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The most dangerous book I know [Jan. 10th, 2007|03:05 pm]
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A long time ago, when I was getting ready to write my first novel, If That Breathes Fire, We’re Toast!, I had a run-in with children’s literature.

What you might call a head-on collision, actually.

Here’s an excerpt from Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking:

“Maybe we ought to pick some mushrooms,” said Pippi, and she broke off a pretty, rosy one. “I wonder if it’s possible to eat it?” she continued. “At any rate, it isn’t possible to drink it - that much I know; so there is no choice except to eat it. Maybe it’s possible.”

She took a big bite and swallowed it. “It was possible,” she announced, delighted. “Yes sirree, we’ll certainly stew the rest of this sometime,” she said and threw it high over the treetops.”


We were listening to Pippi’s adventures on tape, as we headed for a camping site in the Chiricahua National Monument. Pippi was just the ticket to keep our three daughters entertained and non-whiney -- and besides, I liked her, too. Only when I heard that part about the mushroom, I wondered if I should turn the tape off and say something, because of the impressionable three-year-old strapped in her carseat behind me.

I glanced back, and she was engrossed with one of her My Little Ponies (the Barbies of the horse world), combing its pastel mane and tail.

I thought that she was not paying attention to Pippi.

I thought wrong.

Later, with the tent erected, and my husband grilling hamburgers, my smallest daughter approached me.

“Mommy, pick a hand.”

I went for the left one.

“Look, Mommy, it’s a yummy, yummy mushroom!”

“You ate this?” She nodded. She had saved some for me, because it was so yummy.

I told my husband, who is a doctor, and showed him the yummy mushroom. I think he went into shock.

I grabbed our daughter and ran to the ranger, and asked if he could identify the mushroom. He couldn’t. He radioed. Suddenly, my daughter and I were whisked into the back of a sheriff’s car, and went roaring out of the Chiricahua National Monument at 90 miles an hour.

The ambulance met us halfway to Wilcox, and the paramedics made my daughter drink a charcoal solution to absorb potential toxins. They got on the radio with Poison Control in Tucson, who told them that if it was a bad mushroom, the Wilcox Hospital wouldn’t be able to handle it.

They were sending the helicopter for us.

My daughter rode in back with the paramedics and I rode up front with the pilot. Most of that trip is a blur. I know I prayed like I never have before. We landed at Tucson Medical Center, and a crowd of doctors and nurses immediately swarmed my daughter. I remember insisting, “She’s fine. She hasn’t thrown up or anything.” (The italics are cues for building hysteria.)

Then one earnest doctor disabused me of that notion. “Ma’am, there are some mushrooms for which you don’t get symptoms until six to 48 hours after ingestion.”

“What happens if it’s a bad mushroom?” I asked.

“She’ll need a liver transplant,” he said. “Or she’ll die.” He also said that no one could identify the mushroom. Identifying mushrooms is very tricky, and dangerous ones can look so much like safe ones that not even a trained mycologist can tell them apart.

While I was having this conversation, it took three adults to hold down my daughter so they could draw her blood and check her liver enzymes.

Later on, around midnight, I was talking to my daughter, who had fortunately not shown any symptoms. “You know you’re not supposed to eat mushrooms you find in the forest,” I said. "You’re only allowed to eat the ones that come from the grocery store in the little boxes that are saran-wrapped.”

She put her hands on her nonexistent hips and said, “Well, Pippi did.”

Pippi did, indeed.

Eventually, we were sent home, with instructions to bring her back to the Emergency Room for the next two days for more blood draws. We were to watch her very carefully, including what she deposited in the toilet, and if anything seemed strange or worried us, to bring her back immediately.

It was a very long weekend. Luckily, it turned out to be a harmless mushroom, and I did not have to go to Sweden and off a beloved children’s author.

And I got to write children’s books, too. My own happy ending. I don’t think I would have done that if Astrid Lindgren had killed my daughter.

But to this day, my daughter is freaked out by needles. She also picks the mushrooms out of all her food.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dorihbutler
2007-01-10 11:03 pm (UTC)

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Wow! What a story! (I pick the mushrooms out of my food, too.)
[User Picture]From: dlgarfinkle
2007-01-10 11:22 pm (UTC)

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Yikes!
[User Picture]From: jennifer_j_s
2007-01-10 11:28 pm (UTC)

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Sometimes I talk about censorship at school visits. I tell kids this is the only dangerous book I know.
From: dsgood
2007-01-11 01:16 am (UTC)

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Ditto!
[User Picture]From: mimagirl
2007-01-14 03:21 am (UTC)

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Great story! It reminds me of a time when I was about seven, and I picked up the Pippi Longstocking book to read. I read the first couple of chapters and began raving to my mom about it. "Mom, her dad is king of cannibals!" I cried with delight (completely unknowing as to what the word "cannibals" meant). Mom, horrified, explained the meaning and had me stop reading the book. :o)
[User Picture]From: jennifer_j_s
2007-01-14 07:32 pm (UTC)

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You know, I still love Pippi, even though the mushroom incident revealed my (heretofore) latent homicidal tendencies.

My mother had been a librarian, and I was allowed to read anything I wanted. She's often told me the story of trying to check out Karl Marx at age 12, and the librarian insisted on getting her mom's permission.

My grandmother, who was a lawyer in the days when women weren't lawyers, said to let her read anything she wanted. I've passed on the tradition to my children. It's a good one.
[User Picture]From: mimagirl
2007-01-14 09:00 pm (UTC)

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I should note that it was at a time in my mother's life when she didn't read much fiction of any sort - and no fantasy at all! Since then she has grown a lot in her literary tastes. :)
[User Picture]From: lyriclemon
2007-01-14 03:55 am (UTC)

Admiral Boom's Port

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When I was a little girl, I was in love with PL Travers "Mary Poppins" books, much preferring them to the Disney movie with its sanitized version of the nanny. I was especially intrigued by the fact that Admiral Boom loved to drink Port, and wondered what it was. My dad actually went out to a liquor store and bought a bottle of Port so that I could taste it! (He had to realize that I wouldn't care for the taste!) Anyway, I was thrilled out of my mind that I got to have a sip of Port, just like Admiral Boom. Also I remember reading a book about little girls eating fancy petit-fours, and I obsessed about these, too. I was so happy when my mom actually ordered a box of petit-fours from the Marshall Field catalog, and I got to try them. I was mad about Pippi Longstocking, too, but I never went out to the woods to sample mushrooms. (But then, again, I wasn't the outdoorsy type, and thought that Brownie Day Camp was pure torture.)
[User Picture]From: jennifer_j_s
2007-01-14 07:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Admiral Boom's Port

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I think your dad was very wise.
[User Picture]From: lyriclemon
2007-01-14 09:13 pm (UTC)

Admiral Boom's Port

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Yes, he was. I think that was one of the nicest things he ever did for me, and I will always remember it. To read a little more about my dad, go here: http://www.illinoistimes.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A2703

Btw, you won't have to kill Astrid Lindgren if your latent homicidal tendencies should ever come back, because she died in 2002. However, you can still go to her theme park (Astrid Lindgren's Varld) in Sweden and wreak havoc there on the costumed character dressed as Pippi.

[User Picture]From: jennifer_j_s
2007-01-15 03:32 pm (UTC)

Re: Admiral Boom's Port

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I knew that Astrid Lindgren lived to a grand old age -- and I don't think my latent homicidal tendencies will resurface, so the costumed Pippi is safe.

I enjoyed reading your essay about your dad. I know where you got your writer's genes!

Hugs,
Jennifer J.