The Wonder Years are Back
Sep 08, 2020 7:15 AM
David Benjamin, Author/Publisher
The Wonder Years are Back

 David Benjamin’s Highly Praised Memoir, The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked, about Growing up Mid-Century in Small-Town Wisconsin, is Getting a New Lease on Life.

By Sharyn Alden

In October, readers who loved The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked, by Madison author, David Benjamin’s can devour an updated version of the beloved book originally published by Random House in 2002.

Regarded as a masterwork of storytelling, the book shadows the life — often in laugh-out-loud detail — of a kid coming of age in mid-20th century Wisconsin.

In one of many superlative reviews, Hartford Courant book editor Carole Goldberg, called Benjamin’s book “richly hilarious” and warned, “Don’t read this at bedtime — your laughter might wake up the kids.”

Benjamin will be speaking to the Sun Prairie Rotary Club about how he regained the copyright from Random House (not an easy task) to publish the new book under his own Last Kid Books imprint.

Benjamin is a prolific novelist and founder of the Madison-based publishing firm, Last Kid Books, named for his popular memoir.  He is also a newspaper veteran, award-winning editor of the Mansfield (Mass.) News, Tokyo Journal in Japan, and other periodicals.

Fans Relate to Being Chosen Last

The “hero” of the Last Kid Picked languishes at the bottom of the pecking order among fellow students at St. Mary’s School in Tomah. He is literally the last kid picked for playground games, and his only friends are fellow outcasts named Koscal and Fat Vinny.

He feels the stigma of his mother’s status as a divorcée, his dad’s absence from his life and his family’s nomadic poverty. Despite a steady series of failures and humiliations, “Benjamin” throws himself into every game, learns skills by trial and demoralizing error, discovers talents that no other kid acknowledges — and he grows.

“Remarkably,” Benjamin says, “Readers identify emotionally with my protagonist because they tell me, ‘I was the last kid picked’ I hear this from as many women as men, in numbers that defy probability.” Humorously, he wonders, “I mean, what if everyone was the last kid picked?”

The good news is the book, which accumulated fans when published by Random House, is updated now. It will be published in October as a Last Kid Book (www.lastkidbooks), an outfit named for the book that started it all.

The new book provides a deeper look into Benjamin’s career as an underdog — more like “under years,” he said, “than wonder years” — in a story that mixes memoir with flights of fiction.

Midwest Nostalgia

The author explains life the way he knew it as a kid. “It was freelance childhood. What we had was just the outside,” he explains.  “We dove into our local wilderness to commune with, capture and risk injury from tadpoles, snapping turtles, snakes, bullheads, bloodsuckers, vicious squirrels, wood ticks, green apples and a boogeyman named Ed Gein.”

If you grew up in small town Wisconsin as Benjamin did in Tomah, in an era when there were no play dates or peewee leagues or parent-supervised tournaments, you understand the thrill of unstructured play. Benjamin says, “Kids learned the ways of adults by watching them, rarely asked them for help and didn't tell them any more than they absolutely had to. Everyone respected the authority of teachers — especially if it was a Catholic school.”