"Muffle, muffle, muffle," said Pop, at least that's what it sound like. He was welding the last bit of metal onto his new sculpture, Alien Invasion.
"I can't hear you!" I shouted from behind the safety gate. Pop lifted his welder's mask.
"I said, `How many contests have you entered?' "
Hmmm. That was a good question. "Well, the record store has one you can enter every time you buy a record. You win a trip for two to Monterey, California, for a jazz festival."
"You mean that rackety music no one can listen to?"
"Exactly. ... Then when I bought your birthday tie, I entered Mister Style's 'Win the graduation of your dreams for you and your friends, including free tux rental and corsages for the ladies.' "
"I didn't know grade fours had a grad."
"We don't. But I always enter every contest as a matter of principle."
Kiddo, or Katherine Wisteria Warble when she's in disgrace, loves raffles and competitions of all kinds. If there is a prize, she'll go for it: cut out the coupons, fill in the forms, do whatever is required to get her name into the hat. But the competition she really really wants to win is that of being the Junior Journalist for the Town Crier newspaper, her favourite reading material, for the upcoming year. There are a lot of requirements. Age: between 10 and 12 years. Check. Grade average: B. Ooops. Not quite. Her teacher Mr. Peacock took her mark in composition from an A (she writes the best stories of anyone in the class) to a D because of her lousy spelling (mark in spelling: E). Average: C. However, Ma bearded the lion in his den, and to Kiddo's delight and admiration, managed to negotiate a compromise which gave Kiddo a B in composition, a D in spelling for the overall required B. (Kiddo said incredulously, "You figured that out ahead of time?" and Ma just shrugged modestly.) Then there are the activities to gain points, and these turn into the focus of Kiddo's summer. She helps an older woman with her library books and shopping. Check. 2 points. She weeds a garden of dandelions (and a rare briar rose): no points. (Rose grower very cross!) She lost a dog she was supposed to be walking. Minus 2 points. She got her swimming badge. 1 point. She was the first to report a scam to steal parts for antique cars, resulting in a news story for the newspaper: 10 points! And so on. Some failures, and some successes, until at the deadline when she is just two points short, the nice girl on the front desk of the Town Crier whom she has gotten to know through her daily enquiries as to whether her letters to the editor had been published (1 point each) and sharing of Ma's baking, gave her the three extra points required. Why? She, Judy, was a "person in need" who had been helped through a difficult summer of NOT being the reporter she thought she'd been hired to be by Kiddo and Ma's goodies. So Kiddo was in, but would she win? Yes, but only as co-holder of the position, sharing it with the boy she'd written an article with (4 points), making Kiddo to realize that she'd had a lot of help from a lot of people, but it also had been a lot of fun.
And this is what the reader gets out of the story: doing stuff with a goal really is fun, but it's often impossible without help. Ma's goodies sweetened the girl at the Town Crier's front desk, and Akido's cookies made helping her with her library books and shopping a pleasure and inspired Kiddo into finding the prop Akido needed to enter the Talent Show. She and Winston were going to have to share being Junior Journalist, but it had been good working with him, and, as the editor of the Crier said, producing an article a week would be hard work. Together would be better.
For me, the hero of the story is Kiddo's family, including Kiddo, herself. They are all crazy in their various way -- Ma was a singer with a jazz band until she was suddenly struck with stage fright and found she could not sing except with her hands in a sinkful of soapy water and took up collecting coupons and antique bingo cards; Pop paints houses but welds metal scrap into sculptures when he is not renovating the house or fixing the furnace; sister Pat is a love-struck teen. But they are all accepting and loving of one another's foibles, and they all have fun together. More families should be like this one!
Mary Thomas is a retired library person and approves of competitions that require reading books as a prerequisite.