Read Above the Classroom from Classroom at the End of the Hall. Download (pdf)Frances and Howard spotted a rocking chair with a back bent into the shape of an apple. Skritch, skritch it went, rocking back and forth. In the chair sat a large burly man with a dusty black beard. His eyes were closed and his chin rested on a red bow tie above his broad chest. A rim of frizzy black hair circled a bald spot on his head like a bird's nest. A dusty book lay open in his large lap. The man's bearded face, his rumpled tweed jacket and wire-rimmed spectacles ready to drop off the end of his nose were familiar, for this was the very man whose picture hung above the doorway of W.T. Melon Elementary School. "It's Walter T. Melon," Howard whispered. "W.T. Melon himself." "It looks like him," said Francis. "But I thought he was dead or something." The man's eyes opened. He raised his head and pushed back his spectacles with a finger. Noticing the visitors he smiled through his whiskers. "Ah, wonderful ones," he said. "What took you so long to get here?" He snapped shut his book, and a spout of dust shot upward. "Francis and Howard, come in. Come in." Francis and Howard exchanged glances. Not until a pigeon dropping smacked the floor behind them did they step into the room. "That's right. Come in. Take a seat," said Mr. Melon, gesturing toward a sofa. "Don't stand on politeness. Please sit down." The two third-graders sidled across the room. They sat on the edge of a sofa upholstered with an apple pattern. Their eyes remained fixed on the large dusty man, slowly rocking in his chair. Finally Howard ventured to say, "Can I ask you something?" Mr. Melon locked his fingers together across his ample stomach. "Certainly, Howard," he said. "Questions are an excellent way to learn something about anything." "How did you know we were coming?" asked Howard. "How did you know our names?" "Ah, another excellent way of learning something about anything is by listening," said the man. He cupped a hand behind his ear. "And when you live above a classroom as I do, you learn many important things. Now listen." Frances and Howard sat perfectly still. Sure enough they could hear the tall teacher's raspy snores coming up through the floorboards. "You see, wonderful ones," said Mr. Melon. "I hear everything that goes on in the room at the end of the hall--every question and every answer, every moan and groan, every grind of the pencil sharpener and squeak of chalk, every snicker, song, whispered secret hiccup, cheer, and every word your teacher says, softly or shouted. Of course, I overheard his ranting and raving this morning. So tell me, I've been waiting all morning to hear, what message did you leave Rosalie on the computer?" Frances and Howard grinned. Perhaps here was someone who could appreciate a good practical joke. As they told the story, Mr. Melon rocked in his chair and stroked his beard. When the story was over he slapped his knee once, sending up another spout of dust. "Very creative," he said. "How did you ever come up with such a clever idea? Originality is also an excellent way to learn something about anything. Now how about a snack? Help yourselves to an apple." Mr. Melon's guests reached for two shiny red apples in a bowl on the table. In unison they took large, juicy bites. No apple ever tasted better. While munching, Frances studied the tall book stacks that formed the walls of the little room. She swallowed. "Looks like you do a lot of reading, Mr. Melon," she said. "Isn't reading is another excellent way to learn something about anything?” "Mr. Leeks, our custodian, told us you were once a great teacher," added Howard. Mr. Melon's smile doubled in length. "Once a teacher always a teacher," he said. "Indeed, I was one of the original teachers." "Original teachers?" said Frances. "You mean there was a time before teachers?" asked Howard. Here Mr. Melon rocked forward in his chair, until his visitors could see twinkles in his black eyes. "Oh, no, wonderful ones," he said. "There were always teacher. But there was a time before teachers lived on this continent. And I was on the first boat that bought them here." Frances froze with her apple near her lips. "But where were the teachers before that?" she said. "Yeah, where do teachers come from?" Howard asked. Mr. Melon leaned farther forward. "Apple Island," he said, lowering his voice. "An island far out in the Atlantic Ocean. Even the most clever satellites in space have yet to detect our island. A thick layer of chalk dust shrouds it most of the year." Frances and Howard again bit into their apple at the same time. They looked at the burly man with eyes that said, "Go on. Go on." "Now, I'm sorry to tell you, for centuries Apple Island was divided between the teachers in the north and the teachers in the south," Mr. Melon continued. "The South, you might be interested to learn, is where only crab apples grow. That's where crabby teachers come from. I lived in the North, filled with marvelous meadows, splendid coffee plantations, and orchards of those delicious apples you are eating." "But why did you leave?" asked Howard. "Sounds like a wonderful place," said Frances. Mr. Melon's smile disappeared. "The northern teachers and the southern teachers had a squabble," he said, solemnly. "Not unlike some of the squabbles I hear down below in the room at the end of the hall. Neither side would give in. Neither side would say I'm sorry. Not even our leader, Prince Apple, who lived in the Office Palace at the foot of Chalk Mountain, could solve this dispute. So the northern teachers built an ark and left." Mr. Melon's smile disappeared. "The northern teachers and the southern teachers had a squabble," he said, solemnly. "Not unlike some of the squabbles I hear down below in the room at the end of the hall. Neither side would give in. Neither side would say I'm sorry. Not even our leader, Prince Apple, who lived in the Office Palace at the foot of Chalk Mountain, could solve this dispute. So the northern teachers built an ark and left." "And you sailed to America," said Frances. "And built schools," said Howard. "Precisely, wonderful ones," said Mr. Melon. "And we built classrooms in the fashion of our former houses. And next to each school we built a miniature version of the Grand Playground that ran for miles across Apple Island."