Sixth-Grade Cookie Competitors

David Haynes

David Haynes, an African American author and St. Louis native, lived in Saint Paul for many years and taught fifth and sixth grade at a downtown public school. He has written several adult novels, and decided to write for younger readers because he found a dearth of works for that age group that were set in this city. Business As Usual tells the story of a cookie-selling enterprise among two rival groups of sixth graders, with a few life lessons about people and economics woven in along the way.

My name is Bobby Samson. What this story is about is economics and the West Seventh Wildcats and Kevin Olsen and how sometimes what you think about people and what is real can be two very different things.

There are six of us Wildcats—me, Lu, Tou Vue, Kevin, Johny Vang, and Tony R. We’re not a gang. We just all live near West Seventh Street in Saint Paul and are best friends.

All of us Wildcats are crazy about our sixth-grade teacher. Which is a good thing because there is only one sixth-grade teacher at River Road School, and therefore if you don’t like Mr. Harrison you are pretty much out of luck for a whole year.

April is the time for Mr. Harrison’s end-of-the-year special: his spring economics unit. Kids at River Road wait for six years to be part of it, and it is well worth the wait, you can believe that. . . .

“You are in business!” Mr. Harrison announced. And that’s just what the big assignment was. Mr. Harrison called it the Marketplace Project. . . .

The Wildcats, or at least those of us who were working on the marketplace project together, met over at Tony R’s house for a brainstorming session to figure out what to sell on Marketplace Day. . . .

Finally, the Wildcats decided that our best bet was food. All kids like to eat. We just had to figure out what. . . . And then it was like everyone had the same idea at the same time. Things like that happen when you have really good friends. The idea was sitting right there in front of our faces.

Chocolate chip cookies! . . .

The week before Marketplace Day we put up our advertising posters. Since Mr. Harrison knew it wasn’t a good idea to have everyone out in the hallways at the same time, we drew names to see which teams put up its posters first. The Wildcats were third, which was pretty good. There were still a few prime locations left—like by the gym door and over the drinking fountain by the principal’s office. . . .

Marketplace Day was a big success. “As always!” said Mr. Harrison. Everyone could see how proud he was.

The younger students came to school loaded up with cash—just like we had done when we were in the lower grades. A lot of parents came, too. They bought things to take home for family dessert.

Our booth was set up right next to Jenny Peterson’s group’s [which was also selling chocolate chip cookies]. Both teams had the same idea: everyone [in the group] would come to school dressed alike. Jenny, Tyra, and Kelly wore those old-lady type dresses that are patterned in dots or flowers and have a lot of frills. They had matching bonnets on their heads. The Wildcats wore jeans and our orange and black softball jerseys. It’s the closest thing you can get to an official Wildcats uniform.

Cover art from one of the editions of Business as Usual

We stuck our Wildcat Cookies posters around our booth and me and Tony R brought in some stuffed tigers and lions that belong to Alf and to Tony R’s sisters. It turns out that wildcats are real popular with little kids. A lot of the kids bought Wildcat Cookies just because they particularly liked the name or the symbol. . . . Another reason some of the younger boys bought our cookies was because they kind of look up to the West Seventh Wildcats. . . .

By the end of the hour we had sold every single package of Wildcat cookies. There wasn’t one crumb left. Some of the little kids made badges out of the wildcat tags. That day there was a whole school full of West Seventh Wildcats.

When we returned to class, our next job was to count up our money and see if we’d made a profit. . . . We did okay in the money department. We had over forty dollars to divide among the investors. . . .

Jenny Peterson’s group sold about the same amount of cookies, but they made more money than us because their cookies cost less to make.

“Yeah, but ours tasted better,” I said.

“Tell that to the bank,” said Jenny. She always has to have the last word.

Source: David Haynes, Business As Usual (Milkweed Editions, 1997): 3, 31, 37, 39, 43, 95, 115–17

Steve Trimble lives in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood on Saint Paul’s East Side. Steve has taught at local colleges and, while he has degrees in history, tries to write books and articles in a way that regular people will enjoy—usually in local newspapers or in Ramsey County History magazine. His house near Indian Mounds Park is filled with books and odd collections mostly garnered at garage sales.

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