By Dwayne Reed
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Eleven-year-old Simon and his friends are disappointed with the lack of funding at Booker T. Washington School—there’s no AC, only one space for school activities, and the money for extracurricular programs is getting cut.
Desperate to save Maria’s beloved debate team, the crew start a petition to grab the attention of the local community and show they deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
But when news of the petition reaches the school board, Simon must face his fears once again. Can he use his rhymes to take a stand and prove that he, Maria, and C.J. can make a difference in their hood?
READ MORE ABOUT SIMON AND HIS CREW:
Simon B. Rhymin'
Simon B. Rhymin' Gets in the Game
OKAY, HEAR ME OUT: THERE’S A PERFECTLY good reason for why I already look a mess before we’ve even gotten to school. And ain’t none of it my fault. Cuz, like, I’m just a kid. Ahem, I mean, I’m still the Notorious D.O.G. and all, but that don’t mean I can control the weather or nothin’. I also can’t control Booker T. I mean, none of us can. It’s a whole school.
First period starts at 8:01 a.m. so Moms always starts actin’ like she’s gonna bust down our doors around seven a.m. so we have enough time to wash up, get dressed, and eat something before we leave the house. Me, Markus, DeShawn, and Aaron all have to share a bathroom. Moms and Dad are only two people but they get a whole different bathroom that’s much bigger inside their bedroom even though they don’t even have to go to school every day. They don’t even leave at the same time for work! I can’t wait till I’m grown, like Moms calls me when she don’t like my tone or thinks I got an attitude. When I’m grown, I’ma have fifteen bathrooms in my house and I won’t have to share any of them!
Anyway, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is getting dressed. Sure, Moms took me shopping the day before school started and all, but it ain’t even about that. Let me break it down some more: When Moms took me shopping for school clothes, she bought me stuff for the fall and winter cuz it starts gettin’ breezy pretty fast in the Chi. So she bought stuff like hoodies, joggers, jerseys, and a few T-shirts for what she calls the last breaths of summer.
Even though it’s October now, and it should be getting chilly outside, we keep having extra-hot days like it’s still August or something. And to make everything even worse, we can never tell what it’s gonna feel like inside Booker T. Even Maria complains about not knowing how to dress because we never know what it’s gonna feel like in class even though she says she loves the changing seasons—whatever that’s supposed to mean. So when I finally catch up to Maria and Ms. Estelle, it feels extra shady that Maria can’t stop laughing at how hard I tried to be extra prepared for most of the seasons to happen all in one day.
“OH EM GEEEEEE, Simon!” Maria and Ms. Estelle stop walking as I finally catch up to them halfway down Locust Street, out of breath and probably lookin’ like I just played one-on-one with Aaron and got whupped. She makes a full circle around me, looking me up and down with the weirdest smirk on her face. I know she’s trying to think of something nice to say. “It’s… um, different. I like it! You’re way ahead of the game,” she says, trying not to bust out laughing while pulling at my polo collar, then lifting up the hood of my hoodie like she might find something hiding under it. “But you’re not hot?”
I look down, feeling all the clothes on top of each other, and know she’s right. If I were a cartoon character, there’d be big flame waves coming off me.
HA-HA-HA, THEY THINK THE JOKE’S ON ME!
AND IT’S PROLLY CUZ I GOT A LOTTA CLOTHES ON ME.
LET ME SAY WHAT I MEAN: ROCKIN’ DARK BLUE JEANS
WITH THE SHORTS UNDERNEATH, JUST IN CASE OF THE HEAT.
GRAY HOODIE UP TOP FOR WHEN THEY BLAST AC.
BULLS TEE ON, TOO, FOR WHEN IT’S HOT AS CAN BE.
NO HAT ON TODAY, BUT TOMORROW, WE’LL SEE
BECAUSE MY HEAD GETS COLD WHEN I’M IN 5-B.
IF IT’S BLAZIN’ INSIDE, OR IF THEY GOT ON THE AIR
THERE’S A JACKET IN MY BACKPACK, I’M ALWAYS PREPARED.
SO LISTEN, I DON’T CARE IF I LOOK LIKE A SHOW
CUZ YA JUST NEVER KNOW HOW THE DAY’S GON’ GO.
We pass Mr. Ray’s barbershop as we get closer to the school parking lot, and I check myself in the reflection of the window, immediately wishing I could run back home without being late. But Notorious D.O.G. ain’t never late and ain’t never scared.
“I was tryna be prepared,” I mumble under my breath, starting to feel tired at the thought of dressing like this every day.
“Ay, Simon. Escuela started a whole month ago. You don’t have all your supplies yet?!”
“That’s not what he means, ’Buela,” Maria says, turning behind us to answer Ms. Estelle for me.
I try to sneak a sniff under my left arm and breathe out extra hard, glad I ain’t funky… yet.
“MISTA JAMES, I know what you gonna say but it’s not my fault!” Even for Kenny, this scene is too much drama. He’s busted into the class a whole five minutes late, and the way he screams his excuse, ain’t no way Mr. James can teach without stopping to give him some attention. “My mama say I gotta stay hydrated and the line for the water fountain is infinity-a-million miles long, Mista James. She say she ain’t got time to be leavin’ work if I pass out cuz I don’t have enough water in my body, okay?”
Mr. James wraps one arm across his chest and sits the opposite elbow on top of it, putting the bottom half of his face into his hand like he’s trying not to laugh like the rest of the class already is. Don’t nobody know why Lil Kenny could be late like this, even because of a long line. My guy looks like he rolled out of bed and walked straight to school. No teeth-brushing. No washing up. No changing into outside clothes. Straight to school, not even stopping to wipe the sleep out his eyes, like Moms calls it. His durag is still tied tight over his cornrows, and he’s drowning in what looks like a grown-up’s super-old white tee. If it wasn’t for the few inches of his shorts peeking out at the bottom, I’d think he was underdressed, even though it’s hot outside. His shoes are the only things that make him look like he maybe tried a little bit. But even those are just some dusty old Nike slides that he wears with chunky white socks that are way too big for him. I can relate.
But still. Couldn’t have taken more than five minutes to get ready. The dripping water around Lil Kenny’s mouth, still making a trail down his chin. Lil Kenny always looks like he’s wearing clothes that belong to somebody twice his size but maybe he was tryna be prepared, too.
“All right, Kenny. Your seat, now.” He wobbles to his seat, using his left hand to pull up his shorts that are obviously too big for him, dragging his Avatar backpack behind him with his right, plopping down with a loud yawn. “As I was saying, prot—”
A loud thud, followed by a sharp kick, comes from the ceiling and all of a sudden the class gets way too quiet.
“Awwww, MAAAN. Not this again!” Lil Kenny says like he was waiting for another reason to make us all look his way. But instead we all watch Mr. James walk over to the side of his desk, pick up the class fan, and take it to the window, which he opens and props the fan in without saying a word. He plugs it in and soon the noise that, minutes ago, was the AC is now the loud hum of a cheap fan that the school gave him a few weeks ago. This all only takes like a minute and we’re all already wiping off beads of sweat that appeared the moment the AC shut off again. Yes, again. This is the drill almost every couple of days. Does Notorious D.O.G.’s layered look make more sense now?
I start pulling my hoodie up over my head, feeling proud of myself for being prepared, but I’m still annoyed. Why can’t they fix it already?
A finger jabs my side just before my head escapes from under the bottom of my too-cold AC layer. Bobby pauses on his way to the front with his head turned around to make sure I know it was him. “Maybe you should just wear one outfit at a time, Simon. Your mom’s gonna be mad if you get sweat all over your new school clothes before winter even gets here,” he says with a smirk as he turns back around toward the door, where Mr. James is standing.
UGH! DIFFERENT DAY, BUT THE SAME OLD BOBBY!
HE NEEDS A NEW GAME, HE NEEDS A NEW HOBBY!
CUZ BULLYING ME IS GETTING OLD REAL FAST.
CAN’T HE GET SWITCHED TO A WHOLE ’NOTHER CLASS?
“Back to your seat, Mr. Sanchez. Just cuz it’s getting a little warm in here doesn’t mean I can’t see you walkin’ all over my class.”
“I be getting too cold in here,” I whisper to Maria. At least that’s the case when it works.
“But now it’s hot again,” she whispers back.
“That’s why I got layers on, duh.”
“Fa-la-la-la-la-LAAAAAAAAAH,” Kenny sings into the fan blades, loud and slow. Kenny kneels on top of the table that sits under the window and takes in a deep breath for another long, robotic note made by his voice going through the fan. None of us even knows how or when he climbed up onto the table in front of the window but now none of us can stop laughing.
Mr. James turns out the lights. Kenny flips over, swings his short legs to fling hisself off the table, and runs to his seat, folding his fingers together like nothing even happened. Mr. James shakes his head as he walks over to turn on the SMART Board.
“Thas what I’m talkin’ about! We finna go back to sleep, y’all!” Kenny blurts out, looking at the picture on the screen.
“That’s enough, Kenny. Class, what do you see here?
“Like I sa—” Mr. James walks over to Kenny’s desk and puts one hand on it. Kenny covers his own mouth with one hand and points to it with the other.
“It look like people sleeping on the street,” somebody says.
“They took pillows out they bedroom and used it outside on the ground,” somebody else says. Some more kids raise their hands, pointing at the screen, saying things like They got blankets! and Maybe they don’t have no house to sleep at like Mr. Sunny and They have signs and they eyes is closed!
Maria reads what one of the signs on the ground says: “I SLEEP FOR BREONNA. Oo-oo-oo! I know that name, Mr. James!”
Mr. James walks away from Kenny’s desk and to the front of the room, leaning his back on the chalkboard. For a minute I’m happy for Mr. James. Today he got on a black shirt with a red bow tie, and for once, the chalkboard doesn’t have any chalk on it. That could have been all bad for the rappin’ teacher’s look.
“I know who that is, too!”
“Me too! That’s the girl who used to be on the news!”
“Yeah, that’s Breonna Taylor! She look just like my cousin Lisa, Mr. James,” somebody else says.
“We all know that name by now, don’t we? And the person who had that name looks like a lot of our family members, huh?” Mr. James’s question makes me sit up in my seat a little.
“Yeah, we know that name, Mr. James. But why the people in the picture layin’ in the street? How can cars get through if all those people are pretending to sleep in the street?” I ask.
“That’s the point.” Sometimes Mr. James sounds like he’s speaking in riddles and I don’t feel so smart, even though, one time, Aaron said that’s why my head’s so big. He said I know too much for my own good, whatever that means. “Do you think you could ignore all those people lying down in the street if you were in the car with your family trying to go somewhere? Would you still be able to go where you’re going if they didn’t move out of the way?”
“I guess not,” I say, hearing myself sounding still confused.
“Would you want to know why they were lying there?”
“They need to get out the way or they gon’ get ran over!” Lil Kenny strikes again.
“I would want to know,” Maria says finally. “I already do.” That’s when she turns around in her seat to look me in the eye. “Simon, don’t you remember when we were watching the news with ’Buela that one summer and how the news people were talking about her? Don’t you remember the people they were interviewing who kept saying it was taking too many days for her justice?”
“Yeah” is all I can say. I start to remember but everything feels blurry cuz I don’t remember much happening after that.
“What did that sign say her name was?” Mr. James asks Maria, making her turn back around in her seat.
“Her full name.”
“Her name was Breonna Taylor,” Maria tells him.
“That’s right. Say her name, class.”
BREONNA TAYLOR, I say with the class.
BREONNA TAYLOR! we say loud enough for anyone who might be in the hall to hear.
“Those people were lying in the street so you all can do what you’re doing right now: remembering someone who suffered an injustice like her. They were lying in the street to bring attention to police brutality and demand an end to it. They were lying in the street to tell the world that what happened to Breonna Taylor isn’t okay and that it needs to stop,” said Mr. James, more serious than I’ve ever heard him sound.
“A protest!” Maria screams, almost jumping out of her seat. That is a protest? Marches and Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks speeches we did during Black History Month back in, like, the second grade start coming back to my brain but not people laying in the street. Not being… quiet. Every time we hear that word, people got they fists up, yelling.
“That’s right, Maria. This is called a protest.” Mr. James calls Maria up to the front to give her a stack of paper to hand out to the class. I sit staring at the picture of the people in the street while she walks around handing one to each of us. “This week we gon’ explore different ways to protest or let the world or our community know something isn’t okay with us and that we want it to stop. I’ve given each of you a different picture to study tonight for homework. I want a two-paragraph free-write about what you notice in your picture and some of your thoughts about what you see. What are the people in your picture fighting for? What are they doing that makes it a protest? Do you think it will work? What is something you would protest?”
A loud screech screams from the old intercom nailed to the wall above the class door like an angry bird. All our heads turn to look at it as Mr. James sits on the edge of his desk. It looks like it was built back when Sunny was a student at Booker T. and they never even tried to make it match how our school looks now. We hear Ms. Berry clear her throat into the mic before the announcements:
HAPPY MONDAY, BOOKER T. TODAY’S LUNCH IS CHICKEN NUGGETS, SEASONED FRENCH FRIES, YOUR CHOICE OF JUICE OR MILK, AND JELL-O FOR DESSERT. AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, THE AC IS DOWN AGAIN. PLEASE BE SURE TO DRINK LOTS OF WATER TODAY. TEACHERS, PLEASE MAKE TIME FOR TRIPS TO THE WATER FOUNTAIN. I WILL BE COMING AROUND TO SEE IF YOU NEED FANS AND WILL BRING THEM TO CLASSES IF ANY ARE AVAILABLE. MAKE IT A FANTASTIC DAY. HA-HA, FAN-TASTIC! GET IT?
“AIN’T NOTHING FAN-TASTIC, OR WHATEVER, about that dusty fan they be making Mr. James use cuz the AC always broken,” I tell C.J. while waiting for Mr. James to pass out recess equipment. We wait right by the doors that lead back outside.
“Yeah! Simon changed his whole look in class twice! It was like magic. Every period, a new look. Good planning ahead, friend!” Maria says this in the high pitch she uses when she’s tryna get back on my good side.
“It’s aight, Ri-Ri. Not everybody understands my genius!” I say, playing it cool. I turn toward Mr. James, who’s just walked up behind us with a big orange-netted bag full of kickballs, cones, and boxes of sidewalk chalk. Kids run toward us like magnets tryna get first dibs. Even though the younger kids are supposed to pick first, he has everybody make a line down the hall behind me. Maria and C.J. chill on the steps right outside the door, where I can still hear them.
“Mrs. Leary brought a fancy fan from her house. She still ain’t figured out how to set it up in a place where it don’t blow papers off her desk every day, though,” C.J. says, tightening his second set of shoelaces. He leans back and puts his arms behind his head, pretending he’s kicking his feet up in a recliner chair like the one at my granny’s house, and adds: “And ain’t none of us about to help her figure it out. We can’t help that she old. Less homework for us! Haaaaa!”
Mr. James overhears C.J.’s shenanigans. “Aye, you gon’ be old one day, too, lil man,” he says, handing me a red kickball.
“Oh, nah, I’ma be like this forever! Y’all chumps can get wrinkly and weird if you want to!”
A Junior Library Guild Selection—Derrick Barnes, Newbery Honor author and two-time Kirkus Prize winner
“Dwayne Reed has done it again! This unforgettable protagonist will inspire young readers to utilize whatever skill and talent they possess.”
“Change is possible and books like this one help remind us of exactly that. Within these pages you’ll find courage, community, and some really, really great rhymes. I love Simon.”—Brad Montague, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author
- "Readers encounter Simon’s infectious personality, lively raps, warm, loving family, and collection of loyal friends….A timely tale that successfully blends the challenges of urban communities with hope and optimism."—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Simon B. Rhymin'
“Upbeat and heartfelt, Simon B. Rhymin' is a sure-fire hit!”—Lincoln Peirce, New York Times bestselling creator of Big Nate and Max & the Midknights
- "I love Simon. I love his heart, his rhythm and rhyme. We've been needing his voice for a long, long time."—Liesl Shurtliff, New York Times bestselling author of Rump
- "An authentic voice, strong friendships and loads of laughs make rhymin’ Simon a winner."—Tom Watson, author of Stick Dog
*“Reed writes his characters with compassionate and keen insight, effectively conveying the transformative power of art, storytelling, and community.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- On Sale
- Apr 5, 2022
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers