While I'm thinking about prose books- a number of years ago I wrote a novelization of A PATTY CAKE CHRISTMAS, with the title slightly altered to what it is in the subject line. It's nine chapters and maybe 14,000 words (I have to count again.) Nobody's read it yet but me. Everybody's too busy these days, because technology has given us so-o-o-o much extra leisure time. Remember that promise? In many ways, Patty-Cake's Christmas harkens back to simpler times- Christmas the way it was when I was a kid. This meant the old Sears catalogue showing up in September, and starting kids off good and early salivating over what toys they wanted.
Anyway, here's the first chapter- in case anyone has any of that promised leisure time and wants to read it. It's only one chapter, and 1,525 words. It's arrived early, like the catalogue, so you have plenty of time. Plenty of people have read the comic version, and I've heard from families who've made it a Christmas tradition. Maybe somebody will read the novelization at last...maybe?
Our story opens in September, on the first day of a new school year. Yes, the title of the book promises a Christmas story, no argument there. Be patient though, the Christmas part comes soon enough- unless you’re a kid. Christmas takes forever to get here when you’re a kid. Right now it’s September, and that’s important to the story.
September is a funny, dual kind of month. Vacation is over and school has begun. Summer ends and fall comes in, changing the way everything looks, smells, and feels. And kids start thinking about Christmas. Grown-ups must not remember. Most of them, when they see the Christmas decorations going up early, think it's something new. They say, "You didn't used to see Christmas things till after Thanksgiving." They just don't remember. Those decorations have been going up early for longer than they think.
Patricia Anne Bakerman was seven years old, and just starting the second grade at Katherine Kerr Elementary School. Patricia was her given name, but most people called her Patty-Cake, because of the nursery rhyme. Her parents have been saying for years that if they'd thought about it at the time, they never would have named her that way. But when you're having a baby, you're so crazy and distracted, there are a lot of things you don't think about. It doesn't really bother her anymore, except when someone new meets her and thinks that they're the first ever to notice it.
Patty-Cake was a skinny little kid, with bushy, blond hair that bounced and flounced when she walked. She held it away from her face with barrettes shaped like flowers. She didn't feel complete without these, and she had brand new ones for the new school year. Of course she also had new books, a new classroom, a new seat and desk, and a new teacher. Everything was new except her homework assignment: to write what she'd done during the summer. Frankly, she never really thought about what she was doing that summer; she simply did it. When you're hanging by your knees from a tree branch, or taking off your shoes and socks to see if you can see your feet in the brown, muddy river water, you don't keep notes.
The first day of school was over, and Patty-Cake was coming out of the building on her way to the bus. As she slogged along, thinking about her new teacher and her new classroom, she was quickly overtaken by an excitable five-year old who had just begun kindergarten. Irving Kittleman lived on Patty-Cake's street, two doors down, and he looked up to Patty-Cake, and followed her everywhere. Irving's face looked as if someone had pushed him into a pile of freckles and they all stuck. He had curly, orange hair, and stubby legs, and stubby arms that he flapped a little like a penguin when he was truly excited. As he was now.
Patty-Cake turned to look at him. He was as wound up as she was tired.
"What a day, Patty-Cake! We played with a rabbit, a white one except he had a brown spot an' a black ear but he was white besides that, an' we told stories...I don't remember them all, but they were great, you shoulda heard them...an' we had graham crackers an' milk...if you like milk, I think it's okay but I'd rather have chocolate milk...an' then we took a nap, but nobody really slept, 'cause-"
"Slow down, Irving!" Patty-Cake really had to interrupt here. She knew how long this could go on. "I'm happy for you, I really am. But, y'know, some of us aren't in kindergarten. Some of us don't get graham crackers an' milk an' play with rabbits. No, we got assigned seats. We gotta add, an' divide, an' spell, an' worst of all..." she held up her books, "do homework! Y'know what homework is, Irving? It's when you think your school day is over, but it's not. 'Cause it follows you home, and hangs around, an' your parents keep asking you, 'Have you done your homework yet?'. So you pretty much end up sitting there reading schoolbooks an' pushing a pencil around all night just like you did all day. So I'm glad you had a great day, Irving, but let's think about others, huh?"
"Aw come on," answered Irving, "is it really that bad?"
"GANGWAY!" came a voice from behind. As if in answer to Irving's question, his brother and two friends were putting on a big act. Keith Kittleman led the way, Russell Miller brought up the rear, and between them hung José DuPois, limp as a rag doll. Irving's brother Keith was ten, a fourth grader. He had the same red hair and freckles, but he was round and puffy lipped, and wore glasses that were held on by a strap around the back of his head. Otherwise he would lose them. He'd been through many a pair, and they all ended up scratched and broken. The most outstanding feature about Keith, though, was his voice. He was loud enough to be heard for blocks, and he usually was, since he had an opinion about everything, which he never hesitated to express.
José lived across the street from Patty-Cake. He too was ten, and was Keith's best friend. José had darker red hair, most of which was tucked under a blue baseball cap he rarely took off. He was skinny, and had a prominent nose, but pleasant features. Almost bland. Russell was a kid from their class whom Patty-Cake and Irving didn't really know, except that he sometimes hung out with the school bully Kevin Longo, sometimes not.
"What's with José?" Patty-Cake asked. He was pretending to be unconscious, and had his book bag tossed on top of him as he hung like a hammock between Russell and Keith.
"TEACHER REALLY PILED ON THE HOMEWORK!" Keith explained, loudly. Patty-Cake was sure she heard José snicker. "HE COLLAPSED UNDER THE WEIGHT OF THE BOOKS!"
"Oh, give me a break."
"YEAH, WE KNEW YOU'D BE REAL SYMPATHETIC. HEY, PATTY-CAKE, WHO DID YOU GET FOR SECOND GRADE? DID YOU GET BICKFORD THE TERRIBLE?"
"It's none of your business, Keith." In fact, she didn't have Mrs. Bickford, but she hated to give Keith a straight answer. He was just too nosy.
"I GUESS YOU DIDN'T. I HAD BICKFORD, AND I KNOW FOR A FACT, IF YOU DID, YOU'D HAVE MORE BOOKS RIGHT NOW."
"Are you guys gonna go all the way home like that?"
The bus came. Keith turned his squad around, and gave the order to march. "CLEAR A PATH! LET US ON! YOU, SHIFT YOUR CARCASS...WE NEED THE WHOLE SEAT!"
And up the steps they went, José dangling between and trying his best to look passed out. Once they were on, and everybody on the bus had a laugh at the spectacle, they found their seats and flopped down. The first day of school was over.
Patty-Cake and Irving shared a seat. The door closed and the bus pulled away from the curb, and at that instant, Irving broke out in loud song.
"Ninety-nine bottles of-"
"Hey, Irving, chill." Patty-Cake snapped. "Wise up...take a look around you. This isn't the same as the morning bus." Irving stared as Patty went on. "This bunch is wrung out and wasted after the seven hour ordeal of starting school. It's gonna take more than dorky sing-a-longs to bring 'em out of it."
On cue, the other kids began to moan and groan and wail, then a few started to laugh and broke the mood. Patty-Cake was putting Irving on, of course. They were all happy to be going home. But she was right about the sing-a-long. It wasn't the time.
"Sorry, Patty-Cake," Irving said, hanging his head. "I didn't know."
"Aah, don't sweat it. You couldn't have known."
A few miles later and several kids lighter, the bus pulled into Patty-Cake's street. José and Keith bolted out first, followed by Susie McBee, who lived across from the Kittlemans, and finally Patty-Cake and Irving.
"Whattya wanna do?" Irving shouted, arms pumping.
"Go home and change. See ya maybe later, Irving."
"Oh, okay. See you."
They parted ways. Irving dashed across the lawn toward his yard, and Patty-Cake sauntered toward her own front door. She could scarcely believe that, for the first time, she really felt like taking a nap, without coaxing. She dropped her books and slammed the door behind her, unaware that she'd been followed up the walk. Thump! something hit the door behind her. She jumped, turned, and stared as if she thought she had x-ray eyes and could see through the wood.
Slowly and unsurely, she went back and opened the door. It was the mailman. He'd been right on her heels. She didn't even think about the mailbox, though. Her attention was on a large book that he'd dropped on the doormat. Was it...? Yes, she knew what it was. She grabbed it up, she held it out. Her breathing was faster, so was her heart. It was here! The Sel-Mor Christmas Catalog!
Tags: all ages, christmas, novelization, patty-cake