Rocks at My Head by Donna Gephart
The day Frankie Hammer launched rocks at the back of my head all the way home from school, I charged up the steps to our Philadelphia row home, jammed the key on the string around my neck into the lock and hurried inside. While Frankie laughed, I slammed the door closed and leaned against it, breathless and trembling.
Our tiny house was empty.
Mom was still at work at the shipping company.
Dad lived in another state with another family.
My oldest sister was out on her own and my older sister was out with friends.
I didn’t have friends back then.
My head hurt. And my feelings hurt worse.
- Tales of Mystery by Edgar Allen Poe
- Betty Crocker’s Cookbook
- The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Little comfort to be found among those titles!
Carefully, I crept behind our house to the single car garage, checking nervously for Frankie and his handful of rocks. I grabbed my sister’s purple banana seat bike, the one with the flowered basket on the handlebars, and I took off through our neighborhood in search of salvation.
The Northeast Regional Library might not have looked like much from the outside, but inside the basement was the children’s room, with a separate room for picture books, like Babar and Curious George. In the big kids’ book room, there were tall shelves brimming with encyclopedias, non-fiction books and fiction books from authors A through Z. And there was Miss Irene, one of the wonderful children’s librarians who smiled warmly and always helped.
Know what wasn’t in that library? Frankie Hammer. And rocks.
I was safe with Mr. Popper and his fabulous penguins. I felt as though I helped Benjamin Franklin make discoveries, along with his good mouse, Amos, in Robert Lawson’s delightful book Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos.
And when the youngest of the seven Cosenza kids made fun of me because she had six pair of jeans and my mom could afford only one pair for me for the whole school year, I discovered a kindred spirit in Wanda Petronski and The Hundred Dresses. God bless you, Eleanor Estes, for understanding!
As I grew older and had to make dinner for my family after school, I enjoyed plenty of company – friends that made me laugh, gasp with wonder and cry – in A Wrinkle in Time, The Hobbit and Eric, the story of a teenager diagnosed with leukemia.
And when I grew older still and my mom told me I’d never be able to make a living as a writer, I had Bob Thomas’s inspiring biography of Walt Disney to show me that an imaginative, creative life was possible. In fact, with the magic of books, anything was.
And it was. I made a living through my words, first as an editor, then as a writer and also as a creative writing teacher. I married a man who loved books as much as I did.
When hubby and I moved our young sons to Florida, we filled each room – even the bathrooms, especially the bathrooms – with piles and miles of magical books. I wanted to make sure that when our sons were faced with the Frankie Hammers of the world, they had their own books as talismans. I wanted them to have enough books to make their worlds safer, richer and more meaningful.
I want that for all kids.
That’s why I’m celebrating the release of Death by Toilet Paper with a campaign for BESS THE BOOK BUS. BESS travels the country, putting new books into the hands of kids in need. I would have loved to have BESS visit my neighborhood when I was a kid.
Guess what. BESS will be visiting my neighborhood! Because of this campaign, BESS will be making stops in Philadelphia this September.
You’ll never believe who’s helping coordinate the visits. My childhood librarian, Miss Irene! Last summer I stopped into the beautiful Free Library of Philadelphia in Center City with my niece and discovered Miss Irene sitting behind the desk in the children’s department. Even 35 years couldn’t diminish my memory of her. When I introduced myself, we hugged and she showed me where my books are on the shelves. My books are on the shelves of the Free Library of Philadelphia. My books may help the kids who are avoiding the Frankie Hammers of the world. Or maybe even help the Frankie Hammers of the world.
And for this book-loving nerd, it doesn’t get any better than that!
Donna Gephart was born in Philadelphia and now lives in South Florida with her family and furry canine friends. She’s published four middle grade novels with Delacorte/Penguin Random House and speaks at schools, book festivals, conferences and teaches creative writing. She’s happy to send out activity/reading guides for her books, bookmarks and good will. Learn more about Donna’s books and resources for writers and educators at www.donnagephart.com.