Dave Pelzer

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David Pelzer
Profile view of Author Dave Pelzer, facing left
Pelzer speaking to Airmen while visiting troops in Southwest Asia.
Born (1960-12-29) December 29, 1960 (age 58)
Daly City, California
Occupation Autobiographer, motivational speaker
Nationality American
Notable works A Child Called "It", Help Yourself

David James "Dave" Pelzer (born December 29, 1960 in San Francisco, California)[1] is an American author, of several autobiographical and self-help books.[2] He is best known for his 1995 memoir of childhood abuse, A Child Called "It".


Pelzer was born in San Francisco, California, and was the second of five boys. He grew up in the city of Daly City, California.[3] He is the son of Stephen Joseph Pelzer (1923–1980), a San Francisco fireman, and Catherine Roerva Christen Pelzer (1929–1992). As a small child Pelzer faced abuse for several years which Pelzer wrote about in his books. He said that as a child, he was continually abused, mistreated, and beaten by his mother, who thought of it as a game. His teachers stepped in on March 5, 1973, wherein 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] Pelzer married in the 1980s to 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 about 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. In his book 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. In 1973 at age 12 he was sent to a foster family. In the book he uses pseudonyms to reference his relatives.

One of Dave's brothers, Richard B. Pelzer, published his own autobiography detailing his experiences as well called A Brother's Journey.[8] Paraphrased, Pelzer said in the afterword of his book that his objectives for his story was to show how a parent can turn to be abusive and how the human spirit can triumph and survive.[9]


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 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 first book

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 5 years had sold at least 1.6 million copies.[12][13] Pelzer was invited to television shows such as Montel Williams and The Oprah Winfrey Show to give interviews after the book was published.

Readers responded in their own ways to the book; 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]


The assertions in his memoirs have led to some skeptical commentary.[15] In a 2002 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 confirms much of what David has said and describes his own abuse when David was finally removed from the home.[citation needed] 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 NYT article Dave does not give interviews often.[7]

In an article with 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.[16]

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][17]


  • A Child Called It (1995)
  • The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family (1997)
  • A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness (2000)
  • Help Yourself (2001)
  • The Privilege of Youth (2004)
  • Help Yourself for Teens (2005)
  • Moving Forward (2009)

See also


  1. "California Birth Index", www.ancestry.com : "David J Pelzer , December 29, 1960, San Francisco County, mother's maiden name Christa"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Jordan, Pat (July 28, 2002). "Dysfunction For Dollars". New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. de Bertodano, Helena (29 March 2005). "Memories of a family at war". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Kellaway, Kate (February 14, 2004). "No pain, no gain". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. [1]
  9. Pelzer, Dave (1995). A Child Called It: One Child's Courage to Survive. HCI. p. 52. ISBN 978-1558743663.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Jardine, Cassandra (June 20, 2008). "Dave Pelzer: 'You don't get over it, just accept it'". Telegraph. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Dave Pelzer: Dave who?". BBC. January 27, 2001. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Bedell, Geraldine (1 September 2001). "Child abuse as entertainment". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. 13.0 13.1 Plotz, David (September 29, 2000). "Dave Pelzer The child-abuse entrepreneur". Slate. Retrieved 29 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Coffel, Cynthia (2010). Thinking Themselves Free: Research on the Literacy of Teen Mothers. Peter Lang Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 978-1433109720.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Is He Making "It" All Up?". The Mail on Sunday.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. English, Bella (26 April 2006). "Family Feud". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Sullivan, Olive (June 17, 2011). "Author Dave Pelzer visits Joplin to help aid recovery". GateHouse News Service. Retrieved 5 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links