by 4th & 5th grade students at Underwood Elementary in collaboration with Susie Wilde, 2011
Take out your pencils,” Mrs. Hope said as she passed out the tests to her third graders. “Let’s see how much you’ve learned about recycling.”
Miracle had complained about Mrs. Hope blah-blah-blahing for weeks about how to make the earth healthy. Miracle groaned, but no one heard her but Woody, her pencil and only friend. Woody knew she’d been upset ever since they’d had to move in the middle of the year, but she had to focus.
“How does recycling help our community?” Miracle read from the test. “This isn’t my community,” she sighed.
Miracle stared at the question again and gripped Woody so hard he was afraid she’d break his lead. I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care, she scribbled on her test. She stared out the window to the playground. What she needed instead of test questions was jump roping.
“How can you not care about recycling, Miracle?” Woody wrote.
“There’s nothing fun about recycling, or this community,” whispered Miracle. “Besides, I can’t do anything, I’m just a kid.”
Woody had been her best friend ever since Miracle received the teal-colored #7 pencil on her seventh birthday. But now he had a hard time understanding her. Because he was a recycled pencil, did that mean she didn’t like him anymore?
“You need to care a little bit,” Woody scolded.
Miracle slammed Woody on her desk. “Stop acting up, you naughty little pencil. Write what I want.” Miracle’s face turned as red as a pencil eraser. Angrily rubbing away all Woody’s marks, she ripped a hole in her paper.
“Miracle,” said Mrs. Hope, “Are you having a problem?” Miracle slouched in her seat and pulled her Yankees cap down, wishing it would hide her, or that it would magically transport her back in New York.
When the recess bell rang, she snatched up Woody, jammed him into her jeans pocket and lined up with her classmates.
“Are you entering the contest?” Miracle heard one girl ask another. What was it they were all talking about? Miracle was full of hurry and sprinted out the door.
“Walk, Miracle,” Mrs. Hope called after her.
“Miracle, you should try and play with some of those girls,” Woody murmured.
“It’s none of your business, Woody,” Miracle snapped.
“Where you talking to me?” a blonde girl with glasses asked.
Miracle didn’t answer.
Outside, Miracle tossed Woody onto the cold, hard ground. The bright sun was blinding and it took Woody a minute to spy Miracle darting across a scrubby field. The rusty swings squeaked as she flew through the air. She leapt onto the monkey bars, reaching across missing rungs. Recess was always Miracle’s favorite part of the day.
When the bell rang for the end of recess, she followed her classmates inside. “Wait, Miracle,” Woody called, “Don’t leave me behind! How will you get your afternoon work done?” But Miracle didn’t say a word. How can she ignore me? Woody thought.
On the quiet playground, Woody listened for the laughter of children. “It’s weird for a playground to be this still,” Woody sighed. Trees towered overhead and the smell of freshly turned soil surrounded him.
Suddenly scratching sounds came from below him and Woody gasped as the ground quivered. Maybe the playground isn’t so still after all, he thought. A snout sprouted from a newly dug hole and then an animal with fur as dark as a shadow pushed his way into sunlight.
Woody shivered. “W-wh-who are you?”
“I’m Mole. I’m an underground digger. This was clogging my tunnel.” He held up a piece of paper, muddy and ripped, showing it to Woody who read aloud:
We’re Going Green!
Help our playground! Win a prize!
Help us create a better playground and win a deluxe red toolbox.
“Mr. Mole,” said Woody, “this paper might be the answer to my friend’s problems.”
After school, when Miracle found Woody he was practically doing cartwheels, he was that excited about the contest.
“What do you like most in the world?” he asked.
“Playing on this playground,” she said. “Even though it’s pretty beat up.”
“You can change that,” said Woody and handed her the paper.
Miracle read it. “I am so going to win that tool box, I have wanted one my entire life.”
“Okay!” said Woody. “What should we do?”
They stood in silence, thinking. The sound of a backfiring car caught Miracle’s attention.
“Tires,” she said. “Recycled tires, all piled up. How much fun would that be? I bet everyone else will just come up with a boring drawing. But we’re going to actually do something!”
Together they made plans for a structure—tires stacked and fastened to make climbing, running, and hopping more fun than ever.
“We need tires, Woody—lots of tires,” said Miracle. She skipped all the way home. “Mom, can I have some envelopes and stamps?” she asked.
“You’re chipper this afternoon,” her mother smiled as she handed Miracle a stack of envelopes and a roll of stamps. “Did you have a good day?”
Miracle didn’t take the time to answer. She and Woody had letters to write. The first one was to the principal telling about the plan. “Woody, I don’t think we should wait to hear back, we’d better going, we’ve only got a couple weeks,” Miracle said.
Over the weekend, they wrote letters to everyone they could find in the phone book—recycling centers, auto stores, and farmers. By the following weekend, the tires started rolling in. and soon Miracle’s front yard was black with bike tires, car tires, tractor tires, and motorcycle tires. Even tricycle tires.
“Nice work, Miracle,” said her neighbor, nodding toward her mounting heap of rubber “You’re changing the earth as much as our neighborhood!”
““Recycle, reuse, reduce, and repurpose. Miracle, you’re awesome,” said a teenager from down the street as he plunked his thin racing tire on top of a fat tractor tire.
The blonde girl from Miracle’s class, who lived around the corner, strolled. She took off her glasses, rubbing the lenses as if she couldn’t believe what she saw. She wanted to hear ever detail of the plan so Miracle invited her inside for cider and a chat.
Every tire was delivered with a compliment and Miracle and Woody’s belief in their project grew as fast as the mountain of tires. Miracle was a little worried about her parents, but they turned out to be her most enthusiastic supporters.
One day Miracle gazed out on the black ocean of rubber and scratched her head. “How are we going to get all these tires to the playground, Woody?”
Woody bounced up and down on his purple eraser. “More letters!”
They wrote to a construction company, to the high school football team, and a scout troop. They wrote letters until Woody’s point went blunt. And Miracle even talked to kids in the neighborhood she’d been avoiding. Everyone wanted to help.
On the Saturday before the contest ended, people gathered in Miracle’s front yard. Miracle’s father, the next door neighbor and the construction company loaded up their trucks with tires at least four times. The scout troop and the football team rolled tires five blocks to school in a parade that looked like so much fun that every child in the neighborhood joined in. All Sunday afternoon, people swarmed to the playground to stack, connect and secure the tires into an amazing pyramid. Woody almost danced, watching.
On Monday, Miracle and Woody gazed as kindergartners jumped off the tires, first graders hopped in and out of them, second graders tossed balls into the holes, third graders skipped around the edges, fourth graders raced to the top and down again and fifth graders set up obstacle course races. From Miracle’s pocket, Woody heard happy squeals that almost drowned out the principal’s words. “Third place,” he heard her say, “goes to Sean Lewis for his design for a seesaw of recycled plastic. Second place goes to Jasmine Cornwall who’s drawn a plan for creating hurdles from compacted soda cans. “And first place goes to Miracle Johnson. And I don’t need to tell everyone what you did. We’re all benefiting from the remarkable difference you’ve made to this playground”
That afternoon Miracle and Woody strolled home, the red tool box clutched tightly in her hand.
“What should we do next?” asked Miracle. She thought for a second. “How about making a garden?”
“We could talk to my friend Mole, he’s an expert digger.”
“Woody, that’s a great idea. It would be fun to get a garden going. We could plant blueberries, strawberries, and pumpkins. Maybe we could even eat some of what we grow.”
Woody was happy to be making plans with his best friend. And Miracle went to bed that night and dreamed of gardens that Mole could dig. With her friend Woody and her new hometown, she had built a playground miracle.