- Helen Dunmore - Orange Prize winner - Childrens books - The Seal Cove - Extract
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The Seal Cove / Extract
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The children in Katie and Zillah's class have decided to take direct action to stop their school from being closed. They have brought their sleeping-bags to school, telling their teachers that they are all going to a sleep-over that night. This is true - but not in the way their teachers imagine ...

'Half-past three. No-one moved. Mr T didn't notice it at first, because he was so happy clanging the bell. But at last he realised that something was different, and he put down the bell and stared at us in a puzzled way.

'Er - I've rung the bell.'
We were silent.
'You can go.'

Slowly, we stood up. We could hear the little ones running across the hall. Some of them are met in the playground by their parents, others go home on the school bus. We wanted them out of the way before we began our action. Very slowly, we got stuff out of our drawers and put it into our backpacks. Very, very slowly we fastened up our backpacks, put our chairs on top of our tables, asked each other questions about homework, had drinks of water at the sink, and looked for lunch-boxes.

'You'll miss the bus if you're not careful,' said Mr T crossly. 'I can't hang round here waiting for you lot. I've got a pile of paperwork this high waiting in my office. I'll be back here in FIVE MINUTES and I don't want to find ANYONE still in the classroom.'

He went out. At lightning speed, we grabbed our sleeping-bags and camping mats from the library where Mr T had let us stack them. Someone giggled.

'Shut up. We've got to get these into the hall before they hear us.'

We were in the hall. We split up into our pre-arranged groups, and began to set up camp. Unroll the mats, spread them out. Lay out sleeping bags on top. Mrs Isaacs would be out at the school bus, seeing the little ones into their seats with the parent volunteer.

Mr T's office door was shut. No time to change into our nightclothes - we'd do that later. Each of us unzipped our sleeping bag, wriggled in, lay down and zipped the bag up right. It felt so weird to be snuggling down in the school hall, which smelled as usual of polish, school dinners and old daps.
Footsteps. The door to the playground banged. It would be Mrs Isaacs, coming back in, along the corridor, into the hall ...

Silence. I peeped out of my bag. She was standing dead still, her hand on the doorknob, staring. Then she called, 'Mr Trevelyan.'

Of course. Her first thought would be that we were taking part in some weird Mr T project, and that he'd forgotten to tell her about it.

Mr T's office door opened immediately.

'Mr Trevelyan, please tell me what is going on. Aren't some of these children supposed to be on the school bus?'

Mr T came out of his office. He gaped at the hall floor, the camping mats, and the sleeping-bags with his class curled up inside them.

'But - but Mrs Isaacs, I don't know anything about this -'

Mark climbed out of his sleeping-bag, and stood up, facing them. We'd planned it all. Don't wait till they start shouting. We've got to get in first.

'We're taking direct action, sir. We've organised a sleep-in for tonight, in protest against the plan to close the school.'

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- Extract
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