The other day, I noticed that Spring was fast approaching and decided to invert our birdbath so it would retain rainwater for the birds and their Spring bath.
This morning, after a gentle night rain, the birdbath was full and robins were singing at its edge as they bathed. I'm sure they probably needed it after a rough Winter.
I went out to inspect it and found myself gazing deeply into the waters. Suddenly, the angelic face of Princess Ozma appeared and bid me a good morning. I was somewhat startled and I'm sure she was quite amused at my surprised reation. I'm used to her appearing in mirrors when she wants to contact me and I wasn't expecting her to show up in the avian tub.
After a brief conversation in which she inquired about my progress in fulfilling her Royal Command, she asked me a question which I had not expected.
"Why have YOU chosen to honor my command and write about my new Royal Magician?"
Afterall, I was not bound to her command since I was not officially a subject of her kingdom, merely a visitor.
I tried to explain to her that when a one hundred plus year old Princess who looks like a twelve year old girl commands one to do her bidding, it's kinda hard to say no, especially when that girl is the Ruler of OZ.
This did get me to thinking however why I had chosen to write about her kingdom and her Royal Magician.
To this end, I'll take a few minutes here to explain my reasons for the journey I have undertaken in fulfilling the Royal Command of Princess Ozma, Ruler of OZ.
I was born on May 5, 1960 on the 41st anniversary of the passing of Lyman Frank Baum, the kind gentleman who wrote of the Land of Oz over a hundred years ago.
I grew up in a loving household where my parents read to me on a daily basis and taught me the joy of reading. Many a night I recall sitting in our front room as my mother would read from the many books of Oz and my father would act out some of the odd scenes pictured within.
It, of course, never occurred to me that I would someday find myself sitting in the Grand Courtyard of the Red Brick Palace of Glinda the Good listening to those same stories from the very people who lived them.
As I grew up, my love for reading never diminished and my parents support for my love of reading never waivered. In addition, I was fortunate enough to encounter a number of mentors who would shape my view of the world and how I would find my way in it.
In particular was Captain Kangaroo, otherwise known as Bob Keeshan. His unique program was instumental in shaping my mind towards the joy of learning. Another was Clyde Crashcup, an odd cartoon character who inspired me to become a scientist and educator. Despite what many pyschologists would have you believe, television did not rot my brain. In fact, my fondest memories of childhood were of Saturday mornings in front of the TV machine watching the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and eating Captain Crunch with Crunchberries cereal.
I find today's cartoons somewhat vulgar and not promoting the values I grew up with, but I'm getting off-track here.
Another mentor was a NASA scientist; Gene Shoemaker, who, by correspondence inspired me to be an astronomer. This was during the late 60's and early 70's when NASA was king of the hill, so to speak.
The most important mentor was my father, who inspired me to try everything and learn from those experiences. He got me involved in Toastmasters International and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Those two organizations were directly responsible for much of my success as a public speaker and educator.
Fast forward to the mid-80's and my love of reading is now manifested in the lives of my 5 children as I read countless books to them, including the 14 books of Oz written by L. Frank Baum.
During this time, I am also completing my college education in Physics and running a public observatory teaching children about the night sky. This time is where the seeds of working for children's issues began for me. Following my tenure at Indiana State University, I took a position as Planetarium Educator for The Children's Museum of Indianapolis.
By the way, if I haven't mentioned it before, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the finest children's museum anywhere in the world. If you've visited there, you'll certainly agree. If you haven't, please make the time to do so. You'll not be disappointed. Be sure to visit SpaceQuest Planetarium at the museum.
Anyway, during my time there, I made it a point to be a mentor to youth volunteers and thus found my calling. To impact the lives of children in a positive manner is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
It was during this period that I became involved with junior high school children in the inner city region of Indianapolis. One day, while engaged in testing some educational software about Geography for 6th graders, I encountered quite a number of children who could not read, literally. It's one thing to suggest that there are kids in America who cannot read. It's quite another to come face-to-face with them.
I found myself at the end of the day sitting in my car in the parking lot shaking with remorse and resolving to do something about what I had just witnessed.
I then spent the next year in various teachers lounges having lunch with teachers and trying to understand how they could allow a child to go through school without mastering the art of reading.
Although some teachers cared deeply about their students, many cared only for their paycheck and thought little of the impact their negligence and disregard for the future of the next generation caused. This was reinforced by a school administration hamstrung by budget concerns and state-mandated test scores.
As a result, today's child has lost the art of reading. No longer do children sit down to read a book, to linger within the world of fiction and fantasy. Nowadays, kids are glued to the computer screen and read in snippets. In fact, with the advent of text messages, most kids now understand a truncated language that would have Daniel Webster spinning in his grave.
Only in the last few years has the Harry Potter effect taken hold and inspired kids to pick up the traditional book and immersed themselves in another world.
Despite this momentary reawakening, most kids still reach for the cel phone and communicate with their thumbs. Most kids would have trouble taking the time to sit down with a good book and giving themselves over to the realm of fantasy. They prefer the instant gratification that comes with a world overflowing with technology.
The book has become a lost art and with that thought in mind, I chose to honor the command of Fairy Princess and Ruler of OZ, Ozma.
In writing about young Jamie Diggs, the great grandson on O.Z. Diggs, the original Wizard of Oz, my most sincere desire is that children will pick up my book and rediscover the joy of reading.
If only a single child comes to understand and appreciate the joy of reading, then I have fulfilled Ozma's command.
When Princess Ozma asks me why I have chosen to write about OZ, I say this.
If, by writing about this wonderful land and all of its unique characters, I can inspire children and introduce them to the joy of reading, even if it be only a single child, I will have made an impact that reaches far beyond my own lifetime.
To this end, I have committed all my efforts towards creating an environment where kids will want to pick up that book and put aside that cel phone for a few moments. If I can serve as a mentor promoting Literacy to our youth, then I will have fulfilled Princess Ozma's Royal Command.
Par Ardua Ad Alta
Long Live OZ!!!
James C. Wallace II
Royal Liaison to Princess Ozma