The Magical Book

When I was a second grader, my school held a fundraiser to fill some empty shelves in the school library. Rather than just asking parents for money, the school had each child select a volume from a table filled with new books, take it home and ask Mommy and Daddy to puhleeeeze buy their sweet little offspring a book. After reading their new acquisition, the child would to donate the book to the school library so it could be enjoyed by all.

As class 2-A herded past the book tables, my ADHD brain locked on to a book wearing a bright yellow dust jacket with the title in bold red letters:100 Pounds of Popcorn by Hazel Krantz.

The cover illustration closed the deal: Four kids making a huge mess while popping mass quantities of popcorn. The random messiness made those kids seem more like me, and the fun they were having made me want to be more like them.

Sold.

However, when the day arrived when we were to donate our books, it became apparent that I hadn’t been properly briefed on the etiquette of school fundraising, for I committed the mortal sin of refusing to surrender my book to the librarian.

I’d already developed somewhat of a reputation by then (in 1962, ADHD was still known as “Rotten Little Brat Syndrome”), so when I made a bit of a scene over the librarian attempting to steal my book, the case was automatically escalated to the principal’s office. I’d already spent so much time there that I wouldn’t be surprised if even today there’s a chair in the waiting area bearing a brass name plate in my memory.

When my case came up on the principal’s docket, I stated my position in clear and certain terms: It was my book. I’d chosen it from the book table with my own grubby little paws. I paid for it with cash my mother gave me to buy a book. I’d even written my name inside the cover with a red pencil (though I don’t recall if I wrote it before or after they pressed me to donate it). I loved my little book, and the librarian couldn’t have it. End of discussion.

The battle escalated, as such battles are wont to do. When gentle reasoning failed, the principal hinted at the possibility of eternal damnation (being a Catholic school, they  could get away with that), and when all else failed, she pulled out the biggest weapon of all: a call to my parents. That threat almost worked, but one glance at my book’s cover renewed my resolve to endure any punishment required to win my case. After the threatened call, my father grudgingly agreed to buy a second copy for the library. He later extracted the price from my hide.

What drove me to fight so stubbornly for that book?

Reading 100 Pounds of Popcorn had revolutionized my eight-year-old life. Before that book, I thought everyone in the world was just like me. I had no idea that other families were different. In the pages of 100 Pounds of Popcorn, Hazel Krantz transported my tender heart to a world very unlike the one in which I lived.

To most, the Taylor family would seem unremarkable. A father, a mother, eleven-year-old Andy and his eight-year-old sister Sally Jean. On the way home from the beach, they see a huge bag of popping corn fall from the back of a truck, and being a moral, law-abiding type Mr Taylor tries to return it to its rightful owner. The owner isn’t able to retrieve the bag before it would spoil, and offers to let the Taylors keep it if they would like. Andy sets out to start a popcorn business with the help of his kid sister and several friends, and they all learn the hard way that there’s a lot more to selling popcorn than they thought.

Okay, so it’s a nice little story. How did that revolutionize my life?

The first time I read that book, I waited with tense anticipation for what I knew would happen. I waited, but what I expected never came. I read it again, just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. Then I read it again just because I didn’t want to leave the magical world.hidden in those pages, a world  where Andy’s father never yelled at him, never threw things in anger, and never once hit his wife or either of his children. Andy made some mistakes and learned lessons the hard way, but his father never called him stupid or any of those other names I’d expected. And Andy never once had to stop and discern whether his father was drunk or sober and adjust as needed to avoid his wrath.

In the pages of 100 Pounds of Popcorn, Hazel Krantz gave me a most wonderful gift. A glimpse of a world where children were free to be children, to learn and grow and live with all the hope and possibilities they could handle. I couldn’t explain it then as I can now, but that brief visit to normality changed me. It awakened my ability to dream, to imagine, to envision a better world than the one in which I’d existed.

Is it any wonder I fought so hard to hold on to such a magical book?

When God started talking to me about writing for children and young teens, I didn’t want to discuss it. I didn’t want to go back and revisit the wounds of my childhood. A dear friend and mentor (and highly successful children’s writer) finally took me aside and told me that those wounds equipped me to write things that nobody else can write, not even her. She then gently but firmly kicked my backside and asked me to quit making excuses and start doing what only I can do. (Thanks, Nancy. I needed that.)

Shortly after I returned home from the conference where that discussion occurred, I spotted my ragged, dog-eared copy of 100 Pounds of Popcorn on my bookshelf, took it down and read it again, just as I’ve done hundreds of times before. And I remembered the magic.

And then I started writing for tweens and early teens—because somewhere out there, there’s a boy or girl who needs that magic.

Bad News/Good News: Criminal Case Heads for Jail

The Bad News: They’ve finally caught me, and I’m going to jail on April 1, 2009.

The Good News: I’ll only be incarcerated for an hour, and with your help, I’ll do some good while I’m in lockup.

When I was invited to participate in the West Little Rock MDA Lockup on April 1, 2009, I frankly had reservations. We’re all recessing these days (in the midst of a recession, for you linear types), some have lost jobs, even more have suffered pay cuts, and I don’t even want to discuss my porcelain-wrapped 401(k). It just doesn’t seem like a good time to be asking people for financial contributions.

In fact, I almost dropped out. It would be a lot easier. It’s not like I don’t have anything to do with my time. Let me tell you why I decided to stick it out.

The MDA Lockup isn’t about me. It’s not about you, either. It’s about helping children who are afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy and it’s rotten cousins. The kids we’re talking about know what tough times are all about. Many earned their sufferer stripes long before the stock market tanked. Their parents are on a rough ride, too; as if having a child with a serious, life-threatening disease isn’t enough, the parents of these children are also dealing with the same economic challenges as the rest of us.

And I thought I was having a bad year.

I’ve decided to stay the course and do what I can to help these kids and their parents, and I could really use your help. Yes, I know times are tough. If you can’t help right now, I understand. Don’t let guilt creep in and ruin your day, just wish me well and remember I still love you.

However, if you can help–even if it’s only skipping that latte and donating the cash–the kids will sure appreciate it, and so will I.

You can make safe, secure online donations by clicking here before April 1, 2009. Pay no attention to the inflated goal that’s been set for me, and don’t let the suggested donation amounts guilt you into neglecting your own kids’ needs. Do whatever you can. Your contribution—no matter how small—will make a difference for families who need our help. If you have problems with that link, here’s the web address to cut and paste:

https://www.joinmda.org/wlrlockup09/dancase

By the way, if you need an additional incentive, I have it on good authority that the good folks at MDA might agree to keep me locked up somewhere in exchange for an appropriate contribution. 🙂