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A Curious Beginning

All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMake March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered.  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.

To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.

Today’s piece is from poet Ali Trotta:

It might’ve been because I grew up with brothers, but I was the only girl in first grade with a Batman lunchbox. I liked everything from My Little Ponies to Adam West’s “same bat time, same bat channel.” I never really fit into the then-stereotypical definition of a girl, and that was fine by me. My parents never rolled their eyes at my toy selections and dismissed the interest as “boy things.” Instead, they always supported my varied likes, even if it meant I occasionally put doll clothing on the cat and swaddled her like a baby. Sorry, not sorry. Baby Blacks (I was three when I named her) was a saint, if cats can be such things.

When I was a kid, there wasn’t a local comic book store. At least, not to my recollection. Kid brains are weird things, because they only hold on to a single solid image to stand for a memory. So, while there was no comic book store, that’s not to say there were no comics. There was a family-run local convenience store that was an amalgam of everything you could ever want. No, seriously. It had a copy machine, a hardware section, a deli, anything you could need for a school project, a rotating comic book rack, and Swedish Fish. The Swedish Fish, it should be noted, were called gummy fish—and it was the only place that sold the grape ones. You’d fill a brown paper bag with as much as you wanted, then the bag would be weighed and the price determined. It was magic to a small child, and I’m still sad they stopped making the grape ones.

But the rotating comic book rack was a thing of wonder. Each time we went, my mom would let me select one comic. So, I’d sit in front of it, spinning the rack slowly, deciding which adventure I wanted to go on. Sometimes, if my doe eyes and mournful please were successful enough, my mom would tell me I could have two. Truthfully, it was never very difficult to convince her that two was totally better than one. She was generous and loving, especially when it came to her (often trying) children.

I don’t know that I ever picked the same comic two visits in a row. But whether it was Wonder Woman or Spider-Man, I adored them both the same. And that hodgepodge store, with its owner who was a character in his own right, holds a firm place of worship in my childhood memories. It was full of wonders, things I could find nowhere else. And it helped that they also had the only copy of Unico within driving distance.

Like I said, my tastes were—and still are—a tumult of curious things. But that spinning rack of words and worlds certainly helped shape the nerd I am today.

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