To my delight, I recently found Miss Pickerell Goes Under Sea* by Ellen MacGregor, which triggered this fond memory.
The year was 1955. I was eleven years old and in the sixth grade at our neighborhood elementary school. It was the first year that a teacher took a special interest in me. We had several adventures involving George, our classroom ghost, that you’d never believe; but this really happened:
When my class went out for recess, the boys would run full-speed-ahead the moment they reached the playground. Various games would start, after the usual bickering about who’s on who’s side; and the quieter girls formed their little groups for gossiping or to jump rope.
One day though, Mrs. Dukas noticed several of the boys wandering off out of sight.
Keeping her eye on the whole class was no easy task on our large playground, but Mrs. Dukas couldn’t allow the boys to be sneaking off like that. After arranging for other teachers to keep an eye on her kids, she slowly edged around the building expecting to find the boys up to no good. Instead, they were sitting quietly under the fire escape. As she crept closer, she saw me, who she hadn’t even missed yet. The boys, who were the poorest readers in class, were intently listening as I read from a book on my lap.
After discreetly watching this phenomena for several days, Mrs. Dukas understood that she had a dilemma to solve. First, the boys needed to be running off their excess energy. Second, the sportsmanship and social time were important additions to the classroom lessons. Third, the playground rules needed to be enforced for the our safety. Fourth, non-readers were interested in reading!
Knowing I liked to help her after class, Mrs, Dukas asked me to stay for a few minutes. As we watered the bright red geraniums that lined the window sills, she said, “I saw you intently reading earlier. It must be a good book?”
Looking away from her toward the next plant, I wondered if I was in trouble; but I answered, “It’s a Miss Pickerell book.”
“Oh, which one? Miss Pickerell Goes Undersea? Or the one with the geiger counter?”
“No, Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars!”
My face got all red and I missed the plant I was watering, when Mrs. Dukas added, “Hmm, that’s why the boys were so interested!” (Space exploration only happened in comic books back then, you know.)
Finishing our watering, we sat down to solve Mrs Dukas’ dilemma. First, she asked why we were under the fire stairs. That was easy- it was quiet enough for my soft voice to be heard and it kept the sun off my book. Then she explain her problem.
The boys never suspected that they had been caught or that a secret plan was in place: On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mrs. Dukas “allowed” us to disappear so I could encourage their new interest in books. The other three days, I didn’t remember to take a book outside. So they got the exercise they needed..
The Miss Pickerell series was followed by other books that would keep the boys interested. My love for books eventually led the boys to actually want to check out their own library books to read!
A pretty good accomplishment for a little, shy girl. .......................................
* The original price on the book cover is 45¢.
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