Emma's teacher smiled at the group of waiting kindergarteners. "We have the grand finale in the poetry festival," she told them with the air of magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. "The whole evening leads up to us."
Emma looked around the classroom at the other five and six-year-olds, all of whom looked awed. Jeremy looked like he might cry, while Annabel was already waving her hand in the air.
"Can I have the big part?" asked Annabel. "In Beauty-and-the-Beast-on-Broadway --" she pronounced this as if were one long word -- "there was a beautiful princess in the grand finale." She paused to inhale. "In Disney-Princess-Fantasia-on-Ice there was a finale with all of the princesses." Annabel looked around the class almost, Emma thought, as if she were challenging the bunch of them. "I could be the beautiful princess," Annabel said.
"Thank you, Annabel," said the teacher. "The whole group will be the finale, in fact."
There was a nervous silence as the children waited.
"We're reciting a poem called 'The Butterfly Ball," and -- yes, Annabel, I see you hand -- we'll all be animals," said Mrs. Robin.
"Is that because your name is Mrs. Robin?" asked Ethan, which Emma thought was a good question. He forgot to raise his hand, she noticed.
"I won't be an animal in the poem," explained the teacher. "I'll be the director animal." She laughed, and the class laughed with her politely.
It was clear to Emma what was going through her classmates' minds. Which animal would each child be? Would there be a selection process? A food chain of kindergarten animals, where the most powerful in the class would select first. Would costumes be involved? And, of course, who would be the butterfly?
Repeating after the teacher, the children said, "If I can't find a a dress that's smaller than small, then I can't go to the butterfly ball."
"Hmmm," said Mrs. Robin. "Not bad for the first day, but it's almost as if you're all thinking about something else. That part is the chorus that we'll repeat over and over. Then each animal or pair of animals has a special line."
Pair of animals, thought Emma. A new worry.