EVANSTON, Ill. When he retired from writing last year, Charles McClatchey had won every prize and award given to authors of children’s books both here and in England, including the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal and the Nestle Smarties Book Prize. “I thought I had nothing left to accomplish,” he says as he gazes out his den window. “I felt like Barry Bonds must have at the end of his career, minus the oversized head and back acne.”
“Unfortunately, the bad little children vastly outnumbered the good ones.”
But McClatchey, a life-long bachelor who had no children of his own, soon felt restless and picked up his pen again to address a subject that had recently piqued his interest–the three toddlers who lived next door to his newly-purchased retirement bungalow.
“They’re holy terrors,” McClatchey says with disgust as he looks through a pair of binoculars at Mikey, Suzie and Teddy Crnik playing on their driveway a mere ten feet from his property line. “Hey!” he yells out when he sees Mikey, the youngest, chasing a kickball into his yard. “Get back where you belong,” he shouts out the back door, and the young boy hesitates a moment before grabbing his toy and retreating to safety.
Hobbled by arthritis and unable to give chase, McClatchey is fighting back the best way he knows how; by penning a “tell-all” book about the three children–“Raised by Wolves: The Story of the Cyrnik Children”–that he plans to market on the internet and at local stores. “I changed the spelling slightly to protect the innocent,” he says with a malicious grin–“me.”
McClatchey suffers from a pediatric version of Mrs. Jellyby’s Syndrome, an affliction named after the character in Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” who professed to care deeply about the welfare of an obscure African tribe at the same time that she neglected her own children. “Victims of this disease in its adult-directed form love humanity in general,” says psychologist Dr. Wilfred Gomez of the Gloster Clinic in Wilton, Connecticut. “It’s individual people they can’t stand.”
“It’s fifteen bucks a copy, and no I won’t take Bratz dolls in barter.”
The syndrome is brought on by environmental causes and is common among authors of children’s books, who must frequently write about the wonder of childhood even as they replace garage windows broken by errant baseballs. “Childhood innocence is a boatload of crap,” says Nancy Permenter, whose “Cindy Minkow, Girl Prosecutor” series has sold over three million books here and abroad. “‘As far as I’m concerned ‘Lord of the Flies’ should be cataloged under non-fiction.”
Physicians say they can control the symptoms but are helpless to cure the disease, which increases in severity as victims age. “We get a spike around this time of year because of Halloween,” says Gomez. “There’s a definite link between toilet paper in your trees and safety pins in the caramel apples.”