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Henry Winkler wrote the “Hank Zipzer” novels for kids, basing Hank on his memories of his own tortured school experiences. He was accused of being lazy and stupid, but in fact, his problem was undiagnosed dyslexia.
Winkler was in the state of Delaware on May 13, 2007 to sign copies of the 11th book he has written with Lin Oliver, “The Curtain Went Up, My Pants Fell Down”.
Some people know Winkler as “The Fonz” from the classic “Happy Days” TV show. Others know him as Coach Klein in “The Waterboy”, with Adam Sandler. He was also in “Holes” and “Night Shift”.
But many school children know him only as the author of the wonderful “Hank Zipzer” books.
Becky Phillips’ 6th-grade class at Everett Meredith Middle School in Middletown came up with questions for a news interview with him. (See below for details.) From that interview, here are some of his responses:
What’s your favorite thing about Hank Zipzer? The accomplishment of writing 12 novels. I never thought I would write a book in my whole life, because I grew up feeling stupid.
What’s your favorite thing about the character Hank Zipzer? Well, the character is me. The character is my trials and tribulations. My struggle getting in and out of trouble as a horrible student. I am in the bottom 3 percent of the country academically. But I’m successful. That’s the overall message of Hank: There is greatness in you, no matter how you learn.
Which book is your favorite? Oh, no. I don’t have a favorite book. They’re like my children. Each one gives you trouble. Each one makes you smile. Each one I love.
When you were in school, did people make fun of you? Yes, but it wasn’t so much that they made fun of me. It was the feelings I had about myself. I never felt like I was standing on firm ground. It was like I was constantly standing in quicksand. My feelings were constantly like I was chasing everybody else and would never catch up. I didn’t feel good about myself in any area except that I won the dance competition. I was a good dancer. How I felt on the outside did not line up with how I felt on the inside. I knew that I couldn’t possibly be stupid or lazy or not trying to live up to my potential. I was trying to be neat. I was trying to get it right, yet the outside world was telling me I just wasn’t cutting it. It was just horrible.
Are your children dyslexic? They are, but each one of them has gone on to achieve. Max is 23 and writes scripts and is a director. He is cooler than I have ever been on or off the screen. Zoe is 26, and she is a teacher. Jed is 35, and he is starting, together with two other fellows, a new music company in New York City. We were very hands on with them and very pro-active in figuring out how best for each one of the children to get them through school in the most positive way. They had tutors. I think when Max was little, he had occupational therapy. It’s in a gym, actually, and they restructure the way left, right, left works in your brain. Holy moly, do I wish I had that.
How do you deal today with your dyslexia? You learn how to incorporate it. You learn to make it a part of your life, as opposed to fighting it all the time. I don’t edit myself when I’m writing, even though I can’t spell. I figure that I’ll figure that out another way. Somebody will help me spell correctly. I go and find help with math. But reading is still difficult, so I have to take a little more time than the average bear.
Don’t you have to read a lot of scripts as an actor? Yes. It’s interesting that I have trouble in all these areas, and I picked a job where reading is paramount, where reading is the most important thing. You just work a little harder. You fight through it. You don’t allow the disability to win.
For the entire interview, written by Betsy Price of The News Journal, go to www.delawareonline.com.
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