Tuesday, October 31, 2017


A small group of grade five boys were huddled together at recess, discussing their strategy for trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Normally each boy was required to travel around their neighbourhood with a full set of parents and siblings, but this year the adults had inexplicably decided that the boys were old enough and mature enough to go out by themselves. Justin had called the boys into a huddle as soon as the bell rang. “Alright, gents,” he said with a smile. “If we’re gonna clean up this year, we’ve got to get organized. They’d been learning about the Age of Exploration in their history classes for two weeks, studying the ancient cartography of adventurers long since dead. It was during one of their teacher’s assignments that Justin had struck upon a golden idea. The school project was to map out their neighbourhood on graph paper, with every street labelled and each house numbered correctly. This was the first time that Justin had been able to use something he’d learned at school in real life, and he was excited. Justin pulled out his home-made map and handed it around the circle. “Here’s my idea: we work together to make copies of one version of our neighbourhood map, then we start the night by splitting up and taking all different streets. After each house, either cross it out if you didn’t get anything good, circle it if you got something awesome, and mark a check beside it, if it was just decent.” Justin paused to make a legend at the top right-hand corner of his map, putting a frown beside a scribbled-out box, a slight smile beside the check, and a wide, goofy grin beside the circled square. Then he looked up to make sure his audience was still paying attention, his face wearing an equally goofy grin. After we’re done both sides of our assigned streets, we’ll meet back in the middle and compare maps, copy down everybody else’s information, and then go out to those other roads, hitting only the best houses! Then we’ll move on to new streets, and repeat the process. Once we’ve hit every great house in the neighbourhood we can start back at the beginning and go for the decent ones, until we run out of time and have to head for home. At the end, we should all have a bit of bad stuff, a bunch of decent level stuff and LOADS AND LOADS of  awesome stuff. It’s perfect!” Each of the boys nodded their enthusiastic agreement. At lunch the next day, Jason showed Justin how to hold paper up to a window so that tracing the original map was easier, and Justin tasked him with making sure that all of the maps were perfectly identical. At recess the day after that, Danny suggested they try to find out if anybody had walkie-talkies they could use, to better stay in communication, and Justin assigned him that job. Kaleb and Caleb were sent to round up enough flashlights for each boy, and Gabriel was put in charge of getting plenty of pillowcases, and masking tape with which to seal and label them. Finally, Gavin was recruited to be their driver and treasure-guard; for an equal share of their profits, he would drag a wagon from site to site, holding the full pillowcases so the other boys didn’t have to wear out their arms by hauling their bags door to door. Come Halloween night, everything was in place. They’d agreed to meet up at Justin’s house, since the whole idea had been his in the first place. Justin, who was dressed up like a pirate, called his friends into another huddle on his front lawn at precisely six o’clock. He was met by a mad scientist, a knight of the round table, the red power ranger, a police officer, a giant squid, and Godzilla. Justin handed out maps, markers, flashlights, walkie-talkies and pillowcases, all of which he’s collected from the other boys in the days leading up to Halloween. Justin put any extra supplies into the wagon, which the giant squid then dragged behind them on the sidewalk with one of his long tentacles. Justin’s plan went off without a hitch. In four hours they’d swept through the neighbourhood twice, collecting enough sweets to last until they all turned fifteen! They were happily, blissfully exhausted by the end of the night. The sugar-high lasted for days. School was pretty rowdy for a while, but when things calmed back down to normal, something funny happened. Whenever a leader was needed, Justin’s name started coming up. More than once, he was put in charge of group projects by one of the boys who had teamed up with him on Halloween. Somehow, along with a monstrous heap of chocolate, he had also earned their respect that night -- and their respect, it turns out, lasted much longer.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Shock and Aww"

Red and yellow maple leaves danced around Melody’s feet as she walked to school Monday morning.

The weekend had been unusually warm for so late in the season, and she had gone to the park with her mother on Saturday, just to soak in the warmth and the light. "This summer weather can't last much longer, but what a beautiful day this is,” said her mom, smiling up at the sun. “I love living in Canada.”

“Me too,” said Melody, thinking about the many moves they’d made from one side of their massive country to the other. Winters came hard and fast in the prairies of Saskatchewan where they had lived last year; but here in Ontario, it seemed like the grass might never be covered in snow.

Melody and her mom were still unpacking boxes from the move that landed them in the city. They’d arrived one month before school started, moving into a tall apartment building full of families. Every floor had a different mix of cooking smells and languages. Though she was beginning to recognize some of her neighbours, the elevators that ran up and down the middle of their building seemed constantly full of new faces.

When school started, Melody discovered that some of her neighbours were also her classmates! It was wonderful to have a few familiar faces in a room full of so many strangers. One girl named Brooklyn made a special point of inviting Melody to play with her group of friends at recess. Brooklyn and her family lived on the top floor of the apartment building, and you could see the school from their balcony. Melody’s home faced north, towards the water; from her balcony, you could stare across the lake and watch as huge shipping vessels came sailing into port. Melody and Brooklyn spent a lot of time on those balconies, sometimes doing homework, and sometimes just watching the world from high above, and getting to know each other.

Walking to school on Monday morning, Melody heard a giggle behind her. Before she had time to turn around, a giant pile of those red and yellow maple leaves was dumped right on her head! Brooklyn’s giggle burst into a laugh as soon as her arms were empty. Melody started laughing too, and bent down to gather up an armload of leaves to bury the girl in return, but Brooklyn was already racing down the sidewalk by the time Melody stood up. She dropped the leaves and ran after her friend. They were both out of breath and grinning ear-to-ear by the time she caught up.

“Thank you very much,” said Melody, sarcastically. “I really appreciate it, friend.” She picked a leaf out of her hair and threw it at Brooklyn, but it fluttered to the ground without even touching her.

Brooklyn laughed again. “You’re very welcome,” she said.

When the bell rang, they went inside and took their seats. Mr Nelson, their grade two teacher, was drawing on the whiteboard in a thick, purple marker. “Good morning, class. I hope you all enjoyed the weather this weekend, because it looks like it’s going to get pretty cold this week! And just in time for our unit on the water cycle,” he said, drawing a purple snowflake on the board for everyone to see.

Melody silently rolled her eyes. There was no way it would snow this week.

The walk to school on Tuesday morning was warm and bright, just as it had been on Monday. Wednesday was much the same. When Melody woke up on Thursday morning, she didn’t even check the thermometer that hung outside their balcony door. She bounded out of the apartment, into the elevator and out to the sidewalk. As soon as the front doors opened up, she froze -- partly out of shock, and partly because it was SO COLD. The weather has snapped, and it was SNOWING.

Melody groaned. She didn’t have time to go all the way back to her apartment, find the winter clothing box and still get to school on time, so long sleeves would have to do. Just then she heard a giggle behind her. Before she had time to turn around, a giant pile of soft, warm, wool was wrapped right around her head! Brooklyn had taken off her scarf and bundled it around Melody’s body. It was the longest, fuzziest scarf that Melody had ever seen.

Thank you very much,” said Melody, sincerely. “I really appreciate it, friend.”

Brooklyn zipped up her jacket and smiled. “You’re very welcome,” she said.