This post at the Horn Book blog made me do a double take. No, not about the idea of Roger Sutton singing "If I Had a Hammer," but that Community Auditions was a real show. As far as I was concerned until now, Community Auditions was a show Lois Lowry made up so that Bambi Browne could have a resume in my very favorite Anastasia Krupnik book, Anastasia's Chosen Career.
This is the time for me to stop and tell you a little about my childhood.
I lived all my life in Niles, Illinois, a town of about 35,000 people that borders the north side of Chicago. It is home to a really great public library, the Bradford Group, a 1/2 scale replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and like most areas of Chicagoland, corrupt politicians. I didn't do much traveling when I was growing up due to lack of family funds. I was 17 when I saw New York for the first time. I was 23 when I took my first trip west of the Mississippi. I've never been to Boston. As far as I was concerned, all high schools in books looked like the one I attended...which looks like not a lot of other schools out there. Growing up, I also raided that library for a LOT of books. I read all the Ramona books, all the Anastasia Krupnik books, everything Ruth Chew and E.L. Konigsburg ever wrote, most of what Jerry Spinelli wrote. Know what all of those books have in common?
None of them take place in the Midwest.
When you're learning new vocabulary words, your teachers always tell you to put them in context to figure out their meanings. That's what I did with all the unfamiliar places and things that showed up in my books; I put them in the context of the world I lived in. Klickitat Street looked like the street where I lived. Peter Hatcher's apartment looked like my grandparents' condo at Devon and Sheridan. Linda Fischer lived in my friend Jaime's house. The Metropolitan Museum of Art became the Field Museum. Rereading these books as an adult, I find that I love them just the same but I get more out of them because I'm now familiar with so many more places. What made all these places start to click for me?
You have to understand, we have a great many wonderful things in the Midwest but we do not have Tastykakes. Those are strictly an Eastern thing. Growing up, my experience with butterscotch were the little hard candies my dad liked to keep around. When I read Maniac Magee as a kid and came to the part where Maniac had butterscotch Krimpets for breakfast, I thought to myself, "That doesn't sound very nutritious," and moved on. Years and years later, I was at my in-laws' house in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, and opened their bread drawer. I just about fell over when I saw, staring up at me in the most innocent of innocent ways, a box of butterscotch Krimpets. They looked like Hostess cakes! Why had no one ever told me this? My husband, whose entire family lived in eastern PA and central NJ, had quite the field day with my cries of surprise. Then again, he's never known the pleasure of Matt's Chocolate Chip Cookies, which are nearly impossible to find outside Illinois and Wisconsin.
(Jerry Spinelli was very nice when I told him the Butterscotch Krimpets story last year.)
All this said, I think we need more YA books set in the Midwest. It's not that none exist, don't get me wrong. I loved Dairy Queen, Teen Idol, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo, The Year of Ice and more. But to look at YA literature today one would think that all teenagers, and certainly all teenagers with any degree of style, live east of Pittsburgh and west of Phoenix (unless they live in Ohio, which seems to be the recent go-to Midwestern state). I'd love to see a Gossip-Girl type series set at New Trier. I've contemplated writing a YA novel set at my high school at the time of the John Wayne Gacy murders because several of my teachers taught his victims. (I'm not writing it because I'm a much better blogger and critic than I am a writer.) We didn't live in Seattle, but we listened to grunge. We didn't live in New York, but we read and loved Sassy. And although Rush claimed that "the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dream of youth," we were not entirely without interesting things to do and say and think.
So where's the love for the Midwest, o writers of children's literature?