Authors: Karen English
Table of Contents
1. You're Not the Boss of Me
2. Ms. Shelby's Good News
3. Let the Games Begin
4. The Lay of the Land
6. Runoff Election
7. The New and Improved Deja
8. Campaign Speeches and Campaign Promises
9. Last-Ditch Efforts
10. When All Is Said and Done
Illustrated by Laura Freeman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston â¢ New York
To all the Nikkis and Dejas everywhere
215 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10003
Text copyright Â© 2011 by Karen English
Illustrations copyright Â© 2011 by Laura Freeman
The text of this book is set in 13.5 Warnock Pro.
The illustrations were executed digitally.
All rights reserved.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book,
write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Nikki and Deja : election madness / by Karen English ; illustrated by Laura Freeman.
Summary: When Carver Elementary holds school-wide elections for the first time,
third-grader Deja puts all her efforts into running for school president, ignoring her
best friend Nikki's problems.
[1. Politics, PracticalâFiction. 2. ElectionsâFiction. 3. SchoolsâFiction.
4. Best friendsâFiction. 5. FriendshipâFiction. 6. African AmericansâFiction.]
I. Freeman-Hines, Laura, ill.
II. Title. III. Title: Election madness.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
1.Â You're Not the Boss of MeÂ
2.Â Ms. Shelby's Good NewsÂ
3.Â Let the Games BeginÂ
4.Â The Lay of the LandÂ
6.Â Runoff ElectionÂ
7.Â The New and Improved DejaÂ
8.Â Campaign Speeches and Campaign PromisesÂ
9.Â Last-Ditch EffortsÂ
10.Â When All Is Said and DoneÂ
Nikki isn't playing right. She's holding her paddle wrong and she isn't keeping her eye on the ball. Plus she's hitting too hard and the Ping-Pong ball isn't even bouncing on the table. Deja has to keep chasing it and she's getting tired.
"You're hitting the ball too hard."
"Yeah, you are." Deja lobs an easy one to her. Nikki completely misses it.
"You have to keep your eye on the ball, Nikki."
Nikki doesn't say anything. She just digs around in the bushes behind her. She throws the ball hard back to Deja so she can serve again. It sails softly over the table and lands right in Deja's hand. Nikki looks disappointed.
Deja hits the next ball lightly, right at Nikki, as if she were five years old and Deja was teaching her how to play Ping-Pong by going very, very easy. Nikki watches it bounce, then doesn't even trouble herself, it seems to Deja, to reach for it. She deliberately lets the ball bounce twice before she swings at it and misses.
Deja is exasperated. "You can't let the ball bounce twice, Nikki. It can only bounce once. And you're not even trying!"
"Be quiet!" Nikki shouts. "You're not the boss of me!"
Deja puts her paddle down. "What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing! I'm just getting tired of you bossing me around."
"I'm not even bossing you around! I'm just trying to tell you how to play."
Nikki's face is scrunched so that her eyebrows jut up on the ends like a Halloween mask. Her mouth turns down as if she is about to cry. Then she does cry. She slams the paddle on the ground and stomps off to the porch steps. She flings herself down and puts her face in her hands.
Deja checks to see if her brand-new paddle is harmed in any way, then marches over to Nikki.
Auntie Dee and her friend Phoebe had spent
the morning setting up the Ping-Pong table, first on the grass because there was more shade, then in front of the garage, where there was cement. Auntie Dee had thought the grassy spot under the tree was better because it would be cooler, but then she changed her mind and thought the table would be sturdier if it was on a hard surface. Finally, it was set up. It was Auntie's way of giving Deja more to do outsideâaway from too much TV.
"What's the matter with you?" Deja asks again, when she's settled next to Nikki on the steps. Nikki's nose is running. She reaches up and wipes it with the heel of her hand, then runs her hand over her pant leg to clean off the snot. She sniffs loudly.
"Nothing," Nikki answers quietly. "I just don't like being bossed."
"But nobody's gonna cry over that, Nikki. Tell me the truth."
Nikki looks like she's trying to make up her mind whether to tell Deja what's really going on.
She drops her face into her arms, resting on bent knees. Deja hears her mumble something, but she can't make out what it is.
"What? I can't understand what you're saying."
Nikki mumbles something again. Deja strains hard to make out the words, but she simply can't.
"Put your head up, Nikki, so I can hear you."
Nikki raises her head and from her quivering mouth come the words "I think my mom and dad are getting a divorce."
"What?" Deja wonders if she heard her correctly. She couldn't possibly have said what she thinks she said. "They're getting a
Deja blurts out.
"I said I
they're getting a divorce. They had a big argument on Tuesday and they haven't spoken to each other since." She looks over at Deja, her face smeared with tears, and takes in a shuddery breath. "They keep talking to each other through me! And I don't like it!"
Deja doesn't know what to say. She doesn't even know what expression to put on her face. "Just because they're not speaking doesn't mean they're getting divorced. People stop speaking to each other all the time." The words sound truer to Deja as she goes along. "Auntie Dee and her friend Phoebe stopped speaking for a long time once."
Nikki wipes her eyes, and when her hands come away, she looks hopeful. "When was that?" she asks.
The trouble is, Deja doesn't remember when it was. And maybe she exaggerated about it being a long time ... but she likes the look on Nikki's face.
"What was it about?" Nikki presses.
Deja is trying to think of something to say when Auntie Dee sticks her head out the door and calls, "Who wants to go to the mall?"
"We do," Nikki and Deja say together, and Nikki jumps up to run next door to her own house to get permission.
Auntie Dee has picked up her friend Phoebe, even though she just lives across the street and down some. Now they are headed for the mall.
In the back seat of the car, Nikki whispers to Deja, "How much money do you have?"
"How much do you have?" Deja replies, wondering if Nikki is getting ready to ask her for some of her money.
"Oh, I have five."
Nikki looks out the window as if she's thinking about this. Then she whispers, "Do you think your auntie will let us go to the Candy Palace?"
"I'll ask." Deja knows she has to handle this just right. Auntie is a vegetarian and only eats organic stuff. She makes Deja eat all kinds of healthy meals and snacks. Getting permission to go to the Candy Palace is going to be tricky. Nikki looks over at Deja expectantly, but Deja just stares out the window. It's better to wait.
"Don't wander off," Auntie Dee says as they go through the heavy doors at the mall entrance. That means they have to follow Auntie and Phoebe into Lily's Shoes and watch while Phoebe tries on one pair after another.
Finally, they get to leave that store and move on to the next. Phoebe's still looking for shoes. Auntie's giving her advice and looking for a new bag while she's at it. Deja can already tell this is not going to be fun. The one good thing is that they're moving in the direction of the Candy Palace. She can see the words
lit up in tiny rainbow-colored lights. Who could resist wandering in there?
Auntie Dee and Phoebe are walking at a brisk pace. If Deja doesn't make her move, they're bound to pass right by the shop and all its heavenly confections. "Auntie Dee..." She puts just the right amount of whine in her voice.
"What is it?" Something has caught Auntie's eye on the other side of the walkway. She's elbowing Phoebe and they're about to cross.
"Can we go look in the Candy Palace?" Deja blurts. "Puhleeze..."
Auntie Dee sighs. She twists her mouth, thinking. Deja holds her breath. She can feel Nikki holding her breath as well. "All right. You can buy
thing. I mean itâ
But you can't eat it until after you've had your dinner."
This is not exactly what Deja had in mind. She can't help but frown a little. She's just about to protest when she catches Nikki's excited smile. She knows Nikki's already thinking of the sour sugar whips and the gummy balls and the whirly suckers. Deja's mouth begins to water. She'll promise anything for the chance to go into the Candy Palace. "Okay, okay," she says with growing anticipation.
"Phoebe and I are just going to check that shoe store across the way. As soon as you get your
I want you to come directly there to meet us. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Auntie Dee."
Auntie Dee and Phoebe head to the shoe store, and Nikki and Deja turn in to the Candy Palace.
There's so much to choose from, but they have their favorites. Deja's mouth waters again at the sight of the cherry sour whips crammed in their plastic case, the sugar granules glittering under the store lights. Nikki pauses in front of a case filled with hot cinnamon suckers. Deja sees her swallow. Slowly they walk along, scanning the walls that are covered floor to ceiling with displays. While the clerk waits on a slowly deciding older lady, they scrutinize the candy-filled cases. Deja doesn't want to make her decision too hurriedly. Perhaps there's something she might like better than sour whips and hot cinnamon lollipops.
"May I help you?" the clerk finally asks. He's tall and skinny with pimples on his forehead. He looks tired even though it's still morning.
Deja moves to the counter. "Nikki, come here." Nikki is still staring at things on the wall.
"I'm not finished looking," she protests.
"Come on, Nikki. You know what you always get." Deja turns back to the clerk. "I want five hot cinnamon suckers, five sour whipsâcherryâand, um..." It's hard for Deja to decide what else she wants to spend her money on. She scans the case in front of her. Everything looks so good.
"Auntie Dee said one thing, Deja," Nikki reminds her.
"I know what she said."
"Well, you're getting more than one thing," Nikki says, and Deja doesn't like the goody-good tone in her voice.
"I'm only going to eat one thing today, one thing tomorrow, and one thing the next day," Deja explains.
Nikki narrows her eyes. "Your auntie is going to be really mad, Deja, when she sees all that candy."
"You can keep it for me at your house and then I'll just get one thing a day."
"I don't know..."
"Come on, Nikki."
"But then she'll see me with a big bag of candy, and she might tell my mom, and then I'll get in trouble."
"Gosh, Nikki, don't be such a baby." Deja pays for her selections and the clerk hands her a bag stuffed full.
"Your turn," the clerk says to Nikki, yawning.
"I want a hot cinnamon sucker," Nikki says, "and two cherry sour whips."
"That's what I'm getting," Deja says. "Get something else, so we can share. Get the chocolate spiders."
"I don't want the chocolate spiders. I want what I said."
"But we can share them. I can give you a cherry sour whip and you can give me some chocolate spidersâlike that."
Nikki turns toward Deja then, and her lip quivers as she says loudly, "Be quiet, Deja. Quit bossing me around. You're not the boss of me!"
At school the next morning, Ms. Shelby looks like she has a delicious secret. The way her lips are pressed together in a puckery little smile makes Deja imagine that she's sucking on a butter toffee. They are just about to go out for morning recess. Ms. Shelby stands with her back to the whiteboard and her hands folded in front of her.
"I have some good news," she says. Everyone looks her way to see what she's going to say. "But you're going to have to wait to find out what it is. By the time you go home today, you'll know what my surprise is."
The class exits slowly. Nikki and Deja spend recess guessing what the good news could be.
"Ms. Shelby is engaged," Nikki says as soon as they reach the handball court.
"No," Deja says. "That can't be it. She doesn't even have a ring on her finger. I think we're going on a field trip. We've only been on one to Riley Farms. And that was spoiled when Howard threw up and stunk up the bus the whole way back."
Nikki wrinkles her nose, remembering.
"Maybe we're going to the aquarium," Deja continues. She takes a hot cinnamon sucker out of her pocket, looks around, and then unwraps it.
Nikki's eyes widen. "Deja, you're going to get in trouble. We're not supposed to have candy at school."
"I'm only taking a couple of licks." She takes two licks, then wraps it up again and puts it back in her pocket. Nikki looks relieved.
By the middle of the day, Ms. Shelby's surprise is almost forgotten. The class walks in from lunch recess, hot and sweaty and ready to listen to the latest installment of
The Whipping Boy.
They're allowed to put their heads down on their desks and even close their eyes while Ms. Shelby reads. Deja especially likes
The Whipping Boy
because it began with the theme of getting whipped for bad behavior. She's growing a little disappointed with the direction the story is taking, though. She doesn't like that the naughty prince gets to escape his punishment and the poor whipping boy must take his place. It's not as much fun, she thinks, as seeing the prince get what he deserves.
Deja is all ready to take her seat and put her head down when Ms. Shelby reminds them about her good news. Deja sits up and yawns. She looks over at Nikki. Nikki's leaning forward a little bit in her chair, smiling as if she already knows what Ms. Shelby is going to say.
"What do you think my big surprise is?"
Hands fly up. Ms. Shelby looks around. She points to Howard.
"Pizza party?" he asks. Deja looks at him, annoyed. What have they done to earn a pizza party? Nothing.
"No, not a pizza party. Alyssa?" Ms. Shelby asks, moving on.
Everyone turns to Alyssa. She smiles. The class waits. She brings her chin down and stares at her desk, still smiling.
"Remember," Ms. Shelby says, "only raise your hand when you have something to say." Finally, she looks in Deja's direction. Deja waves her hand and rises a bit out of her seat, but then sits
back down, just in case her enthusiasm might make Ms. Shelby decide to choose someone who knows how to raise their hand calmly. "Deja?" she says.
"A field trip to the aquarium," Deja declares, certain she is right.
Ms. Shelby smiles and shakes her head. That only starts a chorus of guesses from those who don't know how to raise their hands and wait to be recognized:
"A field trip to the zoo!"
"A field trip to Hamburger Hut!"
"A field trip to Waterworks Water Park!"
Ms. Shelby puts her finger to her lips and raises her other hand, looking around until everyone has done the same. When all is quiet she says, "We, I mean the whole school, will be having an election for student body president of Carver Elementary."
All mouths remain closed. Some frown a bit with disappointment. Nobody looks like they know what to say. While everyone is taking this in, Deja is making a decision.
That president is going to be me!
She smiles to herself as if she has already won.
"Of course, the election is only open to third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. Mr. Brown wanted to keep it open only to the fourth and fifth grade, but I convinced him that we have some very capable third-graders at this school."
Deja sits up extra straight then, feeling that Ms. Shelby is talking about
She looks around. Yolanda is sneaking sunflower seeds out of her book bag. ChiChi is coloring her nails with marker again. Ayanna is rearranging the items in her pencil box. Carlos is busy making something with torn bits of paper just inside his desk. A few bits of torn paper have drifted down on the floor around his chair. These do not seem like very capable third-graders to Deja.
Her eyes drift over to Antonia. Antonia is sitting ramrod straight, hands folded, with just a hint of a triumphant smile on her face. Deja frowns. Antonia looks as if she is just that capable person Ms. Shelby is talking about. Deja narrows her eyes. Then, as if Antonia can read her mind, she turns and looks directly at Deja and does a little eye roll.
Ms. Shelby continues talking about all the boring stuff. Deja looks as if she's listening, but she's really wondering why on earth they have to know all about elections. Ms. Shelby asks the class what qualities they think a student body president should have. Alyssa's hand flies up and Deja knows that she probably doesn't have anything to say. Ms. Shelby calls on her and sure enough, she just lowers her eyes and smiles to herself, again.
Antonia raises her hand. "Antonia?" Ms. Shelby says.
"A good president should have a good homework record," she says primly. Her hands are still folded.
"Definitely," Ms. Shelby says.
Deja quickly raises her hand, but Ms. Shelby calls on Carlos. "A good president should have straight A's."
That's just what Deja was going to say. Now she'll have to come up with something else. Ms. Shelby smiles kindly and says, "Well ... they should at least be the kind of student who tries his or her best." Everyone knows that's just Ms. Shelby's polite way of saying, "
Wrong, Carlos. Dead wrong.
" Deja's glad that she didn't get called on. She's surprised when she hears Ms. Shelby say, "Deja, you had your hand up."
Everyone turns to Deja, including Antonia, who has her eyebrows raised expectantly. Deja doesn't have anything to addânot yet. She hasn't had a chance to think. "A good president should be a..." Her voice trails off. She's going to be just like Alyssa. Always raising her hand with nothing to say. "A good president should be..." Deja can't help glancing at Antonia. Now Antonia has raised her eyebrows even more. "A good president should be someone who is..."
"Do you want me to come back to you?" Ms. Shelby offers.
Deja shakes her head. "A good student body president should be someone who is...
" It comes to her all of a sudden, and she can tell by Ms. Shelby's smile that she has hit the jackpot.
"Excellent, Deja. We would want someone who is fairâno matter what. Someone who would think of everyone's benefit, not just a select few."
Deja doesn't even know what Ms. Shelby is talking about. She just knows that it sounds good and that her answer inspired all this extra talk. Nikki looks over at Deja and gives her the thumbs-up. Suddenly, Deja knows just what role Nikki is going to play in getting Deja elected as student body president of Carver Elementary School. Nikki will be her campaign manager.
"So...," Ms. Shelby is moving on, having finished listing all the characteristics of a good student body president. Most of them were her own suggestions, since she had a hard time wringing appropriate answers from the class. It's after lunch recess and everyone is tired and wanting to hear
The Whipping Boy.
Ms. Shelby takes out the book, opens it to the right page, then half sits and half leans on her desk. However, she doesn't start reading right away. "Before I get back to our book, let me explain what comes next. Tomorrow before recess we'll have nominations. Each of you will get to nominate a classmate for the office of student body president. The student who gets the most nominations will represent our class and run in the upcoming school election."
Her words stir a little flutter of excitement in Deja's stomach. She looks around the room to see how many nominations she can count on. It's tricky. At least she knows she has Nikki's vote.
Ms. Shelby begins the story, but Deja's attention drifts from
The Whipping Boy
to the list on the whiteboard.
A good student body president is
-a student who has a good homework record.
-a student who tries his/her best.
-a student who is always fair.
-a student who is always on time.
-a student who is enthusiastic.
-a student who works well with others.
-a student who listens to what others have to say.
-a student who is creative.
-a student who takes initiative.
-a student who is a problem solver.
Deja wonders about that list. Some of the characteristics are puzzling. For example, she doesn't quite know what the word
means. What is that, exactly? And how would someone be creative as student body president? She thinks she can work well with others, as long as they don't have a bunch of stupid ideas. She mostly tries her best, and she's almost always on time to school. She's mostly fair, even though Nikki sometimes says she isn't. She listens to others, she thinks, and she can solve problemsâthough she doesn't know what kind of problems would come up if she's president. But
...what on earth does
"Who do you think is going to win the election?" Deja says as they skip down the school's front steps and turn toward their street. Deja asks this just to see if Nikki will say that it will be her, Deja.
"I don't know," Nikki says. "Maybe Gregory Johnson in fifth grade. He's real popular."
Deja is silent.
"Oh, no, wait," Nikki says. "Maybe Antonia. I betcha everyone's gonna vote for Antonia, because her mother brought cupcakes when our class's perfect attendance was in the newsletter."
Now Deja is annoyed. Why hasn't Nikki mentioned Deja?
"You know what?"
"It's probably not going to be Antonia. Everyone thinks she's stuck up. No, Antonia is not going to get it."
going to nominate?" Deja asks, growing impatient.
"I don't know," Nikki says, frowning with concentration as if she's really giving it some thought. "Who are you going to nominate?"
"I'd have to nominate you, Nikki, since you're my best friend." Deja thinks this should be a big enough hint.
"But I don't want to run for student body president."
"But I'd still nominate you, since you're my best friend and all."
"But I just don't want to be student body president."
"I know you don't want to be student body president," Deja says, her voice a little raised. "But because you're my best friend, I'd nominate you."
"Please don't nominate me, Deja."
The conversation is not going in the direction that Deja wants. She decides to ask again. There is silence until finally Nikki says, "I guess I'm going to nominate youâunless you don't want to be student body president, either."
to be president. I think I'd really be better than anyone else."
Nikki doesn't say anything, and Deja doesn't like that Nikki doesn't say anything. Finally Nikki says, "Okay, I'm nominating you, Deja."
"Thanks," Deja says simply. "And you can be my campaign manager, Nikki."
Deja has her mind on that extra candy Nikki is holding for her in her dresser drawer. After she gets home, as soon as she drops her backpack off and gets permission from Auntie Dee, she hurries over and knocks on Nikki's back door. Nikki opens it. She's eating a carrot stick.
"Guess what, Deja," Nikki says. "You get to eat dinner here tonight because your auntie has a meeting she has to go to."
That's even better, because now Deja can go over her campaign strategy with Nikki.
"Your auntie didn't tell you?" Nikki asks when Deja looks surprised.
"She was on the phone."
"Your auntie is always on the phone."
"No, she isn't," Deja says. "And when she is, it's because she does a lot of work at home. Lots of people work at home." Deja feels as if she has to defend Auntie Dee for some reason. "I want some of my candy," she adds.
When they go inside, Nikki's mom is sitting at the kitchen table folding clothes. Deja says hello politely, like Auntie always reminds her to do with grownups.
"Hi, Deja," Nikki's mom says. She sounds tired and sad. Deja has heard that same tone in Auntie's voice when she's tired. But then she remembers what Nikki said about her parents not speaking and the thought makes her uneasy. She follows Nikki up the stairs to her room.
"See?" Nikki says, collapsing on her bed and putting her chin in her hands. "See how my mom is acting? It doesn't look good."
"Maybe she's just tired."
"But she's never tired. She gets to stay home all day. Why would my mom be tired?"
"Nikki, just because parents aren't speaking doesn't mean they're going to get a divorce." Deja feels wise saying this to Nikki. She must have heard it somewhere. "Where's my candy?" she asks.
Nikki shrugs and points to her top dresser drawer. In the corner of the drawer is the white Candy Palace bag. Deja digs out a cherry sour whip. As she pops it in her mouth she wonders why she has to have the aunt that insists on healthy eating. What's wrong with a little candy every day? "Want some?" she asks, holding the bag out to Nikki.
Nikki barely looks up, but she still reaches out for the bag. Deja watches carefully as she rummages around and takes out three chocolate spiders, which Deja had wound up buying herself. Deja doesn't want her to take that many. But since Nikki looks so down, she doesn't say anything. They chew on their candy for a while. Finally, Deja says, "Who do you think will nominate me for student body president?"
"None of the boys, that's for sure."
"None of them?"
"Would you vote for one of the boys?"
Deja runs a few of the boys' names through her head. There is absolutely no boy that she can think of that she would nominate. Well, maybe Erik Castillo, since he's nice to everybody, follows directions, can sit still, and finishes his work in a timely manner.
As if Nikki is reading her mind, she says, "I'd nominate Erik, if I wasn't already going to nominate you."
"Which girls will nominate me?"
"Definitely not Antonia," Nikki says before reaching into Deja's white bag for another chocolate spider. Deja wonders why Nikki didn't just buy her own. They hear the front door close then and know that Nikki's dad is home. Nikki and Deja look at each other as if to say "Uh-oh..."
Deja can't tell that anything is different. Nikki's dad sits at the head of the table and Nikki's mom sits at the other end. Everyone is eating quietly and Deja is remembering to chew with her mouth closed. She looks down at her plate. Green beans (she doesn't really like green beans), baked fish (she'd rather it be fried), and wild rice. She doesn't like the hard black grains in the rice. The last time Deja ate at Nikki's, they had macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.
"What kind of fish is this?" Nikki's dad asks.
"Why?" Nikki's mom asks, and Nikki and Deja exchange wide-eyed looks. Nikki's mom doesn't sound happy and helpful. She sounds as if she is two moments away from being angry.
"Just wondering," Nikki's father says, and her mother doesn't even look up.
The rest of the meal is silent, and Deja can feel Nikki's unhappiness. But without meaning to, Deja's thoughts turn to who might nominate
her. It's way easier to think about the election than about Nikki's woes. Carefully, she begins to count on her fingers under the table. Rosario, ChiChi.... Wait. What if they nominate each other? Melinda. And Yolanda, since Deja gave her her banana pudding at lunch the week before. Deja doesn't like the taste of banana, but Yolanda didn't know that.
It's just at that moment that Deja realizes Nikki's mom is talking to her.
"Would you like more fish, Deja?"
She looks down at her plate. Fish is the only food she's eaten. There is still the mound of green beans waiting for her, and the wild rice with the black things. "No, thank you," she says. It's going to be hard enough getting through what is left.
After dinner, as soon as they flop down on Nikki's bed, Nikki bursts out, "See, seeâwhat did I tell you? They're still not speaking."
"Gosh, Nikki, it'll blow over. You'll feel better if you put your mind on other things, like my campaign. Take out your pad. We need to list all the stuff we have to do."
Nikki takes her pad out of the special pouch she wears around her neck, then sits with her pen poised, waiting for Deja to speak.
"We need to make campaign posters. We need to find out who everyone is nominating. We need to work on my speech..." Deja stops to think. Nikki rolls her eyes.
"We're going to have to poll everybody before school starts to see who they're nominating. So we have to get there early tomorrow."
"Poll people?" Nikki's voice sounds wary.
"Yeah, like when Auntie Dee and the block club wanted to find out if our neighbors wanted a stop sign at the corner of Fulton and Marin. They asked everyone on the block if they were in favor of it. Then they got a whole bunch of people to write letters to the city council and stuff. We'll just ask people who they're going to nominate. Then we count the ones who are planning to nominate me. Simple."
"You've got my nomination, so that's one," Nikki says.
"Two," Deja says. "I'm going to nominate myself." She nods her head once, quickly, and it makes her feel sure and confident.
Deja stops Nikki at the schoolyard gate the next morning. The bell hasn't rung yet and from the yard entrance they can see the whole playground.
"Who's here?" Deja says.
"I see Yolanda." Nikki points across the yard to the line-up area. Already, Yolanda is calmly standing in Room Ten's line-up space all alone. She doesn't seem bothered. She just stares at the other children as they play.
"What's she doing?" Deja asks.
"She always lines up early," Nikki says. "Kids make fun of her when she tries to play. They say she runs funny. Because she's so fat."
"Let's go see who she's nominating," Deja says.
Yolanda's face takes on a cautious look as they approach. Nikki and Deja say hi, and Yolanda steps back a little and frowns, turning her head to the side but keeping her eyes locked first on Deja, then Nikki. "Hi," she says in a small voice.
"Who are you going to nominate?" Deja asks, diving in.
"For student body president of Carver Elementary."
"Oh, that," she says, and her mouth droops in disappointment. "I don't know yet."
"Are you nominating yourself?" Nikki asks.
"Why would I do that?"
"I'm nominating myself," Deja says confidently.
"You're not supposed to do that," Yolanda says with authority.
"Ms. Shelby didn't say we couldn't," Deja counters.
"Maybe she didn't think she had to," Yolanda says, making Deja wish she hadn't revealed this to Yolanda, who is all of a sudden taking on an annoying know-it-all manner. "Think of it. If everyone nominated themselves, there wouldn't be anyone to run. 'Cause
would have a nomination."
Deja ignores this and moves on to her point. "So who are you thinking about nominatingâif you had to right now?"
Yolanda looks down and smiles as if she has something everyone wants and sheâand only sheâcan choose to whom she will give it. After a few moments she says very decidedly, "Erik."
"A boy?" Nikki and Deja say together.
"He's nice. He never makes fun of people. He does his homework every day, he knows how to stay on task, he never talkâ"
"Okay, you made your point," Deja interrupts. She's spotted ChiChi and Keisha across the yard and is ready to move on. She needs to get to them before the bell rings and it's time to line up. "Come on, Nikki."
"Bye, Yolanda," Nikki says as they turn toward ChiChi and Keisha, who are strolling around the perimeter of the yard like the fifth grade girls often do.
"Come on," Deja calls to Nikki over her shoulder.
"Hi, ChiChi and Keisha," she says in her friendliest tone. They stop and shield their eyes from the morning sun. "What are you guys doing?"
"Nothing. Just walking around," Keisha says.
"Yeah, we're just walking around," ChiChi agrees. They look as if they're being interruptedâas if they might have been talking about someone. Maybe about the person they're going to nominate for president. For a moment the four of them stand there, saying nothing. Deja breaks the silence first.
"So who are you two nominating?"
"Nominating?" Keisha asks.
ChiChi looks down and to the side.
"For student body president of Carver Elementary," Deja says, expecting them to say they're nominating each other.
"Oh, that. I think I'm going to nominate Casey," ChiChi says.
"Yeah, she seems nice."
"You're not supposed to vote for someone 'cause they're nice," Deja says. "You're supposed to vote for the person you think can do the job."
"But I think Casey can do the job."
Deja is at a loss for a moment. Just as she opens her mouth to ask ChiChi why she thinks that Casey can do the job, the freeze bell rings. She's left with her mouth hanging open for a moment, until she remembers that you don't have to freeze your mouth. The second bell rings and she and Nikki walk to the line. Deja tries to take her place in front of Ralph, but he moves forward as if to squeeze her out. "Back up, Ralph," she warns him. Ralph looks at Ms. Shelby walking briskly toward the class and steps back. Deja takes her place and the students march across the schoolyard toward their classroom.
Soon everyone is in their seats, fishing through desks for their morning journals and checking the board for the topic of the day. Deja quickly retrieves her journal from the mess in her desk, opens it up, writes the date at the top of the page, then checks the board for the topic.
Her shoulders slump.
The Person I Most Admire.
Every once in a while, Ms. Shelby pulls that one out of her collection of topics. And every time, Deja is at a loss. She looks over at Nikki, already knowing that Nikki's pencil will be skittering across the page with so much to write she can hardly get it all down. She checks Antonia. Antonia is staring off into space, but then she calmly picks up her pencil and begins to write. Deja thinks and thinks. She can't write about Martin Luther King, Jr. She's done that already. She can't write about Ms. Shelby. She tried that a few months ago and found herself challenged to fill up a page.
Then, suddenly, it occurs to her. She has never written about Auntie Dee! She quickly begins, and it's hard to write as fast as the thoughts spilling over each other in her head.
My Auntie Dee is the best person. She takes care of me even tho she doesn't have to because she is not my mother or my father she does it just because she loves me. I love my Auntie Dee. My mother passed away when I was real little and my father can't take care of me. So my Auntie Dee takes care of me. I have my own room and it even has a desk in it because Auntie Dee says everyone has to have a place to settle down and get to work and I have a bookshelf too because Auntie Dee says one of the most important thing a person can do is love to read and, she cooks good too but she cooks a lot of healthy stuff so I have to eat lots of vegetables and cookies made with apple juice that don't taste all that good. And one time she made a cake that didn't have any eggs or butter. It tasted really good. But I had a real cake for my
birthday with lavender icing and light pink flowers made from real sugar. And it tasted good too.
Deja stops and looks at what she's written. Ms. Shelby always has to remind everyone how important it is to read over what they've written when they finish, because then they'll see all the skipped words and misspelled words and run-on sentences. There it is: a run-on sentence in the middle of her great paragraph, which takes up a full page because she wrote kind of big. It's a long one. Just when she's trying to figure out where to put the periods and capitalizations, she hears the timerâthe one in the shape of an eggâgo off. Time's up. Deja sighs, looking at the page, and hopes Ms. Shelby is not going to ask for the journals to be turned in today so she can do a spot check. Once a week Ms. Shelby looks over journal entries and writes comments at the top of the page.
Happily, she doesn't direct the class to turn in their journals. She just moves to the front of the room and looks around as if she is readying herself to make an important announcement. Deja puts her journal away and sits with her hands folded, waiting for Ms. Shelby to get the class's attention.
While she waits, she glances around, attempting to determine which kids might nominate her. She looks over at Erik. He has already pulled his reading workbook out of his desk and is waiting calmly for their teacher to tell them the page number.
She checks Casey. Casey's nose is buried in her Sustained Silent Reading book. She's doing just what Ms. Shelby says to do when you find that you're an early bird. Ms. Shelby has to tell the goof-offs over and over, "It's not your job to disturb your classmates when you finish a task early. You can always take out your SSR book. I should never see anyone doing absolutely nothing." Deja doesn't know why Ms. Shelby bothers to repeat this. The same kids have to be reminded again and again.
Deja digs around in her desk for her Sustained Silent Reading book. It's way in the back and the cover has gotten dog-eared from having been squished amidst the mess. She smoothes the cover, then opens it up, not knowing exactly where she left off. She stares at the page, not actually reading, but trying very hard to give the impression that she is.
"So, class..." Ms. Shelby says in a very serious tone.
Here it comes,
Finally we get to the important stuff.
"We need to go over something before we move on to reading activities." Deja folds her hands and smiles. She feels excitement and a little fear ripple through her. She's waiting to hear the word
It's coming. Casey slips a bookmark into her book, closes it, and puts it away. Erik gazes at the workbook on his desk and then looks at Ms. Shelby. Deja sits up straight.
"I have an announcement, so pay attention. We are going to trade play areas with Mr. Beaumont's class. They want to finish their sock-ball tournament from last week, so we're going to have their tetherball/foursquare area for the next couple of days."
A few boys groan. Deja groans too, inwardly, because this is not what she was expecting. In fact, Ms. Shelby is acting as if she's forgotten all about the election, even though she'd made such a big deal about it and gotten the class all excited. Deja's hand flies up before she knows it.
"Yes, Deja," Ms. Shelby says in a distracted tone of voice.
"What about nominations?"
"Oh, yes. Sure. That's on our agenda."
Deja checks the agenda posted next to the whiteboard. There it is:
Actually, this works out better. It means she still has morning and lunch recess to convince everyone to nominate her.
Morning recess can't come fast enough. But when it does, Deja takes her time exiting the classroom. She holds Nikki back as well. As soon as they reach the schoolyard, Deja grabs Nikki's arm. "This is what I want you to do, Nikki," she begins.
Nikki's already eyeing the line for tetherball. She looks at Deja suspiciously. "What?" she says.
"I want you to go around and find out who everyone's nominating. Just make a tally mark on your writing pad for everybody who's voting for me." As Deja is saying this, she notes Nikki's brows sinking lower and lower. Her mouth turns down in a frown.
"I don't want to do that, Deja. I want to play tetherball."
"Come on, Nikki. You're my campaign manager. That's what they do. They take polls."
Nikki sighs and drags herself off, holding her pad and pen. Deja looks after her for a while before finding a bench to sit on and wait for the results. She can't help watching as Nikki makes the rounds. Most of the kids in the class look either surprised to have their play interrupted, or annoyed. Finally, Nikki comes back. She's walking briskly and her mouth looks as if she is holding back a smile.
"Okay, tell me how many are nominating me," Deja says.
Nikki sits down beside her and flips open her pad. Deja immediately sees seven tally marks.
"I told everybody that you wanted to be nominated so you got Keisha, Anna, Rosario, Melinda, me, YolandaâI got her to change her mindâand Erik."
"He said he's not the president type and that's what I told Yolanda, so she's going to nominate you."
Deja thinks about this.
"What about Ayanna?" Deja had seen Nikki talking to Ayanna for a long time.
"Oh, she's nominating Antonia."
Deja scans the yard. When she spots Ayanna, she watches her for a few moments, trying to figure out why she has decided to nominate Antonia. Deja's never even seen them playing together. What was that about? "Did you ask everybody?"
"I couldn't find everybody. Some kids might have been in the bathroom."
"Hmm." Deja needs to think about this.
The freeze bell rings and she sits very still, thinking about the number
Lunch recess doesn't go as planned, either. When Nikki comes back with her pen and pad to join Deja on the bench next to the second grade portable, she has nothing much to report.
"Well," she announces cheerfully, "I told almost everyone that you want to be nominated, so maybe they'll nominate you."
Deja looks at Nikki, but her mind is on the number seven.
After a chapter of
The Whipping Boy,
which Deja listens to with her head on the desk and her eyes closed, Ms. Shelby says, "Okay, let's move on to the nominations. Let me go over some rules first. You will be getting a ballot. How many know what a ballot is?"
Now we have to go through everyone trying to explain what a ballot is. Why can't Ms. Shelby just tell us?
Ms. Shelby moves to the whiteboard and picks up one of the dry-erase markers. She holds it up, waiting for hands.
Carlos waves his around with a look of certainty on his face. "It's a piece of paper and has a bunch of people's names on it and they put a check next to the person's name who they want."
Ms. Shelby looks out the window for a moment and Deja knows she's trying to think of a way to reword it so that it will be close to the answer she has in mind.
"Well, yes. That's basically what it is." She returns the marker to the tray in front of the whiteboard.
Deja's relieved. Ms. Shelby has decided to just tell them. "I am going to give each of you a ballot. On it you will find the names of your classmates as well as your own. You are to put your name at the top, then put a check beside the name of the person you think will make the best student body president of Carver Elementary School." She stops to look around the room. "Now, I want to make it very clear that you are notâ
to select yourself." She stops and glances around the room again as if she's addressing this only to certain students, not the entire class. "Your name will be on the ballot so it will be easy to see if you chose yourself."
With that she picks up the stack of ballots and passes them out a batch at a time to the person sitting at the front of each row. Now Deja feels an agitation in the pit of her stomach. It's going to take extra time because there's always a knucklehead who can't just take the paper on top and simply pass the remainder behind them.
Sure enough, Alyssa is Miss Butterfingers when the ballots get passed back to her. Ralph drops them over his shoulder, probably thinking Alyssa's hand is ready to receive them. But she's busy daydreaming, so they spill onto the floor. Then it takes a few more seconds for her to look at them helplessly as if she doesn't know what to do.
Deja leaps out of her seat to scoop up the papers and pass them out to everyone in her row who doesn't have one. "Thank you, Deja," Ms. Shelby says.
When everyone has a ballot and has written his or her name at the topâand several students have to be reminded to do thisâMs. Shelby instructs them to mark their votes.
Deja hesitates, pencil poised. She'd assumed she'd nominate herself. But Ms. Shelby said that wasn't allowed and now she has to come up with someone else to vote for. Not Nikki, because she doesn't want to be student body president. Not any of the boys, of course. Melinda? Keisha? Rosario? ChiChi? Yolanda?
It occurs to her then. Yolanda is perfect! Deja will probably be the only one voting for Yolanda. That way, she won't be giving her vote to someone who might be nominated. Deja puts a big fat check next to Yolanda's name. Perfect.
At last the ballots are collected and Antonia, who happens to be general helper that week, gets to go up to the whiteboard to help Ms. Shelby tally the vote. Ms. Shelby has put everyone's names on the board.