The narrator tells the story of Laurie’s first month at kindergarten. Laurie comes home each day to report on the doings of a fellow student, Charles, who behaves in an extraordinary manner. For the first two weeks, Charles is spanked or otherwise punished almost daily for being “fresh,” for hitting or kicking the teachers, for injuring fellow students, and for a host of proscribed activities. Charles proves so interesting to the kindergarten class that whenever he is punished, all the students watch him; whenever he stays after school, all the students stay with him.
As a result of this behavior, Charles becomes an institution at the Hyman house. Whenever anyone does anything bad, inconsiderate, or clumsy, he or she is compared to Charles. During the third week, however, Charles undergoes a conversion. For several days, he becomes a model student, the teacher’s helper. Reports of this transformation astonish the Hyman household. Then, Charles seems to return to normal, first persuading a girl to say a terrible word twice, for which her mouth is washed out with soap. The next day, Charles himself says the word several times and receives several washings.
When the day of the monthly Parent Teacher Association meeting arrives, Laurie’s mother is anxious to go and to meet the mother of the remarkable Charles. At the meeting, she learns from Laurie’s teacher not only that Laurie has had some difficulty adjusting to kindergarten, but also that there is no student named Charles in his class.