Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Cybil War

When Cybil Ackerman crosses her eyes at Simon for the first time, he knows he's in love. The battle over Cybil begins when Simon's best friend, Tony, decides he is, too. And he'll stop at nothing to wreck Simon's chances of winning her! -- Back cover excerpt

The Cybil War by Betsy Byars was my favorite book in fifth grade. So much so, I did a book report on it. Not just any book report but one that had to be read in front of the class. Being shy, I rather preferred the written ones. And as much as I prayed otherwise, there was no escaping it.

In addition to summarizing the story (or figuring out how to fill up two paragraphs), we were required to read aloud selected passages and create a poster of the book--one that captured the story's essence. All of this had to be presented to my peers (all thirty of them), a thought that did not provide much comfort to my ten year old self.

Reading, writing, drawing, entertainment, comprehension...we were being harshly judged from all angles, or so I thought. My classmates: many of them, were natural hams, entertainers, posers etc. I was none of the above. If ever there was a student destined to write "Tales of a Fifth Grade Nothing" (apologies to the previously mentioned Judy Blume), it was me.

Understandably, the assignment caused a great deal of anxiety .

I kept postponing the task until the weekend before it was due. The postponing didn't help much either (never does) it only increased the tension in my veins. I had no trouble reading the book (of which I did many times) nor did I have problems with the artistic bit although at first I had more luck drawing blanks than I did a poster.

It wasn't until my brother advised to make it fun, that I saw the project in a different light. His words, propelled me into action. As it turned out, I chose to draw the cover of my Scholastic version of The Cybil War (I drew it as close as possible to the actual cover--see above). My brother was the artist in our home, I merely tried my best but this one looked good even to me. I nearly forgot the author's name and later hurriedly wrote it in at the bottom. As for the passage, I selected one that displayed the angst of the love triangle central to the plot, one that played up the humour of growing up. The only thing left to do was the report itself but by this time I was already in and the words just flowed.

When the big day came, the butterflies seemed like giants in my belly but they fluttered away quickly. I soon discovered that I was enjoying myself...and so were my classmates. The only criticism I encountered was with the size of the author's name on my poster, it was a tad too small for my anal fifth grade teacher--a point of which he ensured the class be made aware of. I never did like that man...

My friends cheered loudly for me on that day. I'll always remember that. Save for the big one I did in college, The Cybil War was probably my favourite in-class presentation.

Some things just stick in your head. Even after decades have past.

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