Excerpt for Sophie Washington Box Set by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Sophie Washington Box Set

(Series Collection Books 1-4)

Tonya Duncan Ellis

©2017 Tonya Duncan Ellis

All Rights Reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Table of Contents

Sophie Washington Queen of the Bee

Sophie Washington: The Snitch

Sophie Washington: Things You Didn’t Know About Sophie

Sophie Washington: The Gamer

Books by Tonya Duncan Ellis

About the Author

Books By Tonya Duncan Ellis

Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee

Sophie Washington: The Snitch

Sophie Washington: Things You Didn’t Know About Sophie

Sophie Washington: The Gamer

Sophie Washington: Hurricane

Sophie Washington: Mission: Costa Rica

Sophie Washington

Queen of the Bee

Written by Tonya Duncan Ellis

©2018 Tonya Duncan Ellis

All Rights Reserved

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Places, events, and situations in this book are purely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Chapter 1

Three Little Pigs

In fairy tales, everyone’s wish comes true. Jack gets the goose that lays the golden egg. Cinderella finds Prince Charming. Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

My happily ever after is much simpler. I want a pet goldfish. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But my parents do. For the past year they have been putting me off every time I beg them for a pet.

“I’m allergic to cats and dogs,” says Mom. “There’s no way we could keep a furry animal in the house.”

“Well, what about a fish?” I ask.

“I don’t know if you’re responsible enough to take care of a goldfish, Sophie,” says Dad. “You might drop the bowl and get water all over the place.”

For a ten-year-old I am very responsible. If you forget about the time my brother, Cole, and I had a water fight with the sprinkler in the garage, or when I tied Cole up to a tree to keep him from tagging along with me and my friend Chloe, I’m a model child. I get good grades in school. I’m nice to my friends. And I help out in the house when Mom and Dad ask me to.

Today, I’m making my dream come true! I’m going to convince Dad to let me get a pet goldfish.

I march toward the kitchen in my pink and white polka-dot pajamas and lime green fuzzy slippers. After glancing in the hallway mirror, I push down my two, thick black braids, which stick out on each side of my head like handlebars.

“Good morning,” I say to my mother, who is busy in the kitchen making my favorite breakfast of bacon, eggs, grits and homemade pancakes. Since Dad is not up to hear me beg for a fish again, I make my way to the family room to watch a recording of a television show I taped during the school week.

Cole rushes into the room before me and grabs the remote control from the end table before I can reach it.

“Get back!” I yell.

He turns on “Video Rangers”, his favorite TV show. Then he puts the remote control under a pillow, sits on it and passes gas.

“Eeeewww! Give me that remote, Cole!” I shriek. “You knew I was getting ready to use it.”

“Moooom! I was here first, and now she wants to change the channel,” he whines.

“Turn the television off, and you two go get the newspaper and pull the garbage can up to the garage,” says Mom, shaking her head and pouring more pancake batter into the skillet. “All this arguing is going to make me burn breakfast.”

I clench my fists to keep from wringing Cole’s neck.

“Did you tell Mom about the contest?” he loudly yells over blips and bleeps. He is playing a Video Rangers cartridge on his handheld video game now that the television is off.

“What contest?” asks Dad, entering the kitchen.

“Oh, it’s nothing really,” I say. “Just something Mrs. Green was talking about at school on Friday …”

“It’s the big spelling bee, and they want all the kids in the third grade and up to be in it,” pipes up Cole. “Mrs. Green said she hopes Sophie signs up, since she’s such a great speller.”

“That sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you, Sophie,” Mom says. “You are really good at spelling.”

“Sign up first thing Monday morning,” says Dad. “Maybe we can start you studying this weekend. Did they give you a list of spelling words?”

“I need to check my backpack, Dad. It’s out in the garage,” I say, trying to change the subject. “Come on, Cole, Mom told us to get the paper.”

“Why can’t you go out to the driveway by yourself?” he complains. “We’re not even through eating.”

“Go help your sister,” Mom commands.

We head out the garage door to the driveway.

“You are such a tattletale,” I say, nudging Cole once we are out of earshot. “Why’d you have to tell Mom and Dad about the spelling bee?” He elbows me back.

Then we both stop in our tracks.

Three hairy pigs are running around our front yard. One scatters when it sees us. The other two squeal and head in our direction.

“Ahhhhh!” I scream, then run toward the garage, pulling Cole along with me. The pigs double back and run off.

Our front yard, which was once a smooth carpet of green, is now filled with jagged, overturned tufts of dirt. If I hadn’t seen the animals, I would have sworn Cole had hopped through every inch of grass on his pogo stick.

Our yelling brings Mom and Dad outside.

“What happened?” I ask, pressing as close to my father as I can get.

He whistles. “Our lawn’s been attacked by wild boar.”

“Wild boar!?” I exclaim.

“They dug up our yard looking for grubs and bugs to eat,” Dad explains. “Food’s probably been scarce for them, because we haven’t had a lot of rain.”

There was hardly any rain in Houston, the city we live near, this summer. The plants that wild animals that live near our neighborhood normally eat didn’t grow, so they ate bushes, flowers, and even attacked small family pets for food.

I notice that the pigs dug up some of our neighbors’ lawns, too.

“What are we going to do about the grass?” I ask Dad. “Will the pigs come back?”

“We’ll have to have it replanted,” Dad says, shaking his head. “This happened with one of our neighbors down the street, and they put a special sensor in the yard to scare the hogs off.”

With all the excitement I miss my chance to ask about a pet goldfish.

We had plans to go out as a family this afternoon, but Dad tells us to go ahead without him. He will make sure we get the sensors we need to drive off the hogs. Three little pigs have put my dreams on hold.

Chapter 2

Mutton Bustin’

Three hours later, Mom, Cole and I stroll through the crowds at the Houston Rodeo.

Cole is in the first grade. Mom thinks he’s as cute as can be. To me, he’s a royal pain.

“Stop stepping on the back of my shoe,” I demand through gritted teeth. This was the fourth time he’d bumped into me.

“Mooom, Sophie pinched me,” he whines.

“If you two don’t stop bickering, we’re heading home,” Mom warns.

We pipe down. We’ve been waiting for the rodeo all week. The month-long event includes carnival rides, a livestock show and concerts featuring various singers. We usually go to several activities at the rodeo before it is over, so we will probably make another trip when Dad can join us.

This morning, Mom is taking us to the Kid Kountry agriculture section that teaches about everything that goes into running a farm, from a kid’s point of view. They have a birthing center where cows, sheep and pigs are born, and show baby chicks hatching from eggs. A section on plants shows how cotton grows and how it is made into cloth. There are also pony rides and a petting zoo where you can pet live goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits and other animals.

What Cole and I love best are the pig races and the Mutton Bustin’ contests. Pigs of all shapes and sizes run around a track in the races, which are always fun to watch. In Mutton Bustin’, smaller kids put on helmets and vests, then hold onto a sheep’s wool while it runs and bucks. The child that stays on the longest wins a trophy. I’d always wanted to try Mutton Bustin’, but never had the nerve. Now that I’m 10, I’m too old to try. The riders have to be from five to six years old and weigh no more than 60 pounds.

We spend at least two hours looking at all the animal booths, and even see some piglets that were born just that morning. They are no bigger than my hand, and so wiggly and cute. Their mother is named Miss Piggy.

“I wonder if they are related to the pigs that were in our yard,” I joke to Mom.

After a lunch of huge, smoked turkey legs, lemonade and funnel cakes, we make our way over to the Pig Races and Mutton Bustin’ tents. It looks like we missed the last pig races, but a sign says Mutton Bustin’ is going to start in about 15 minutes.

“We are just about ready to begin Mutton Bustin’,” says the announcer, “But we need two more riders to round out our group.”

“Mommy, Mommy, I want to sign up!” says Cole, jumping up and down.

“I don’t know how safe it is, honey,” Mom says.

“All riders wear helmets and vests for safety,” says the announcer, as if in answer to her fears.

“Please Mom. I know I can do it,” Cole begs. “Last year you said I could try when I was six.”

Mom nods her head yes and Cole races over to the announcer.

“Wait for us, Cole!” she says, following close behind.

“I can’t believe you’re letting him do this!” I say. “That’s not fair! I always wanted to try Mutton Bustin’ and you never let me.”

“I don’t remember you ever asking to do Muttin Bustin’, Sophie,” says Mom.

“I never did, but I always wanted to!” I respond irritably. “You let Cole do everything.”

The announcer takes Cole into a holding area with about five other kids. We watch as they put on his helmet and vest.

“Hold tight to the sheep and don’t let go,” Mom instructs Cole, who nods his head.

“Is that thing heavy?” I ask, rapping my knuckles on the helmet.

“It feels like the one I wear for t-ball,” Cole answers.

Mom and I have to leave the back area right before the contest begins. We sit in the bleachers in the front row so we’ll see all the action.

The first contestant steps forward in the ring. Her blond curls hang out of the sides of her helmet. She wears pink cowboy boots.

“Let’s all welcome Lisbeth,” says the announcer. “Her favorite food is chicken nuggets, and when she grows up she wants to be a fairy princess.”

Lisbeth is swooped onto the back of a sheep named Lambchop and the Mutton Bustin’ fun begins. Lambchop arches her back and shakes from side to side. She does not want anyone on her back. Despite all the movement, Lisbeth stays on a full 15 seconds. She curtsies for the audience, once she dusts herself off after her fall.

Taylor, the next contestant, starts crying when they try to put him on the sheep and refuses to get on, so he is taken out of the ring.

Next is Cole’s turn. He looks kind of small standing there beside the sheep, but he doesn’t seem scared at all.

“Let’s give a big welcome to Cole,” yells the announcer. “His favorite food is pizza, and when he grows up he wants to be a dentist, just like his Dad.”

“I’ll have to tell your father about that,” smiles Mom.

Cole’s sheep is named Baabara. When they place him on the sheep, Cole tries to sit up straight, but is soon leaning to the side and holding on for dear life. He makes his way halfway down the center of the ring on the back of his sheep and lasts a full 35 seconds. Mom snaps a photo of him before he falls off. The crowd of at least 200 goes wild.

“Let’s hear it for Cole and his sheep, Baabara!” screams the announcer.

We go back to get him and he grins from ear to ear, showing off the gap from his missing front tooth.

“I did it, Mom! I did it!”

“Great job, honey,” says Mom, giving him a hug.

She takes his helmet and vest off, and we go back out to watch the last boy get ready for his ride.

“Brandon’s favorite food is barbecue ribs,” says the announcer, “and he wants to be a rodeo rider when he grows up.” Brandon beats Cole’s time by 10 seconds. He also rips the back of his jeans while he struggles to hold onto his sheep named Baaby.

“Look, he even wore cowboy underwear,” points Cole, after he notices that the briefs under Brandon’s torn jeans have horses and cows on them.

“Now that’s a real cowboy,” laughs Mom.

When we get home, Mom shows Dad the picture of Cole hanging tight on Baabara.

“I didn’t know I was raising a cowboy,” he smiles, patting Cole’s head.

Dad shows us where he’s hooked up sensors to keep the wild pigs from coming back. A lawn service will come next week to add new grass.

The conversation turns back to the spelling bee.

“I was in a bee once when I was your age,” remembers Dad. “I didn’t study much, so I didn’t do well. That’s why I want you to make sure you review all the words carefully after you sign up Monday.”

I nod my head yes and fake a smile.

I’m going to kill Cole. I had hoped to not sign up for the contest. Who wants to spend all their extra time studying spelling words for some silly bee? And I definitely don’t want to stand up in front of all the other fifth graders and spell words. What if I miss something easy and everyone laughs?

“Bee” is a good name for this spelling contest, all right. I can think of nothing better than flying off somewhere as fast as a hornet or stinging that bratty brother of mine!

Chapter 3

Mr. Know-It-All

My stomach is in knots the entire drive to school Monday morning. Rain pours down in buckets and the gray sky matches my mood. Today is the day I have to sign up for the spelling bee.

Cole looks out the window or thumbs through his Video Rangers handbook, which gives detailed information about all the Video Rangers characters. Last night, I forgave him for telling Mom and Dad about the spelling bee after he’d let me eat the last chocolate chip cookie left in the jar and promised to make my bed for the rest of the week.

I shift uncomfortably in my seat. My uniform shirt feels even scratchier than usual. Most of the other kids on our block go to the neighborhood school, but Mom drives us to Xavier Academy, a private school across town.

Ever since kindergarten, I’ve been begging to switch to the school in our subdivision so we can ride on a yellow school bus, and wear regular clothes to school instead of uniforms, like most normal people, but Mom isn’t having it. “Xavier offers the best elementary and middle school educations in this area, and you’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” she says. So, it looks like we’re stuck with navy pants and skirts, polo shirts and oxfords, and loads of homework every night, at least until high school.

As she cruises into the carpool lane, Mom turns to Cole and me with a smile. “Have a great day, kids. Cole, remember to turn in that permission slip I put in your backpack for the field trip next week And don’t forget to sign up for the spelling bee, Sophie.”

“Okay Mom; see you later,” we say. We heft our heavy backpacks from the backseat and dodge a huge puddle as we make our way into the school entrance. I turn left and Cole turns right once we enter the front door of the school. He goes to the kinder, first and second grade wing and I head toward the fifth-grade classrooms. Unlike the younger grade kids, we have actual lockers and switch classes to get us ready for middle school.

My best friend, Chloe Hopkins, runs toward me as I near Mrs. Green’s room. “Hey Sophie! How was your weekend? Did you watch that new show I told you about on Saturday?”

As usual, Chloe looks super cute. She jazzed up her uniform with red, high-top tennis shoes and patterned knee socks that match the red logo on our navy school sweaters. Her long, curly black hair is pulled back with a black headband with a red silk rose on the side, and she’s wearing pearl drop earrings in her pierced ears.

“We were at the rodeo while it was on, so I missed it,” I say. “But I recorded it on the DVR, so I may watch it again this coming Friday.” Cole and I don’t watch much television during the week because we are so busy with homework and afterschool activities. If this spelling bee business turns out the way I think it will, my TV time will probably end up being even less.

After roll is called and we say the Pledge of Allegiance, Mrs. Green reminds the class of the upcoming spelling bee.

“It would be great if everyone signs up,” she says. “It’s a great chance for you to improve your spelling skills. The school bee is in three weeks. Regionals are a month after that. First and second place winners from each grade will represent our school there. Can I get a show of hands of those who would like study sheets?”

Several students and I raise our hands. Mrs. Green passes me eight pages of words to study with a smile.

Nathan Jones, a boy who Chloe and I secretly call “Mr. Know-It-All, because he thinks he knows the answer to everything, turns around in his seat to smirk at me once Mrs. Green goes back to her desk.

“I don’t know why you are even bothering to get a list of words for the spelling bee,” he says, peering through his thick glasses. “Everyone knows that I am going to win the school contest and then go on to the regional bee.”

He’s one of the smallest kids in our class, but Nathan definitely has the biggest mouth. The only reason he has friends, in my opinion, is that his dad owns a Fun Plex video game and race car center, and he often invites the other boys there for play dates.

Nathan’s older sister, Jennifer, was a student at Xavier and won first place in the school and regional spelling bees for three years running before she left for high school.

“Be quiet, smarty pants,” I say. “I have gotten A’s on all my spelling tests this year and I can out spell you any day.” I glance down at the top sheet of the list Mrs. Green has given me. “I already know most of these words on the spelling list for the bee.”

“Well, I would hope you could spell the words on the first page, because those are the easy words from the list,” Nathan laughs. “Look at the last sheet.”

I flip through the stack of papers on my desk and see that they are ranked as easy, average and difficult. I can’t pronounce most of the words I see on the difficult sheet, but I look up at my competitor with a smile. “It won’t take me long to study these and learn them all,” I boast, wanting to slap the smirk off Nathan’s face.

“I’m going to learn those words, and the words from the sixth grade list in case they get through all the other words at the regionals. There’s no way anyone will be able to beat me,” Nathan brags. Nathan isn’t the best at sports, because he’s so short, but ever since first grade he’s been seen as one of the best students in the class, and he is always ready for a competition.

“Nathan, could you please turn around in your seat and get ready for our language review?” says Mrs. Green. He faces the front of the room and I am finally free of the smart aleck.

When the bell rings to change classes, I head out of the room without a glance at Nathan and rush to my locker. As Cole’s coach says during his basketball games, it’s time to go hard or go home.

There is no way I can let that know-it-all do better than me in the spelling bee. I will have to start studying tonight.

Chapter 4

Practice Makes Perfect

As soon as we get home from school and finish snack, I rush to my room to get organized for my spelling bee studies. Pencil … check. Notebook … check. Webster’s Dictionary … check. Copy of the movie “Akeelah and the Bee” to watch during study breaks … check.

I also put on my study tiara. I won the bedazzled crown at a game of math jeopardy in second grade and always wear it when I study something hard. I feel like it gives me luck.

I sit down with my material on my white canopy bed and pick up the pages of words that we’ll be quizzed on at the school bee. I need to memorize each word on the list so I can make sure Nathan doesn’t stand a chance.

I begin to make my way through the words on the easy page. “Antler, a-n-t-l-e-r, antler; butter, b-u-t-t-e-r, butter; careful, c-a-r-e-f-u-l, careful. I get halfway through the words on the easy list when Cole comes into my room.

“I am Cole the Magnificent,” he announces, touching a black top hat he wears on his head and twirling around to show off the red and black cape on his shoulders. “Want to see me do a magic trick?” He holds up a small rock. “Watch me make this object disappear.”

“Not now. I’m busy studying for the spelling bee.”

“I thought you didn’t want to be in the bee.”

“If you knew that, why did you tell Mom and Dad about it?” I ask.

“To get on your nerves.”

“Boy, get out of my room before I hurt you!” I yell. Cole takes a bow and makes his way toward the door.

Five minutes after he leaves, Mom comes into my room. “What are you up to, young lady?

“Trying to get through the easy words on my spelling list before dinner,” I say.

“Well, aren’t you an eager beaver. I’m happy to see you getting excited about the competition.”

“I really want to beat Nathan Jones,” I say, looking up from the spelling bee list. “He thinks he’s so great.”

“Keep up the hard work and you may do just that. Practice makes perfect.”

Cole suddenly appears in the doorway to my room, not looking as “Magnificent” as he had earlier. He has a funny look on his face. His top hat is off his head and he is rubbing his left hand by his ear.

“Moooom,” he says slowly with his eyes wide as saucers, “I think something’s wrong.”

“What happened, honey?” asks Mom, jumping up from the bed where she had been sitting beside me. “Did you break something downstairs? Are you hurt?”

“I tried to make my object disappear, like I saw Dad do, but now I can’t find it.”

“What object? What are you talking about?” Mom raises her voice.

Oh brother. What has this boy done now? I remember Dad was showing Cole magic tricks on Saturday. He’d pretended to pull a penny out of his ear to make it look like it had magically appeared. I knew that it wasn’t actual magic and just a trick, but I guess Cole didn’t.

“Did you stick the rock in your ear?” I ask my brother. He nods his head yes.

“Let me see,” said Mom. She spends a minute looking in his ear to see if she can pull out the pebble trapped inside, with no luck. “We need to go to Dr. Lucas’ office.”

Great. Now how am I going to get through the easy words list before bedtime? Cole and I put on our sneakers while Mom calls the doctor’s office. She also calls Dad at his dental practice to let him know we might not be home when he gets here. I ditch my tiara and grab my school sweater in case it’s cold in the doctor’s office. I have a feeling this is going to be a long afternoon.

Chapter 5

A Small World

The drive to Dr. Lucas’ office is uneventful. I read through words on my spelling list and Cole, paralyzed by fear, sits up straighter than I’ve ever seen him sit, holding his hand near his ear.

“Does your ear hurt, honey?” Mom asks sweetly, looking back at him through the car’s rearview mirror.

“No, I can’t feel it.”

“Well, I don’t ever want you to do something so crazy again!” she snaps. “I need to be getting dinner ready and your sister has schoolwork to finish. How could you do something so silly?”

Cole slumps down in his seat while Mom fusses at him about being safe for the rest of the drive.

We pull into the parking lot near the back door of our doctor’s office and rush in. While Mom signs paperwork, Cole and I play the jukebox game of Pac Man that is in the waiting room. Cole beats me in five games straight. Finally, the nurse calls his name to go back to the doctor.

Mom sets her magazine down. “Come on, kids.”

The nurse weighs Cole and measures his height, then takes his temperature and blood pressure. Mom answers the nurse’s questions about why we came to the office and the nurse leaves the room. The ten-minute wait seems like forever. I look at the dinosaur mural on the wall and Mom scolds Cole for rolling around the room in the chair with wheels that the doctor usually sits in. Finally, Dr. Lucas walks in with another nurse.

“So, I hear we have a magician in the house,” he jokes.

“I was trying to make an object disappear,” says Cole weakly.

“Well, let’s see if I can make it reappear,” Dr. Lucas says. “Nurse Jones, hand me the tweezers.”

The doctor squeezes the tool in Cole’s ear, trying to get hold of the rock. “Aaaaaaaiiiiee!” my brother squeals.

“Looks like that’s not going to work,” says Dr. Lucas. “Let’s try to flush it out.”

The nurse gets some squirty thing and tells Cole to lean his head to the side. They fill his ear with water and the rock floats out.

“Thank goodness!” Mom exclaims.

I look up from the spelling list I am studying and smile.

“If this didn’t work we were going to have to send you to the Emergency Room,” says Dr. Lucas.

Nurse Jones notices the logo on my school sweater. “Do you kids go to Xavier Academy? My son Nathan is a student there.”

Oh, my goodness! She must be Nathan’s mom. Tall, slim and pretty, she looks more like a super model than the mother of a nerdy know-it-all. Hopefully, she won’t tell her son about my brother putting a rock in his ear. The teasing would never end.

“Yes, he’s in my class,” I say.

“It’s a small world, isn’t it?” says Nurse Jones, and I nod my head. She looks at my list of words. “You’re studying for the spelling bee! Nathan will be in that, too. What a great experience for you kids.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I nod in agreement.

Mom lets us get lollipops on the way out and we head home. Wait until I tell Chloe about this.

Chapter 6

The Beat Down

“I can’t believe your brother put a rock in his ear,” laughs Chloe, nearly choking on her chocolate milk. “That’s about as crazy as the time my sister, Nina, stuck a dime up her nose.”

“I know, and the worst part about it is that Mr. Know-It-All’s mom was one of the nurses in the room. She figured out we went to Xavier because I had my school sweater on.”

“How embarrassing.”

As if on cue, Nathan and his crew come into the cafeteria. They bump each other and rough house so much they almost drop their trays of food.

“Look the other way so they don’t see us,” I whisper. But it is too late. Nathan spots us and is heading our way.

“Ready for the spelling bee, Sophie?” he asks.

“Why do you care?” I say.

“I want to make sure you put extra time into going over your words, since I’ve been studying mine for a month. My mom told me you were struggling trying to catch up last night at the doctor’s office. She said you were so busy you barely noticed when they pulled a rock out of your brother’s head.”

He nudges one of his friends and laughs.

“There’s no way you could have studied your words for a month when we only got the list yesterday,” I retort, ignoring his comments about Cole.

“Well, since my sister won the bee a couple of years ago, I already had a copy of the words from her to get a head start,” he taunts.

“Don’t even listen to him, Sophie,” says Chloe. “Everyone knows they change the spelling bee list every year. Only the judges know what the words are.”

“Be quiet, Chloe,” says Nathan. “You’re so scared of getting beat by me in the spelling bee that you didn’t even sign up. C-A-T is too hard for you.”

His buddies crack up laughing behind him.

Now he’s really done it. Chloe has a learning disability called dyslexia that makes it more difficult for her to read and spell than other kids. Our kindergarten teacher noticed the problem a few years back when she couldn’t spell simple words like cat and dog. Chloe has a special tutor to help her, but she takes all her regular classes with the rest of us.

Along with the dyslexia, Chloe also has a bad temper that comes out when someone makes fun of her about it. She stands up and towers over the much-shorter Nathan.

“Listen, Rock Head, I don’t know what your problem is, but if you don’t get out of our faces right now, you’re going to be learning how to spell ‘beat down’.”

“Ooooh, she told you, man,” says his friend Carlos.

Nathan tries to play it off like he isn’t scared, but he can tell she is serious.

“Let’s go, guys,” he says, turning to leave. “I don’t fight girls, but I will beat them at the spelling bee, and you can count on it.”

They walk off.

“He’s crazy,” I say.

“He must really be worried that you have chance of beating him,” says Chloe, “or else he wouldn’t be going to all this trouble bothering you.”

“Well, I’m going to try my hardest to do just that.”

Chapter 7

Study Time

After the cafeteria incident, I study even harder. There is no way I can let Nathan Jones win this spelling bee. To make sure I focus, I order Cole to stay out of my room when he sees me wearing my study tiara. And I ask Chloe not to call me in the afternoons until the spelling bee is over.

It doesn’t take me long to realize that this isn’t as fun as they make it look on the Scripps National Spelling Bee that comes on television each year. On the national spelling bee, they show the kids spelling the words like pros.

“Spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” says the announcer, and the kid rattles it off like its nothing. The speller wins. His face is all over television. Everyone calls him a genius. Looks like a piece of cake.

What they don’t show you is the hours the spellers spend learning the words. That part is torture.

Each day after I finish my homework, I put on my study tiara and review at least 20 words on the list I am working on. I write each word down ten times, then I practice spelling the words without looking. Once I learn those words, I add 20 more.

Dad or Mom quiz me each night, and make me repeat the words over and over again if I miss them.

“I’m getting tired of studying,” I whine to Dad one night after he tells me to get my list out to review. “Maybe I should take a break.”

“While you’re taking a break, your competition is working,” replies Dad. “You said you wanted to win this thing. I’ll bet Nathan is halfway through the difficult list right now. If you want to be better than average, then you need to do more than average.”

Dad tells me how striving for excellence helped him complete dental school and set up his own dental practice. Now he has his own business.

I look out the window and wistfully watch Cole throw a football with his best friend, Jeff. Why did I decide that I wanted to win!?

To make studying less boring, I try to study while I jump rope, like Akeelah did in the movie, but I keep dropping my list. And forget having my brother help me. Cole can’t pronounce the words well enough to quiz me on them. He says e bony, for ebony, for example.

It looks like the good old-fashioned, but dull way of studying by sitting down at a desk and memorizing my words is the way to go.

“We’re really proud of you, Sophie,” Mom says after my second week of studying is over. “You made up your mind to go for it in this spelling bee and you are putting in the hard work to make sure you do your best. Whatever happens, you’re a winner in my book. Dad and I have a special surprise for you and Cole this weekend that should give you a nice break from the studying,” she adds.

I beg her to tell me what it is, but Mom just smiles and tells me I’ll find out after school tomorrow. For once, I can’t wait for the school day to begin.

Chapter 8

Granny Washington

I rush to my locker after sixth period on Friday.

“Hey girl, what are you doing this weekend?” Chloe starts in.

“I can’t talk now; Mom is waiting with a big surprise.”

I grab my backpack and speed-walk to the carpool line.

“This is the quickest I’ve ever seen you make it from class,” says Mom after I slam the car door shut.

“You’ve got to tell me what the surprise is!” I exclaim.

Cole comes in from his carpool area and shows Mom an A paper he earned in math.

“Great job, hot shot. Now’s the time to tell you the neat surprise we have planned for this weekend,” Mom says as she drives down the road.

“Dad has a dental conference in Austin tomorrow and I’m joining him. Your Granny Washington is going to stay with you tonight and part of tomorrow.”

Cole and I cheer, and gave each other a high five. We love it when our parents go out and leave us with a sitter. And having our grandparents stay is almost like getting an early Christmas present.

They spoil us rotten, let us buy cool things at the store and stay up way past our bedtime, and they let us eat all our favorite foods.

Grandma and Paw Paw Spencer are Mom’s parents. They live in Georgia. Since it is so far away, we only see them two or three times a year when they come to visit us here in Houston, or we go to their place for holidays.

Granny Washington lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Dad grew up. That is about a four-hour drive from our house in Houston, so we see her more often. Granny’s husband Clarence died when I was four years old and Cole was a small baby. We usually stay with her for a week in the summer, and have fun playing in the sand and waves at the beach, and visiting the Texas State Aquarium.

Though she is a grandma, Granny doesn’t seem old to me. She used to be a newspaper reporter and has lots of neat friends she worked with who live all over the country.

Granny makes it easy for me to talk about things I feel funny about telling Mom and Dad, like boys who like me, or fights I have with my friends. She lets me help cook and, even though I won’t admit it to my friends, I still like to cuddle in her lap.

“Granny should be here any minute,” says Mom. “I’m going to go finish my packing. Your snack is in the fridge.”

“The last time Granny came to visit, she promised to take us to the Children’s Museum downtown,” said Cole, munching on the cheese, crackers and fruit Mom had left out for us.

“Well, I’d like to visit the new doll store that opened at the mall last month,” I say.

“That’s not fair,” cries Cole. “You know I don’t want to go to the boring mall and look at yucky dolls!”

“Kids, you’re not going to have Granny running all over town when she comes,” says Dad, overhearing our conversation and entering the kitchen. “She needs to drive back home Sunday morning, and I don’t want her to be worn out. And don’t think about going to the mall, because I’ve already told her that she is not to buy you lots of extravagant gifts while she’s here.”

After Granny arrives, we both rush to give her a big hug. She wears a blue and purple jacket with a swirly paisley pattern on it. As usual, she smells delicious, like flowers and cinnamon mixed together. Mom and Dad leave contact information for the hotel where they’ll be staying and hit the road.

“How are my two favorite grandkids doing?” Granny says with a smile.

“We’re your only grandkids,” I say, giggling.

As usual, Granny didn’t come empty handed. She brought a set of bright nail polishes for me and some neat toy cars for Cole.

“Thanks Granny,” we exclaim, giving her another hug.

Granny spends a few minutes catching up with us about what was going on at school. She knew a little bit about the spelling bee, because I had called her the day after I signed up and told her how Nathan had been acting.

“Sounds to me like that young man has a bit of a crush on you, Sophie,” she muses. “Otherwise, why would he spend so much time worrying about what you’re doing?”

“Sophie and Nathan, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g,” teases Cole. I pop him on the behind with a kitchen towel while Granny searches through the pantry for dinner fixings.

She makes meatballs and spaghetti, which is one of our favorites. Both of us gobble up every bit of food on our plates. When dinner is finished, Cole shows Granny some of his drawings and I study my spelling lists. About an hour later, Mom and Dad call to let us know they made it safely to Austin.

Cole and settle down to watch a movie. As usual, we stay up way past our bedtime, laughing and talking with Granny for an hour or so after the movie ends.

She tells us funny stories about how she used to trick her younger brother and sister into giving her their coins when she was little. She’d tell them that a nickel was worth more than a dime because it was bigger. Then she tells us about some of the famous people she interviewed when she was a journalist, like the writer Maya Angelou, and Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut.

Before she tucks us into our beds that night, Granny reads us a story from an Aesop’s Fable book she’d bought us a few years earlier. Cole drifts off to sleep before the story is over.

I share some of my fears about the upcoming spelling bee with Granny.

“Nathan has lists of words from the times when his sister was in the spelling bees, so he has a head start over me. What if I don’t know some of the words, since I haven’t been studying as long?”

“I wouldn’t even worry about that, Sophie,” she says. “Just like in the story we finished reading about the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady wins the race. Focus on your own studying. Don’t worry about what he’s doing.”

I smile with contentment as I drift off to sleep. Having grandparents visit is the best.

Chapter 9


Time whizzes by between the day I got my spelling list and the actual school bee. I stay as far away from Nathan as possible, like Granny Washington suggested, so I won’t waste any study time listening to his teasing.

I review my list every day after school and make it through all the words. Dad promises me a surprise gift if I win. He and Mom quiz me whenever they can, and Cole even puts down his Video Rangers book to try and help me study words on the way to school each morning.

“Here we go,” I think as I line up with ten other fifth graders to compete. The school bee is being held in Xavier’s library and parents aren’t allowed.

The library is a small room with flat green carpet on the floor. I used to pretend I was sitting in a meadow in the woods when we’d come here for story time in kindergarten. We stand in the front of the room and the students just watching sit across from us in chairs around long tables.

Nathan sports a sweater vest, along with his school oxford and navy pants, and some glasses that I’ve never seen him wear. I wear ribbons with my usual ponytails, and I’m wearing my nicest skirt.

I try to avoid Nathan on the way to the library, but no such luck. “Getting nervous, Sophie?” he teases. “You should be. I know every word on this spelling list. There’s no way you can beat me. I even know all the words from the sixth-grade list.”

“Whatever,” I say, flipping out my hand to dismiss him. “I know all the words too, and they aren’t even going to give us the sixth-grade words today anyway.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he says. We enter the room and he high fives his friends, Carlos and Jack.

I scope out the competition. Immediately, I rule out three of the kids as nothing to worry about.

Joshua Smith, Cynthia Michaelson and Jose Cruz usually get average grades in spelling, and rarely study for anything. Their parents must have made them sign up.

Caleb Bishop, Olivia Dunbar, Josiah Joseph and Kennedy Emmanuel are all decent students who might do alright if they have studied.

Mariama Asante is a mystery. Her family moved to Houston from Nigeria this past summer, so she is new to our school. I haven’t had any classes with her. She may give me a run for my money if I don’t watch out.

And last, but not least, Mr. Know-It-All, Nathan Jones, whose main goal in life is to win this contest and get on my last nerve.

“I will say the word to you once, then I’ll say the word in a sentence,” says Mrs. Green. “You may ask for a definition of the word if you need to know the meaning. You will then say the word, spell it, and finally say the word again. If you say any of the letters incorrectly, you must leave the contest. The top two spellers will go on to represent Xavier in the regional bee. Best of luck to you all.”

My heart pounds in my chest and my hands feel cold. Mrs. Green walks to the front of the line. Mariama Asante is first and I am fifth. Nathan is the last person in the row.

I look out at the audience. Chloe, who is sitting in the front row of tables lined up in the library, gives me a smile. The thirty or so fifth graders who aren’t competing in the contest are all there to watch the big event. Our assistant principal, Mr. Grayson, warns them to be extra quiet once the spelling bee begins or get put in detention later in the week.

“The first word is born,” says Mrs. Green. “The calf was born in the barn.”

“Born,” says Mariama. “B-o-r-n, born.”

“That is correct,” Mrs. Green replies.

She goes on to give words to Joshua, Cynthia and Jose. As I expected, they don’t last long. Joshua spells poet, p-o-i-t, and Cynthia spells thirst, t-h-e-r-s-t. Jose’s downfall comes with the word chain, which he spells c-h-a-y-n-e. Olivia misses the word jiffy, which surprises me, since I know she spelled it correctly on our spelling test a few weeks ago. She must be really nervous. Next, it is my turn. “Respect,” said Mrs. Green. “Do a good job and you will command respect.”

“Respect,” I say, smiling. “R-e-s-p-e-c-t, respect.” Once I get through my first word, I feel my belly get warm and the jitters go away. I am on my way to winning this thing!

I glance at Nathan out of the corner of my eye after I finish, but he doesn’t react. We go through about six rounds after that with no one missing a word. Then they start dropping like flies.

“Oath,” Mrs. Green says to Kennedy. “The president took an oath of office.”

“O-a-f-t-h,” she answers slowly.

“I’m sorry, Kennedy, that is incorrect,” Mrs. Green says. “Oath is spelled o-a-t-h.”

Kennedy drops her head and takes her seat, and the bee continues with kids misspelling words every few minutes. Fifteen minutes later, it is between me, Mariama and Nathan.

“Terse,” Mrs. Green says to me. “The angry man was terse with the clerk.”

“Terse, t-e-r-s-e, terse,” I spell back.

“Adjacent,” Mrs. Green says to Mariama. “The school is adjacent to the gymnasium.”

“May I get a definition please?” Mariama asks.

“Adjacent means being nearby, or in close proximity,” says Mrs. Green.

“Adjacent, a-j-a-c-e-n-t, adjacent,” says Mariama.

“I’m sorry, but you have spelled the word incorrectly,” Mrs. Green says. “You may take a seat.”

Mr. Know-It-All and I are now the last kids standing.

“Great job for making it this far,” says Mrs. Green. “You are our first and second place winners and will represent Xavier in the regional spelling bee. We will now do our final spell-off to determine who will be the champion of the school bee.”

“Go Sophie!” yells Chloe, ducking her head in the crowd so that the principal can’t see her.

My knees begin to knock and my hands feel sweaty. We go through five more rounds, then Mrs. Green gives Nathan the word “magistrate”.

“Magistrate, m-a-g-i-s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t, magistrate,” he says, shifting his weight from side to side.

I can’t believe it, Mr.-Know-It-All made a mistake.

“I’m sorry, Nathan, but that is incorrect,” says Mrs. Green. “Sophie, I’d like you to spell magistrate. If you spell that word correctly, I will give you another word to spell to be named the champion.”

Nathan glares at me, but I ignore him. “Magistrate, m-a-g-i-s-t-r-a-t-e, magistrate,” I carefully spell.

“That is correct,” says Mrs. Green. “The word for the championship is intrigue. The mystery was full of intrigue.”

“Intrigue,” I say. “I-n-t-r-i-g-u-e, intrigue.”

“That is correct,” says Mrs. Green as the kids in the library go wild. They cheer, clap and jump out of their seats. They are happy that I won, and even happier that they can stop sitting quietly.

I can’t believe it. I am champion of the Xavier Academy fifth-grade spelling bee. All my hard work paid off!

Nathan comes up and shakes my hand. “Good job, Sophie, but don’t count me out, because I will be at the regional competition and I will beat you there. I took it easy on you today.”

“Yeah right, Nathan,” I say, rolling my eyes. That boy is too much. Chloe rushes up and gives me a big hug. “Way to go, spelling champion!” she cheers.

Then Mrs. Green hands me a trophy with a cute bobble head bee on it that says: “First Place Winner.” She pulls me and Nathan aside to take pictures with our trophies and the principal. This is the best day ever! I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad.

Chapter 10

Oh Brother

When Mom picks me up from school that day, I am all smiles.

“I won! I won!” I say, waving my bee trophy in the air. I meant to pretend I had lost, and then give Mom the good news, but I can’t hold it in.

“I’m so proud of you, sweetie! Wait until we tell your dad!” Mom dials Dad’s office on her cell phone before the car pool line starts moving and we both talk to him through the Bluetooth feature in the car.

“That’s great news, Princess,” he says. “I knew you could do it. What’s the next step?”

I explain to him that I will be in the regional bee a month from now, and I need to keep reviewing the words so they’ll be fresh in my mind. Mrs. Green gave me more words to study that could be included in the regional bee.

“Well, we’ll help you in any way we can, sweetheart,” said Dad. “You see how hard work pays off? Looks like I need to take you out to get that surprise I promised you this weekend.”

I grin with excitement.

“What surprise are you getting me, Dad? Is it something I can buy at the mall?”

“You’ll see when we get it, sweetheart,” he teases.

We pull around to the pickup area for the lower school to get Cole. His teacher, Mrs. Brandt, comes to the passenger side window as Cole gets in the back of the car. He slumps his shoulders.

“Hi, Mrs. Brandt, how are you?” asks Mom.

“Things are alright with me, Mrs. Washington, but I want to let you know that Cole has not been focusing well in school these past few days,” she says. “He’s been daydreaming when we are going over assignments in class, and yesterday he was doodling on construction paper when I was teaching a new math lesson. If this continues, his grades may go down, so I want to make you aware.”

“Thanks for letting me know what is going on, Mrs. Brandt,” says Mom, glancing in the backseat towards a wide-eyed Cole. “Be assured that this problem won’t continue.”

Having a brother is the pits. Mom spends most of the ride home talking to Cole about why he should be responsible and pay attention in class. Today is my day, and all the attention should be on me. Yet here I am again, listening to the brat of the century get in trouble.

Cole hasn’t even congratulated me on winning the spelling bee. He’s probably just jealous. I watch him squirm in his seat as Mom goes on and on.

When we get home, I head straight to my room and put on my princess tiara. I feel like royalty, so why not dress like it? All the attention is on Cole for now, but soon everyone will recognize me for the queen I really am.

Downstairs, Mom seems to have settled down about Cole’s teacher’s comments. Then I hear her calling Grandma and Paw Paw and Granny Washington to tell them my good news. She opens cabinets and gets out pots and pans to get dinner ready.

A few minutes later, Cole walks in my room holding something behind his back.

“What do you want now, Rock Head?” I ask him. “I should kick you out of here for getting Mom mad. Why don’t you just behave in school? And what’s that you’re holding?”

“Just something I made for you,” he says, sticking out a yellow sheet of paper.

“Let me see.” On the paper is a drawing of a lady bee wearing a skirt and a crown. ‘Congradulations Sophie!’ it reads.

Even though all the words on the card aren’t spelled correctly, the picture is great. Cole can really draw. He is so good that sometimes people think his artwork was done by a middle school kid rather than someone in first grade.

“Thanks, Cole,” I say. “This is so good! When did you make it?”

“Yesterday,” he answers. “I knew you would win.”

I remember once Dad said Cole has great focus when he does his artwork. He said Cole is so good because he is able to tune out everything around him when he is working.

“Is this what you were doing in school when your teacher was explaining things?” I ask.

He nods his head yes. “I’m glad you won the bee.”

“I really like the picture, Cole.” I hang it on my dresser mirror. Then I give Cole a hug, and for the first time in a long time, he hugs me back.

Sometimes having a little brother isn’t so bad.

Chapter 11

Fun Plex

Three hours of video games, bumper cars, and seven-year-old boys hyper on candy and cake. Nathan Jones and his father everywhere I turn. It’s a birthday party at Fun Plex, and it’s my worst nightmare come true.

Cole’s best friend, Jeff, invited him and all the boys from his first-grade class to his seventh birthday party. My brother has been looking forward to the big event for the past two weeks.

“Do I have to go, too?” I whine as Mom picks up her car keys.

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I’ve planned to attend this ladies lunch at our church for the last month and kids aren’t allowed,” she explains. “Why are you so against going to Fun Plex? You used to love that place.”

“That’s before I met that icky Nathan Jones and realized that his father is the owner,” I say. “He’s there anytime you go, and I don’t want to listen to him teasing me about the spelling bee. And other times I’ve gone to Fun Plex with my friends, not Cole’s.”

“Sophie, I think you’re worrying for nothing,” Mom says. “Go to the party and enjoy yourself, and I’ll see you when I get back.”

Mom slides on her brown suede jacket and brown leather boots, grabs her purse and heads out the door.

Cole and Dad join me in the foyer and we make our way to the car.

I listen to my favorite songs on the radio on the way to Fun Plex and ignore the thoughts of the bad time to come. Ten minutes later, we pull into the game center’s parking lot, then follow the groups of happy kids and tired-looking parents inside.

“Hey Cole!” Jeff runs up to him and gives him a chest bump.

“Happy Birthday, Jeff!” Cole replies.

When we join the rest of the group, Dad explains why I’m at the party to Jeff’s mother, and offers to pay my way.

How embarrassing! Not only am I at a party for babies, but my Dad has to pay for me to be here.

“Sophie is more than welcome at the party; there’s no need to pay for her,” Jeff’s mom says.

We enter the main hall to get tokens for video games and bumper cars.

That’s when my worst fear comes true. Guess who’s at the front counter helping out? Nathan Jones. He’s wearing a Fun Plex t-shirt and jeans, and looks even scrawnier than he does in his school uniform.

“Hey Sophie,” he says, peering out of his dark-rimmed glasses. “Coming to spy on the competition?”

“I’m not spying on anyone, Nathan, just having fun at a party with friends.” I quickly get my tokens and hurry to catch up with the rest of the group at the video games. I hope that Nathan doesn’t realize I’m spending my Saturday afternoon with a bunch of seven-year-olds.

Nathan stays busy behind the counter with his dad, so I breathe a sigh of relief that I won’t have to speak to him the rest of my time at Fun Plex. I end up having a good time at the party.

Jeff’s older sister Ava, who is in fourth grade, is here. We play air hockey and video games together and have a blast on the bumper cars. Knocking Cole and Jeff’s fire engine red cars into the side of the bumper car area with my blue one is especially fun. I use half my tokens on that.

The Fun Plex pizza and birthday cake tastes even better than I remember it being at the party I came to last year.

On the way out, I see Nathan sorting through plastic spoons and forks.

“Boy, get back here and put those napkins out like I told you!” his father yells from a back room.

Nathan scurries to find the napkins and trips over a box of tokens. He looks around to make sure no one sees him and quickly bends to pick up the wayward tokens before his dad finds out. If he wasn’t such a jerk, I’d kind of feel sorry for him.

Cole, Dad and I make our way out to the parking lot.

“Thanks for taking us to the party, Dad,” says Cole. “I had a lot of fun.”

“Me too,” I say, sliding into my seat after we make it to the car.

“Well, the fun is not over yet for you, Sophie,” says Dad. “Remember, I promised to get a special surprise for you for winning the spelling bee.”

“Yay! What is it?” I ask, bouncing up and down in my seat.

“We’re on our way now.”

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