On Sunday, September 23, 2018 I will be at the “School Is In, Let The Reading Begin” Back In School Event. It’s being held at Sturgis Recreation Center, 200 65th Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19126, from 1:00-4:00.
It’s a free event!
Authors, resources, and organizations that work with children will be there. They’ll be giving away backpacks and other items.
Would you believe me if I told you that I met the most notorious pirate who ever lived; the scallywag of all scallywags– the only buccaneer Blackbeard himself feared– and that I survived to tell the tale?
If you don’t believe me, listen to my story and let’s see if I can convince you of its veracity. If you do believe me, you must also listen to the
tale, for I’m sure you will learn things that you never imagined.
It all started one fine morning in early April 1913 in London. I remember it quite clearly. It was a glorious morning.
Despite a slight nip in the air, the sun was chasing away the last tendrils of stubborn fog that clung to the corners of buildings like sticky fingers and that hovered in the air like slow-moving phantoms. In a steady
ebb the unwanted specters dissolved, sunlight piercing their opaque bodies until they dissipated, and a vibrant blue sky emerged.
It was my first day at my uncle’s accounting firm. That morning I was wearing my favorite new bowler hat and was fastening the buttons on my coat so as to keep out the chill when a plucky little rascal, beckoning to his classmates to wait for him, streaked across my path. He nearly collided with me. Luckily, my impeccable balance saved us both from a terrible spill.
“I say, young man,” I admonished him, readjusting my hat, “Slow down.”
A tattered book tucked under his arm, the lad spun around, his legs pumping for all they were worth, and he gave me the briefest of glances.
“Sorry, sir,” he shouted, before completing his dizzy rotation, and falling into line with the boys who walked several paces ahead of us.
“Hey lads, guess what?” he said.
The boys, steadfast in their march toward school, barely acknowledged the younger boy who’d barreled into their midst. “Guess what?” he repeated, “I told you I was right about Captain Hook!”
A jeering round of laughter broke out among the group. Much too intent on proving his point, Jo-Jo ignored the jibe. “Me dad heard another man talkin’ about Hook at the Liar’s Pub last night.”
“Not that again,” a dark-haired boy said, “Everybody knows that only bairns and the addle-brained Darlings believe in Captain Hook.”
“Mr. Barrie believed in him,” Jo-Jo said, “He wrote the book about Peter Pan.”
“You mean that fairy tale he wrote?” Eyes mocking, the dark-haired boy shook his head. “You’re as fuddled as your dad.”
Another rousing chorus of laughter broke out among the group, prompting Jo-Jo’s footsteps to stall. Head hanging, he fell behind the rowdy band, dragging his boots across the cobblestones.
I felt a certain sympathy for Jo-Jo. As a young lad, I had also been ostracized by people because I voiced my fantastical notions. Most of them still thought I was a mad man for taking an annual holiday to visit Ireland in search of leprechauns. I haven’t found one yet, but I most certainly shall.
Jo-Jo’s plight, though quite sad, turned out to be a most fortuitous opportunity for me. It seemed almost providential that this high-spirited boy had chosen the same exact route as me to walk to the school.
It was a sign that I should change my career from accountant’s apprentice to journalist. Some of you may think this is rather abrupt. Never fear, dear reader. I’m something of a Renaissance Man. My ability to flitter from one job to the next, without any related experience, is renowned in these parts.
Yes, I could see it all quite clearly. I’d seek out Captain Hook, conduct the interview of a lifetime, and become an immediate sensation. First things first of course. Before I could begin my investigation I had to speak with young Master Jo-Jo and discover the whereabouts of the infamous Captain.
Fingers itching to transcribe the lad’s account, I approached him and I saw that his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “I say there, Jo-Jo, don’t let those hooligans get you down.”
“No one ever believes me.” He kicked at a loose stone and watched its progression across the street. With a loud clacking sound, the stone bounced off of the wheel of a passing bread cart and was lost from sight.
I inhaled the fresh scents of yeast and dough drifting off the cart, and my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten yet. I disregarded the sensation and focused on the matter at hand. “I believe you.”
Skeptical at first, Jo-Jo’s eyes were slow to light up, a small grin plucking at the corners of his mouth. “You do?”
“Of course. You seem like an honest fellow.”
Warming to my sincerity, Jo-Jo gave me an eager nod, his grin widening. “Oh, I’m very honest, sir. I’m the only one in the whole class who’s never had to do lines for lying to the teacher.”
“Splendid.” The sun warming us, we resumed our trek toward the school and my uncle’s accounting firm. “So tell me your story of Captain Hook.”
Jo-Jo’s eyes turned serious. “It’s no story, sir, it’s a rumor.”
“Quite so. Go on.”
“Me dad heard that there was a great hullabaloo at Kensington Gardens the other night. A constable arrested a man, who was running about waving a butterfly net.”
Jo-Jo proceeded to do a wonderful impersonation of someone swinging a butterfly net while he spoke. “The man was yelling that he was trying to catch fairies for Captain Hook.”
Like a fisherman’s knot, my breath lodged in my chest. “Indeed. Did the man say anything else?”
Jo-Jo gave a solemn nod. “He said Hook is alive.”
“He survived the crocodile attack?”
“Extraordinary! Did he say where Hook was?”
With a victorious smile, Jo-Jo nodded. “He’s living on Madagascar.”
For the briefest of moments, I was unsure. Like everyone else, I had read Mr. Barrie’s account of the Darling’s adventures in Neverland.
I had participated in lengthy debates about the book’s credibility. How could you not? The excerpt of the poor boy losing his shadow in the nursery was legitimate. I lose my shadow every single night when the lamps go out.
Of course I believed that Peter Pan visited small children in our world and lured them to Neverland.
The questions nagging at me were: How did Captain Hook survive the crocodile attack? Did the captain really come here or was it an imposter? And finally, why would the captain come here?
If the rumors concerning Hook were true, this could be the biggest opportunity of my aspiring journalistic career, a chance to talk to the old scallywag and end the argument over the truth of Peter Pan’s existence. And even more appealing, I could be the first to write Hook’s version of what happened with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
I peered down at Jo-Jo and extended my hand in friendship. The school bell rang. “I say, my good little man, you, best get to school. Thank you for passing on the rumor.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” Jo-Jo shook my hand and tore off down the street disappearing into a tidy brick building with the rest of his classmates.
As for me, I promptly made an about face and retraced my steps back the way I’d just come. Kensington Gardens was a few blocks from the stately home I shared with my grandmother; a kind and wealthy woman with an affinity for opera glasses and snuff boxes.
With purpose, I strolled into Kensington Gardens, toward The Long Water. An array of flowers lined my path, their soft petals waving to me in the breeze.
I strolled further down the cheery lane, admiring the neatly trimmed lawns and hearty geraniums guiding my way. Even now, as an adult, I often visit the lake while on my way to search for fairies. Ever since my grandmother read me Thomas Tickells’s poem Kensington Gardens, I’ve had a fascination with them.
Peter Pan’s statue stood on a raised circular dais, close by The Long Water. It is widely believed in these parts that fairies erected the bronze statue one night last year as a surprise for children.
Naturally, I assumed that if there were any sign of recent fairy activity, it would be near Peter Pan’s statue. It didn’t take me long to find a ripped piece of mesh lining from a butterfly net. From a branch bathed in sunlight, the ragged scrap beckoned to me, flapping like a moth stretching its wings before its inaugural flight.
I picked up the netting, a newfound purpose brewing inside me. As I slipped the netting in my pocket, I knew what I had to do. I would quit my new job at my uncle’s accounting firm and prepare for an adventure on the high seas.
Then one day everything changes when a classmate named Nikita begins to disrupt the classroom. Kamyla grows anxious about Nikita’s hurtful behavior. It’s hard to learn and have fun in school with Nikita constantly misbehaving.
One day the two girls have an argument and Kamyla gets hurt. Afterwards, Kamyla learns of Nikita’s own struggles. Saddened by the unfortunate news, Kamyla rises to the challenge to help her troubled classmate.