I was so very saddened to learn of the passing of my childhood lunch lady, Jeannie Carigilia. As I am sure you are aware, it was my chance encounter with her in 2001 that got me to thinking about the lives of lunch ladies outside of the cafeteria. It's a funny thing, how a reunion, though very brief, can forever change the trajectory of your life. The Lunch Lady series has connected me with young readers in a very big way. I receive fan letters from all corners of the country, I've seen the books displayed in Times Square and a trick-or-treater even turned up on my doorstep on Halloween night dressed as my hero in yellow.
Shortly after the book series' launch at the Worcester Public Library, Jeannie sent me a letter thanking me for the books. She wrote about how much she cared for and loved her students. She said that her days working in the Gates Lane Elementary School cafeteria were among the best days of her life.
And so because of my chance encounter, I've become an unexpected champion for lunch ladies. I've created a figure that encourages kids to look at their lunch ladies in a new light, look beyond the spatulas and hair-nets and wonder about their lives. Just as I did when I struck up a conversation with Jeannie in 2001.
I am incredibly proud of this fact. As I travel the country, I meet our nation's lunch ladies. They are
dedicated, hard-working individuals who care deeply for their students. And because of Jeannie's dedication, lunch ladies everywhere have a hero who brandishes Fish Stick Nunchucks and a Spork-Phone.
You can read Jeannie's obituary here.
Here is a photo from the 2009 launch of the books at the Worcester Public Library. That's Jeannie on the left and her sidekick, Betty, in the middle.