But I'm going to change it up a little. The very first thing (as opposed to novel) that I ever tried to write for kids was a rhyming picture book called "Nathan and the Urch." It was several million times too long for a picture book, because I had no idea at the time that there were rules. When I decided a few nights ago to write this post for U, I dug out a copy of the story that had been buried deep in the bottom of the guest room closet, along with a manila envelope stuffed with form rejection letters, all dated 1992. I had actually been dumb enough to send it out - illustrated, no less, by a friend of mine.
In 1992, my own Nathan was three years old, as opposed to almost 25. My daughter, now on the verge of graduating from high school, wasn't going to be born for another four years. I knew less than zero about writing for kids. But despite all this, and despite the fact that "Nathan and the Urch" was, and will always be, totally unpublishable, I still love it very much because I love my son Nathan very much, and of course, he was the reason I wrote it in the first place. So I decided that, for this one and only time, the book will see the light of day. I'd be thrilled if you would read it (with charity in your heart). So, without further ado, here it is:
NATHAN AND THE URCH
This guy I know, Nathan - he goes to my school -
The weirdest things happen to him. It's so cool,
Cause he tells me about his adventures, and then
(Nathan doesn't like writing too much) he says, "Ben,
Write it down. Make it rhyme. We'll get rich, you and I!"
So here goes. It's all true. My pal Nate wouldn't lie.
It all started one night in July of last year
When Nathan woke up and thought, "Somebody's here."
You know how that is? Nathan still isn't sure
What made him lie quiet and look towards the door,
But he didn't get scared, wasn't even surprised,
To see a ten-legged, two-horned, giant-sized,
Blue polka-dot something who seemed to be trying
To paw through a bunch of Nate's clothes that were lying
In clumps near the door. Nathan said, "Who goes there?"
The something jumped ten or twelve feet in the air
Then fell down again, looking white as a sheet,
And took a long time finding all its ten feet
And catching its breath. Then it started to say,
"I didn't know -" But Nathan quickly said, "Hey!
If you wake up my parents, they'll call 9-1-1!
They'll think there's a burglar attacking their son!
If they find you in here, then they'll feather-and-tar you.
By the way, you're not really a burglar... Are you?"
The thing shook its head twenty times at the least,
And it sure didn't look like a criminal beast.
So Nate said, "Okay. Just relax. I'll assume
That's the truth. But then, why are you here in my room?"
The thing tried to whisper. It tried hard enough,
But, when your voice sounds like a tuba, it's tough.
Still, all things considered, the thing's voice was low
When it looked back at Nathan and wailed, "I don't know!
I don't know why I'm here! That's just it! All I know
Is that I lost my shree about two weeks ago
And since then I've been searching, and I haven't slept
And I haven't done anything, really, except
Looking high, looking low, looking every which where,
Wandering, listening, sniffing the air -
How I got in your room? Well, I don't have a clue,
But I miss my poor shree! I don't know what to do!"
And the thing started crying huge tears. They were green,
And they plopped on the rug. Nathan, watching this scene,
Was asking himself: What the heck is a shree,
And why do these crazy things happen to me?
If he cries too much longer, we'll all float away.
I'd better do something. So Nathan said, "Hey!
Hey, have you got a name?" And the creature said, "Sure.
I'm an Urch." Then he cried just as hard as before.
"Nice to meet you," said Nathan. "My friends call me Nate.
Here's a tissue. It's clean. Blow your nose. Okay, great,
Now this shree - Well, I'm positive it can be found.
Just describe it. I've probably seen it around."
"Well," said the Urch, cheering up quite a bit,
"I've tied it all up with a shiny red plit."
"But what does it look like?" asked Nate patiently.
The Urch said, "I guess it just looks like a shree."
Oh, swell, Nathan said to himself. Geez Louise!
The Urch said, "Can you help me look for it? Please?"
"Now, how can I help you?" said Nathan. "Gee whiz!
You can't even say what the stupid thing is!"
The Urch showed some spirit. He held his head high
And said, "I don't know how. But at least you could try."
Well, the guy had a point, Nathan had to admit,
And maybe a shree tied up with a red plit
Is the easiest thing in the world to locate -
At least, for a smart guy like me, reasoned Nate.
If he looks by himself, it might take fifty years.
"Okay," Nathan said. "Here's the deal. No more tears,
And I'll help you to look - Now, you quit that, I said!
Come on now, or else I'll just go back to bed!
Get a hold of yourself. There now, that's a good Urch.
All right, listen to me. Here's the way that we'll search -"
But then Nathan broke off when he got to that part,
Because he just had no idea where to start.
The Urch waited timidly, then said, "Ahem.
If you'd like, I can take you to see some of them."
"Well, I guess," Nathan said. "Then I'd know what they are.
But how do we get there? We can't take Dad's car.
I can't drive," he explained. Urch said, "Neither can I.
I guess I'm not much help. I just know how to fly."
"You can FLY?" Nathan cried. "No. You're kidding me, right?"
"Here, jump on," the Urch answered. "You look pretty light."
So, wondering who would believe him next day,
Nate climbed up and said, "Heigh-ho Silver! Away!"
The Urch took off smoothly. They sailed through the wall,
And right on through the night til they got to - the mall.
"The mall?" Nathan said. "Aren't we looking for shrees?"
Said the Urch, "Yes, they're here. Right behind the TVs..."
"You're in love with a TOASTER?" Nate heard himself shout.
"Don't tell me that's what all the fuss was about!"
The Urch looked at him with those big sad blue eyes,
And said, "Well, you don't need to just criticize.
I know that your purpose is not to offend,
But I wouldn't laugh if you'd lost your best friend."
Nate shut his mouth fast. Then he said, "Sorry, Dude.
I don't know what made me start acting so rude.
Hey, lots of my friends are appliances too!"
"It's all right," said the Urch. "I'm not angry with you.
You don't understand why my heart is in tatters,
But you came here to help me, and that's all that matters."
Nate smiled at the Urch as he said, "Well, okay.
So where do we start? It's your shree! Lead the way!"
The Urch stood and thought, and the Urch scratched its head.
"We could go see my slout first," it finally said.
Now, although Nathan could have asked: What is a slout?
He had learned that he might as well wait and find out.
So instead he said, "Fine," and he climbed back aboard,
And then off through the warm summer night they both soared.
The flight was a long one, and Nate closed his eyes -
It was just for a second - but, to his surprise,
He woke up in daylight, and back on the ground.
The Urch had been grazing, but now looked around,
To cheerfully say, "Well, we got here all right."
Nate rubbed sleep from his eyes and asked, "Wasn't it night?"
"It still is," said the Urch, "in the place where you're from.
We can see my slout now. Are you ready to come?"
Nate was ready for anything. As it turned out,
What to him was a cave was what Urch called a slout,
And this slout had one giant shelf made of wood
With a sad empty space where a shree had once stood.
The place was a sight (a word Nate's mom would use).
Urch had torn it apart, searching wildly for clues,
But Nate said, "Let's check it again to make sure,"
And he found one small place Urch had not looked before,
And a feather was there. With a terrible groan,
The Urch cried, "The Beanobird! I should have known!
The world's biggest bully! He thinks he's so great,
But he can't go around stealing shrees - Can he, Nate?"
"No, he can't," Nathan said, "but - how big is this creep?
It's not that I'm frightened. I'm just short of sleep,
And, to tell you the truth, birds aren't my favorite things.
I'll fight any bully - unless it has wings."
"He isn't that big," said the Urch, "but he's cruel.
He's been picking with me since we both were in school,
But enough is enough. He's not keeping my shree.
I'll go straight to his nest. You can wait here for me."
Nate came close to agreeing, but then he said, "No.
I promised I'd help, so I'm coming. Let's go."
Off they flew. Then on foot they climbed up to the nest,
And then hid there, amazed. Who could ever have guessed
So much stuff could be crammed in one basket of straw?
Nate's forgotten a lot of the things that he saw,
But he knows there were toolboxes, dolls, model cars,
Microwaves, stereos, clothing, guitars,
Cameras and basketballs, wallets and boots,
Statues and skateboards and Santa Claus suits,
And, just when you thought not one more thing could fit -
A shree, all tied up with a shiny red plit.
Balanced on top of this motley array
Was the Beanobird, happily snoring away.
A real one-bird crime wave! This thief specialized
In stealing the things that their owners most prized.
"I have a plan," said the Urch gleefully.
"I'll be you don't know just how strong plits can be!"
He whispered to Nathan, and then they both crept
To the overstuffed nest where the greedy bird slept.
Then they picked up the shree, and took off the red plit,
And tied up the Beanobird tightly with it.
He was stuck to his loot and the nest where he sat,
And he'd never escape. They made certain of that.
H didn't wake up, so the Urch flew right down
And stood on a box in the center of town,
To tell all the creatures who gathered around
Where the things that were stolen from them could be found.
They all held a meeting, and they all agreed
That the selfish old Beanobird wouldn't be freed
Till he'd worked for three days for each creature he'd robbed,
And the Urch would make sure that he did a good job.
"Three cheers for the Urch and the boy!" yelled the crowd.
Our heroes flew back to the slout feeling proud.
The Urch, with his shree safely back on its shelf,
Said, "Thank you. I couldn't have done it myself."
"Oh, give yourself credit, Urch," Nathan replied.
"You did do it all. I just came for the ride.
You can fly, you can think, you can rescue your shree -
You're an Urch in a million! You didn't need me."
"And now," sighed the Urch, "I suppose you must go."
"I guess so," said Nate. "It's a school day, you know."
Nate tried to stay up, but he slept the whole way,
And found himself tucked in his bed the next day
With a note (all tied up with a plit) on the sheet
Saying "Take care, my friend, till the next time we meet."
Nate told me the story and said, "Write it, Ben."
I stayed up all night with my notebook and pen,
And the next thing I saw was the sun. I was beat,
But my mom made me come to the kitchen to eat.
"I'm not hungry," I said. "Don't make breakfast for me.
I'll just throw some slices of toast in the shree."
My mom said, "Come over here." She felt my head,
And made me take aspirin and go back to bed.
Now she's calling the doctor. I don't think she should.
We writers are always so misunderstood!