There was definitely something different about Duncan.
He washed behind his ears. He cleaned his plate. His teeth were brushed and sparkling white. Getting into pajamas was his favorite time of night.
Duncan loved his glasses which were thick and black. If they slipped, he chuckled and pushed them back. If they broke, he curled white tape into a sticky hook. This, he knew, was a very handsome look.
He hoped for braces on his teeth. Every trip to the dentist made him dance. Just imagining the fun made him nearly wet his pants.
Duncan thought pizza was gross and gooey. Hot dogs made him stick out his tongue and say "Ptooey!" Other kids thought Duncan a very strange fellow. Why, he wouldn't even taste the Jell-O!
Being different is harder than being the same. It can be a very lonely thing, which really is a shame.
A bigger boy tapped him hard on the chest. "Duncan, you're so lame. Why don't you even try to be the same?"
But, at school, in the classroom or in the hall, the teasing only made him laugh about it all. "I'm exactly as I want to be. I'm very happy to be me!"
Just as the children grew silent and you could hear a pin drop, Duncan would blow his nose with the loudest "HONK."
The teacher clapped her hands and said with a burst, "Class, I have a special announcement."
All ears perked up as the kids leaned near. Even the nose-pickers stopped to hear.
"Tomorrow, the great Hollywood director, Mr. Igor Filmspooler, is coming here to search for a star!"
The kids gasped. Some swooned and swayed. Hands went to mouths and hearts were clasped. The news was just too much to grasp.
"He wants to cast a child...," Miss Marker gushed, "…in the new Big Studio action movie, 'The Madman Gone Wild.' "
The next day, curls bounced and wiggled; muscles flexed and jiggled. Monica practiced fainting so it was not over the top. Ralph was prepared with a karate chop. All were ready to become the next celebrity!
But not Duncan. His hair was a mass of uncombed locks. He wore sparkly suspenders with short green pants, the same yellow shoes and orange socks. And when Igor Filmspooler arrived at the door, Duncan slid under his desk and sat on the floor.
The girls and boys posed as the director walked down the classroom rows. They all said with a whisper, "Can't you see? Choose me!"
He looked at each child once, then twice. He sighed and muttered something which was not very nice.
The director shook his head. "Baseball caps and slicked back hair. I can't tell you apart from the clothes you wear! You all look the same. It's being unique that brings you fame."
Duncan yawned and inhaled a snotty sniffle. The director leaned down to look under his desk, "Young man, what is your name?"
"Duncan," he answered through his handkerchief, pausing in mid-Honk! "And I don't care if you don't like me. I'm exactly as I want to be."
Igor Filmspooler stood and said with a flourish, "My choice has been made. The starring role has been won! I give it to him, I give it to Duncan."
"But he's silly and weird! Why would you do that?" The kids hooted and jeered. "He blows his nose loudly. He's short — not muscled and tall! Duncan is not one of us at all!"
Filmspooler wagged his finger. "The hardest thing to do is to be yourself. Stand alone and stand proud. Don't play it safe by joining the crowd."
The director put his arm around Duncan and said with a smile. "It is the most important thing you will ever do — because in this entire universe there is only one you."
Special thanks to Veronica Walsh for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit veronicawalsh.net
For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.
Daniel Maclaine is a freelance writer based in New York.