It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!
Vince Vawter’s Paperboy is a deeply moving story about 11 year old boy, nicknamed “Little Man” by his beloved housekeeper, who fills in as paperboy for his best friend one hot Memphis summer. Victor’s stutter makes this rather simple task an enormously challenging one: he will, after all, need to communicate with strangers week after week – asking for payment, checking orders, and such. To make matters worse, he gets in the way of the neighborhood junk man, and suddenly finds himself in trouble – more trouble than he can handle all by himself. But, when he gets Nellie involved in his troubles, things go from bad to really horrible – and get dangerous, as well.
Vawter vividly recreates a sultry Memphis of long ago (the story is set in 1959). The rules and mores of a segregated, Jim Crow South inform this story in obvious and subtle ways – especially when it comes to the family’s relationship with Nellie. Victor yearns to be “somebody instead of just a kid who couldn’t talk right,” and Vawter does a magnificent job of translating the speech impediment in such a way that the reader is able to experience the starts and stops and deviations of stuttering to some extent. You can feel his deep shame and frustration every time his stuttering gets in the way of even the simplest of exchanges. But Victor has faithful and abiding allies in his father and Nellie, and these relationships are finely drawn, moving and inspiring.
I found, though, that there were some undercurrents that made this book one I would hesitate to put in the hands of my sixth graders. There is the character of Mrs. Worthington, for example, who is a young house wife on Victor’s route who has both a serious drinking problem as well as a lover on the side. There are several scenes which I felt were rather adult in content – I knew what was happening, but my sixth graders would be “weirded out.” There are also scenes in which Nellie appears to have been beaten up – and although how this came to pass is only alluded to, I felt that the insertion of them was somewhat gratuitous in a YA novel.
I do wish that Vawter had found a way to leave these story strands out, for Paperboy has much that is wise to say about growing up, and about facing challenges.
Sarah Stewart Taylor’s graphic biography Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean was such a pleasure to read. This story highlights one episode in Earhart’s first flight across the Atlantic in 1928 – her forced sojourn in Trepassey, New Foundland, when bad weather delayed her progress. Surrounded by people who doubted her abilities and her resolve, Earhart must weather more than just high winds and storms. No one seems to believe in her, except for young Grace Goodland, budding reporter and Earhart fan. Day after day, delay after delay, she keeps the faith – and is rewarded. One fine morning, Earhart is finally able to lift off, and then make it all the way across the Atlantic, to Wales and into the history books.
Ben Towle’s amazing cartoons bring this story to life in such an unusual way. Here, for instance, is one page in which he is able to convey so much through his art work alone:
This would be an excellent companion to a fuller biography of Earhart – for it captures some of the loneliness she must have felt in the face of so many who doubted her strength of character and her ambition. The introduction by astronaut Eileen Collins, and the panel discussion page at the end of the book also provide valuable information about Earhart’s passion for and career in aviation.