Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.” No, it’s not the Ten Commandments in baby talk. It’s the central message of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, the first volume of essays by Robert Fulghum (rhymes with indulge ’em). Fulghum is the Mr. Rogers of modern letters, and his book is a cultural candy counter crammed with homey homilies, munchkin metaphors (what gets caught in the sink strainer he calls “dinner dandruff”), funky factoids (Solomon Islanders fell trees by shouting at them) and relentlessly reassuring gee-whizdom couched in prose that reads like bumper stickers laid end to end.
By year’s end Kindergarten had sold more than 1 million hardcover copies, had ranked as the No. 1 nonfiction best-seller for 30 weeks and had hit the top of the paperback sales chart as well. This fall, with the release of his second book, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, Fulghum became the first author ever to capture simultaneously the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the hardcover best-seller list.
A 52-year-old ex-bartender, Fulghum began writing his sermonettes during a 1966-85 stint as a Unitarian minister. Translated from church mouse to literary lion, he still lives on a Seattle houseboat with wife Lynn, an M.D., but now has six lawyers and a staff of five and talks of building a house in Utah. Why has the public flipped for his flapdoodle? The author shrugs: “I think we’re all tired of complexity.”