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It was near the end of his fifth-grade year. Around eleven thirty one morning during silent reading Greg felt hungry, so he had started to think about his lunch: a ham-and-cheese sandwich, a bag of nacho cheese Doritos, a bunch of red grapes, and an apple-cherry juice box.
His mom had made him a bag lunch, which was fine with Greg. Making a lunch was a lot cheaper than buying one, and Greg loved saving money whenever possible. Plus home food was usually better than school food. And on days he brought a bag lunch his mom also gave him fifty cents to buy dessert. Which was also fine with Greg. Sometimes he bought a treat, and sometimes he held on to the money. On this particular day he had been planning to spend both quarters on an ice-cream sandwich.
Then Greg remembered where his lunch was: at home on the kitchen counter. He did have a dollar of his own money in his wallet, and he had two quarters from his mom in his front pocket, but a whole school lunch cost two bucks. He needed two more quarters.
So Greg had walked to the front of the classroom, waited until his teacher looked up from her book, and then said, "Mrs. McCormick, I left my lunch at home. May I borrow fifty cents?"
Mrs. McCormick had not missed a teaching opportunity in over twenty years. So she shook her head, and in a voice loud enough for the whole class to hear, she said, "I'm sorry, but no, I will not lend you money. Do you know what would happen if I handed out fifty cents to all the boys and girls who forgot their lunches? I'd go broke, that's what. You need to learn to remember these things for yourself."
Then, turning to the class, Mrs. McCormick had announced, "Greg needs some lunch money. Can someone lend him fifty cents?"
Over half of the kids in the class raised a hand.
Embarrassed, Greg had hurried over to Brian Lemont, and Brian handed him two quarters.
"Thanks," Greg said. "Pay you back tomorrow."
Ten minutes later Greg was in the cafeteria line, shaking all four quarters around in his pocket. They made a nice clinking sound, and that had reminded Greg how much he liked quarters. Stack up four, and you've got a dollar. Stack up twenty quarters, and that's five dollars. Greg remembered one day when he had piled up all his quarters on his dresser -- four stacks, and each had been over a foot tall. Stacking up quarters like that always made Greg feel rich.
So on that day in April of his fifth-grade year, Greg had started looking around the cafeteria, and everywhere he looked, he saw quarters. He saw kids trading quarters for ice-cream sandwiches and cupcakes and cookies at the dessert table. He saw kids over at the school store trading quarters for neon pens and sparkly pencils, and for little decorations like rubber soccer balls and plastic butterflies to stick onto the ends of those new pencils. He saw Albert Hobart drop three quarters into a machine so he could have a cold can of juice with his lunch. Kids were buying extra food, fancy pens and pencils, special drinks and snacks. There were quarters all over the place, buckets of them.
And then Greg remembered those hands that had been raised back in his classroom, all those kids who'd had a couple of quarters to lend him -- extra quarters.
Excited, Greg had started making some calculations in his head -- another one his talents. There were about 450 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at Ashworth Intermediate School. If even half of those kids had two extra quarters to spend every day, then there had to be at least four hundred quarters floating around the school. That was a hundred dollars a day, over five hundred dollars each week -- money, extra money, just jingling around in pockets and lunch bags!
At that moment Greg's view of school changed completely and forever. School had suddenly become the most interesting place on the planet. Because young Greg Kenton had decided that school would be an excellent place to make his fortune.
Text copyright 2005 by Andrew Clements Illustrations copyright 2005 by Brian Selznick
Illustrations copyright 2005 by Brian Selznick