Dave Pelzer

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David Pelzer
Dave Pelzer USAF.jpg
Pelzer speaking to Airmen while visiting troops in Southwest Asia.
Born (1960-12-29) December 29, 1960 (age 60)
Daly City, California
OccupationAutobiographer, motivational speaker
Nationality American
Notable worksA Child Called "It", Help Yourself

David James Pelzer (born December 29, 1960 in San Francisco, California) [1] is an American author, of several autobiographical and self-help books. [2] His 1995 memoir of childhood abuse, A Child Called "It", was listed on The New York Times Bestseller List for several years, and in 5 years had sold at least 1.6 million copies. The book has also been a source of controversy for Pelzer, with accusations of several events being fabricated coming from both family members and journalists.



Pelzer was born in San Francisco, California the second of five boys. He grew up in Daly City, California. [3] He is the son of Catherine Roerva Christen Pelzer (1929-1992) and San Francisco fireman Stephen Joseph Pelzer (1923-1980). Pelzer's books describe the abuse he suffered for several years of childhood, including continual mistreatment and beatings by his mother, who he said thought of it as a game. His teachers stepped in on March 5, 1973, when 12-year-old Pelzer was placed in foster care. At age 18 he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1979 and served in the Gulf War. [4] [5] In the 1980s Pelzer married his first wife Patsy (a pseudonym), with whom he had a son. In 1996 he carried a torch in the 1996 Summer Olympics torch relay. [6] Pelzer and Patsy divorced and many years later he married his second wife, Marsha, who was his editor. [7]


His book A Child Called "It" describes from his viewpoint the severe abuse he suffered as a child. He writes how his mother was physically and emotionally abusive towards him from ages 4 to 12. He describes how his mom starved him, forced him to drink ammonia, stabbed him in the stomach, burned his arm on a gas stove, and forced him to eat his own vomit. He mentioned that his father was not active in resolving or stopping the conflicts between Pelzer and his alcoholic mother. He was sent to a foster family at age 12 in 1973. In the book he refers to his relatives by pseudonyms.

One of Dave's brothers, Richard B. Pelzer, published his own autobiography, A Brother's Journey, that detailed his experiences. Paraphrased, Pelzer said in the afterword of his book that his objectives for his story was to show how a parent can become abusive and how the human spirit can triumph and survive. [8]


Pelzer's first book, A Child Called "It" was published in 1995 and describes the abuse Pelzer suffered in his childhood. His second book, The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family was published shortly after in 1997. The book covered Pelzer's teen years. The third book in his series, A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness [9] was about Pelzer's experiences as an adult and how he forgave his father. In 2001 he wrote Help Yourself: Finding Hope, Courage, And Happiness which was a self-help book. When discussing his seventh book Moving Forward he said, "My message has always been about resilience". [10]

Reception of A Child Called "It"

His first book, A Child Called "It," was successful and garnered interest. [11] It was listed on The New York Times Bestseller List for several years and in five years had sold at least 1.6 million copies. [12] [13] Pelzer was invited to television shows such as The Montel Williams Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show to give interviews after the book was published.

In a 2001 news article Orion UK Publishing's Trevor Dolby said, "We get 10 letters a day from people saying the first book mirrors their own childhood, which is very depressing." [11] One reader was quoted: "(The book) made me see that I wasn't the only one out there...that had this...in their life. That there's people who do understand." [14]

Writer David Plotz criticized Pelzer in an article he wrote for Slate . In the article Plotz says that because Pelzer's parents are dead it is hard to question them. [13]


A Child Called "It" has received the following accolades:

  • 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults [15]
  • 2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults [16]


According to the American Library Association, A Child Called "It" has been frequently banned and challenged in the United States. The book landed the 36th spot on the list of the top books challenged between 2010 and 2019. [17]


In a 2002 The New York Times article by Pat Jordan the author questioned the reliability of Pelzer's recollections. He said that "Pelzer has an exquisite recall of his abuse, but almost no recall of anything that would authenticate that abuse", such as any details about his mother. [2] Two members of his family, his maternal grandmother and brother, have disputed his book. One of his younger brothers, Stephen, denies that any abuse took place, and says that he thinks David was placed in foster care because "he started a fire and was caught shoplifting". [2] However, his other brother Richard Pelzer is author of the book A Brother's Journey, which affirms much of what David has said and describes his own abuse when David was finally removed from the home. In regard to this, Dave has said that Stephen had affection towards his mother and that "he misses her terribly because she protected him". [7] Due to the criticism from The New York Times article Dave does not give interviews often. [7]

In an article in The Boston Globe Pelzer's grandmother said she believed Dave had been abused but not as severely as he described. She also said she didn't believe his brother Richard was abused. It was revealed, however, that Pelzer's grandmother did not live in the same state as his brothers and family and was not in contact with them when the abuse happened. [18]

An article in The Guardian notes that gaps in the background narrative "makes the foreground harder to trust". [12] The author writes, "My own hunch is that, substantially, he's telling the truth ... But there is a definite feeling of exaggeration in the later two books..." The author then states the same feeling Plotz also covered in his article, that she feels Pelzer is profiting from his abuse and minimizing the seriousness of the crime by making the writing "entertaining". [12]

Current life

Pelzer spends his time giving lectures across the country. He is also a volunteer. [7] [19]


See also

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  1. "California Birth Index", www.ancestry.com : "David J Pelzer, December 29, 1960, San Francisco County, mother's maiden name Christa"
  2. 1 2 3 Jordan, Pat (July 28, 2002). "Dysfunction For Dollars". The New York Times.
  3. de Bertodano, Helena (29 March 2005). "Memories of a family at war". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  4. Dave Pelzer website bio
  5. PR Web news article
  6. Canfield, Jack (1997). A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul . HCI. p.  343. ISBN   978-1558744592.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Kellaway, Kate (February 14, 2004). "No pain, no gain". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  8. Pelzer, Dave (1995). A Child Called It: One Child's Courage to Survive . HCI. p.  52. ISBN   978-1558743663.
  9. Pelzer, Dave (1999) "A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness" Published by Penguin Group; 1999, New York. ISBN   0-525-94521-0 (hc.), ISBN   0-452-28190-3 (pbk. 339 pp).
  10. Jardine, Cassandra (June 20, 2008). "Dave Pelzer: 'You don't get over it, just accept it'". Telegraph. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  11. 1 2 "Dave Pelzer: Dave who?". BBC. January 27, 2001. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  12. 1 2 3 Bedell, Geraldine (1 September 2001). "Child abuse as entertainment". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  13. 1 2 Plotz, David (September 29, 2000). "Dave Pelzer The child-abuse entrepreneur". Slate. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  14. Coffel, Cynthia (2010). Thinking Themselves Free: Research on the Literacy of Teen Mothers. Peter Lang Publishing. p. 52. ISBN   978-1433109720.
  15. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (2010-01-14). "2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  16. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (2007-07-30). "2002 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  17. Office of Intellectual Freedom (2020-09-09). "Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010-2019". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  18. English, Bella (26 April 2006). "Family Feud". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
  19. Sullivan, Olive (June 17, 2011). "Author Dave Pelzer visits Joplin to help aid recovery". GateHouse News Service. Retrieved 5 January 2014.