"The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever - they have a special impact. Paragraph after paragraph and page after page, the author must deliver his or her best work."
- Sid Fleischman
When you're a kid, the books you read matter. You know, the ones you choose to read because they speak to you somehow. They matter more than you think they do. They can have a lasting effect that you may not fully realize until many, many years later. I recently revisited one of these special books which had lodged itself deep within the imaginative corners of my mind almost 30 years ago, and it was an incredible experience.
"Mr. Mysterious & Company" by Sid Fleischman changed me as a young person. It started with the captivating illustrations by Eric von Schmidt, with long, lean figures in bent and dramatic poses just beyond human possibility. His drawings seemed to literally pull me into the whimsy of the story without my ever having consciously realized it back then. Those provocative images have stuck with me all this time. Seeing them again for the first time in three decades struck a chord that resonated with the little child that's still alive inside. Today, I'd say that those pictures suggest to me that there are magical possibilities hidden inside the normal rhythms of our everyday lives - if we only know how to look for them.
"It was a most remarkable sight. Even the hawks and buzzards in the blue Texas sky awoke in mid-air to glance down in wonder."
Mr. Mysterious & Company, also known as the the Hackett family, is a traveling magic show making its way across the country toward California. Mr. Mysterious, or Pa, is the lanky leader of this bandwagon of brave bohemians bound for a new life in the wild west. A few years earlier Pa had been injured while fighting in the Civil War, and so he took on the life of a magician to make ends meet until he could retire and settle on ranch lands in California with his brother. But, as with any good adventure, the family will have to go through challenges and mysteries of their own before they have any chance of settling down.
In all honesty, I thought that re-reading Mr. Mysterious would certainly be interesting and entertaining, but not necessarily that exciting or rewarding. I was so wrong. What I rediscovered from the very first sentence (above) was the rich, descriptive language that Fleischman uses to weave an intriguing story while developing deeply believable characters. He gives such care and concern for each and every word on the page, and I have no doubt that I could sense that as a young person. He also understood the mind of a child, and with Mr. Mysterious I had found an adult who finally "got it."
Fleischman knew that the words he put down on those pages would make a permanent impression, and he made sure that it would be a positive one. For a sensitive, shy, and deeply intuitive kid like me, this book must have been a sort of oasis in the desert of an increasingly confusing world. Mr. Mysterious peeled back the layers of the games that people play in life and showed me another way to relate to the mystery of being alive itself. He brought out the playfulness and wonder of everyday events while demonstrating that family could be a fun and forgiving place to grow up. "Abracadabra Day" was the one day a year when each member of the Hackett family got to pull a prank with no consequences, and no questions asked. It could be any day at all, and no prior warning was required. Reading back through these hilarious scenarios was startlingly (maybe even embarrassingly) moving. Surprise would turn to anger, which then turned to laughter, which finally turned to love, for each and every one of the family members who pulled their own shenanigan. If every family could have an "Abracadabra Day," it might be a little more magical world for all of us.
"Finally he took off his old and battered hat. Pa beat the dust out of it and then rolled up his right sleeve. Very slowly he reached his hand deep into Jeb Grimes's hat - and pulled out a live and kicking white rabbit!"
Action, adventure, suspense, and an unpredictable big finish all make "Mr. Mysterious & Company" a book that I'll keep reading for months (and years) to come. In the words of Pa, "By gosh and by golly. It's a bargain. Once a month - magic for everyone."
What's one special book from your childhood that has had a lasting impact on your life?
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Charles Gosset is a Certified Professional Life and Leadership Coach (ACC, CPC) and founder of Full Integration Coaching, LLC. He helps big-hearted people with huge drive lead exceptional lives. You can find out more about him and the transformational services he offers by visiting: www.fullintegrationcoaching.com.
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