Mrs. Olinski is often asked how she chose the members of her sixth-grade Academic Team at Epiphany Middle School in upstate New York. She does not know the answer until Bowl Day is over and the work of the four children, who call themselves The Souls, is finished. The Souls accomplish the amazing feat of making it to the finals, even though they are in the youngest class competing. Noah Gershom is the first student chosen by Mrs. Olinski for the team.
Noah Writes a B & B Letter
During the summer before his sixth-grade year, while his parents are on a cruise, Noah is sent to stay with his paternal grandparents in Century Village, a retirement facility in Florida which is like "a theme park for old people." During Noah's visit, two of the facility's residents, Margaret Draper and Izzy Diamondstein, get married. Noah, by his own rather smug admission, is "a wonderful help" in making sure that the festivities go smoothly.
Noah learns calligraphy in order to help with the invitations. Things are going well in that particular aspect of the preparations until a cat belonging to Tillie Nachman, the woman in charge, walks through some spilled ink and leaves "cat's paws" on five of the cards. Tillie initially is upset because there are no extras, but Noah comes up with the brilliant idea of offering a surprise gift at the wedding to each of the recipients of the "cat's paw" invitations. He will figure out what the gifts will be later.
On the day of the wedding, Noah is "in great demand," delivering items to the venue in the new red wagon his Grandpa has bought for him. Unfortunately, during the transporting of the wedding cake, Allan Diamondstein, Izzy's son and best man, trips on the wagon handle, upsetting the cake and hurting his ankle. Allan, who is going through a divorce and is "the most nervous human being [Noah has] ever seen in [his] life," is taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Noah resourcefully helps to reassemble the cake and then volunteers to fill in as Izzy Diamondstein's best man. In his, and everyone else's estimation, he does "an excellent job" in this capacity.
Later, during the reception, Noah steps forward as promised to award prizes to those who have received invitations bearing the mark of the "cat's paw." The surprise gifts are all personal items that belong to Noah—a packet of Post-it notes, a calligraphy pen, the T-shirt which has hurriedly been hand-painted to look like a tux for him to wear as best man by resident artist Bella Dubinsky, and (most difficult of all to give up) his shiny red wagon. When Tillie Nachman points out that there are only four gifts when five are needed, Noah adds that the fifth gift is the opportunity for the recipient to give up his or her gift, which will be "the best gift of all."
Generosity is contagious, and the wedding guests quickly catch on to the spirit of giving instigated by Noah. The winner of the Post-it notes decides that he will use his gift to label his plants, and donates an orchid to be given as the fifth gift. Tillie promises to give calligraphy lessons to the winner of the pen, and Bella offers to contribute fabric painting lessons to the recipient of the T-shirt. In that way, each of Noah's gifts will "[keep] on giving." Allan, who has returned from the hospital, is the winner of the red wagon, but he ungraciously declares that he does not want it. Instead, Izzy the groom announces that the wagon should be considered "a gift to everyone from the best man," Noah.
When Noah returns from Florida, his mother forces him to write a...
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letter of gratitude to his grandparents for having had him as a house guest—a "bread and butter letter," so to speak. Noah is at first resentful because he had not wanted to go to Century Village in the first place. He feels that by helping so much with the wedding, he has more than earned his keep. After reflecting on his experiences, however, Noah realizes the value of having been given the opportunity to demonstrate a giving heart. He is then able to write the bread and butter letter in all sincerity, thanking his grandparents for "a vacation that was out of this world."