All of the Above


By Shelley Pearsall

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Based on a true story, All of the Above is the delightful and suspenseful story of four inner city students and their quest to build the world’s largest tetrahedron. Weaving together the different personal stories of the kids, their teacher, and the community that surrounds them, award-winning author Shelley Pearsall has written a vividly engaging story about the math, life and good-tasting barbecue. Filled with unexpected humor, poignant characters and quiet brilliance, All of the Above is a surprising gem.


Copyright © 2006 by Shelley Pearsall

Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Javaka Steptoe

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown and Company

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First eBook Edition: January 2008

First published in hardcover in 2006 by Little, Brown and Company

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

The Little, Brown and Company name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-316-05590-1


Before this story begins, there are a few facts you should know. This is not for a quiz, but if it was, I would tell you to write the following facts neatly in your math notebook:

1. Tetrahedrons are geometric solids with four faces. All four faces are equilateral triangles.

2. Small tetrahedrons can be joined together to make larger ones.

3. The largest tetrahedron ever constructed was approximately seven feet tall, and it was made of 4,096 smaller tetrahedrons.

4. It was built by students at a private school in California. They had plenty of time and money.

5. I teach at a city school in Cleveland, Ohio, where I have been a middle school math teacher for the past twenty years.

6. We don't have much time or money.

7. The idea for the tetrahedron project began with one of my worst classes in twenty years of teaching.

8. It happened on a Friday.


I don't listen to nothing in Collins' math class. Only thing I listen for is the bell. That bell at the end of class is just about the sweetest sound in the world. The whole class, I sit there waiting on that bell and watching the hands of the clock jump from one little black mark to the next. You ever notice how school clocks do that? How they don't move like other clocks do; they jump ahead like bugs?

I even saw one move backward once. I swear the hands went five minutes back right before lunch. I told the teacher that the clock was cheating us out of recess and got a detention just for saying that.

Mr. Collins teaches seventh grade math and I'm telling you, straight up, he's one of the worst teachers you can get at Washington Middle School. My older brother, DJ, had him for math two years ago. He told me Collins would do nothing but talk and write on the board for the whole period, and the hardest part of his class was not falling asleep. And forget his tests; don't even bother to try.

Every Friday, me and Terrell and three of the other guys who can keep their big mouths shut take bets on which tie Collins will have on when he walks in. He's been wearing the same ones for forever. DJ's class did the same thing. Everybody put in a quarter and whoever guessed right on the day they were betting got all the money.

It gonna be pea green, puke orange, red stripe, yellow diamond, or dirt brown, today, huh?

I've won three bucks so far this year, and it's only September.

But then one Friday, Collins did something crazy. Like cracked. I was sitting there in class that afternoon staring at the jumping clock like usual, and Collins' voice was going on and on about how important geometry was. Yeah, right. His voice was talking to itself, while his hand drew on the board.

This is a cylinder, class. This is a cube.

Nobody was paying attention to a word he was saying.

This is a cold Pepsi can, my mind said. This is a box with a big, juicy Big Mac inside. No mustard. Extra ketchup.

And then Collins suddenly stops his hand in midair, whips around, and stares at us. "Is anybody listening to me?" He waves his arms and yells. You know, it was almost funny. You could see the little veins in his forehead popping out and his neck starting to turn beet red.

All week he'd been giving us this same line. How nobody in our class was listening to him. What's there to listen to? That's what I kept wanting to ask. Only four people turned in their homework on Tuesday and almost everybody failed his quiz on Wednesday, and you shoulda seen him losing it about that—

But this time he completely flips out. He throws his piece of yellow chalk onto the stack of papers sitting on his desk, goes over to the side of the room, and stands there staring out the windows with his arms crossed. While he's doing that, the piece of chalk rolls off the papers, hits the floor, and shatters into a thousand little pieces. That makes everybody crack up. But Collins, he doesn't even turn around to look. He just keeps standing there at the window, not saying a word.

I swear he doesn't move for about a half hour. You shoulda seen the looks the whole class was giving behind Collins' back while he stood there. Everybody rolling their eyes at each other and pretending to cough and shaking their heads. Like nobody knows what to think.

When Collins finally does turn around, he's got his serious face on. You know the one I'm talking about. Like we are about to get another big long lecture. Maybe because me and Terrell are in the row right next to where he's standing, Collins starts in on us first. I slouch down in my chair, figuring he'll get a clue and move somewhere else. But he doesn't.

"James," he says, "what would make you care about being here?"

"Where?" I ask, trying to give the least answer I can.

"Right here. Math class, room 307, Washington Middle School, Cleveland, Ohio." Collins motions toward the windows. "What would make you want to be right here, in room 307, James?"

"Nothing. I hate math," I say to Collins, and the whole class starts laughing.

"I'm sorry to hear that," the teacher answers in a strange voice once the class gets quiet again. He moves on to Terrell next. "You, Terrell? What about you?"

Behind me, Terrell's answer is too low to hear. I mean I hear it because that's the way me and Terrell talk all the time in class, but Collins doesn't. He comes walking closer to him. "I didn't hear exactly what you answered," he warns.

"Maybe some kinda contest," Terrell mumbles.

I swear under my breath. You tell him about the ties and you're a dead man, Terrell. DJ and the others would never let me forget it if Collins found out. I could hear my brother already—"Figures you'd be the fools who'd go and give away the whole thing. Been doing this for years and your class had to be the one that snitched."

"A contest…" Collins repeats Terrell's words like he always does with whatever you answer. "What kind of contest?"

I can hear Terrell shifting around in his seat behind me. "Just a contest," he mumbles again, "or something like that."

For about a minute, the teacher stands there staring into space like he's thinking about Terrell's answer or waiting to hear something more. Then he goes back up to the chalkboard, erases the whole thing, and starts drawing these big crazy lines. The chalk goes screak, screak, screak, like fingernails scraping, he draws so hard. He slashes one diagonal chalk line from the top of the board to the bottom, then a straight line top to bottom, then another diagonal one, then a few more at the bottom until there is something that looks like a big pyramid on the board.

"Anybody know what this is?" he says loudly, rapping his knuckles on the board.

Nobody says a word. I think everybody believes Collins has lost his mind.

"T-E-T-R-A-H-E-D-R-O-N" the teacher writes in big crooked letters across the whole board. Then, he whips around and shouts, "WHY AREN'T ANY OF YOU WRITING THIS DOWN?"

I yank Terrell's pencil out of his hand and tell him he had better keep his fat mouth shut for the rest of class. On the inside cover of one of my notebooks, I copy the word from the board. TETRA HEED RON. That's what I put down.

While Collins is writing the definition, I draw a guy standing on a tall, pointy mountain with the words "Help me, help me! I'm Tetra Heed Ron" coming out of the guy's mouth. That cracks me up. I turn around to show it to Terrell and a shadow falls across my desk.

"I'll take that notebook," Collins says. The little metal spirals make a zipping sound as he pulls it right out of my hand and tosses it onto his desk. Man, another detention. I slam my chair back so hard it hits Terrell's desk behind me.

"Starting on Monday, here's the contest we are going to have," Collins says to the class.

I don't even listen. Who cares about some dumb math contest?

"We are going to have a contest to build one of these." Collins smacks his palm on the chalkboard pyramid and chalk dust flies up in the air. "A tetrahedron. Nobody has ever made one larger than six levels before. That's the record. So, our school is going to build a bigger one." Collins looks around the classroom like he is expecting us to be excited about his crazy idea. "So what do you think? Who wants to give this a try?"

Not one single person raises their hand, because what kind of contest is that? Building a pyramid? How's that gonna make math class any better? But the teacher keeps going on and on. Telling us how some school in California holds the world record. How their six-level one had 4,096 pieces. How our school could get into the Guinness Book of World Records if we do this. How we could be on the news across the country.

Yeah, right. I just keep my eyes on the jumping clock.

"How about it, Terrell? It was your idea to have a contest," Collins says, walking around trying to convince people. "Donte—how about you? Or Sharice? Rhondell?"

The teacher looks over at me again. "James—you have art talent. You could do this. Don't you want to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for something? Don't you want to see your name right there on its own page"—he draws a page in the air with his hands—"James Harris III?"

No. Wish you would just get away from me, fool, that's what I wish.

Sharice, who's always kissing up to the teachers, says maybe. And Rhondell Jeffries, who's got brains but is nothing to look at, says she'll think about it, too. Nobody else agrees to help, except for Marcel.

He waves his hand in the air and says if they need somebody to sign autographs and take pictures with all the ladies, he'll be there. Marcel always thinks he's something, just because everybody in town knows his daddy owns Willy Q's Barbecue.

I could pound Marcel's face into barbecue with one hand if I wanted to.

"All right," Collins says, just as the bell rings. "Anybody who wants to be part of this project, be here after school on Monday." As I'm sliding out the door in the middle of the other kids, Collins holds up my notebook and calls out, "Detention on Monday or here, James. Your choice."

Yeah, right.

Like I got any choice.


All the way home on the bus in the rain, I roll the word tetrahedron around in my mouth. I keep my face turned toward the steamed-up bus window, and I let my lips try the word over and over without using my voice. Tetrahedron.

I wonder if this is one of those words that might get me into college someday. It sounds as if it could. Inside my mind, I keep a whole collection of college words for someday. Words like epiphany, quiescent, metamorphosis…

My mom says it's okay to have dreams about going to college, but a person must face reality, too. Reality is that nobody we know has ever gone to college, and we don't have any money to go with, and you have to be very, very smart or very lucky to get in.

Sometimes I imagine college as a big wooden door where you have to knock and say the right password to get in. Only people who know big words like metamorphosis and epiphany are allowed inside. So, I think I try to save all the words I can because maybe deep down, I believe they will somehow get me inside college without money or luck.

But around here, if you talk and act like you have dreams, or as if you think you are better than everybody else, it only causes trouble. So, I keep most of my college words locked up in my head, and I try to make it through each day by saying as few words as possible. "She's quiet" is the way most people describe me, and I figure being quiet is just fine because it means you won't be bothered.

As the bus rattles down Washington Boulevard with everybody shouting and shoving past my seat because I'm one of the last to be dropped off, I draw a little tetrahedron in the window steam with my finger, and I try to decide if being in Mr. Collins' contest will get me a step closer to my dream or not.


When I am asked why I started the tetrahedron project, I usually—but not always—give one of the following answers:

1. I don't know exactly why.

2. I had been reading an article about the California school and their math record.

3. I was frustrated with my teaching, my school, my students, myself.

4. I was approaching my limit—or in mathematical terms, convergence.

5. All of the above.

Sometimes I also admit that although starting the project was my idea, I never really expected any of my students to show up—and I didn't have a plan when they did.


Six people are already in the math room when I get there on Monday. This kinda surprises me a little. I take a look around the doorway first 'cause if it's only me and Mr. Collins, I don't plan on sticking around. But then I see Ashlee and Deandra from math class. They are hanging all over Terrell (how desperate can you be?) and passing a bag of chips back and forth.

Marcel is there, too, acting like his usual self. He's sitting on the edge of Mr. Collins' metal desk, banging a rhythm on the side of it with his shoes. And James is in the corner near the windows not paying attention to anybody, with his head down on his desk and the hood of his gray sweatshirt pulled up.

Since I'm not crazy about Marcel (and definitely not James), I slide into the desk next to Rhondell and thunk my backpack on the floor.

"Hey, girl," I say, trying to be friendly even though Rhondell is a real hard person to figure out. She's plain-looking, but not in an ugly way, and she's smart, but not in a lord-it-over-your-head way, and she's friendly, but not in a real friendly way.

"Hi, Sharice," she says, glancing up quick from the book she's reading and then back again. To tell you the truth, it kinda surprises me that she actually knows my name, because Rhondell is one of those people who seem like they wouldn't be bothered with knowing people's names at all because they have too many other important things to think about.


On Sale
Dec 21, 2008
Page Count
256 pages

Shelley Pearsall

About the Author

A former teacher and museum historian, Shelley Pearsall is now a full-time writer. Her first novel, Trouble Don’t Last, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. She has six novels for tweens and teens, published by Random House and Hachette Books and visits schools to talk about books and writing.


ALL OF THE ABOVE is a nationally-recognized novel for grades 4 thru 8 which has been used by schools across the country because of its STEM connections. Several middle schools have read the entire book together in a single day, which you can read more about at her site One Book, One Day.  She lives in Akron, Ohio.

Learn more about this author