Monthly Wrap: How a Book Can Save a Kid

by Susan Henderson on February 6, 2009

Do you remember, when you were a kid, what it was like to walk through the cafeteria with your lunch tray or walk down the aisle of the bus, and kids are putting coats and backpacks across the empty seats so you can’t sit down? Remember that feeling?

Or, say, you’re walking down the hallway at school and some girl comes up behind you and cuts a foot-long section of your hair off while her friends (yours too, you thought) laugh hysterically.

This is why books are so important during childhood. Because one day, you’ll open up a book and discover a child who hurts like you do, and suddenly, you’re not alone.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Because books are not just about company or validation. They shake up your ideas about everything you think you know. They show you that the world is infinitely more glorious and more wicked than you ever dreamed.

The world is no longer just a tiny corner crammed with backpacks and mean girls. And while you once walked silently past the girl holding the scissors, determined not to let her see you cry, now there are so many more possibilities.

My favorite children’s books? These are just some of them…


Look behind an obsessive reader and you’ll usually find out why they ditched people for books. Tell me some of your early favorites. Or, better yet, tell me your own version of the scissors story.


What I read this month: Barbara Kingsolver, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE (Absolutely tremendous. Thanks to Lizzy for the recommendation); Deepak Chopra, CREATING AFFLUENCE (I know, Mr. Henderson teased me, too, but okay, so I downloaded this off and I listen to it when I’m folding laundry, and now I’m going to be so rich and famous). I also tried to learn how to build suspense by reading these: Laura Benedict, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS (I had nightmares for days); Alexandra Sokoloff, THE HARROWING (It’s like a master’s class on how to structure fear); Joe Hill, “THE BLACK PHONE” (Whoa. I’ll remember this one forever).

What I read to my kids: Neil Gaiman, CORALINE (freeaky!); Stanley Weintraub, SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE WORLD WAR I CHRISTMAS TRUCE (read the intro and first chapter – very interested in the story but not in the cumbersome way it was told – so we decided to order the movie, Joyeaux Noel, instead); Laura Ingalls Wilder, LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS (I’ve read this to the boys before, and they always complain because the cover is so girlie, but it’s fascinating history: balloons made of pig’s bladders, a corn cob named Susan, and who can eat cheese again after reading about rennets?).


Thanks to everyone who played here and linked here this month. And thank you to my guest, Belle Yang, for sharing her art and her powerful story.


{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 6:47 am

Hey, guys, I’m behind on mail, etc, but will be caught up by the end of the day. Thanks for your patience!


robinslick February 6, 2009 at 6:54 am

You’re right – I never thought about it in those terms or related the two incidents, but I became a loner and a voracious reader/writer at age 9, right after I was brutally bullied by the Komisar sisters — two remarkably beautiful girls who would be trend setters and voted most popular all the way through my miserable teen years. Susan held my arms behind by back while sister Cheryl forced me to eat slimy formerly frozen from a box succotash taken from a neighbor’s garbage pail…and then they told me if I took a bath later I would turn into a frog. Needless to say, I screamed in holy terror when my mother insisted I get in the tub and I leaped out as soon as getting washed but kept checking throughout the evening to see if I was turning green and lizard-like. To escape into fantasy world was how I coped, but I jumped right into adult books by that age and I am pretty sure soon after that “incident” I read Catcher in the Rye, which was my Aha! moment when I knew I would someday be an author myself.

Ugh, the hair cutting story made my stomach hurt just now, Sue. That was always a nightmare of mine, too, because at one time I wore a long braid and we had a rash of that type of incident at our school, too. I was an easy target so I would swing it around to the side and tuck it into my shirt when I walked in the hallways – what a terrible memory…

Gah! I’m so glad I’m old now and get to worry about high blood pressure instead. Ha.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

I will google the Komisar sisters right now and tell you how they’re doing.

In the meantime, I’m linking to your blog today because that’s such a great and exciting post. (Bummer about Slick Rick, though. Would have been psyched to know you’re related.)


jessicaK February 6, 2009 at 9:18 am

Yes, the infinite solace of books. Oh, and that haircutting–awful memories, but in my case, it was my mother who insisted on taking me to the hairdressers for a pixie haircut, which I hated.

This has been a lovely week. Thank you, Belle and Susan, and double thanks, Susan, for plugging Purple Day. I do hope writers here will contact me about a link exchange as Susan just did with the Purple Day logo here. Purple Day folks are pushing for national media coverage so my hope is that your name on the Purple Day page will bring you new readers. You can send your name and link to my email address: Jessica at jbkeener dot com.

Jessica Keener


kategray February 6, 2009 at 9:26 am

Funny how a lot of us point back to being bullied as the catalyst for reading voraciously and, later, writing. I remember being caught in a ridiculous cycle of reading books during class, getting caught from time to time, and then being tormented by the teacher and kids not only for my inattentiveness, by my choice of reading materials (at that age, sadly, it was Star Trek).
When I read now, it’s still to escape, to other worlds, or forgotten times. My husband gets irritated at night that, unlike he would do, I would choose to have The Golden Compass playing in the background, instead of the evening news. We know the world is a brutal and harsh place at times; I choose to take my doses of that in small measures, preferably over the internet.

And, yay! My linking you showed up! I meandered a bit more on the children’s book thing over at Gray Skies, but if you go back to the first post, you’ll note that I had something to say about you as well.


troutbum70 February 6, 2009 at 9:50 am

I have been to the Little House in the Big Woods. I was going grouse hunting in South East Minnesota and as I was driving down the highway next to the Mississippi river I see a sign for the Little house in the Big Woods. It was a replica log cabin on the site where she was born, I was there early and they had yet to open so I recrossed the river and went on to where I was hunting that day. Pretty cool if you are right by there.


troutbum70 February 6, 2009 at 10:24 am

It’s in Wisconson near Lake Pepin.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 10:34 am

Let us know when you’ve posted the pixie-cut photo.

And my pleasure about Purple Day. Some have asked where the links to their blogs will show up. Do you know?


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 10:38 am

I know long time LitPark readers know this, but before I get too much support for being a poor victim of bullying, I should confess that I was a bratty little bully just as often.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 10:43 am

It hasn’t been developed out there? How nice is that! Can’t even say how much I love that book.


Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 6, 2009 at 11:26 am

Oh, yes. The pixie cut. I went through my never-cut-my-hair phase in HS/College because of enforeced pixie cuts as a child.


jessicaK February 6, 2009 at 11:33 am

If you go to– on the right hand column is a place that says Writers For Purple day–click there and there’s a growing list, all with links back to author sites. We’re also having a March 10 event at Dylans in NYC with Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman) as featured guest, and I’d like to list the names of writers there–and highlight this as we garner more media. Anyone should feel free to write me directly whether you choose to sign up or not and I’ll happily answer questions. Don’t be shy. We’re litparkers, right?
Jessica at jbkeener dot com


jessicaK February 6, 2009 at 11:35 am

What was that Pixie haircut all about? Who started that horrible trend?


Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 6, 2009 at 11:40 am

Thanks for this revealing note. I was bullied horribly in 6th grade, but even when everyone in the school was against me, several dear souls stood beside me. One of the girls had the unfortunate last name of BLOOD. That she was skinny, had sunken-dark-circled eyes, and the worst yellowed buck teeth imaginable, made this girl the pit of everyone’s jokes. Despite Miss Blood’s standing up with me to the bullies, in one of my greatest lifetime regrets, I later turned my back on her. I would love to find Miss Blood today and give her the biggest apology ever.

Which leads me to this. Even the bullied will find someone to bully. Some bullied kids bully animals, their younger siblings, or the babysitter. We often act-out on others that thing which torments us.


Kimberly February 6, 2009 at 11:41 am

Great week indeed!

I didn’t comment on Wednesday, but I simply loved the interview with Belle! Thanks for bring her to my (our) attention!

How did I miss including the ‘Pooh’ books on my list??? Oh my – those were divine!

And now I’ve got to find time to see Coraline this weekend. Maybe there’s a 2am screening somewhere.


Kimberly February 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

It was Dorothy Hamill, wasn’t it?

Tragically, I think I looked more like Mark Hamill instead. 🙁


Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 6, 2009 at 11:46 am

Jessica, the PurpleDay link above is broken–the dashes have corrupted the link. The link below your signature above is working.


Carolyn_Burns_Bass February 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

Dorothy Hamill’s wedge bob was stylish compared to the pixie. I think the pixie goes back to Audrey Hepburn in the ’50s, then Twiggie in the ’60s.


Kimberly February 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

Ah. To look like Audrey with that ‘do.



SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 12:01 pm

I went for the Kristy McNichol look, but look like the disgruntled little brother:


jessicaK February 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Corrected Purple Day link:

Thanks, Caroline.

The Pixie definitely predated everything. We’re talking the 1950s. I’ll try to find a pix-ture.


jessicaK February 6, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Liz Taylor’s pixie looks a whole lot better than mine did in this 1950s pixie haircut. Notice the shaggy, ragged bangs and sides. Oh. I get it. My mom wanted me to look like Liz Taylor? I’m adding this link. Not sure it will work.

And not to get off topic, but I think Belle has reignited our childhood memories and the visuals that go along with them. In other words: stories married to pictures. Thanks, Belle!



Aurelio February 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I was like a bully landmine as a child – I was usually the smallest kid in my class, and my dad moved a lot, so I was always starting new schools. Without fail, the school bullies would seek me out to attack, fools that they were. They didn’t realize I’d been raised to hold my own with 3 older brothers, in fights that usually involved blood, so I was fearless and was well trained int the art of massive retaliation. I was never picked on more than once.

I’m a pacifist at heart, but still don’t abide bullies.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Just settled my kids in with snacks, etc, but I probably won’t have time to respond to comments until this evening. Just FYI, comments are still coming in on the question about endurance: Feel free to jump back over to that topic, and I’ll follow.

I’ll be back tonight. Play on!


Aurelio February 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

They just played “Sabrina” again on TCM and I couldn’t stop myself from watching the whole thing. Audrey is captivating.


Aurelio February 6, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Hey congrats to Danielle Trussoni and Frank Daniels! I’ll be toasting them when I have my drink tonight.


Aurelio February 6, 2009 at 3:14 pm

In 3-D???


troutbum70 February 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm

About an hour and a half from twin cities. Farm fields all around very few big trees. The town where they made Grumpy Old Men is near by also. I went to the bar in the movie on my way home.;-)


Kimberly February 6, 2009 at 5:19 pm


Wanna come with? 🙂

UPDATE (9:35pm): Just saw it. Loved it. Now I suppose I have to go to the library and read it – just to make sure they did the book justice.


Kimberly February 6, 2009 at 5:22 pm

It’s such a toss-up which is my favorite. I usually end up with Roman Holiday as the fave, but Sabrina is JUST. SO. DAMN. GOOD.

And who can resist Bogie singing ‘Yes We Have No Bananas”?

Sue, do you need me to bring that for our movie date, as a bonus?


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:30 pm


Mr. Henderson’s at The Tempest rehearsal till midnight-ish, so I won’t be able to check with him about dates until tom’w.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Standing up for your friends and your beliefs is nearly impossible at that age, so when you see it happen, it’s such a beautiful thing. I have a feeling you’ll run into Miss B and get your chance to say what you need to say.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I want to hear a detailed account of this massive retaliation.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Next cross country trip, we’re driving through Minnesota!


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:37 pm

I think the Winnie the Pooh collection may be my favorite book, children or adult, ever. Period.


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Yeah, you think you’re going to look like Elizabeth Taylor, and then…


SusanHenderson February 6, 2009 at 8:41 pm

So great to see people’s hard work paying off!


Aurelio February 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

Roman Holiday is a better movie, but I just can’t take my eyes off of Audrey in Sabrina.

It’s an interesting recurring theme with Audrey – in both films, she cuts her hair and it changes her life.


SusanHenderson February 8, 2009 at 1:59 pm

We’ll probably go next weekend. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it so far.


SusanHenderson February 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm

The only Audrey Hepburn movie I’ve ever seen is My Fair Lady, so I’m going to trust Kimberly to pick the best one for a re-introduction.


Aurelio February 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

I love her in Funny Face too, but it’s otherwise a pretty gawdawful movie. You can’t lose with either Roman Holiday or Sabrina, but if you’ve not seen either, I’d go with Roman Holiday because it comes with Gregory Peck.


Kimberly February 8, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Mmmmm. Gregory Peck… Atticus Finch. I wanted to be ‘Scout’ just so he would be my dad.

Ooh, Sue, then I’m going to have to go with Roman Holiday.

Funny Face is really only good for two scenes: The Winged Victory of Samonthrace and the wacky dance scene in the beatnik bar.

Of course, if we’re looking for Audrey + cinema heartthrob, there’s always Charade… Cary Grant. Need I say more?


SusanHenderson February 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I’d (way) rather see Gregory Peck than Cary Grant any day. Though, to be perfectly honest, my opinion largely comes from the Flintstones’ Gary Granite character. He was no Atticus Finch.


SusanHenderson February 11, 2009 at 6:54 am

MORE good news about former LitPark guests: The winner of The Missouri Review’s 2008 Editors’ Prize Contest is Roy Kesey for the story, “Double Fish”!

Here’s the LitPark interview with Kesey:

And if you missed me waxing his legs in public:


SusanHenderson February 13, 2009 at 11:25 am

Fun, twitter-sized interview with LitPark’s webmaster over here:


SusanHenderson February 13, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Very nice interview between The Courier-Journal’s Larry Muhammad and former LitPark guest Jim Tomlinson. It begins with this:

Jim Tomlinson’s new career might be the perfect example of how life’s second acts sometimes fulfill dreams deferred.

After decades as an engineer — designing precision tools for manufacturing and electronic sensors used in auto equipment — Tomlinson quit in 1999 and began writing full-time. Three unpublished novels, short stories and rejection letters by the dozen piled up in his Berea, Ky., home.

Then a funny thing happened. Tomlinson’s debut collection, “Thing Kept, Things Left Behind,” won the prestigious 2006 Iowa Short Fiction Award, a prize known to kickstart the career of many a young writer.

Only this literary novice was then 64 years old.

Continues here: I hope you have a chance to check it out!


SusanHenderson February 15, 2009 at 12:41 pm

The other day, Mr. Henderson was folding the laundry and listening to a re-broadcast of the Super Bowl. We both listened to the final 5 minutes together, hoping the Steelers would still win. Today, he’s folding clothes, and I hear the football game. I ask him, “Super Bowl again?” He says, “No, but if we win this game, we’re going to the Super Bowl.”


eileen_rita February 19, 2009 at 12:53 am

Oh how I loved to read when I was younger. I can remember walking home from school one day reading, and a teacher pulled over in her car and scolded me for not watching where I was going. I didn’t get yelled at often…and never for reading – It has haunted me to this day.
My favourites were ‘The BFG’, ‘Charlottes Web’, ‘The Wind and the Willows’, and in a odd-one-out sort of a way ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. I think as a child I read to escape the world i was in, where as now I read to learn more about other people’s worlds.
I just finished reading a lovely book for younger children the other night called ‘Mokes, Mines and Mayhem’. It’s written by a friend of mine, Kate Marshall, and is set in the Australian Outback, which is close to home for me. The story follows the adventures of three young brothers and their family over a Christmas holiday there. What I found I enjoyed, and what I would probably like to seek out in other children’s books now, is that instead of taking my mind to a world of fantasy, it reminded me of my childhood, and the adventures I had. I’ve already leant it to my friends son, because I’m keen to know what kind of reaction he has too it. It’s really interesting to me how an adult mind perceives and interprets a children’s story.


SusanHenderson February 19, 2009 at 8:03 pm

What a wonderful list of books! I can’t even tell you how many times I read THE BFG to my kids.

Here’s a link to Kate Marshall’s MOKES, MINES AND MAYHEM Can’t wait to find out what mokes are!


5speener0 March 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for this. As a person formerly known as a young girl with epilepsy, I am particularly interested.

Ah, I remember (and tell the story often) the day I TRICKED my stepson Thomas into reading the first Harry Potter book. He absolutely LOVES reading now, always in search of that first wonderful book high! He and I have read all HP books since the first, and it’s one of those things that binds us to one another, along with crossword puzzles and catching up on each other’s lives while we’re cooking in the kitchen. A good friend, food, books–add a glass of wine and some music, and you’ve got something close to the beauty of a magical sunrise on the pebble beach of a small Greek island. Okay, I lived that, I admit, but it was stunningly beautiful, even for the girl of 7 yrs. that I was at the time.


SusanHenderson March 22, 2009 at 8:45 am

LOVE your description! And I had no idea about the epilepsy. I hope you’ll tell your story sometime, either here or on your blog. And not too late to participate in Purple Day, which is March 26th!


5speener0 March 26, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Susan, my wish is your command. I’ve posted a link to this site on my facebook profile and the logo and a link on my blog,, if you’d like to read my story about epilepsy, you can find it on this blog as the latest post. It was written rather quickly, but it’s up, along with pics of me as a young girl and as a teenager. Gotta love those pics, right? 🙂


SusanHenderson March 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Despina, I loved hearing your story. All of it – the cinder blocks, the big bed, the dress. And I’ve seen seizures so many times in my life, and never once heard what the experience was like for the person having it. Thanks for this, and I hope others check it out, as well.


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