I love a good story. Always have. Some of my earliest childhood memories go back to the time when my mom would read bedtime stories to me and my siblings. Most often, she would read to us from a well-worn copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I can still remember the detailed drawings from many of the stories: Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, The Bremen Town Musicians, Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White. Occasionally, my dad would tuck us in and tell us a story. He would recite tales from memory that he had been told by his parents when he was a child. Stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our favorite, however, was an old Norwegian folktale called The Boy Who Went to the North Wind. He would punctuate these stories with voices of the characters and sound effects that always made us laugh. I heard those stories so many times that I didn’t realize they had become permanently etched in my memory.
When our kids were little, I usually put them to bed. I would read to them, often falling asleep on one of their beds mid-story. “Dad, you’re sleeping again!” the kids would say as they shook me awake. One night I thought I’d tell them The Boy Who Went to the North Wind. Not sure I would remember it, as soon as I said, “Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lived with his mother,” the words came to me, and I quickly realized I could repeat my dad’s version of the story almost verbatim. They loved that story as much as we did – voices, sound effects and all.
When our kids had kids of their own, they read books to them just as I had done for them when they were little. When we visited, I would volunteer to put the kids to bed and read books to them or regale them with a selection from my catalog of memorized fairy tales. One night, my oldest grandson, Mack, said, “Buppa, can you tell me a story from when you were a little boy?”
I said, “Sure!” I thought for a second and then told him about the time I won a green army hatchet by selling newspaper subscriptions and almost chopped my thumb off. The next night I told him about the time I tried to climb a tree with a plastic jump rope and the rope broke leading to a fall that knocked the wind out of my lungs. Then I told him about the time we got into a fender bender with my dad after he waved to a neighbor and ran into the back of another car. Then I told him about the time my sister’s used bicycle broke in half the day she got it. Mack loved these stories and I repeated them over and over again, along with an occasional retelling of Goldilocks and The Three Bears or The Boy Who Went to the North Wind.
About a year ago, Mack came home from school one day and started talking to his mom about a couple of characters he had thought up. Their names were Burgerhead and Mean Jerry. Rachel started laughing just hearing the names. Mack went on to explain that Burgerhead lived in a great big house that had a great big refrigerator filled with grapes because grapes was Burgerhead’s favorite food. He said Burgerhead always wore a basketball jersey and grey shorts and rode around on a long blue bike with a banana seat and high handlebars. He went on to explain that Mean Jerry lived in a very small house and always wore fancy clothes. Rachel kept telling me about the stories Mack was making up and an idea popped into my mind. I decided to take Mack’s characters and feature them in stories that I had told the kids about my childhood exploits.
I started by making a list of 10 stories I had shared with the grandkids. Then I started on the first story. As in any good story, there has to be memorable characters, conflict, a problem to solve and a satisfying resolution. Since the books could be read aloud or first-readers, I figured parents would be looking for lessons or values their kids could learn from the actions of the characters.
Burgerhead and Mean Jerry stories will have some recurring themes:
1. Friends accept each other for who they are and how they look.
2. Personal responsibility is a character trait of great importance.
3. Actions tend to have consequences.
4. Kids should be allowed to have fun and make mistakes.
I also wanted Burgerhead and Mean Jerry to reflect on and interpret the adultisms they heard from their parents. For the most part, these are sayings that I gleaned from my parents, teachers, coaches and bosses over the years. “When you do a job, do it right the first time so you don’t have to do it again.” Or “If you’re not careful with little things, you’ll never be trusted with big things.” Or “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
With that, meet Burgerhead and Mean Jerry. In the first story of the series, the boys meet, become friends and share their first adventure together. There are many more to come!