“Boys and girls?” Mrs. McBride grabbed a stack of paper from her desk and waved it in the air above her head. “Before you leave, I’m going to hand out the information about the science fair.”
Owen flashed Joseph a quick look across the aisle and made the thumbs-up sign. He had been waiting for this all year.
“Make sure you show this to your parents,” their teacher said. “The science fair is in three weeks. Mr. Wozniak would like to have as many of you as possible participate.” She handed everyone a paper as she moved slowly down the aisle toward Owen. “There will be sessions in the library after school for those of you who need help. Volunteers will be there to help you get started.
“The important thing to remember,” she went on in a loud voice as she handed Owen his copy, “is that you need to come up with a project you can do on your own or as a team. It’s fine if your parents want to give you a bit of help. But you need to be the one who does the work.”
“Try telling that to Anthony,” Owen muttered.
Last year Anthony did a project on astronomy. His father took the photographs with his expensive telescope. He typed the descriptions below them, too. It looked as if all Anthony had done was sign his name.
Thinking about the second prize Anthony won still made Owen mad. If judges couldn’t tell the difference between a project a kid did by himself and one his parents did for him, they should let kids be the judges.
Kids could tell every time.
He quickly scanned the notice Mrs. McBride had handed him. It had dates and rules and information about prizes. Words like hypothesis and scientific method were written in bold type.
Owen could hardly wait to get home and read it. He loved the science fair. Chesterfield School had held it for the first time when he was in the first grade. Owen could still remember how amazing the projects had seemed to him.
Last year he and Joseph did a project on evaporation. It embarrassed Owen every time he thought about how babyish it had been. Neither of them had cared that it didn’t win anything.
They were only in the second grade. They still thought working for nothing was fun.
This year was different.
This year Owen had to win a prize. If he didn’t, Mr. Wozniak would never know who Owen was. How much Owen loved science.
He wouldn’t pick Owen to be in his fourth grade class.
Owen knew that if he didn’t get into Mr. Wozniak’s class, he would die.
Lots of kids who liked science wanted to be in that class. Owen didn’t just want to be there. He felt as if he belonged there.
When it came to science, there wasn’t another teacher in Chesterfield School like Mr. Wozniak. Or another classroom like his. Every time Owen walked past it, he felt as though he was walking past a magic place.
A sign over the door said LAND OF WOZ. There was a rainbow above it. And a picture of a wizard with a peaked hat and a wand.
Mr. Wozniak’s students were called Wizards. The ones who followed the class rules and worked hard were awarded a special Wizard pass. It allowed them to stay inside at recess and play chess if they wanted. Even walk to the media center by themselves.
The classroom walls were lined with aquariums. A tiger salamander named Elliot lived in one. Next to him was Big Mac, a yellow-bellied slider. Then Boinky, a huge box turtle. There were lizards and newts and snakes. And in one, a lone frog named Hip.
“It was Hip and Hop,” one of the Wizards told Owen’s class last year when they were touring Critter Island. “But Hop ran away.”
To Owen, Critter Island was the most special part of it all. Mr. Wozniak’s class built it every year. First, they pushed all the tables together and covered them with plywood. Then they took shredded newspaper and flour and water and made papier-mâché. They built mountains and streams and lakes.
They painted trees and grass and water.
Then all the Wizards chose an animal they liked and studied it until they were experts. When the younger classes came in for a tour during the last week of school, the Wizards stood around in white lab coats and talked about their animals.
Owen could still remember how it felt to file into that room. How cool the Wizards looked in their white lab coats. To him, they looked like real scientists. He had been dreaming about wearing one of those coats ever since. He didn’t think he could bear it if he got into any other fourth grade class.
Copyright © 2004 by Stephanie Greene. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company. Please verify quotations against the bound book.