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Children's Stories

© Yelena Yasen. Leadership Training Program. New York, 1994

Yelena Yasen


Leadership Training Program




Edited by Jean Fiedler, the author of more than 20 books for children published by David McKay, Abelard-Schumann, Whitman Publishing, Western Publishing, Holiday House, and Hart Publishing Company.   Ms. Fiedler has also written an adult novel, Atone with Evil, published in 1976 by Bantam, and she co-authored The Science Fiction of Issac Asimov published by Frederick Unger.  Her children novel, The Year the World Was out of Step with Jancy Fried, was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.


* * *


It’s 11:30 p. m.  Nadine went to sleep an hour and a half ago.  She turned around on her couch one hundred times already—didn’t help.  She’s still awake.  Her things are packed, and the talisman, which Michael gave her last summer—a funny fat man with the green ring around his left little finger—is tied up to her bag.  She is surely ready for tomorrow, but, still, she’s scared.

Tomorrow is a big day.  She’s going to the Rangeley’s Redwood Camp in Main; for the first time in her life.  But so many things can get wrong.  What if she’s late? Two hours is a long ride from the Bronx to the Port Authority bus station, where she must be at 10 a.m. sharp! Then she’d miss the bus and would never get to the camp! Will she find Chris with the ‘Redwood Camp’ sign on the second floor of the South Wing right away? Mom explained to her a dozens of times how to get to the South Wing from the 42nd Street subway station. “But it’s scary anyway, if you’ve never been there before,” Nadine is turning around on her couch again.  “Why couldn’t Mom go to the Port Authority with me tomorrow? I did ask, but she said:

“No way, tomorrow the auditor is coming.”
“So what? And who is this auditor guy anyway?”
“This ‘guy’ is coming to check my work for the entire year.”
“So let him come another day!” Nadine almost yelled.
“I can’t. There are deadlines, don’t you understand?”
All of a sudden Mom started laughing.
“Come on, girl!  You’re going on fifteen next month.  You have been babysitting Vivek and Shauna as a real grown-up for two years by now.  You’ll be all right.”

“Yah, she’ll be all right, but it’d be much better to go to Manhattan with Mom, just like all four of them did go to the American Museum of Natural History last fall.”  Such a great day it was—in the very beginning of September.  The morning was warm.  While Nadine was having milk with her favorite Apple Raisin cereal, she was looking at the gold leaves in their backyard, thinking of the real forest around Granny’s house in Rangeley, Main, 1,000 miles away from New York.

One hundred years ago, before Vivek and Shauna were born, Nadine and Mom visited Granny in Rangeley, where she had a great time with Granny for three weeks.  Every day they went to the woods to pick up blueberries.  And every day Nadine would listen there to the birds.  She could listen to the birds forever, while watching them flying around.  How much she wanted then to learn everything about those birds—their names and habits, their ways to take care of their chicks—just everything. After returning home Nadine kept asking Mom to go to Granny over and over again. But Mom had never have time—she just worked and worked, often even on weekends. But one day, all of a sudden, Mom said:

“You know what? It’s not that simple for all four of us to go to Granny right now.  But next Sunday we all’ll go to the New York Museum of Natural History, and… I’m telling you, you’ll love it.”

And so next Sunday, at 10 a.m. Mom, Nadine, Vivek, and Shauna, took the train, and after an hour and half ride they were entering the museum’s Rose Center Entrance at 81st Street near Columbus Avenue.  At first, they felt lost inside.  There were signs all over, and Mom had no idea where to start.  “Let’s just turn to the right, and see what happens,” she finally said.  In a minute they found themselves in a very unusual room.  It looked like a huge open fan.  Now Nadine knows—this type of rooms is called diorama.  On purpose, dioramas are designed as natural forest scenes to display animals and birds from different parts of the world.

“Mom, look,” Nadine couldn’t stop from turning her head around, “It’s like in the woods where Granny’s house is!”  All of a sudden she noticed the group of 12-15 kids of her age standing around a tall guy with the long blond hair.  He was pointing out to the birds behind one of the dioramas’ glass, saying:

“With these very species from the Eastern American habitats we’ll work during three weeks in the summer in our Rangeley summer camp.”

“O my God, Mom,” Nadine cried, “This is where Granny lives! Can you believe it?”

“There are so many tricks the birds use to hide themselves in the forest,” in the meantime the tall guy was saying.  “Their furthers may look like scraps of leaves, or bulb petals, or even like little colorful bolts.  Of course, it helps them to hide from other birds, or animals, or people, but it’s not enough.  The thing is that during the last several decades fewer and fewer birds are able to survive because of weather changes and cutting down big forests by people, which leads to fires, floods, and eventually destroys a big part of our natural resources.  Through our camp’s Leadership Training Program you’ll learn how to protect the birds in these worsening nature conditions.  You’ll be trained in how to catch them in order to mark their feathers, and that is what’ll allow our museum’s researchers to follow the birds’ paths, and recreate the habitats for them in similar locations, where they’d build their nests and grow their chicks.”

Never in her entire life had Nadine heard anything as incredible as this.  “To mark birds’ feathers—right where Granny lives! To help them building their nests to grow their chicks! How come these kids are so lucky?”  Nadine thought.  “Should I ask how to join this leader…ship program?  But who am I anyway to talk to this blond guy?  He’s funny.  No one could beat him in how to tell the story, it’s for sure.  But how do I ask him? He doesn’t even know that I’m here listening…”

“Did you like our session?”
All of a sudden Nadine heard the voice above her head. She looked around and noticed that everybody was gone but the tall man.  He was standing right in front of her, smiling.
“Yes,” that’s all she could say.
“Do you want to join us?” he asked again.
“To join?!  Can I?”
“In which city’s borough do you live?” the blond guy continued smiling.
“In the Bronx.”
“That’s great.  You entitled to join the program.  You think you could make it—each Sunday morning, 11:30 sharp?”

Nadine looked at Mom, then at Shauna, then at Vivek.  Mom and Shauna were smiling; Vivek, in the meantime, was playing with his favorite horse toy—he couldn’t be more careless about the greatest moment of Nadine’s entire life, almost the greatest.  The greatest one was when Michael gave her a funny fat man with the green ring.

“That is how it all happened thanks to Chris! O my goodness, what if the “Save the Nature” foundation wouldn’t have organized this real-cool program for the Bronx’s and Brooklyn’s junior-high schools’ kids?  I would have never met Chris.  I would never have a chance to go the camp tomorrow. I would never… ”  All of a sudden she feels that her excitement is gone.   “What am I afraid of?  For the whole school year I have been riding to the museum on my own, and was always okay.  So what’s so different about tomorrow?  In fact, it’s even safer to be in the train on a week day.  Many people go to work.  Of course, it’d be nice to go with Mom.  But that’s what I’m going to learn in the camp anyway—how to lead. So next morning I’ll lead myself:  I’ll find the South Wing in the Port Authority, and I’ll find Chris with his “Redwood Camp” sign! And I won’t be late—no way!”  Suddenly Nadine feels very sleepy.  She tries to recall if she has already put Michael’s present in her bag, or it’s still waiting for her outside to tell her “Good Morning” tomorrow.  But she can’t think clearly any more.  In a minute she’s asleep.






About Yelena Yasen

Yelena Yasen (Елена Ясногородская): M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Russia. Work history includes: The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Brooklyn Museum, New York; New School for Social Research, New York. Presently: College Professor, Writer, Art Designer; an author of "Russian Children's Book Illustration or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde" (Institute of Modern Russian Culture, University of Southern California, Archive) and more than 30 published articles in Russian and English.


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