• As a freshman in high school, Chris Crutcher, who is now an author of books for young adults, played a mean trick on the most unpopular girl in his class — he made her the freshman candidate for the Cascade High School Carnival Queen. Normally, of course, honors such as this go to the most popular girls at school, but Chris had a friend nominate the unpopular girl for Carnival Queen and he got all his friends to vote for her, and so she was the freshman candidate for Carnival Queen. Of course, the freshman class advisor realized what had happened, and he did not want the unpopular girl to be hurt by not having a date to the Carnival Dance and by being ignored at the Carnival Dance, so he called a meeting of all the freshman boys and told them exactly what they were to do at the dance. First, each of the boys had to draw a number, and whichever boy drew the number 1 had to invite the unpopular girl to the dance. In addition, each boy had to dance three times with the unpopular girl, and he made it clear to each boy that any boy who danced only twice with her would regret it. (This was in the days when teachers were respected, when parents did not sue schools, and when corporal punishment was not only allowed but encouraged by everyone except the students.) At the dance, the boys did each dance three dances with the unpopular girl, and during one of the times that Chris was dancing with her, she told him, “I know this was a joke — but this is still the best night of my life.” At the time, Chris realized only how cruel his joke had been. Much later, he felt admiration for this teenage girl who had had a cruel joke played on her but had still managed to turn it into something good.
• When he was very small, children’s book author and artist Tomie dePaola desperately wanted to learn to read. In fact, he almost decided not to attend kindergarten when he learned that he wouldn’t be taught to read until the first grade — he attended kindergarten only after being told that he had to in order to be admitted to the first grade. Unfortunately, his first-grade book wasn’t very exciting. It was filled with sentences such as these: “See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. Run, run, run.” The kind of book that young Tomie wanted to learn to read began with sentences such as this: “Once upon a time, in a deep dark wood stood the cottage of the woodcutter.” But he needed to learn to read because only then could he get a library card, and so he took the book home that Friday without permission. Because he had “stolen” the book, his mother made him confess his misdeed and apologize to the teacher the following Monday. But then a wonderful thing happened. Tomie had learned to read the book over the weekend, and he read it to his teacher. She was so impressed that she gave him a library card, and Tomie was on his way to reading books that began with sentences such as this: “Once upon a time, in a deep dark wood stood the cottage of the woodcutter.”
• You don’t have to be a Ph.D. to be a “professor.” When African-American (and world-class) artist Jacob Lawrence was growing up in Harlem in the first half of the 20th century — a time when white educators mostly ignored African-American history, African-American biography, and African-American heroes — he became interested in his heritage. People told him to go to the lectures of Professor Seyfert. Mr. Seyfert, an African-American, earned his education through reading books, not through attending college lectures, and he earned his money through working as a carpenter. Eager to share his knowledge, he gave exciting lectures about African-American accomplishments wherever he could: the YMCA, the public library on 135th Street, etc. Later, Mr. Lawrence created many works of art about such African-American heroes as Harriet Tubman and General Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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