November 11

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Own Your Poop by Mark Pett

Were you a weird kid? I certainly was.

Hoo boy, I wanted so badly to fit in. I grew up in Salt Lake City, the child of a Lithuanian non-practicing Catholic and a zealous convert to Catholicism. In my grade-school class, it may not surprise you to learn that I was the only Catholic in a sea of Mormon children. Legends are told of martyrs who chose death rather than deny their faith. Me? I gave up my faith if someone casually asked me at recess. I would thoughtlessly offer a fiction that I was a member of the Mormon ward across the street from my house. My shoddily-built lie would be thereupon  obliterated by a mere follow-up question: “Really? How come I’ve never seen you there?”

My strategy for gaining the love and respect of my peers was to obscure anything about me that was truly unique and substitute some concoction I thought they wanted to hear. If asked which was my favorite football team, I knew a safe bet was the Dallas Cowboys. Music? I had a couple of top-40s tucked in my brain in case of emergency. Movies? Celebrities? I was adept at scanning the crowd for acceptable answers.

My prize for all of my hard work denying who I was to please my peers? It certainly wasn’t popularity. But it also wasn’t the derision that was reserved for the biggest misfits. I enjoyed a kind of disinterested tolerance. A shrug.

This was not true of my friend David. He was one of the misfits, an unapologetic nerd. David, unlike myself, did not possess the ability to let go an injustice. If someone teased him, he fought back — hard. Which is how, one day, he found himself in a full-out brawl on the playground with Anthony Sutz. It was the sort of brawl that children are drawn to like flies to a carcass. It only stopped when Anthony leapt from the altercation screaming “He bit me! He bit me!” Sure enough, David’s crooked teethmarks were clearly visible on Anthony’s forearm. As David slunk to the principal’s office, a friend of Anthony’s approached me: “Is he really your friend?” I glanced over at David in the distance. “Nah,” I said. “He only thinks he is.”

Yep, I sold out my friend for a scrap of approval, so I could gain the disinterested tolerance of another member of the playground elite. It’s a shame I carry to this day.

I wrote I Eat Poop with my childhood in mind. It’s the story of Dougie, who is the only dung beetle in his entire school. Dougie knows that if the other bugs at school discover his secret — that he loves poop more than anything — it would mean certain ostracism. Thus, he hides his lunch every single day and tries to pretend he’s just a regular old ground beetle. All of this seems to be working just fine until an extraordinary moment in class puts him in the limelight and he catches the attention of the popular bugs. Before the day is over, he finds himself facing an impossible decision — preserve his newfound popularity or destroy the life of an old friend.

Does Dougie rise to the challenge more admirably than your author? I’ll leave the discovery to you. But I Eat Poop explores the challenging terrain of balancing fitting in with discovering and honoring oneself and others. Indeed, it’s terrain that we adults struggle to navigate, as well.

I Eat Poop is about realizing the Socratic maxim: “Know thyself.” Or, put another way: Own your poop.

Mark PettWriter and illustrator Mark Pett makes books. He is the “authorstrator” of I Eat Poop: A Dung Beetle Story, Nia and the New Free Library, The Very Last Castle, I’m Not Millie!, This Is My Book!, Lizard From the ParkThe Boy and the Airplane, The Girl and the Bicycle, and The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. Before books, he created the syndicated comic strips Mr. Lowe and Lucky Cow. Mark lives in the Mountain West.