When I Was Your Age, Volume Two

When I Was Your Age, Volume Two: Original Stories About Growing Up

Discovering that there was a second volume of these stories by authors was a real treat.  I’d enjoyed When I Was Your Age so much that I was delighted to learn that even more authors had contributed stories!  I’m only reviewing the first half of Volume Two here, I’ll do the second half later this week.

My love for these collections is a bit of a surprise to me, because I never was one for stories.  They always felt incomplete to me as a young reader, I wanted to know the rest of what happened, but there never was any rest of it.  I’ve grown much more amenable to them with age.  I think that the younger children are when introduced to chapter book style stories, the more likely they are to be able to appreciate them.

While I love the flexibility of using stories from an anthology such as this in the classroom, I do need to give some words of warning.  If you read students (or allow students to read) very good stories out of a book, carefully selecting the ones that they will enjoy, they will want to read the rest of the book. At least some of them will.  This is something to keep in mind so that you can have a response ready if you are not comfortable with them reading all of the stories in the book.  Others will want to continue reading books by the author whose story they enjoyed most.  Again, it would be best to be prepared to answer which if any of the author’s books would be appropriate for students their age.

Please forgive the array of tags applied to this book, they aren’t all true for every story, rather a story of each variety appears somewhere in the compilation.

In the Blink of an Eye by Norma Fox Mazer

Norma is conflicted.  Outside of her house she is a tomboy, a rule-breaker, tough. She picks up lit cigarette butts from the gutter to try out smoking, something she knows she’d get into trouble for. She spies on the neighbor’s son through a peephole in the shed, watching him as he does science experiments.  At home, she is a cry-baby, tearing up at the smallest slight.  She doesn’t understand why she can be so very different and both of her personalities seem just out of her control.  She doesn’t quite know why she does things that would get her in trouble just as she doesn’t quite know why she’s always in tears.  But when her outside persona gets her into a dangerous situation, everything shifts for Norma.

This is certainly easy enough for a strong fourth grade reader to understand, but due to the subject matter I might hold it off for fifth or sixth grade.  Anyone older than that might find the topic too young.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A boy pushes her down in the snow and shoves his lips on hers.   Her mother gives her a book on the facts of life which has information about chickens and eggs and frogs and eggs.  Her older sister has a boyfriend.  She sometimes wishes he would notice her.
Profanity – “dumb sissy,”
Death, Violence and Gore – A boy pushes her and she accidentally hits her head.  She gets acid in her eye and is in danger of losing her vision.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – The character finds a lit cigarette butt and takes a puff.  Her father is a smoker.  She mimics him in her smoking as well as the famous actor Humphrey Bogart.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Food from the Outside by Rita Williams Garcia

Rita’s mother, the formidable Miss Essie, is a terrible cook.  Not only is she a terrible cook, she will not allow her children to eat food prepared by anyone else.  For years, Rita and her siblings pray for a dog they could slip their dinner to and conduct experiments with the rock hard pork chops they’re served.  But when the presence of a color television set alerts them to how food should look they become even more determined to try food from the outside.  The children hatch a plan, but will they be successful?

Always a fan of writing about food, I loved this story. Readers will definitely be entertained by Rita and her siblings as they try to outsmart Miss Essie.  It could certainly be used as young as third or fourth grade (dependent on reading level), but the universal subject of food allows it to be appreciated by students right up through high school.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Rita’s brother likes a girl named Rachel.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Their mother threatens to spank them if they break a rule. Rita breaks the rule, and says she took a beating.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Interview with a Shrimp by Paul Fleischman

Fleischman’s entry is written as a mock interview about his Chronic Stature Deficiency, a fancy made up way of saying he’s short.  I love the format, because it could make a great instructional tool with the right age group.  You could have the students interview each other about a perceived or actual weakness.

From Fleischman’s content and word choice this would be best understood by Grades 6 and up.  I think younger than that and students will have trouble with some of his vocabulary and references. At one point he refers to himself as a “modern Job, punished by an inscrutable God.”  He also likens gym class examinations to “slave auctions and the inspections at Auschwitz” which is problematic. I’m also not sure I’d like to introduce a game that awards points for sexual experience to anyone younger than that.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Kids are in their underwear for gym inspections.  He’s asked how he does with the opposite sex and he explains about a sexual experience test awards points for different kinds of kissing.  He stops before points allotted for other activities.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – He says he’d trade another World War for six more inches.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A joke inscription in his yearbook tells him to stay out of taverns.  He mentions that some boys smoke.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

The Long Closet by Jane Yolen

When Jane’s father goes off to serve in World War II, her mother takes the children and moves back in with her parents for the duration of the war.  Jane loves it at her grandparents’ house, where there are tons of playmates and plenty of adults to dote on you.  The whole dynamic of the house changes with the death of her grandfather.

This is a very nicely done piece on grief and childhood.  It could easily be used with a wide range of ages.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – This story deals with the death of a grandparent and the grief of the one that remains.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Her father is a soldier and is away at war.

How I Lost My Station in Life by E. L. Konigsburg

Elaine’s family has to move away from her hometown when the economy takes a turn for the worse.  For awhile they are unsettled, living with family and then in a variety of affordable homes.  She must change where she lives and sometimes where she goes to school, but Elaine is not at all prepared for the biggest change – her mother is expecting a baby.  The story follows her feelings throughout her mother’s pregnancy and her reaction once the baby arrives.

I would recommend this for older children simply because I’d rather not field any questions about how babies are conceived.  Other than that, the content is one that lots of children will find relatable, specifically being supplanted as the baby of the family.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Elaine’s mother is going to have a baby.  The family never says pregnant, they use euphemisms such as “she’s expecting.”  Elaine knows the truth; she knows what you need to do to have a baby and is ashamed of her mother (at her age!)
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

This entry was posted in Middle Grades, Teen, Tween and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *