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Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Author:Ellen Oh

Flying Lessons & Other Stories

Ellen Oh

This book is dedicated to the memory of Walter Dean Myers, who said, “There is work to be done.” So our work continues.

—Ellen Oh


Dear Reader,

When I was little, I found an abandoned kitten on the street. It was mangy, flea-ridden, and mean, but so cute. I loved it. We lived in an apartment building that had a NO PETS ALLOWED sign in the lobby. But I didn’t care. I’d always wanted a pet. I mean, I had a baby sister, but she wasn’t as fun as a kitten. I was determined to take it home, even though I knew my parents would be mad because it was against the rules. So I scooped George up—yeah, I had already decided to name him George—tucked him close to my chest, and headed for home.

By the time I walked the five blocks to my building, I was a wreck. I looked like a monster. Not only did George manage to scratch up my entire face and chest, but he also taught me that I was terribly allergic to cats. My eyes swelled into leaky water balloons, and I was covered in huge welts that looked like radioactive leeches had attached themselves all over my body. My parents totally freaked out.

When my dad took George away from me, I whisper-yelled through my swollen throat, “That’s my cat!” As I reached for my pet, he hissed at me and scratched me one last time in good-bye.

Turns out George wasn’t alone. All cats hate me. Which is why I now own a dog. But I’ll never forget George. He’s the story my parents loved to bring up at every family reunion. About how I saved a poor orphaned kitten that tried to kill me.

But we all have stories like that, right? They might be milk-snorting-out-of-your-nose funny ones, or listen-to-how-cool-and-awesome-we-are ones, or come-close-so-we-can-whisper-in-your-ear juicy ones. They might be old favorites or stories about new experiences. But no matter what, our stories are unique, just like we are. And that is what this book is all about—ten diverse stories from ten great authors. For all of us.

Ellen Oh

How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium


It’s finally summer.

Go ahead, take a deep breath. You’re free.

All year long your moms has been on you like glue about algebra worksheets and science fair projects and the knee-high stack of books Mrs. Baker assigned for English class. And you did what you had to do. Two As and four Bs.

Truth is, you’re actually pretty smart.

School comes easy.

You told Baker in that end-of-the-year five-page paper what was up with Esperanza’s dreams and the symbolism of the Mango Street house, and you pulled down a 96 percent—second-highest grade in the class. But even as you typed out that essay, you had an indoor-outdoor in your lap. Between sentences you daydreamed finger rolls over outstretched hands.

See, here’s what all the hard-core homework pushers don’t get.

For people like you, ball is more than just ball.

It’s a way out.

A path to those tree-lined lives they always show on TV.

You’ve crunched the numbers and read the tea leaves. Fact is, you’ll never hit the books as hard as Boy Genius Jeremiah Villa. Sylvia Diaz, either. Even your boy Francisco, from down the hall. There are folks in this world who live to mark up a fat World History textbook with an arsenal of colored highlighters.

You’re not one of them.

You spend too much time on back-alley ball-handling drills to compete.

Nah, the game of basketball is your best chance.

The Fate of Your Hoop Development

For the past three years you’ve spent every free minute balling at an outdoor court down the street from your building. After school. After games. Weekends. You name it.

Most nights you’re still out there putting up shots, alone, when the sun falls behind the ocean and the automatic park lights come flickering on, spilling that strange yellow half-light across the cracked concrete.

Ball is like anything else.

Put in enough hours, your game’s gonna blast off.

Your jumper’s now pure out to twenty-five feet, give or take. You’ve developed a little floater in the lane that leaves slow-footed big men flailing. But it’s your handle that sets you apart. Your quicks. The way you can get into the paint at will and finish with either hand.

This past season you scored more points than any other eighth grader in the county.

You were second in assists.

So what.

It ain’t good enough, and you know it.

Not if you want to be even more dominant next year, in high school.

That’s why your ears perk up when you overhear a couple newcomers talking about Muni Gym in Balboa Park. When you overhear the dude with love handles sitting on the stairs say to his boy, “It’s the best run in the entire city, B. I put that on everything.”