Fictional Problem Solving

Dandelion girl whirled and twirled through the field. Sunlight glittered on her dress.  She danced from flower to flower until she reached the pond. The cattail and the frog were waiting. Cattail was nice, just like dandelion, but frog could be mean. Dandelion didn’t know they were waiting…

Georgia considered her story for a few moments before deciding she liked it. The final version had to include all of the Latin names for dandelions and cattails, and at least three uses for each plant. The rest of the class would be writing boring scientific journal entries, but Georgia had pestered and begged until Ms. Becca relented, allowing her to submit the same report, with the same requirements, in the form of a fictional story.

“No more than four pages, ” Ms. Becca had warned.

Georgia grumbled with annoyance. It was more than the two page requirement given to the rest of the class, but it was less than the 10 she’d asked Ms. Becca to approve.

Tapping her pencil on the notebook, Georgia considered the list of requirements. The latin names would come later. Right now, she needed to explore the environment of the dandelion and the cattail.

“A dandelion can live almost anywhere,” the frog croaked. “But a cattail can only live along the water’s edge. Very restrictive.”

Cattail smoothed her long soft coat and stood as straight and tall as she could. “Frogs must live near the water.” She stated, matter-of-factually, and walked away without explaining herself. Sometimes that was the best way to deal with frog.

“Or other kids,” Georgia muttered to herself. Cattail would find a way to deal with frog and, maybe, that would help Georgia deal with Riley. Walking away hadn’t worked this time.

“CATTAIL!” Frog croaked in his loudest voice.

“Don’t shout at me!” Cattail growled back.

After a moment of silence, frog replied “now that I have your attention…”

Georgia stared at the page. The story was going well, but now she was stuck. Was it possible to say or do something that would make frog change? She very much doubted it.

She chewed on her last conversation with Riley and, briefly, considered using it exactly as she remembered it. The only problem was her memory was full of holes. She was so angry with Riley, she couldn’t remember what was said…exactly.

“…you made me a promise and it’s time for your to pay up.” Frog said, hopping back toward the water. “A promise is a promise.

It was very frustrating when she couldn’t help her characters. It was even more frustrating when she couldn’t help herself.

Summer School

Wild Raccoon school wasn’t like other schools. Georgia had been to more schools than anyone she knew, and this one was nothing like any of the others.

For starters, school was open all year. No summer vacation – at all! Some of the kids were looking forward to taking vacations, going to summer camps and visiting family. But no one was supposed to be gone more than two weeks. Except Riley. She was going to be gone for a whole month! Her little brother Ryan would be gone too, but he was in the blue room, so Georgia didn’t notice as much.

There weren’t enough kids on the farm to split everyone into regular classes, so they mushed a whole bunch of grades together. The young kids were in the blue room. The middle kids, like Riley and Georgia were in the green room. Teenagers were in the red room.

Most of the time, Georgia was trying to understand things that were either at or above her grade level. Sometimes, when the class was covering stuff she already knew, she got bored.

Like right now.

The sun was to bright. The windows were open and a light breeze came into the room, filled with the smells of early summer. If wishing could make magic happen, then Georgia wished to be outside.

“It’s time to turn in your assignments.” Miss Becca announced.

Georgia reached inside her desk and pulled out the report on dandelions. Frowning, she stared at the report for a few moments before looking back out the window.

“Georgia,” said Miss Becca, “your report?”

“This one is on Dandelions,” Georgia said, dropping the report on the pile. “But I’ve decided I don’t like it.”

Miss Becca paused. “Oh?” She responded.

Georgia had a feeling her teacher didn’t really want to ask that question. Reaching into the backpack on the back of her chair, Georgia pulled out a second report. “I like cattails better,” she said, dropping the report on the pile.

Miss Becca’s eyes narrowed and a small smile grew on her face. “I will look them both over,” she conceded. “If both are appropriate, then the choice is up to you.”

Frowning while pressing her lips together, Georgia nodded. It was hard to stay silent when her teacher guessed a trick. It was just a small trick, but it could have gotten her some time outside.

“Get ready to go outside!” Miss Becca announced, while dripping the reports on her desk. “We’ve got plants to collect!”

Alone. Outside without the rest of her class.

“You were trying to run away again, weren’t you?” Riley whispered.

“I don’t run away,” Georgia hissed in response. “I go exploring.”

“Same thing,” Riley teased.

Georgia liked Riley – most of the time.

Worm Magic

“Do you have plans for the summer?” Bobbi asked as she walked through the orchard with Georgia following.

“Not really.” Georgia replied. “Chores. Homework. The usual.”

“Homework?” Bobbie asked. “Isn’t school out?”

“Wild Raccoon school is never out.” Georgia shrugged.

It’s not? Bobbi was certain this was something she should already know. She did her best to cover both surprise and confusion. “Anything new or fun at school?”

“We go outside more.” Georgia replied. “I have to write a report on weeds you eat.”

“Any favorites?”

“Favorites?”

“Weeds.”

“Oh,” Georgia gave this some serious consideration. “I like cattails but I think I’m going to write about dandelions.”

“Interesting choice,” Bobbi replied while walking a slow circle around one of the oldest trees at the far end of the orchard. Tent worms. Everywhere. Crap.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

“The forces of evil incarnate,” Bobbi muttered without thinking. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed Georgia’s full attention was now on the worms. “They’re caterpillars.” Bobbi revised. “Native to North America and fond of eating ALL of the leaves on fruit trees.”

“All of them?” Georgia replied, eyes wide.

“Well, most, anyway,” Bobbi sighed.

“Are they going to eat the entire orchard?”

“Not this year.” Bobbi replied. “I thought I got all of the nests but, obviously, I missed one. There will be a lot more next year.”

“How do you get rid of them?”

“Locate the nest, cut the branch off the tree and burn it.”

“What does the nest look like? Do they turn into butterflies?”

“Like a giant, out of control, spider’s web and they turn into moths.”

“Are they magical?”

“Uh…”

“I think they must be, if they live in a spider web house when they’re babies and then become caterpillars that turn into moths.”

“Ok, I’ll give you that, but…” Bobbi paused a moment, considering.

“But what?”

“They can be magic in stories. They are not allowed in the orchard. Our trees need their leaves. Bringing them back here, to create a secret home, is not OK.”

Georgia looked like she’d just be caught with her hands in the cookie jar.

Bobbi laughed. “They also live in other kinds of trees. Probably crawled over from the forest.” Bobbi waved in the general direction of the wildlife preserve bordering this end of the farm. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out a package of sticky bands and started attaching them to the infested tree.

“What are those?” Georgia asked.

Bobbi explained how sticky bands worked and let Georgia attach a few to neighboring trees.

“Well, that’s that.” Bobbi said, picking up her backpack.

“That’s it?” Georgia asked. “That’s all we’re going to do?”

“For now.”

As they walked along the outer edge of the orchard, examining the trees, Georgia watched for worms and excitedly pointed out at least a dozen other kinds of bugs, only three of which Bobbi knew.

By the time they were finished, Georgia had a list of bugs she intended to look up,  determined to bring a bug jar on their next visit to the orchard and was already knee deep into developing a story about magical-worm-something-or-other.

It was a good afternoon.