An Author's Odyssey (The Land of Stories #5) - Chris Colfer

PROLOGUE

THE FAVORITE STUDENT

Willow Crest Unified School District spared no expense celebrating the retirement of a beloved principal. The community banquet hall was decorated so elegantly, there wasn’t a trace of Senior Bingo from the night before. The tables were dressed with lacy tablecloths, floral centerpieces, and battery-operated candles. Each place setting had golden plates and more silverware than the guests knew what to do with.

Teachers, counselors, janitors, lunch ladies, and former students showed up in droves to say good-bye and wish the principal well. The retirement party was one of the classiest gatherings any of them had ever been to. However, as the guest of honor looked around at all the long faces, the occasion seemed more like a funeral than a celebration.

The newly appointed district superintendent tapped his champagne glass with a spoon and the hall became quiet.

“May I have your attention please?” he said into a microphone. “Good evening, everyone, I’m Dr. Brian Mitchell. As you know, we’re here to celebrate one of the finest educators Willow Crest Unified School District has ever had the privilege of employing, Mrs. Evelyn Peters.”

Her name was followed by a warm round of applause. A bright spotlight hit Mrs. Peters, who was seated at the front of the room beside Dr. Mitchell. She smiled and waved at the guests, but secretly she wished she had never agreed to the gathering. Special attention and compliments from her colleagues always made her uncomfortable, and tonight it was just getting started.

“I’ve been asked to say a few words about Mrs. Peters, which is very intimidating,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter what I say, because rather than taking any praise to heart, I know she’ll only be listening to my speech for grammatical errors.”

The guests laughed and Mrs. Peters hid a giggle behind her napkin. Anyone who knew her knew it was true.

“It’s easy to say someone is good at their job, but I know for a fact that Evelyn Peters is an incredible educator,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Nearly three decades ago, long before she became a principal, I was in her first sixth-grade class at Willow Crest Elementary School. Prior to meeting her, my childhood had been very difficult. By the time I turned ten, both my parents were in prison and I was bouncing in and out of foster care. When I stepped into Mrs. Peters’s classroom I could barely read. Thanks to her, by the end of the year, I was reading Dickens and Melville.”

Many of the guests clapped, making Mrs. Peters blush. Most of them had lived or witnessed similar stories.

“We did not get along at first,” Dr. Mitchell said. “She pushed me harder than anyone ever had. She gave me extra homework and made me stay after school and read aloud to her. At one point, I was so tired of the special treatment, I threatened to graffiti her house if it didn’t stop. The next day she handed me a can of spray paint and a card with her address and said, ‘Whatever you write, just make sure it’s spelled correctly.’”

The hall erupted with laughter. The guests looked to Mrs. Peters to confirm the story and she nodded coyly.

“Mrs. Peters taught me much more than just how to read,” Dr. Mitchell said, and his voice began to break. “She taught me the importance of compassion and patience. She was the only teacher I felt cared about me as much as my grades. She got me excited to learn and inspired me to become an educator. We’re very sad to see her go, but had she applied for superintendent instead of