by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
I stop to pick up pennies—any coins, really—on the street.
It’s challenging in New York City (where our Scholastic offices are located). There is such a flow of fast-moving pedestrian traffic that when you stop, it causes a people-pileup on the sidewalk.
But finding and picking up a penny was always considered good luck when I was growing up. And, by extension, not picking up said coin when you see one would bring bad luck. So I risk the wrath of people rushing through SoHo: when I see a coin, I pick it up.
I always loved to save pennies and coins—they were the “real money” when I was a kid—and those old habits don’t die. Some people I know—like my husband, Jeff—have little respect for loose change and don’t even bother taking it out of their pockets before putting their pants in the wash. When that happens in my house (which is, like, every day), I pick up the coins and put them in the assorted jars and piggy banks I have around my house.
Recently, when we sold the house I grew up in, in Newton, Massachusetts, my sister, Emily, and I unearthed a huge stash of coins that my grandfather and then my parents had been saving for a really bad rainy day.
I think this came from having lived through the stock market crash. Their Depression-era mentality was that it was smart to have some actual solid hard coinage on hand—first in the basement, then in a safe deposit box in the bank—in case the stock market crashed again.
So my sister and I found ourselves trying to get into our parents’ safe deposit box at Citizens Bank in Newton Center, looking for a way to value and liquidate Canadian silver dollars and gold Krugerrands.
In that safe deposit box (it was a really large box, actually) were also a collection of Franklin Mint coins, assorted foreign currency that doesn’t exist anymore (like deutsche marks and lire), and lots of old pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.
We had a long list of things we had to do when selling our childhood home: sorting, packing, cleaning, staging, saying goodbye to (and thanking, à la Marie Kondo) the dining room table and chairs where we ate every holiday meal for decades (and where we sat when our mother had us all doing the Evelyn Wood speed-reading program), putting the house on the market, etc., etc., etc.
Of all these tasks, figuring out what to do with our family’s motley coin collection was among the hardest.
First of all, the coins were heavy! Particularly the Canadian silver dollars were super-difficult to cart around. And apparently there are all kinds of rules about transporting gold on an airplane (You can’t! It’s the property of the government!?), so my sister couldn’t even take her share back to San Francisco unless she wanted to rent a car, which seemed ridiculous.
We had to get some expert help on what to do with these coins. I had a vision that we could go to a local coin dealer (you know, the kind with a secret back door leading to some kind of magical place that you would find in a great children’s book), but that’s not really how it works.
You have to get an official appraisal and pay taxes and all that stuff. It ends up being transactional and not too much fun after all. I think we might end up carting them back to a safe deposit box and keeping them for another kind of rainy day.
When I reread (for probably the tenth time!) Thomas Rockwell’s perennial favorite and bestseller How to Eat Fried Worms, my experience with the not-magical coin expert meant I felt Alan’s panic when he finds himself in real danger of losing 50 hard-earned dollars from his savings account to a bet he made with Billy.
“Rockwell’s sensibilities (if that’s the word) are so uncannily close to those of the average ten-year-old boy that one begins to admire Billy as a really sharp operator.” —Kirkus Reviews
I also totally identified with Billy because I always really, really wanted a minibike as a kid.
My neighbor Steven Cutter and my cousins Jeff and Paul all had minibikes, and I wanted one so badly. But there was no amount of money in my piggy bank that could buy my parents’ approval for that purchase.
This week’s Dollar Deal, How to Eat Fried Worms, is timeless on so many levels. On this reading, just over 45 years after I discovered it when it was published for the first time in 1973, I found myself cheering for Mrs. and Mr. Forrester—Billy’s mom and dad—who, instead of chiding and dismissing Billy for making a ridiculous bet, opened up Mastering the Art of French Cooking and helped Billy find some palatable ways to eat the required worms.
The bet kicks off on page one when Tom’s dislike of salmon immediately escalates to a bet in which Billy has to eat 15 worms in 15 days.
David Vozar recalls times he himself got caught up in ridiculous bets:
“After reading How to Eat Fried Worms, I was reminded of all the crazy things I did and regretted at the urging of my friends.”
Get your students excited to experience How to Eat Fried Worms with some special posts we cooked up on the blog this week! Watch an exclusive interview with Thomas Rockwell and his daughter, Abigail, in Behind the Scenes; discover how fourth grade teacher Krista Gedney uses How to Eat Fried Worms to hook reluctant readers in Book Talks; make delicious “dirt pudding” with gummy worms in Cooked Up from a Book; and laugh along as the Book Boy seat some worms of their own.
Instead of foreign coins, I’m going to add How to Eat Fried Worms to my rainy-day stash. I hope you and your students will do the same!
Don’t Miss the Dollar Deal from Scholastic Book Clubs