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Holy Enchilada, It's 'The Fonz'

On Wednesday's The Early Show, actor Henry Winkler talks about the latest book in a series he co-writes about a fourth-grade boy named Hank Zipzer.

Like Winkler did in real life, Hank has difficulty learning in school because he has dyslexia. This is the sixth book in the series, and the title character now knows that he learns differently from many of his classmates. Ten Hank Zipzer books are planned.

Winkler wasn't diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 30. Despite that, the actor, who is best known for playing Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli on the TV series "Happy Days," attended the Yale School of Drama, where he earned a masters degree in fine arts.

These books are written for all children from the third through sixth grades to enjoy, but they are particularly meaningful to those with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. The books are co-written with Lin Oliver, a writer and producer of movies, books and television for children and families.

Winkler says the title of this book in some areas of the country is "Holy Enchilada, My Teacher Has Gas!" - but, in others it's just "Holy Enchilada!" The publishers were concerned that the first title might not go over well in some places.

Winkler says he was the class clown in school because he couldn't read aloud, spell or do math. He said that when he was in school, he spent a third of his time trying to figure out school, a third wondering why he couldn't figure things that were being taught and a third feeling ashamed and humiliated because he couldn't keep up with everyone else.

When he became an actor, he relied on his memory to remember his lines. When eventually he found out why he had a problem learning, he said to himself, "Oh my God, all those arguments, punishment and being called stupid was actually for nothing. There was actually a name and a reason for my problem. It wasn't because I was lazy."

Winkler describes the book, "Holy Enchilada!" as follows: Hank and his classmates have to make a dish for International Day at school. Hank makes an enchilada from Mexico, but he's not very good with fractions. A third of a cup of chili peppers turns into three cups. When Hank's teacher eats it, trouble ensues.

Winkler joins other celebrity children's book authors such as Madonna, Lynne Cheney, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jay Leno, Maria Shriver, Jerry Garcia, James Carville and Spike Lee.

Winkler works as a spokesperson for the "Boomer Coalition," which will have a Nov. 10 concert in New York City to urge baby boomers to really take their heads out of the sand and pay attention to their heart health.

Winkler is the executive producer of the "Dallas" reunion show that is airing next month on CBS.

Here is an excerpt from "Holy Enchilada!" by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver:

Because our class was hosting the luncheon, we had to go to the Multi Purpose Room a few minutes before lunch time to make sure everything was all set up. I was nervous as we walked down the hall way. I knew it was too late to sneak our enchiladas out of there. The ship had sailed, as Papa Pete likes to say. There was nothing I could do now but hope they weren't going to be hotter than firecrackers.

Calm down, Hank. It's not like you put the whole jar of chili powder in the sauce. Okay, maybe you put a little too much in. Then again, maybe you didn't. I hate that I don't know.

Most of me truly believed the enchiladas were going to be okay. I just wished I could get all of me to believe that.

When we walked into the Multi-Purpose Room, I was completely blown away. Wow, did it look different than it had early in the morning.

It was wall-to-wall food. There were probably twenty tables set up, covered with tastes from all parts of the globe. Next to each dish was a sign explaining where it came from. Kidney pie from England. Squid floating in its own ink from Spain. I wondered if you ate it with a fountain pen. Puffy bread called naan from India. Olives from Greece. Birds nest soup from China -- without the bird of course. And our very own, very cheesy Killer Cheese Enchiladas from Mexico. Next to them were Pigs in a Blanket from Kansas. I think we all know what fool brought those in.

Good old Nick McKelty. He still thought Kansas was a foreign country near Brazil.

The room was an amazing sight. This wasn't just a multi-cultural lunch. It was a multi-multi-multi cultural lunch. There was food from countries I hadn't even heard of, like Tonga and Burundi, and it was so colorful. Red and green and chocolate brown sauces were practically waving at you, saying "Come on, try me. I'm delicious!"

"Look! Snails!" shouted Luke Whitman about two seconds after we had walked in.

He found them first thing, like a heat-seeking missile. They were over by the crepes filled with apricot jelly from France. A whole plate of snails, just lying around in their shells with some butter and garlic and parsley on top. Wouldn't you know Captain Disgusto would grab one and pop it into his mouth, shell and all? The crunching sound was so loud, everyone in the room stopped talking.

"This tastes awesome," Luke said, spitting bits of shell out into his hand. "But they could use a little more slime."

"Eeuuww," Katie and Kim screamed. They went running over to the cake and pie section which they were sure would be a slime-free zone.

Our enchiladas were still right there in the center of the main table, just where Mr. Rock had put them. I could see that there was steam rising up from the pan and the cheese was all nice and melted. One of the room parents must warmed them up while we were in class.

Ms. Adolf had told us to wander around the room and arrange all the dishes nicely on the table. She was doing the same thing herself. At least, that's what she was pretending to do. I noticed that she was sampling a taste here and there. She wasn't fooling me. I saw her pop that Greek olive in her mouth, and swipe a sweet-and-sour shrimp.

"Look, there's the Yosh Man," Frankie said, pointing across the room.

Yoshi was just entering the room, with Principal Love on one side of him, and his dad on the other. He looked like he was asleep on his feet. Obviously, the library tour hadn't been all that exciting for him. So many books and so hard to read.

When he saw us, his face lit up.

"Cowabunga, dudes," he hollered from across the room.

"Why don't you jerks teach him something new to say," Nick McKelty shouted. "He's getting annoying."

If anyone would know anything about being annoying, it would be Nick the Tick. He was the master, the commander, the prince of annoying.

Frankie, Ashley and I ignored McKelty and went to say hi to Yosh.

"Hey, Yoshi, you've got to see our enchiladas," Ashley said. "They're over there on the center table. They turned out great."

"Ah, enchiladas," Mr. Morimoto said. "Yoshi and I love them. I'll have to taste one."

I wished I knew how to say, "I'd think twice about that if I were you," in Japanese, but since I didn't, I just smiled and said "Ikeru, Morimoto-san."

"Oh, you speak Japanese." Mr. Morimoto smiled. He turned to Principal Love. "This is a very impressive young man."

"That he is. That he is," Principal Love said, giving me a friendly slap on the back. I was so unprepared for his sudden display of affection that I almost fell over into Ryan Shimozato's beef sukiyaki.

Suddenly, we heard a commotion coming from the center of the room, near the table with our enchiladas. Several of the parents had gathered in a circle, surrounding someone.

"Step away, and give her some air," one of them was saying.

When the parents moved away, we saw who it was they were surrounding.

Ms. Adolf!

Oh, she didn't look good. Not that she ever looks good, but at that moment, she looked especially not good. Her face was turning bright red. I had never seen color in her face before.

The next thing we knew, Ms. Adolf let out a noise that wasn't like any human sound I had ever heard. It was somewhere between a cough and a hiss and a gasp.

"Water!" she hissed. "Get me water!"

She sounded like Golem in Lord of the Rings. She was hissing pretty loud, and her face looked like a tomato about to explode. Then she started hopping around the room, like a kangaroo with its feet on fire.

"You go, girlfriend," Frankie whispered under his breath as he watched her hop.

Ashley burst out laughing. I didn't want to laugh, so I just concentrated on smiling very very hard. Sometimes that keeps the laugh inside.

"What happened to that poor woman?" Mr. Morimoto asked.

"Must have been something she ate," Principal Love said. Then he turned and looked directly at me. "I hope it wasn't your enchiladas."

That wiped the smile off my face really fast.

"No sir," I said. "Like you always say, there's no such thing as a bad enchilada, sir."

Man oh man. If only that were true.

Ms. Adolf grabbed an ice cube from the punch bowl and rubbed it all over her tongue. Then she rubbed it on her face too, eyebrows and all. Then it went back on her tongue again. Face. Tongue. Face. Tongue. She couldn't slide that cube around fast enough. And then her face started to drip.

Ashley had tears in the corner of her eyes. That happens to her when she's dying to laugh but has to hold it in.

As I watched Ms. Adolf mambo around the room, I started to think how interesting it was that she had been standing right next to our pan of enchiladas when her tongue attacked her. I wasn't the only one to be thinking about that little fact. Frankie shot me a suspicious look.

"How much chili powder did you put in, dude?" he whispered to me.

"I told you," I whispered back. "The absolute right amount."

By now, Ms. Adolf's tongue was hanging out of her mouth. She looked like Cheerio after he's gone for a long run in the park. She was leaping around the room, fanning her tongue with her hands.

"Are you all right?" Ryan Shimozato's mom asked her.

"Shiiicy," Ms. Adolf panted.

"What?" asked Mrs. Shimozato. "I'm sorry but I can't understand you."

In case you never noticed, it's hard to understand people who are talking with their tongues hanging out of their mouths.

"Spicy!" Ms. Adolf screeched. She had shoved her tongue back in her mouth long enough to say that one word. Then with two fingers, she grabbed the tip and pulled her tongue back out into the air and started fanning it with her gray silk scarf.

"I think she ate something too spicy," Ms. Shimazato said to the group of people who were standing around.

Frankie looked over at me and raised an eyebrow.

But before he could say anything, Ms. Adolf started to do this thing like she was whistling, but instead of blowing air out, she was sucking it in. That was followed by these horribly loud grunts, like my dad makes when he snores. A bunch of kids burst out laughing. It wasn't the nicest thing to do, but if you were there, you would have been laughing too. I promise.

Ms. Adolf got a really weird look on her face. She came to a full stop. What was going to happen now? Whoosh! Suddenly, she started to move across the floor, wiggling her rump like she was doing the tango.

I don't know how to tell you what happened next without using the fart word. So let me say it this way. Ms. Adolf propelled herself across the Multi-Purpose Room as if she had a rocket in her skirt. And there was a certain sound that went along with that move. Once again, I can only refer you to the fart word.

"Eeuuww," Katie and Kim screamed. "Gross."

"Watch out, she's letting loose another one," Luke Whitman cried out, as Ms. Adolf came shooting across the floor in the opposite direction. One hand was on her stomach and the other was covering her mouth. As she flew by me, I thought I heard her say, "Oh excuse me. I'm so sorry."

"Let's get you to the ladies room," Ms. Shimozato said to Ms. Adolf. Ms. Adolf just nodded. We could hear her erupting as she was led off to the bathroom.

Frankie gave me The Look.

"Zip," he whispered. "Now I've got to know. You have to come clean about the chili powder."

"See, there was this fraction in the recipe, or at least, I think it was a fraction and I couldn't exactly tell if---"

"Zip, talk to me."

"I'm trying. I couldn't read the recipe," I answered honestly. "So I guessed. But it didn't seem like that much. Just enough to give the enchiladas a little zing."

"A little zing!" Frankie said. "Did you see Ms. Adolf, dude? It looked to me like she had enough zing to dance down to the Brooklyn Bridge. It sounded like it too."

"What do we do now?" I asked. I was starting to feel embarrassed about the whole situation.

"Now that's a good question," Frankie said. "I wish I knew."

Text copyright (c) 2004 by Fair Dinkum and Lin Oliver Productions, Inc.

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