My favorite piece of literature is a sonnet by William Shakespeare, which I have never read. I was in the 4th grade when I was forced to read a book called Hatchet. We were supposed to read it and give a book report on it, but it didn’t make any sense when I tried. It was a challenging book to read with words and letters I didn’t understand. So instead of reading it, I waited until other kids in my class gave their reports, and then I just copied what they said in mine. I got an “A”. I had completely scammed the system. I had found a mighty loophole in the education system and thus had become the greatest criminal mastermind ever to have attended Grand Lake Elementary.
My criminal legacy lasted almost 24 hours, for the next day, I was thwarted by the ultimate equalizer, a pop quiz. I, the world’s smartest crime lord, was taken down by five questions. You see, the teacher had designed five simple questions after listening to all of our presentations. I, who had never read the book, failed miserably. I am afraid to say it would become a long-held tradition that lasted well into my college years.
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But I am getting ahead of myself. For the next ten years, I would fail. I didn’t understand why it took me so long to do my homework. How could my friends seem to balance the workload and have time for other after-school activities? I felt like I was definitely the dumbest kid in school. I found every way to cut corners, avoid reading, and just pass the class. In what I can only call divine intervention, I graduated high school.
Then I met a man named Peter Ivanov. He was a professor of theater at Mesa Colorado University. One of my requirements was to take a Shakespeare class with him. Basically, Shakespeare was put on earth to torment me. I worked hard, and it didn’t matter. I gave it my all and still was miserably failing. I came to class one day, and Ivanov had lit candles on the stage, gathered us around in the dim light, and one by one, we read sonnets. It was there that I learned something about myself that would change the course of my life. I started to read the sonnet, and everyone laughed at how backward I read it. Professor Ivanov skipped me the next round. I was relieved and devastated at the same time. At the end of the class, he stopped me. I tried to apologize, saying, “I just don’t think I’m smart enough for this class.”
“Of course, you are smart enough,” he said. “You aren’t dumb; you’re Dyslexic.”
He explained to me how my brain was wired differently. How dyslexic people see in 3D. His theory was that people with dyslexia flip letters because letters are 2D, and our brains are trying to make them 3D. My brain was trying to figure out what the backside of the letter looked like. It was like someone had told me the secrets of the world. Everything made sense.
I couldn’t read instructions, but I could build a desk from Ikea in half the time as anyone I knew. I was a wonder at puzzles but couldn’t spell if my life depended on it. I learned by touch and sound. I wasn’t dumb. I was just wired differently. Ivanov took the sonnet and recorded it, gave me the recording, and told me I would perform it in the next class.
Two days later, I stood up in front of an audience. It wasn’t only my class, but every kid in our department. I took a deep breath and performed the sonnet. I finished, and in what I could only describe as an event that came straight out of an ’80s teen movie, my peers all stood and clapped.
Professor Peter Ivanov saved my life that day, but he was wrong. I was “dumb.” I was dumb because I didn’t ask for help. I hid my fears and cheated my way through school, and because of that, I almost cheated myself out of my life. A life that would eventually involve me graduating college with high marks, working all over the world in the film industry, and most importantly, writing a novel.
The Curious League of Detective and Thieves: Egypt’s Fire is a mystery about an orphan, named John, who lives in a museum. He is framed for stealing a billion-dollar ruby and is forced to join up with the world’s greatest detective to find the real thief, a criminal mastermind only known as The Mauve Moth.
They say you should write what you know. I did just that. I wrote about a boy who is so smart he finds a way to skirt the rules, but in doing so starts off a chain of events that will eventually lead him to a priceless treasure.
I wrote a book perfect for the reluctant reader, because I was one. I wrote a book for kids who are trying to figure out their place in the world. I wrote a book for that 4th grade Tommy who was so smart he convinced himself he was dumb.
So, if I could give you any advice, dear reader, it would be this. Ask for help, don’t compare yourself to your peers, and remember that none of us are dumb.
Dyslexia is not something to be ashamed of, and if you feel like you are struggling, go find a teacher and tell them. They can help you. In this life, people will try to tell you that the world is too big and you are too small, but as Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”
Meet the author
Despite a lifelong struggle with dyslexia, TOM PHILLIPS grew up with a passion for story-telling. He writes books that kids can enjoy on their own, but also read aloud and share. He’s had a long career as an editor and artist for clients such as LeVar Burton Kids, HBO, Disney, and ABC, and is currently writing a screenplay for a major studio. An armchair Sherlockian, Tom lives in Los Angeles with his lovely wife and his dog, Dr. Watson.
Visit him online at tomphillipswriter.com.
About The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves 1: Egypt’s Fire
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“The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves is a great ride, but you don’t have to take my word for it.” —LeVar Burton
Follow the world’s greatest detective you’ve never heard of in this madcap middle grade mystery for fans of A Series of Unfortunate Events and Enola Holmes.
After twelve-year-old John Boarhog’s mom dies, the last thing he wants is to be schlepped off to the Jersey Home for Boys, where kids are forced to make skinny jeans for hipsters and are fed nothing but kale. Instead, he makes himself a snug home in the ceiling of the New York Museum of Natural History, where he reads anything he get his hands on and explores the artifacts afterhours.
But when a rare Egyptian ruby—the highlight of the museum’s new exhibit—goes missing, John is accused of the crime. That is until the unpredictable Inspector Toadius McGee sweeps in to wrestle control of the case, certain that the true culprit is a notorious criminal he’s been tracking for years.
John quickly becomes the Watson to Toadius’s Holmes as they race from Broadway to back alleys to a speak-easy that only serves root beer. And along the way, John uncovers secrets about his own past, including that he’s a lot more involved in this web of endearing ne’er-do-wells than he ever could have imagined.
A love letter to classic middle grade, Egypt’s Fire Introduces a remarkable new duo that will steal your heart as surely as it leaves you begging for their next grand adventure.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publication date: 06/07/2022
Series: The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post