Earlier this year I finished listening to the audiobook of Ironman by Chris Crutcher. Last summer I feel in love with Crutcher’s books. I devoured Deadline, Angry Management, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Last year I used Staying Fat as a lit circle choice in my classroom and had students move on to other of Crutcher’s books after having such a positive experience with Staying Fat.
The point of my rambling love fest for the authoring genius of Chris Crutcher is that he has a lot of books, and not just a lot of books, he has a lot of books that students really like. This is a very good thing. It is great to see a student read a book and then immediately go look for another book by the same author. Authors like Crutcher help me get students hooked on reading, making it easier to help a kid move up their reading ladder to more challenging texts.
Because Crutcher has so many books it, makes sense that he has been writing for a long time. Ironman is one of his earlier books, and it is noticeable. It is not that his writing style lacks maturity, that the plot and characters are sophomoric, or any other condemning phrase used by book reviewers the world round. Ironman is dated. There is mention of a Walkman and cassette tapes and cell phones are noticeably absent from the character’s lives, among other small details. Knowing that the book was written over a decade ago explains away these concerns. However, that knowledge does not provide an answer to the question, “Will students be able to connect with the book?”
We all know that students need to be able to connect to what they are reading in order to have a meaningful reading experience. Will they be able to connect to students who are supposedly their peers, yet live in a world completely different from their own? This brings me to the question that inspired this post, “Should authors update their novels to keep them relevant to young (or really any) readers?” I want a student who is a fan of Chris Crutcher to read every book by Crutcher that is available, then I will give them books by Carl Deuker, Matt de la Pena, Walter Dean Myers, Sherman Alexie, I could go on and on and on. What I don’t want to happen is for a student to get stuck on a Crutcher book that is dated and subsequently stop reading.
I may be selling my students short. Maybe they can look beyond the differences between their lives and the lives of a high school student in the mid-90s. Or maybe, I need to make sure my students know their right to give up on a book that they don’t like.