Name: Jen Hill
Genre: Middle Grade
Title: Secrets Of The Upside-Down Treehouse
The Christmas of 1895 was anything but merry for Otto and Agatha Palindrome, for twenty days prior, twelve-year-old Christopher had disappeared without a trace. His presents remained unopened under the great tree for over a century, when a wealthy family moved into the old mansion and disturbed them.
His obituary states that he perished in the Farthington Woods, though it is not known exactly how or why. Many believe he simply ran away, living under a false identity for the remainder of his days. Sightings of Christopher Palindrome were common in those early days, but over time they dissipated, and eventually ceased altogether.
B. Lee Banks settled into a seat on the stage of the great auditorium, where two rows of wooden chairs were arranged. She fished a filigreed barrette out of her tote bag and held it tight as she reviewed the vocabulary in her head. A good luck charm defied logic and she knew it, practical girl that she was, but this was one superstition she allowed herself. The barrette was a family heirloom, passed down on her mother’s side, and it gave B. Lee solace.
It was the first week of October, the day of the annual Palindrome Academy Spelling Bee. B. Lee had won every year since she began competing in kindergarten. She was looking forward to adding another trophy to her shelf. So excited was she for the victory to come that she had skipped her usual trip to the bank to deposit the morning’s latte sales. It was more important to be the first one at school that morning.
B. Lee Banks had the second best academic record in the history of Palindrome Academy. The top honor was held by Christopher Palindrome, a star student for whom the school changed its name in 1897, two years after his disappearance. B. Lee strove to unseat him from his academic throne. Two more spelling bee victories would clinch it.
The view from the stage was familiar to her in many ways. It was the same view she enjoyed while giving piano recitals and playing in the school orchestra, and looking out at her family as she received this or that award at the end of each school year. Upon this stage was where she truly shone, receiving awards and ovations for her many outstanding achievements. Every year since she began competing in the bee she had sat in the very same chair, and every year she had won. She had only one more victory before she would tie Christopher Palindrome's record; one more after that to beat him. B. Lee really didn't like to have such a fierce rivalry with someone she considered to be her best friend in many ways, but she thought Christopher wouldn't mind. He'd been dead for over a hundred years, and it was her turn to wear the crown– not only as spelling bee victor, but as Palindrome Academy valedictorian.
Her competitors trickled in. B. Lee was an oasis of calm amid the shuffle of seats and checking of microphones, concentrating on the words she had spent all year mastering. She scanned the room as auditorium seats filled up with the students of Palindrome Academy. She had a few peeves with certain classmates and preferred to know where they sat so she could avoid looking at them.
At the top of the list was Maud Brindlebee, who told tall tales, dressed oddly, got the worst grades and always, always seemed to be stealing attention. She was the new girl that year, having just appeared at the start of 5th grade.
That ridiculous mop-like hairdo of hers with the silly curls: what did they call those– locks? B. Lee thought Maud looked just like a girl from an old black-and-white movie singing about lollipops. Her weird baby voice made the image even more believable. Oh, how she disliked Maud Brindlebee!
Finally, the room was abuzz with the chatter of the entire student body of Palindrome Academy. The bee commenced.
First up was Isobel Antler, who misspelled the word “crumb”. This is going to be too easy, B. Lee thought. She geared up to dazzle everyone with her spelling talents. Her name was called, and she approached the microphone.
“Please spell the word ‘fidget’, as in, ‘Please do not fidget in your seat.’”
“Fidget,” she began, “F-I-...”
But before she could continue a great clanging sound was heard in the back of the auditorium.
Everyone turned to see a disheveled girl who, dragging a tin can on a string, was attempting to creep in unnoticed.
Fury hummed in B. Lee’s ears; she pursed her lips in outrage. Of all times to interrupt, Maud Brindlebee had to choose the exact moment when B. Lee was about to shine in front of the entire school. Typical!
“Miss Banks,” prompted the principal, “please finish spelling the word ‘Fidget.’ ”
B. Lee began to sweat. She could not remember where she had left off. Did she get to d yet? Yes, she must have- that was always where everyone else messed up. She tried to relax, and continued where she had left off, for starting over would disqualify her.
“...G-E-T. Fidget.” She gave a curtsy and smiled at the principal, flouncing off to her seat.
“I’m sorry, that is incorrect. Please take a seat in the audience.”
No, no this could not be, there must be some mistake. How could she have been wrong? She knew that word inside and out! What had she missed? Oh, NO! Horror washed over B. Lee in a cruel wave as she realized she had indeed forgotten the ‘D’. Then the magnitude of this error truly hit her.
Her perfect record was ruined. Not just this year’s, but forever. Thanks to this error, she would never grow up to claim a perfect academic record. All because of Maud Brindlebee and her disruptive entrance. Humiliation, rage, and contempt were having a screaming contest in B. Lee’s brain, and all three were winning.
Mrs. Toole, her teacher, led her to a seat in the audience, where she would remain for the rest of the bee. It was torture to have to watch someone win the victory which should have been hers.
Worst of all, she was seated just behind the frizzy head of Maud Brindlebee.
“You and your horrible can!” she hissed at Maud through tears.
“His name is Poppy,” corrected Maud.