Political Scientist Turns Kids’ Book Author
by| Apr 14, 2021 11:00 am
A single blade of grass bucked the crowd to pursue its own path in the world — and now, 50 years later, will inspire young humans to do the same.
The single blade of grass has a name: Fescue. Named after a turf grass that thrives in cool weather and can survive the winter.
Joseph LaPalombara named, and invented, Fescue. Back in the Vietnam War era, he told stories about Fescue during summer car rides to Maine with his then-young children.
The stories were about a brave blade of grass that decided it wanted to grow taller than usual and see more of the world. Fescue teams up with a dandelion to outwit a lawn mower and realize its dreams.
LaPalombara, a Yale political science professor, was seeking to impart a lesson to his children: It’s OK to be different, to pursue your own path in life. You don’t have to conform to the crowd.
The children loved the story. “We begged my dad growing up” to write down the stories, son David recalled. “This wasn’t the only fantasy story he invented on these long car rides. These stories would grow in complexity with additional chapters .
“This is the one he put on paper.”
The three siblings took the story to heart. They all followed their own paths. One pursued a career in art, another in photography, another in theater.
“The message [of the story] wasn’t completely explicit. But it resonated and stuck with me,” David said.
Meanwhile, Joseph LaPalombara wrote other books. For adults. Books about comparative politics, political parties, interest group theory. He won international renown as an academic.
And son David held onto the Fescue story.
David now teaches art at Ohio University. A couple of years ago, he was working with a student named Callie Smith, who was interested in a career as a children’s book illustrator. David had just the manuscript for her to work with.
Joseph gave his blessing. As a result, the blade of grass has returned to life as the eponymous hero of Fescue: A Brave Blade.
At one point in the book, as Fescue figures out how to alter his position to avoid “Clipper Man” and to benefit from the rays of the sun. Fescue’s peers grass aren’t pleased with the results.
“Fescue grew taller each day, discovered new things in his world, talked with Dandy the Lion, and tried to ignore Marion and Kentucky Blue, and Crabby, who seemed really disappointed that Fescue was growing so tall,” the book reads.
“‘Come back down here with the rest of us,’ demanded Marion and Kentucky. ‘Why do you have to be so different?’
“‘If you keep getting taller,’ complained Crabby, ‘you will begin to crowd me, and I won’t get enough sun!’
“Fescue didn’t pay any attention to them. He and Dandy were too busy seeing new things and practicing how to duck, which required extra effort now that they were taller …”
Author LaPalombara said he learned the lesson contained in the book early on, when he was growing up in Chicago. “This country demands that people who are different are people,” he said, “and are owed respect.”