by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
When I was a kid, going outside to get the newspaper—just like getting the mail—was a big, exciting, world-opening daily event.
I started every day reading my favorite sections of the many newspapers that were delivered to my house by a paperboy. Just like the star of Dav Pilkey’s Caldecott Honor–winning picture book (and just like David Vozar when he was a kid), these industrious early risers would make sure the newspapers landed in our driveway—rain or shine—long before I woke up. I read the sections in this order:
• Ask Beth—the Boston advice columnist
• Wedding announcements
• Sports (for the scores)
• Comics (I always saved them for last)
I am pretty sure the Boston Herald (then called the Boston Herald Traveler) had better comics than the Boston Globe, but I read most of them anyway. I had my favorites: Peanuts, Nancy, and Mutt and Jeff. I also loved Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which later inspired the drawing of Bone creator Jeff Smith—an amazing artist and a truly wonderful person who inspired and mesmerized every student when he came to my kids’ school’s Scholastic Book Fair a few years ago.
I also loved reading through the long pages of mysterious unclaimed property (which I learned much later in business life are called “escheatables”—abandoned funds or property that are turned over to the state) to see if I or someone I knew forgot to claim some millions.
I did read the news, but truthfully, the features sections were much more interesting.
Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, we got several papers delivered to our house: the Globe, the Herald Traveler, and the Newton Graphic. And though it wasn’t delivered, when my friends and I would take the trolley (before it was rebranded as the “T”) from Newton Center to spend the afternoon in Cambridge, I would buy—and sit down on the curb and dive into—the Boston Phoenix at the huge kiosk in the center of Harvard Square.
Newspapers were a central part of my morning. I loved newspapers of all kinds, but I was also grateful not to be the kid (either a fictional one like Dav Pilkey’s paperboy or a very real one like David Vozar) to have to get up so early in the morning to deliver them. In my day, there weren’t any papergirls anyway (but that is a topic for another post).
In our family, we all had permanent assigned seats at our kitchen table, and we would read the newspapers together over breakfast. It was a biggish deal when someone’s arm had to cross boundaries to read a full-page spread.
In addition to reading newspapers published by major media empires, we kids also made our own newspapers about neighborhood, school, and friend and family news. We typed up the stories, pasted them on decorated pages, stapled them together, and tried to sell them to each other’s families.
Physical print newspapers remained a part of my life through high school (I worked on many school papers such as Zephyr and the Newtonite) and into college, when my friend Alice and I would get the Sunday New York Times, read the paper, and then savor the crossword puzzle, lingering in the dining hall until we finished.
(I have to admit I don’t read physical newspapers as much as I did as a kid. I get my news from a combination of some print but also online news from hundreds of sources—all with various degrees of attitude and fidelity. I also love magazines—many of which I read in their digital editions, including one personal favorite, Story Monsters Ink, for which I also write a column every month.)
One of my favorite parts of this week’s posts about The Paperboy is hearing from first grade teacher Jaclyn Pearson that after reading The Paperboy, the kiddos in her class were incredulous that a small boy would be allowed to go out on his own (well, with his dog) on his bike in the dark, early morning to do a job like delivering newspapers. That must sound like wild irresponsibility on everyone’s part to today’s kids. But back then, newspaper delivery—and newspaper reading—was a staple of basic life for me and for many others.
I miss those morning-paper days. I miss being grateful for the paperboy who faithfully and responsibly delivered the news to our house every morning.
Which is why it is a very good thing Dav Pilkey’s delightful picture book is still around to remind me—and all of the millions of kids and families and librarians and teachers it has moved and inspired since it was first published in 1996. This confirms what I know about the very best children’s books: that even when the context around them has changed, and even if some of today’s first graders can’t imagine what it would be like to do the job the paperboy does, The Paperboy remains such a timeless, evocative story that so many different readers can access it in so many different ways—and that is why The Paperboy is the Book of the Week.
For example, Book Boy Max told me that he loved The Paperboy because of how it “captures the calm of the early morning.”
“A gentle salve for the instability in so much of modern life.” —Kirkus Reviews
The Paperboy is about a young boy and his dog, who get up before dawn to work a newspaper route around the neighborhood. But more than that, it’s about the dreamlike state of the world in that predawn time when you’re awake before the rest of the world and are alone with yourself and your thoughts.
The Paperboy is also about independence and having an enterprising spirit—even in the summer, on dark and cold mornings, when the bed is toasty and his dog is curled at his feet, the paperboy puts on his shoes to get ready for his job.
In his dedication to his job to deliver newspapers even in the worst types of weather, the paperboy is a good role model for students. He does something that is challenging (getting up so early!), but after a while, it becomes part of his routine and something he appreciates and is good at. In a way, it also reminds me of how children become readers. It may be challenging at first, but eventually reading gets easier and soon becomes something that kids are good at and love!
This week, we created free resources and activities to help you share this special, award-winning book with the young readers in your life:
• While the paperboy has his route, kids today have lots of different responsibilities—so Book Boys Allister, Elliott, and Max (who are all huge Dav Pilkey fans) ask readers about their responsibilities in this week’s book video review.
• First grade teacher Jaclyn Pearson from Brentwood Elementary in Des Plaines, Illinois, shares creative ways to use The Paperboy for teaching foundational story elements, visualization, and social-emotional lessons in Book Talks.
• Discover five fascinating facts about Dav Pilkey that kids may be surprised to learn, from Dav’s journey as a writer to what went into creating The Paperboy—and what he loved most about being one—in Behind the Scenes.
• Download a free discussion guide and printable social-emotional activity in Cooked Up from a Book to help your students make text-to-self connections about responsibility.
• And share David Vozar’s memories of his own childhood paper route in this perfect comic. (By the way, I would have definitely read both Dav Pilkey’s and David Vozar’s comics at my breakfast table if they were in my newspapers.)
If you’re up early reading this post, I hope that The Paperboy inspires you to find a moment of joy and calm in being awake before the rest of the world (and me!). And even if you are not reading physical newspapers too much anymore, and if your students or the young people in your life are aghast at the lack of adult supervision in the paperboy’s morning, I still hope you and your students take away the heart of this book: the paperboy’s sense of independence, his determination to complete his route even when he doesn’t feel like getting up in the morning, and how he finds his happiness in doing his job.
I am going to spend some more time researching the newspapers of my day and ask around to see if there were indeed any papergirls during my childhood. And if there is anything you’d like to share with me about any aspect of The Paperboy, or reading, or your own childhood memories, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you. Happy reading!