Childhood Heroes: A Reading List

Earlier this year, a 17-year-old high school student from the Bronx named Donna Grace Moleta won the chance to meet Bill Nye “the Science Guy.”

“Meeting my childhood hero was one of the greatest experience of my life,” she told the Bronx Times. “It’s something I’ll never forget. He’s such a strong believer in what science and education can do.”

Inspired by Ms. Moleta’s experience, here’s a reading list of some of our childhood heroes:

1. Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did. (Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, 2014)

Getting to work with a celebrated comic artist:

…I emailed him the strip and thanked him for all his great work and the influence he’d had on me. And never expected to get a reply.

And what do you know, he wrote back.

Let me tell you. Just getting an email from Bill Watterson is one of the most mind-blowing, surreal experiences I have ever had. Bill Watterson really exists? And he sends email? And he’s communicating with me?

 

2. The Wisdom of Mr. Rogers (Mark Armstrong, Reading List)

Tom Junod’s 2003 eulogy for Mr. Rogers, a 1967 documentary on the making of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and more.

 

3. I Was Tony Gwynn’s Bat Boy (David Johnson, Deadspin, 2014)

Memories of a baseball star who recently passed away:

Before one game, early in the season, I stood out in right field during batting practice, arms folded. Tony walked over. “Want to toss?” he asked. Trembling with nervousness, I said, “Yeah,” and tried to act like this was nothing to me. My first toss went about 30 feet over his head. He laughed and ran after it. Second toss, only 15 feet over his head. He jogged over to me. “How are you holding that ball?” he asked. I showed him my grip. “Well hell, that’s all wrong.” A 10-second lesson, and we were good to go. He fired a rocket to me. I fielded it cleanly and threw it back using my new grip. This time only five feet overhead. He laughed again, harder this time. I got myself under control, and we threw for 10 minutes, just us. At one point I stopped, realizing that some kids were watching. They were watching me. They were watching me playing catch with Tony Gwynn. I could read their thoughts: “That kid is so lucky.” I was. On my way back to the clubhouse, one of the kids, some poor 6-year-old totally overcome by the moment, asked me for my autograph. I signed his program. Tony watched. He laughed the whole time.

 

4. Ellen Ripley Saved My Life (Sady Doyle, The Awl, 2010)

On the television heroines that inspire us:

…for me, it’s always been about the girls. Specifically, the Strong Woman Action Heroines: Scully and Buffy, Starbuck in the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot, Ripley and Vasquez and, hell, even Tasha Yar. I love this; I need this; I eat it up. And yet, my relationship with the Strong Woman Action Heroine is… complicated? Let’s say complicated. And let me take a minute, or several, to explain how.

 

5. LeVar Burton Q&A (Elyssa Lee, Sactown Magazine, 2012)

A Q&A with a pop culture figure who inspired kids to read:

Did you read a lot as a kid?
Books and literature always played a huge role in my life. My mother was an English teacher, so I grew up in a household where reading was emphasized. You know what was really big in the summer when I was growing up in South Sac? The bookmobile. It was great because it came right on our street, which was like, “Are you kidding me?”

 

6. I Was Wayne Gretzky’s (Hungover) Linemate (Sean Pronger with Dan Murphy, Deadspin, 2013)

A Wayne Gretzky hockey fan grows up to be his hero’s teammate on the New York Rangers:

‘Gretz, I’m hungover. Maybe even a little drunk still. Can you keep the puck away from me today?’

I could not believe I was saying this even as the words were coming out of my mouth. Was I really telling the greatest player in the history of the game—not to mention the finest passer ever—to keep the puck away from me?

I was. And the Great One was great about it. ‘No problem, Prongs, I’ve been there myself.’

Wait. Did he just call me Prongs? He knows my name? Somehow, that one line from Wayne put my mind at ease. Wayne knew my situation and he had my back. What a guy.

 

7. Billie Jean Won for All Women (Larry Schwartz, ESPN, 2007)

The tennis star who became a pioneer:

With the birth of the “Open” era in 1968, King turned pro. This time she received more than a trophy for winning Wimbledon. She was on her way to earning $1,966,487 in career prize money.

In those days, women players received much less money than men earned. King’s voice was heard loudest in the quest for equality. When a new women’s tour was started, with Philip Morris sponsoring a new brand of cigarette, King was perceived as a “radical” heading a breakaway group. The Virginia Slims Tour was marketed with the slogan “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.”

Things improved financially. King became the first woman athlete to earn $100,000 in prize money in a year (1971), and President Richard Nixon called to congratulate her.

 

8. Ground Control to Mr. Meline (James Ross Gardner, Seattle Met, 2013)

Not all childhood heroes have big, recognizable names. A story of loss, mental illness, and an inspiring educator:

For as long as Nae’Ana Aguon could remember, she wanted Mr. Meline as a teacher. Her older brother had been in Mr. Meline’s class years earlier, and she had visited the classroom, a classroom like no other at Spanaway’s Camas Prairie Elementary: telescopes, models of NASA shuttles, Star Trek posters, a mobile of the solar system. And every year Meline’s class built a comet—rocks, dirt, dry ice—then studied the comet with the intensity of a science team in a sci-fi film who’d discovered it in some exotic location.

Mr. Meline didn’t disappoint when Nae’Ana reported to room 33 on the first day of school in early September 2012. He handed out a word search, a jumble of letters from which the students excavated NASA-related terminology. And then the launch: not of a rocket, but of the man.

 

9. Nostalgia is Magic: Tavi Gevinson Remixes Teen Culture (Hunter Oatman-Stanford, Collectors Weekly, 2012)

A new role model for a new generation:

Gevinson: There are a lot of girlish tropes or feminist stereotypes that bother me, but I feel like the best way to prove a stereotype wrong is to just let people be people. I’ve realized there’s a way to be subversive without evaluating what’s already out there and figuring out how to go against it. I’ve found with a community of strong writers, artists, and readers who are generous and open with their submissions and commentary, that their honesty alone will be subversive, particularly because you don’t find it in other publications for teenagers.

 

10. The Man Who Became Big Bird (Jessica Gross, Longreads, May 2015)

An interview with Caroll Spinney, who, at 81, has worked at “Sesame Street” as the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 45 years:

There used to be an urban tale that my right arm was twice the size of my left. Although that wasn’t true, I would say it was twice as strong. The bird’s head weighs four and a half pounds, which doesn’t sound heavy until you try to hold it over your head for fifteen minutes. A guy once said, “Well, four and a half pounds, that’s nothing. I could hold a hundred pounds over my head.” I said, “I don’t think so. I bet you can’t hold your empty hand over your head for five minutes, let alone if I put a four and a half pound head in your hand at the same time.” About two and a half minutes into it, he’s going, “Geez…” He never made it to the five minutes. He said, “This is stupid, I’m not doing this.” Well, he was stupid, anyway.