First-Grade Gracie

(Based on an experience from the life of the author’s granddaughter)
I’m happy as can be when I am helping others, for then I’m helping me (Children’s Songbook, 197).

Gracie twisted a strand of curly hair around her finger. “Is anyone else going to repeat first grade?”

“I don’t know, honey.” Mom put her arm around Gracie.

“Then why do I have to?” Gracie asked.

“Mrs. Carter says that sometimes you don’t understand the work,” Mom said. “She thinks that is why you talk to your neighbors instead of finishing your own papers.”

“But Mom, if I don’t go on to second grade, all my friends will think I did something wrong.” Gracie’s eyes filled with tears. “They’ll laugh at me if I’m in first grade again.”

Mom said gently, “You know how hard reading is for you? And how upset you get when you can’t do your math pages?”

Gracie nodded.

“Honey, you’re not quite ready for second-grade work.”

Gracie put her hands over her face and burst into tears. “I know! I’m not smart.”

“Gracie, that’s not true.”

“Yes, it is,” Gracie sobbed. “I’m the only one who still sounds out every word when I read. And yesterday, when the teacher wasn’t listening, Dalton called me stupid.”

Mom cuddled Gracie and let her cry. “You’re not stupid, Gracie. But you are younger than most of the children in your class. That makes a big difference.”

Mom tipped Gracie’s chin up and smiled into her eyes. “You know what? We have three whole summer months ahead of us, and we’re going to practice reading every day. When school starts again, first grade will be much easier. You’ll see.”

But on the first day of school, Gracie did not feel smarter. She just felt taller—like a giant standing in line with the new first graders.

Gracie saw her old friends lining up in front of the second-grade classroom. Her shoulders sagged. She slouched and stared straight ahead, trying to make herself invisible.

She noticed a new girl in front of her. A shiny black braid hung down the girl’s back, and she stood very still, as if she was scared.

Gracie remembered how afraid she had been last year when she was new. She tapped the girl on the shoulder.

“You’re going to love our teacher,” she said. “Mrs. Carter is really nice.”

The girl turned and stared at Gracie with round, dark eyes.

“Hey, Gracie!” Dalton yelled from down the hall. “You’re in the wrong line, dummy! This is the line for second graders.”

Gracie’s cheeks felt hot. She ignored him.

“I have to repeat the first grade,” Gracie said to the girl.

The girl looked at Dalton. “He … no es amable,” she said softly, then shook her head. “I mean … he is not kind.”

Gracie grinned. “My name is Gracie.”

“I am Juanita,” said the dark-eyed girl. “We just moved here.”

The classroom door opened, and Mrs. Carter smiled at the waiting children. “Welcome!” she said as they filed in. Gracie took Juanita’s hand and helped her find her name at one of the tables.

Later that morning Gracie showed Juanita where the girls’ bathroom was. She helped her get a hot lunch in the noisy cafeteria and explained about the bells for recess.

In the afternoon Gracie helped the shy boy next to her with his math page. Then she showed a girl with curly red hair how to sharpen her pencil so that the lead didn’t break.

All week Gracie was so busy helping the new first graders that she forgot she didn’t want to be there.

On Friday, Mrs. Carter called a class meeting. Gracie and Juanita sat next to each other in California, on the carpet that was a huge map of the United States.

Mrs. Carter pointed to the bulletin board. “Would anybody like to try to read the class rules to us?”

No hands went up.

“Nobody?” Mrs. Carter asked. She looked right at Gracie and raised her eyebrows.

Juanita poked Gracie. “You can read the words?”

Gracie shook her head. Just thinking about it made her heart stutter. She stared at the big red letters on the board. Then, to her surprise, as she stared at the letters they began to clump together and become words—words that she knew! Her heart beat faster. Maybe she could read the first rule. Very slowly, she raised her hand.


Gracie stood up. Her legs wobbled like cooked noodles. Everyone was staring at her.

“Class rules,” she said in a tiny voice. She cleared her throat. “Number one: Come … to … class … with … a smile!”

“Very good, Gracie!” Mrs. Carter said. “Would you like to try the second rule?”

Gracie took a deep breath. Her voice became stronger. “Ree … sp … ect … Respect others. Be kind.” She only had to sound out one word!

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Carter clapped as Gracie sat down on the floor.

Juanita whispered, “You are so smart!”

Gracie sighed happily. Maybe repeating first grade wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Reading just takes practice,” Gracie said, squeezing the hand of her new best friend. “I’ll help you.”

[Secret to a Happy Life]

President Ezra Taft Benson

“Forget yourself and find someone who needs your service, and you will discover the secret to [a] happy, fulfilled life.” President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), “This Is a Day of Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1979, 34.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jared Beckstrand