When I was in grade one, I made a picture story, called The Prince Apple. Proud of my work, I placed it carefully in the shelf box, where all of our assignments were kept, and then picked up to be graded.
Unfortunately, some time later, two boys saw it sitting there. They grabbed it, and to my dismay, started reading it out loud, as sarcastically as possible, all the while, pointing out how stupid it was. What had seemed brave and wonderful to me suddenly became an embarrassing mistake. When they started on the whole “who wrote this thing” conversation, I shrank. Trying not to cry, I grabbed the first book from the shelf, and slid down the wall, hoping they didn’t notice me. I held it open in front of my face as a shield, not seeing the words or pictures. As I calmed down and started to focus on what was in front of me, I began to feel better. This was funny, and brave, and wonderful. This was a book called Miss Nelson is Missing.
Miss Nelson is in charge of a class of hooligans. They make their assignments into paper airplanes, shoot spitballs at the ceiling, and pretend that she doesn’t exist. The soft spoken teacher knows something must be done, and what she decides to do made her a hero to my six year old self for ever and ever.
When the kids in room 207 hear that Miss. Nelson is not coming into work one day, they’re thrilled. They decide to be at their very worst, confident that the substitute is going to go down in flames. This confidence wanes when they encounter Miss Nelson’s replacement, Miss Viola Swamp. This is a teacher that means business. Immediately, she demands silence, piles on the homework, and cuts story time. The kids are working harder than they ever have in their lives, and start to look forward to Miss Nelson’s return, but day after day, there’s no sign of her. They decide to try to find her themselves, and start by filing a police report; unfortunately, the officer assigned to the case is a bit too, well, philosophical in his approach. When they see that’s not going anywhere, they try to drum up scenarios in which she could have gone missing, to try to trace back her whereabouts, but they end up empty-handed with that too. Finally, some kids go to her house, but a near run in with their new task-master sends them running home.
As a new week begins, the kids are feeling discouraged. They hear footsteps, and expect Miss. Swamp, but instead find Miss. Nelson. She seems surprised by their delight, and at their change in behavior, however, when she goes home that night, and the reader sees the prosthetic nose on the table, and the wig in the closet, her secret is revealed!
What a revelation it was. She had done it! And the art made me smile. It was reminiscent of what I aspired to, with bright colours, and loopy lines. It occurred to me that maybe mine wasn’t as bad as they thought it was. The book clutched in my hand, I rushed over to the shelf, and grabbed my now wrinkled story, sliding it into the pages.
I didn’t do anything brave, like brandish it in the boys faces, but I didn’t throw it out either, which had been my initial impulse. I waited until the end of the day, and when everyone had left, I put it right on the teacher’s desk. I signed out the book too, because it’s not something you read only once. It’s something you can enjoy again and again, Miss Nelson’s creative problem-solving an inspiration to those in a tough spot. Don’t give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try a costume, or really, whatever you’re most comfortable with. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that you can, if you refuse to stop trying.
The Prince Apple earned me a 9 out of 10 for my writing assignment.
Thanks, Miss Nelson.