A video chat this week with students at Hickory Creek Middle School in Frankfort, Illinois, a community 35 miles south of Chicago, involved a new wrinkle for me. Students in three different English Language Arts classes at the school were asked by their teachers to read both my books – PAPERBOY and COPYBOY. The resulting discussion was outstanding.
Normally, a class will read one of my books before I chat with them, but the teachers at Hickory Creek asked their students to read the books in tandem.
To set the scene for those not familiar with my stories, PAPERBOY deals with the young protagonist in the summer of 1959 when he is 11 years old. COPYBOY advances the same protagonist to 1965 when he is 17 years old, just finishing high school and getting ready to go to college.
PAPERBOY is considered a middle-grade offering and COPYBOY is often designated as a work for young adults, but I contend that my books are appropriate for all ages and, additionally, they can be enjoyed on many different levels.
I’m told that publishers who cater to young readers don’t like for their popular protagonists to grow older. I can understand the reasoning, but life isn’t like that. My intention was always to let Victor Vollmer grow with his readers. Both books are written in the first person, but the 17-year-old voice is different from the 11-year-old voice. If there is a third book, the voice no doubt will change again, but it will be suitable for all ages.
One sharp-eyed student had a question about the protagonist’s attitude towards his parents and how that attitude changed from the first book to the second. Yes, it did change. Isn’t that what happens between the ages of 11 and 17?
The worth in middle-graders reading the voice of 17-year-old is that it gives them something to anticipate. The worth of an 80-year-old reading in the voice of an 11-year-old is to relive the days of youth. We always are who we once were.
There’s no need to bat around a cliche, but “age is only a number” is a good one to consider.
Thanks so much to the insightful teachers and the careful readers with great questions at Hickory Creek Middle School. You are a big part of the reason that I write.