As a kid, I was a reader. I recall begging my Dad for a bookcase, and he made one out of cinder blocks and 2 x 4’s in my closet, where I’d tuck myself into a corner with a flashlight and read Little Bear. Later, I read under my blankets, well past bedtime. By high school, I was skipping lunch to take Shakespeare Seminar classes. When I’m asked about my favorite book, I really cannot say I have one…unless you had asked me as a child, when I would have undoubtedly told you it was Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Written in 1979 and probably purchased by me within the first printing, I WAS Anastasia Krupnik. Well…I mean…NO…I didn’t live in Boston, nor was I Jewish, but living in a Midwestern cornfield being raised by agnostics made no difference. I had big glasses, tall boots, lots of corduroy pants, and unruly dark hair. I made lists. I was rather cranky. I wrote poetry. And this imaginary person was my best friend. I begged my Mother to change my name, but she refused. To prove my point, I only answered to the name Anastasia for months. I can still see my Mom rolling her eyes at me, hands on her hip standing at the stove, during her “blue plaid kitchen wallpaper and yellow linoleum tile” phase.
I begged Greg to name Miss Sara Felice after Anastasia, to which he roundly refused. I tried to compromise with Anna Katherine, but it did no good. NO WAY, he said. I’m not sure how Sara Felice became the middle ground, but in a fit of hormonal madness, I acquiesced. So when it was time to start a new chapter book last month, I pulled this well-worn, yellow-paged beauty off my bookshelf. The time had come. I’ve lost everything from my childhood save two possessions: this book, and a stuffed animal I named “The Local Duck”. Treasures, I tell you. Priceless stuff.
The girls are mesmorized by Anastasia. They sat in silence when I read her poetry. I found Sara studying Anastasia’s many lists one day on her bed. Walking through the halls at school last week, I noticed Sara’s Language Arts class had hung paper mugs of hot chocolate upon which they wrote suggestions of good books to read. “You should read Anastasia Krupnik. She lives in an apartment in Boston. It is a really great book.” I almost cried tears of happiness.
Tonight we read Chapter 3, within which Anastasia tells her parents she’d like to become a Catholic so she can add a middle name. She starts referring to herself as Anastasia Perpetua Krupnik. Realizing at the age of 10 she may too old to become a Catholic, a friend tells her to go to a Priest and request a dispensation. On a rainy Saturday, she grabs a Lord and Taylor shopping bag and heads for the church. At this point, Sara stopped and said with great exasperation,”What was she thinking? A dispensation is a SERVICE, not a GOOD! And Perpetua sounds like a truly horrible name!”
I laughed so hard, I nearly doubled over out of the rocking chair. Sharing this book with the girls is like splitting the world’s best dessert. For 15 precious minutes, every other night (we swap picture books and chapter books throughout the week), I get to be the same age as the girls. We swim in these funny little pages together. So hello and hugs, my dear old pal Anastasia. It has been wonderful visiting with you again.
postscript: It only took me 30 years, but last night I finally wrote a fan letter to Lois Lowry. Less than 12 hours later, she replied with the loveliest note. It reminds me of the sunny morning when I met Florence Henderson at a Indy 500 Breakfast, when she grabbed my hands and told me I was beautiful. Momma Brady Bunch told me I was pretty, and I’ve told Lois Lowry, a Newberry Medal Award winner, how much her writing has meant to me. We can now call my childhood complete.