Dave Pelzer, International Best-Selling Author of ‘A Child Called It’ Speaks in Redding Friday (SOLD OUT)

As a child, Dave Pelzer's mentally-ill, alcoholic mother inflicted such severe emotional and physical torture upon her son that his story of survival remains an example of one of the most graphic and gruesome documented child abuse cases in California history.

She beat him literally black and blue. She held him over open flames, She broke bones. She punched, kicked, slapped and strangled him. She slammed him into things and threw him down stairs. She forced him to sit in freezing water. She shoved his face in his baby brother's soiled diaper and made him eat it. She crammed dog shit into his mouth. She shoved a bar of soap down his throat.

She starved him, and when he tried to forage in the family's trash for leftovers, she poured ammonia over the garbage so he wouldn't eat it. He wasn't allowed to join his brothers to sleep indoors, bathe, or enjoy meals eaten at the family table, but slept in the basement or garage on a cot without blankets. She ordered  him to "clean" bathrooms, which she prepared by pouring a toxic mix of bleach and ammonia on the floor and then shutting him inside the room with just rags and his bare hands as cleaning tools. She force-fed him spoonfuls of ammonia and bleach.

Somehow, even during some of the horrific abuse, such as when Dave's mother held his arm over a flame, he was able to talk to himself in ways that helped him cope, and helped him cling to hope.

"I remember I made a decision at 8 years old, here I am held over a gas stove, and suddenly I felt excited to realize that if I could feel this, it meant I was still alive," Pelzer said during a recent telephone interview. "I told myself, 'I can do this.' "

He developed tricks to deal with the pain. Count backward from 60, or tell himself things like, "Well, the last 5 minutes sucked, so the next three minutes can't be as bad."

And when the abuse left external marks, as they often did, Dave's mother prepared lists of "explanations" for him to pass on to "nosy" people who wondered about everything from an abdominal knife wound to a crushed trachea. He recited his script: He was "clumsy" and he "tripped" and he "fell" and he wasn't looking where he was going.

Most of all, as his mother told Dave constantly, he was an extremely "bad boy" who deserved to be punished. In fact, he was so "bad" that beginning around the age of 5, he wasn't allowed to be part of the family. Technically, he lived in the house, but he wasn't part of it.  He was a slave. He was an "it" who wasn't worthy of being called by name.

"I believed that I was a bad, bad, bad boy," Pelzer said. "I thought I was the baddest kid on the planet."

What made things complicated was Dave's mother could appear "normal" to the outside world. She was a Cub Scout leader and a PTA member.

Finally, at the age of 12, Dave was rescued by police after teachers reported the abuse. After that he spent the remainder of his childhood in a series of foster homes.

When you talk with Dave, as I did during a telephone interview, you'll learn that he doesn't judge the foster system, or the education system under which he lived as a child. He will tell you that times were different then in the late '60s and early '70s, that this was before mandated reporting laws. And he will tell you that as sometimes imperfect as some of his foster homes may have been, nothing was as bad as the abuse inflicted upon him by his own mother.

You'll also learn that he has little patience for people who allow themselves to live a lifetime of adult emotional paralysis steeped in victimhood because of childhood abuse.

Consequently, one of his biggest messages is about thriving, not just surviving. He'll share that messsage and others Friday in Redding at "The Real Heros, An Evening With Dave Pelzer," at The McLaughlin Auditorium in Redding (details below).

During his talk he'll focus on his belief that life's biggest accomplishment is not what someone endures, but how one moves beyond the challenges to make the best life possible with existing resources.

Pelzer's "The Real Heros" talk is so weighty that attendees must be older than 18. In order for him to get to the inspirational part of his story, he needs to explain what got him to where he is today.

Even as a little boy undergoing an abusive encounter, such as when his mother held his arm over an open gas flame and charred him like a piece of meat, Dave tapped into an internal place where he told himself that if he could just survive this, he could survive anything. He told himself that his goal was to make it through the next 5 seconds, or 5 minutes, or 5 hours, or 5 days, or 5 months, or 5 years.

As a child, he learned to watch for patterns - the ebb and flow of his mother's abuse. He learned to be a problem-solver. When she starved him, he stole food from kids' lunches and grocery stores. When she beat him, he tightened that part of his body to lessen the pain.

Today, when he talks about his life, and his past - often in the third person - he has a simple way to describe how he sees himself, and what he's been through:

"I am blessed."

And he means it. Every chance he gets, he shares that belief, and his philosophy for living, which includes his mantra that it's not what we've experienced that counts, but what we choose to do with our experiences that make us succeed. Bacially, in the end, he can sum up his advice in two words: Be happy.

Today, Dave Pelzer is famous for having written a slew of international best-selling books.  Now in his early 50s, he's received a lifetime of such awards as personal commendations from presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush.  He was recognized as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans, joining such notables as John F. Kennedy, Anne Bancroft and Christopher Reeves. In 1994, Dave was the only American to be honored as The Outstanding Young Person of the World. In 1996, he carried the coveted Centennial flame for the Olympic Games. In 2005 he was honored with the National Jefferson Award, whose other alumni include Colin Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor and Bob Hope. He's been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and Larry King.

His fame isn't because of how much he suffered.  Rather, he's a sought-after speaker, role model and author because he uses his story to inspire others to live their lives to the fullest. No excuses. No blaming. No dragging around a lifetime of regret or finger-pointing.

And when he speaks, as he will Friday evening, his message will not be a shock-and-awe, gutter-to-glory story, but one of joy and resiliency. And he'll deliver that message with humor, with a goal of instilling a sense of pride and positive expectations in those who've suffered, while encouaging people to cease using bad experiencs as excuses to subsist in despair, negativity and helplessness.

Two of his book titles sum up his life trajectory: He went from "A Boy Called It" to "A Man Named Dave" - and although Pelzer would probably never say these words, the truth is, that if Dave Pelzer could manage to turn his life into something joyous, purposeful and productive after all he's been through, then just maybe there's hope for everyone else.


What: Real Heroes, An Evening With Dave Pelzer - A Week of the Young Child Event

When: Friday, April 27, 7  - 8:30 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Where: The McLaughlin Auditorium, Sequoia Middle School, Redding

Cost: $10 per person (must be older than 18 to attend)  (SOLD OUT)

How to buy tickets:  w w w . f i r s t 5 s h a s t a . o r g

Where to buy Pelzer's books:  Barnes & Noble in Redding. Books are also available at Friday's event. 

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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20 Responses

  1. Sandy Tincher says:

    I can't imagine a mother treating her child the way Dave's Mom treated him. She was a monster. It is so wonderful that he survived and has such a wonderful attitude. I am going to get his book. I would like to know more about him.

    • Sandy, I got three of Dave's books at the Shasta County Library ("A Child Called It," and "The Lost Boy" and "A Man Named Dave". I'll be turning them back in tomorrow, so they'll be available. (There are multiple copies, btw.)

  2. Grammalyn says:

    I read this book long ago, and could not begin to fathom either Dave's life, or that of his mother. Surely she was a monster, but what a tragedy that someone so seriously mentally ill had children in her care. I worked in the school system for many years and saw some tragic situations (nothing compared to Dave's), and I was awed by how some children rose above the sadness and abuse and came out strong, while others were crushed by it. What makes one person soar and another crumble? I'm glad that Dave will be here to share his story and give hope to those who struggle. He is truly a remarkable man.

  3. Sharon says:


    Thank you so much for sharing this story in detail. Gratitude and looking at the good. .such important elixirs. As is sharing the good that others have done. You do that so well.

  4. All Knowing says:

    Dear Dave,

    It is amazing that you made it as far as you have. You have got to have the forgiveness of Jesus, my friend. Praise God for your testamony and your ability to use the worst possibly experience to reach out to others in a very meaningful way. God Bless You.

  5. Canda says:

    I remember reading Dave's books, and being heartbroken at the description of his abuse. It's absolutely unthinkable that anyone could treat a child like that, especially a mother. What an inspiration Dave is to all of us. His story of becoming "Dave" is a beautiful one. Thank you, Doni, for sharing this amazing man with us. I'm sorry I can't attend his evening talk. He truly is a hero.

  6. Bill C. says:

    Amazing perseverance and incredible ability to find "a way" to endure. Strength of mind over matter.

  7. LizAnn says:

    I love that man and just hope his wretched "mother" isn't on this side of the grass any longer.

  8. Tara says:

    I was already crying half way through the story. What an amazing and inspiring individual. Wish it wasn't sold out, but glad it is. I'll be reading his books.

  9. KarenC says:

    I know a lady who suffered much abuse in her life, not like Dave's, but very tragic to my friend. She rose above it, went into law enforcement, married and has done very well. I once asked her, how she turned out so well balanced, given her childhood abuse. She told me she had two choices: she could be miserable the rest of her life, blaming others for her unhappiness, or she could rise above it, get on with her life, and not dwell on what she could not change. I have never forgotten her words.

  10. EasternShastaCounty says:

    Was there a father in the picture? Or grandparents? I must read the book for the answers.

  11. Suely dias says:

    My God, I was so precalcionada with the book A child treated as a "thing", I read it in one day! Served and long for me to leave the past instead of backwards! was a curiosity: What has come about with this psycho mom '.

  12. Suely dias says:

    A few years ago, here in Brazil two brothers abused by her father and stepmother, fled the house and tried to return to a shelter for children. The charge under this forced the brothers to return home. It was tragic because his father killed them suffocated with a plastic bag and dumped in the trash. I remember getting imprecionada long. God bless the children!

  13. Dot says:

    I am 18 and a writer. For years, since I was a child maybe seven, possibly younger, people have been telling me about this book. I've never found it anywhere and I have literally looked everywhere- school, public libraries in PA, public libraries in NY, but then when I moved to the city, I didn't bother looking anywhere. I have my own troubles with my own mother.

    Longing for my mother's love, I kind of gave up looking for the book. I found the book on Friday, complete accident and I just stared at it for a good minute. I was dumbfounded. When I picked it up, I immediately checked it out. I have been known to be an avid reader since I was a child. I haven't read anything- not even a cereal box- since I was in the ninth grade (4 years ago). Friday and Saturday, I didn't touch the book, but I was eager. Sunday, I picked up the book and my aunt was being funny because for once I got up off the computer and for ten hours… I read every inch of that book. My girlfriend was angry because I told her a part from it. I was shaking most of the book- both from nerves and from a bit of anger toward people who knew.

    I know there was nothing I could do just reading about it, but even the thoughts of my own mother, they came close to most things I had read. I guess I didn't ever find the book before, because I wouldn't have read it. I wouldn't have believed it because my mother wasn't always like that. In fact, she used to take all of us (me and 6 other siblings) anywhere we wanted to go, one day she stopped and I became her target, her punching bag, her 'bitch' so-to speak. Going through what I went through, I understand every nook and cranny of the book and read literally from cover to cover.

    I give respect to Dave, for getting through everything, even not fighting back physically- that I've read so far (just the first book). But it takes a lot.

  14. CIA says:


  15. Erin says:

    I am only twelve and I used to think I was abused but when I was introduced to your books they opened my eyes to how good I have it I read your books and cryed at how someone can do that to a child but I gone to church for 3 years straight and I know every thing happens for a reason and your reason was to show everyone how strong you are and to bring hope to all abused children <3 u

  16. amy flanagan says:

    hi im 11 and i read the three books. daves journey was extrodenary. i cannot imagine what he went trough i guess alchol brings out a bad side in everyone which is y ill never drink it

  17. Sean Collins says:

    I wish that mother of his pay for the abuse she subjected him. How did that monster got of so easy, she should of rot in jail or people going after for what she did and giving her a beating of her own to see how she likes. Also kick her out of the PTA and cub scouts. Have her life ruined like she did to David.

  18. Sean Collins says:

    You know what, I got a question. What if david was successful in escaping in 1969, and made it to his destination? That will be a fascinating subject to talk about. This might also lead to him to develop a plot to kill his mother and his other tormenters not including brothers and father. I is a good way to explain about another danger child abuse poses to society: it turns children into killers.

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