by Henry L. Haynes
The kids in Kwame Freeman's 6th grade class often trade barbs and are antagonistic toward each other as they navigate their way through one conflict after another. If they could just call a truce, they might be able to team up to play a charity soccer match to help raise funds to help a classmate whose father was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Iraq. And they could support one another as the Iraq war and its aftermath continues and, one by one, their parents are being transferred to the war region. Kwame's new classmates on the U.S. Army base range from Angie Chatfield who seems to have everything in common with Kwame, to Zeke Evans, who becomes Kwame's nemesis and has a penchant for saying exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Along with the laughs and zaniness, the class faces tough moments.
How might a twelve-year-old deal with seeing his father sent to a war zone? Will it bother him enough to lead him to run away from home? Will it cause him to attack war protesters who have come to town? Will it lead him to take illegally obtained pills in order to sleep at night?
ISBN 1-59431-479-9 Young Adult, Military, Family, Romance
Also Available in RTF and HTML formats.
Cover art by Shelley Rodgerson
The Lizard-faced Chatterbox vs. The AWOL Kid
I moved with my family to the new Army base and registered in Miss Barnes's sixth-grade class just in time to be thrown into the middle of an election campaign.
At recess during my first day in class I got to meet one of the candidates.
"This is about a perfect October day, isn't it?" asked Angie Chatfield.
"Uh-huh, nice and warm," I said. "And really bright compared to what I was used to back East."
"I know how rough it is to move after the school year has started. I had to do it a couple times already."
"At least it's toward the beginning of the year."
"I'm sure you won't have much trouble adjusting," she said. "The kids here are all pretty nice. And Miss Barnes is a trip, I mean really funny. The only bad thing is she sometimes uses big words when she talks. Says she wants to build our vocabulary."
Angie looked at me with sincere grey eyes. "Kwame, I know you just got here and this is your first day in Miss Barnes's class and all, but I'm running for class leader and I'd like you to consider voting for me."
"What exactly is a class leader?" I asked.
"It's something Miss Barnes set up for our class," she explained. "The class leader helps plan things, like the upcoming Halloween party, and field trips. The class leader speaks for the class and has to take charge of things. It's a real important post."
"Oh. And who are you running against?"
"Speak of the devil. Here he comes now. Just remember, Kwame, vote for me if you want to pick the best person running." Angie Chatfield's curly auburn hair flopped up and down as she skipped away.
Zeke Evans grabbed my shoulder. "Don't even listen to her!" he implored. "She's no more than a lizard-faced chatterbox. I saw her act, trying to win you over. But you're not voting for her, you're voting for me."
"Maybe I shouldn't vote at all," I said. "I mean, I don't know either one of you."
"I've got about thirteen solid votes lined up, and I know she's got about thirteen. So, Freeman, you could be the swing vote. Not that I'm trying to put any pressure on you or anything. Look, Freeman, it's important we have a boy as class leader. That way we get to do boy things instead of sissy things. If Chatfield wins we could go ahead and paint the classroom pink. So you must vote and vote the right way. And that way is for me."
"I don't know. Maybe it wouldn't be fair for me to vote, since I just got here."
"She shouldn't be class leader, anyhow. I mean, she's all distracted and everything 'cause her father's over in Iraq. We shouldn't have a class leader who's gonna spend half her time worrying over her father. Now should we?"
I shrugged. "Maybe if she was voted class leader, it would help take her mind off her father being over there."
Suddenly Evans' eyes grew icy. "Look, I can't force you to vote for me. But I did happen to notice you're black."
"What? What has that got to do with anything?"
A twinkle of deceit flashed across Evans' steely eyes. "Freeman, did you know Chatfield's great-great-great-great-grandfather owned over a hundred slaves? She told us that earlier this year while giving a book report on Harriet Tubman. That's right, over a hundred slaves. Probably whipped 'em but good too. Just think about that before you vote. Okay?"
Evans dashed across the playground.
As soon as Evans left, Angie Chatfield stopped by on another campaign swing.
"Let me tell you about some of the things I plan to do for our class," she said. "First, I plan to-"
"Is it true your relatives once owned slaves?" I asked, interrupting her.
Her face dropped and her body seemed to sag. "What has that Evans been telling you?"
"Just that your great-great-great-grandfather owned over a hundred slaves and probably whipped them but good."
"You left out one great," she said, laughing. When she saw that I didn't think it was funny, her grey eyes grew sad. "It's true. I mean about his owning the slaves. But Evans doesn't know a thing about how the slaves were treated. No one does."
"He said you did a book report on Harriet Tubman?"
"Yes. The lady who helped with the Underground Railroad. I learned so much more about her while I was doing research for my book report."
"But why would you do a book report on Harriet Tubman? Did Miss Barnes assign her to you?"
"No," Angie explained. "Miss Barnes said we should pick a great American, and I chose Harriet Tubman. I've always been interested in her. She's one of my big heroes. Or heroines- Miss Barnes says we should start using that word."
"Yes. Don't sound so surprised."
"Well, do you know any- do you have any black friends?"
"As many as will have me, so there! Look here, Kwame Freeman, if you're wondering if I'm prejudiced, the answer is no way. Just because my family owned slaves way back doesn't have a thing to do with what kind of person I am. Maybe you're the prejudiced person, if you can't accept me based on who I am."
I burst out laughing. "Me, prejudiced. No one's ever said that about me before."
"Well, you don't have to stoop to Evans' level, do you?"
"No. You're right. Let's just forget about it, Angie. That was then and this is now."
"Evans is going to pay for putting us through all this," she said, gnashing her teeth.
I smiled. "He's going to make this year interesting, I can already see that. He's said enough bad things about you. Let's hear you say something about him."
"Well, he is the AWOL kid."
"The AWOL kid?"
"Yeah. His mind is usually absent without leave, so I call him the AWOL kid."