by Wendy Fitzgerald

An illustrated version is published on the Ziptales site:

Jamie had a secret. It felt like a cold damp creature hiding just below his rib cage. No one would ever find out the truth or would they?

Jamie’s parents were proud of both their children.
‘James and Alexandra are great kids,’ they would boast. ‘They’re funny and happy and they read books all the time!’
Jamie’s younger sister, Alex, did read all the time. All of Jamie’s friends at school could read easily.
The truth was Jamie couldn’t read at all but he had become very good at pretending that he could. At home he would sit staring at pages so his parents would think he was reading stories.
Jamie loved to listen to Alex read aloud.
‘It’s lovely the way you help your sister with her reading,’ his parents would say.

For the last two years he’d had Mrs Crankshaw for a teacher. She had been easy to fool. When he was asked to read in class, Jamie would fake a headache, an ear ache or a tummy ache so he’d be sent to sick bay.
When he copied off other kids in tests, Mrs Crankshaw had never seemed to notice. He volunteered to take messages to other teachers to escape the classroom.
But his best trick was asking questions. He knew just the right questions to ask to distract Mrs Crankshaw. Her tired old eyes would glaze over and she would waffle on about nothing, often wasting whole lessons.

But today is the start of a new year and there is a new teacher.
‘Good morning everyone,’ the pretty young teacher smiled. ‘Welcome to Year Four. My name is Miss Cherry,’ she said gently, pointing to a large red flower on the front of her dress. ‘I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you.’ As she nodded, soft strawberry-blond curls bounced around her face.
The whole class stared.

‘Right… we’ll start by going around the room and you can introduce yourselves to me.’ She glanced at the roll. ‘Let’s see, James Arnold, tell me, what is it in the world that interests you the most?’

Jamie was in a trance.
‘Mm? Oh, Jamie – they call me Jamie.’ He blushed. ‘In the whole world, I like to… um, that is, I’d like to read, I mean I like to read, yes, that’s it…. Reading I like…’
‘That’s great Jamie,’ she noted the correction. ‘You’ll have lots of opportunities to read in my classes. I like reading too.’

She moved to the next child. Jamie sighed. That was close. His secret nearly slipped out of his mouth. Miss Cherry had a way of looking inside you. She would be harder to manage than Mrs Crankshaw. He would have to be on guard.

After lunch, Miss Cherry held up some pages.
‘Here I have a script for Peter Pan and I’d like to choose some characters to act it out. Let’s see, Jamie, you like reading. I think you would be perfect for Peter. Would you like to try out first?’ She placed a neat pile of pages on his desk.

Jamie stared at the paper. All the letters jumbled and clumped together into words that made no sense at all. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead and his secret wriggled downwards, causing a sharp pain in his tummy.

‘I’m sorry. I don’t feel well,’ he spluttered, holding his stomach.
‘You are pale,’ Miss Cherry looked worried. ‘Maybe you should go out and have a drink of water and get some fresh air. We’ll try someone else for the part today. You can try out tomorrow.’

That night Jamie asked Alex to read the script to him and he memorised the part of Peter Pan as best he could. He’s seen the movie so he understood the flow of the story.

Next day at school he performed extremely well. The class laughed and clapped loudly when he’d finished.
‘That was wonderful, Jamie. My goodness, you certainly have some talent as an actor!’ Miss Cherry said happily, then she paused, ‘but could I see you at lunchtime, please?’

At lunchtime Jamie stood at Miss Cherry’s desk.
‘You acted brilliantly- great skill, but you didn’t follow the script.’ She looked straight at him. ‘Why was that?’

Jamie stared straight back into her caring eyes. It was as he’d feared: Miss Cherry had discovered his secret. Tears welled in his eyes.

‘Don’t cry,’ she said handing him a tissue. ‘I’m here to help. Can you read the script?’
Patting his eyes with the tissue, Jamie shook his head.
‘It makes no sense,’ he sobbed. ‘I didn’t want anyone to know. Everyone else can do it.’ His secret clawed at his tummy. ‘It hurts here,’ he said, patting his stomach.
‘It’s OK. You’re obviously a bright boy.’ She paused. ‘Have you had your eyes tested?’

Later that day, Miss Cherry spoke to Jamie’s parents. They were surprised of course. Mrs Arnold’s face went so pale that Jamie thought she might fall to the floor in a dead faint.
‘How can this be?’ Jamie’s father pounded the desk with his fist. ‘I’ve seen him reading at home all the time!’

‘Please Mr Arnold,’ Miss Cherry interrupted softly. ‘There are many reasons why a child cannot read. Maybe he needs glasses?’ She shrugged. ‘I also suspect that somehow Jamie has missed out on the basic phonics and decoding skills needed to understand reading.’
Jamie’s secret sat frozen in his chest, listening.
The next day the optometrist tested Jamie’s eyes. Glasses brought letters and words into clear sharp focus.
After school three times a week, Miss Cherry taught Jamie to read. He worked hard and learned letters and words at home.

One year later, Jamie Arnold could read.
You can imagine his absolute delight when that chilly, cramped secret finally decided to crawl out of its clammy hiding place and vanish into thin air for ever.