My first contribution to writing a book happened years ago, when I was five years old. It was a temper tantrum on my part that helped write the end of the book, but hey, I’m still taking credit.
As I noted in an earlier post, my father shot the photographs for 3 children’s books that came out in Random House’s Beginner Books series in the 1960s. The second of these books was Do You Know What I’m Going to do Next Saturday? written by Dr. Seuss’s first wife, Helen Palmer.
I appear on the first page and the last as the kid the protagonist is bragging to about all the things he’s going to do next Saturday. On the first page I appear attentive and interested in his story while on the last page it seems that his story has gone on too long and put me to sleep. I like to take credit for that ending.
On the day of the shoot, which took place in our back yard, my younger brother was toodled off to his bedroom for a nap and I was brought downstairs to take part in the photo shoot. For whatever reasons, I found it a great injustice to be separated from my brother and didn’t want to be there. I had a temper tantrum. My parents managed to settle me down just long enough to do the photo shoot. But I had one last passive aggressive card to play. I’d show them. I played the whole scene as if I were desperately tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open, to show them I also needed a nap. My father continued to take photographs, undeterred by my attempts to undermine the whole operation.
Which is why, at the end of the book, you see me with my head hanging down, clearly unable to go any longer without sleep. This gave Ms. Palmer the idea for a perfect ending to the story, a photo which indicates how long the protagonist’s story has gone on. As I’ve learned from writing my own books, inspiration often arrives from unexpected places.
You can still find used editions of the book online. It was not a big seller in its day, but it was selected as one of the best children’s books of 1963 by the New York Times. During the Internet era, an urban myth circulated that claimed it was a banned Dr. Seuss book. A video reading of the book is below (the chef with the awesome mustache is George Pernicano, who founded a chain of Italian restaurants in San Diego in the 1960s and became a minority owner of the Chargers football team).
If you check out the credits at the end of the book, you may notice the main character in the book was played by a kid named Rawli Davis. Did he inspire the naming of the protagonist in the Rolly Waters mystery series? I don’t think so, but it’s possible the name was buried somewhere in my subconscious. My official back story is that Rolly is short for Roland, which is short for Sir Roland, hero of the 11th century poem The Song of Roland, which Rolly’s mother happened to be reading at the time he was born. His father hated the name and started calling him Rolly early on.