A Valuable Book

By Megan Willome

Children's stories that stick with us forever

Every week, 2009 Wacoan of the Year, Mark Osler, holds Haiku Friday on his blog at www.oslersrazor.blogspot.com. If you’re a haiku purist, this contest is not for you. The participants are Osler’s law school students, colleagues, friends and random fans, like me. In September I submitted an entry under the subject of “fictional characters you might once have had a crush on.”

How could I not love Rupert Piper, as Megan,the valuable girl?

I suppose most of you never read “Rupert Piper and Megan, the Valuable Girl,” the 1972 children’s book by Ethelyn Parkinson. My parents gave it to me in 1979 with this inscription: “On this — the first day of your first campaign for elective office — I wanted to remind you just how valuable you are to us and our family.”

How awful is it that I don’t even remember that campaign? All I know is I didn’t win. Still, I adored the book, in which Megan is valued for her ability to read minds. It turns out she isn’t psychic (although ESP was very big in the ‘70s). She’s just observant. Megan can look like anyone she wants to and then, as she describes, “I just let thoughts drift through my head, like a breeze, and I listen to them. They are the thoughts of the person I’m looking like.” Megan developed this ability after her mom died.

One thing I love about children’s books is that you never know which ones will stick. What we read or are read to as children is the cream that rises to the top and flavors our lives forever.

Recently I cleared out the floor-to-ceiling bookcase between my kids’ rooms. Sorting through those six shelves meant sorting through an archive of our family’s life. Although the award-winning stuff usually wins awards for a reason, some of the books I held on to were more obscure.

I will never give away Sam McBratney’s “Guess How Much I Love You.” My husband and I can still recite it by heart because we read it every night for more than a year.

I kept all the “Bob Books” by Bobby Lynn Maslen. Both my kids learned to read using those paperbacks with simple pencil drawings.

I can’t part with my son’s “Star Wars, Episode 1, The Phantom Menace,” read-along book that came with a cassette tape. I also found my old read-along copy of “Star Wars,” back when it didn’t have an episode number, and it came with a record.

When my daughter was slow to speak, due to undiagnosed hearing problems, she could somehow read along to “Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!” by Sandra Boynton. Before her first ear surgery, a dear friend gave us “Clifford Celebrates the Year” by Norman Bridwell. That big red dog brought her a lot of comfort. Before her second ear surgery, that same friend gave us the first five books in the “Junie B. Jones” series by Barbara Park. We eventually purchased the entire set.

Meanwhile, my son was devouring the “Hardy Boys” series, many of which I purchased at the Waco-McLennan County Friends of the Library book sale. The “How I Survived Middle School” series by Nancy E. Krulik helped answer my daughter’s questions about life in junior high.

There’s an entire shelf of Christmas books because I used to read a book or a chapter to my kids every night during December. Among our favorites were “Silent Night,” by Will Moses, “Auntie Claus,” by Elise Primavera and “Mary’s First Christmas,” by Walter Wanngerin Jr. And, of course, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” by Barbara Robinson. Probably the best Christmas book ever.

“Rupert Piper and Megan, the Valuable Girl” is not the best book ever, but it was one I treasured. You know I loved it because it has stains. Who knows what I spilled on those pages?

After I submitted my haiku to Osler, I re-read the 160-page book. I think the story had something to do with me becoming a writer, not so much because of Megan’s powers but because of her father, Mr. Donahue. He was a writer and a secret talent scout. The whole book is about the townspeople trying to figure out who the talent scout is so they can impress him or her and have their town chosen as the location for a movie. At the end of the story, Rupert wonders why Megan couldn’t read her father’s mind and figure out that he was the talent scout they were all looking for.

On the last page of the book, she says, “Oh, no!” Megan’s eyes were big and round. “I couldn’t look like Daddy — ever! You see, I look just like my mother. Everyone who knew her says so.”

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