When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time around adults. Having no brothers or sisters, no cousins living nearby, and spending summers and vacations with my grandparents, I went where they visited. Many of those people were their age. So I heard this phrase often: “When I was your age …”
Sometimes that phrase was followed by an admonition (I exhibited many reasons for being admonished.). Often it was a tall tale. Even as a child I could recognize that. Most of the time, it was a story told for the purest pleasure of remembering, of sharing the richness of a life long- and well-lived. I loved those stories. They helped me see the child still living inside the adult.
The stories we choose to tell add to the definition of who we are, who we were, and who we’re on the way to being.
Candlewick Press has put together a book of short stories written by twenty “prominent writers,” edited by Amy Ehrlich. Aptly, its title is When I Was Your Age. It’s a compilation of two previously published volumes, but you’ll want this on your bookshelves to share with your students, read out loud at a book club meeting when you’re studying one of the authors, or simply to read to yourself. Quite a few of the stories will make good read-alouds.
There’s a variety here and I’m having trouble saying these are “true” stories because the authors’ notes included with each story make it evident that they are partially true but not entirely true. These are writers of fiction after all. Life gets more interesting when you tell the story.
I enjoyed each of the tales. There wasn’t an unpopped kernel in the bowl.
Laurence Yep’s “The Great Rat Hunt” stays with me. I love Mr. Yep’s books. Reading this story from his life helps me see that he tucks a little bit of his own experience into each of his books.
Avi‘s story, “Scout’s Honor,” had me laughing out loud and gasping (only try this at home). What is a merit-badge-earning camping trip like when you live surrounded by pavement in New York City?
In “Interview with a Shrimp,” Paul Fleischman writes eloquently about Chronic Stature Deficiency. How does school look when you’re always being teased about being short?
Howard Norman’s “Bus Problems” is one of those stories that have you looking back at your own life, no matter how long that takes. Any regrets?
Kyoko Mori and I share the experience of nearly drowning. In “Learning to Swim” she writes about her mother, trust, and longing.
These are authors whose books we know. The stories in When I Was Your Age help us make sense of the people who penned our favorite books … or they will prompt you to seek out those authors you don’t know yet.
Other authors included are Mary Pope Osborne, James Howe, Katherine Paterson, Walter Dean Myers, Susan Cooper, Nicholas Mohr, Reeve Lindbergh, Francesca Lia Block, Norma Fox Mazer, Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Yolen, E.L. Konigsburg, Michael J. Rosen, Karen Hesse, and Joseph Bruchac.
You’ll savor this book.
We’re discussing this book, along with There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares at our Chapter & Verse Book Club on June 21st. You can get a head start!