Back to School with Kim Culbertson!


Did you miss our first back-to-school post with Kate DiCamillo? Read it here.

Kim Culbertson, author of Songs for a Teenage Nomad and Instructions for a Broken Heart, is here to share in the back-to-school love. Hey Kim, what was in your lunchbox?

When I was six, I used to have a metal lunch box with wizards on it.  This was pre-Harry Potter.  The wizards were more run of the mill, pointed hats with stars and moons on the robes sort of wizards.  But it was dark blue and shiny inside and I loved it.  During the day, it would have my usual peanut butter and honey on white bread.  An apple, maybe.  Sometimes cookies my mom made.  A thermos (more stars and moons) filled with apple juice.

The great thing about that lunch box, though, was that after school it morphed into a treasure box.

I would walk home from my little school in La Mesa, the San Diego sun hot and bright, and I would collect things: rocks, bottle caps, flower petals, an occasional small lemon from a nearby tree.  These things would rattle and bump against the metal inside, a steady tap, thump, bump as I walked home to my house with the big avocado tree in the front, and they would fill me with warmth, with a happy sort of fullness.

When I was seven, my family moved to the Northern California foothills and while the things in my lunch box changed over the years – rocks and bottle caps replaced with pine cones and flat Manzanita leaves – I became aware that these collections were a sort of journal, an attention to small things that I found enchanting.

Eventually, I got rid of the lunch box all together.  By high school, I took to carting an apple and a foil-wrapped ham sandwich in the front pocket of my backpack.  By then, the collection had finally transformed into an actual journal.  A blue fabric journal with white flowers.  In it, my collection had become almost entirely about words.  Snippets of poems we read in class, song lyrics, funny things I overheard classmates say, little descriptions of people I saw at gas stations while my friends filled up their tanks.

In a way, that first lunch box set up my attention to the things in the world I found important, drawn to – stories, words, characters, detail.  It perhaps set the stage for the main character in my first young adult novel, Songs for a Teenage Nomad, who, as a response to her nomadic life, finds herself collecting songs as a way to form her memories.

I don’t know what happened to that first wizard lunch box – perhaps it’s still buried deep in my parents’ garage.  I guess I owe it a thank you.

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