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The 6th Grade Nickname Game

by Gordon Korman

Almost everyone in Old Orchard Public School (OOPS) has had the dubious honour of receiving a nickname from best friends Jeff and Wiley. They’ve dubbed their own underachieving class the Dim Bulbs, their pop-eyed principal is better known as Deer in Headlights, and their enormous football-coach-turned-teacher is now Mr. Huge.

It’s only when a spunky red-haired environmentalist named Cassandra enters their lives that the boys begin to doubt themselves. No name seems to say it all. On top of that, some of the nicknames are backfiring, and their new teacher is in danger of losing his job.

Jeff, Wiley and the rest of the Dim Bulbs are going to have to give a hundred-and-ten percent to turn everything around. But will it be enough?

"Mr. Hughes?" the principal repeated. "What’s going on here?"
Gasping, Mr. Hughes faced his boss. "We’ve just had a math quiz!" he puffed.
Still staring, the principal thought it over. "I see," he said finally. He took another step into the room, ushering before him a slender red-haired girl. "I’ve brought you a new student," he announced, casting the deer-in-headlights look all around the room. "This is Cassandra Levy. She’s going to be joining your class."
Wiley and Jeff exchanged a knowing glance. To the nicknamers, a new student meant a new challenge.
Wiley opened his notebook to a blank page and wrote: Carrot-top?
Jeff frowned. Not bad, but a whole lot more than hair color separated Cassandra from the average OOPS girl. There was a special spring in her step, a natural bounciness, as if she were walking on a trampoline and not merely taking the empty seat beside Wiley and Jeff. Also, she wore a full-length cotton skirt with a wildly colorful pattern of a circus parade. Jeff surveyed the classroom. everybody else — girl or boy — was in jeans or khakis. Instead of the usual sneakers, she wore what looked like combat boots with massive rubber treads. Somehow, they were just right instead of big and clunky in Cassandra’s tiny size. As she settled in the chair, she smiled at the boys and whispered, "Hi."
Jeff knew he should already have a dozen possible nicknames for someone so different — her little pug nose; tiny freckles like microdots! But all he could do was cross out Carrot-top and mumble "Hi" back.
"I think you’re going to enjoy this class, Cassandra," said Mr. Doncaster. "Welcome to our school." And he left them.
"Mr. Hughes mopped his face with a towel. "Clutch timing, Cassandra," he approved. "We were just about to go to the lab for science. All right, men, line up by the door."
In a body, 6B rose, and fell into two-by-two formation at the front of the room. Everyone looked back. Cassandra was still seated at her desk.
"Come on, Cassandra," the big teacher urged. "You’re part of the team now."
The new girl’s fair eyebrows were raised in an expression of confusion. "You said ‘men.’ Why are all the girls lined up?"
Mr. Hughes laughed. "Oh, that’s just an expression. You see, in football, you always call the players ‘men.’"
"But this isn’t a football game," Cassandra pointed out. "We’re not a football team."
"Well, uh — " The smile was gone from Mr. Hughes’s face. "I guess... uh...since I’m a football coach — "
"And none of us are totally men," Cassandra went on. "I mean, there are boys — "
An uncomfortable murmur went through the class. Who was this girl who had the guts to go head-to-head with Mr. Hughes?
The big teacher grinned sheepishly. "Well, this is you official invitation. Come and join the line."
As they marched down the hall, Wiley turned to Jeff. "You’re right. Carrot-top doesn’t say it all."