickers bars or M&M's to pass around when you're waiting for business. I'll tell you more about the BSC later. Back to Andy Warhol. As I mentioned, I was

watching the show for inspiration. I had been feeling a little bored and empty, like something about my artwork was missing. Not that I wasn't busy. I've always spent my spare time doodling, painting, making jewelry, making collages, sculpting . . . but that's what was wrong. I felt like I was doing too much, and not really digging into anything.

I needed a new project, something I could spend time on and be proud of.

So there were Andy Warhol's paintings: cans of Campbell's soup and Del Monte peaches, bottles of Heinz ketchup, boxes of Brillo soap pads . . .

Suddenly I sat up. Can you picture those old cartoons in which a character gets an idea, and you hear a BOIING! and see a lightbulb above his head? Well, that's how I felt.

All I could think about were Milky Way bars and Ring Dings and Oreos. No, I wasn't hungry. Not at all.

Those things were going to be the subjects of my next art project! I could see it so clearly — a series of pop art pieces, "Junk Food Fantasy," by Claudia Kishi. I could paint a Twinkie in a wrapper, then a Twinkie unwrapped. A Yankee Doodle, and then a Yankee Doodle with a bite in it. All in realistic detail with vivid colors.

The idea was brilliant (not to mention that

it would give me an excuse to buy even more junk food). I couldn't wait to get started. I turned off the show before it was over and ran upstairs to my room.

I began a few preliminary sketches, but two things happened. One, I got hungry and ate the subject of my fifth sketch, a Chunky bar. Two, I realized it was getting close to five-thirty. And five-thirty on a Friday meant just one thing — a BSC meeting.

I began to clean up my room. I was dying to tell my friends about my great new idea.

Chapter 2.

How does light play off the curves of a Fritos corn chip?

How do you create detail in a white Yankee Doodle center?

Which is more interesting, the many textures of a Snickers bar or the simplicity of a Three Musketeers bar?

These were the incredibly important questions in my head as I cleaned up. That's the thing about art. You get obsessed about the weirdest details. How should the object be lit — from behind, from above, from the right, or from the left? Should your green have more blue in it or more yellow? Should your whites be pure or tinted toward gray — or toward brown? How big should the subject be? What should be in the background?

I find stuff like that fascinating. A lot of people would find it more interesting to talk about brussels sprouts.

I was so deep in thought I didn't even hear Kristy Thomas walk into my room around five-fifteen. (Kristy's the BSC president.) "Hey, Claud," she said.

"Oh! Hi," I answered.

I must have looked like I was in another world, because Kristy stopped and stared at me. "What's wrong?" she asked.

I was about to ask her what she thought about the Snickers-Three Musketeers issue, but I caught myself. She'd probably think I was out of my mind. Instead I said, "Just thinking about a new art project."

Kristy's eyes lit up. She's always interested in new ideas and challenges. "Really? What?"

"Well . . . I'm going to work on a series of realistic junk-food portraits. Sort of like Andy Warhol."

You should have seen Kristy's face. It went totally blank. "Uh-huh," she said, looking around the room. "Great."

Whoops. It's not that Kristy is a Philistine (that's a word Janine taught me — it means "one who is ignorant of artistic things"). She always has smart things to say about my work. It's just that her idea of a good idea is much more . . . practical. Kristy's the type of person who will take an impossible problem and figure out how to solve it. Here's an example: Kristy's younger brothers and sister wanted to

play on a softball team, but they weren't ready for Little League. So what did Kristy do? She formed a team by herself, called Kristy's Krushers.

From the way Kristy dresses, you'd think she was on her way to a softball game every day. She always looks good, just very casual — jeans, a T-shirt or turtleneck, and running shoes. Her face is friendly, with pretty brown eyes and long brown hair. She's on the short side and very athletic.

Kristy is the perfect club president. She has the loudest voice (which helps in a group of talkers like us). She's not afraid to say what's on her mind, and she'll boss people around if she has to. Some people are bothered by her bluntness, but we all accept it. She's just . . . Kristy.

I should know. We've been friends since we were in diapers. The Thomases used to live across the street from me. Back in the old days, the Thomas family was pretty ordinary. It consisted of Kristy, her mom and dad, and her two older brothers, Sam and Charlie. Then, when Kristy was about six, Mr. Thomas just walked out on them. Why? No one knows for sure, but I think it was a rotten thing to do. Kristy's younger brother, David Michael, had just been born, and all of a sudden Mrs. Thomas had to support four kids. Somehow

she managed to juggle a job, childcare, shopping, you name it (I guess that's where Kristy gets her organizational skills).

Everything changed for Kristy's family not long ago. Mrs. Thomas met this millionaire named Watson Brewer. They fell madly in love and got married, and the Thomases ended up moving into a huge mansion. And let me tell you, that house needs to be huge. Watson is the divorced father of two kids, Karen and Andrew, who spend every other weekend and some vacations and holidays at the house. Then there's Emily Michelle, an adorable two-and-a-half-year-old Vietnamese girl whom Watson and Kristy's mother recently adopted. Then there's Nannie, Kristy's grandmother on her mom's side, who now lives there and helps take care of Emily Michelle. And then there are Boo-Boo and Shannon, a cat and a dog.

Needless to say, her house is a pretty wild place. It's also on the other side of town, but of course Kristy's worked that out, too. Her brother Charlie drives her back here for BSC meetings.

And she's always the first one to arrive.

Take that Friday after the TV show. Ten minutes before anyone else came, there was Kristy, busily helping me clean up. Did I mind? No way.

Before long, Dawn and Mary Anne showed up, then Mallory and Jessi. Stacey arrived last, at 5:28.

That's the whole club. They are my closest friends in the world, and they're all so different. Let me tell you about them.

My best friend in the BSC (and in life) is Stacey McGill. We have a lot in common, starting with our sense of style. I'd say we are both sophisticated, but that sounds stuck-up (oh well, I said it anyway). Stacey is clothes-conscious like me, but in a more urban way — very chic and glamorous. Stacey is blonde and gorgeous, and she's from New York City. For a while she moved back to New York when her father's company transferred him there. Whoa, did I miss her! But then her parents divorced, and Stacey decided to return to Sto-neybrook with her mother. I was thrilled she came back, but sad about her parents splitting up. Stacey's still close with both of them. She visits her dad pretty often.

Here's the main difference between Stacey and me. If you asked us both a math question, I'd probably make you repeat it, then sit there trying to write it all out, then start doodling. Stacey would figure it out in her head. When it comes to math, I think she's in Janine's league.

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