It's a bad sign when a book published in 1996 already conjures up feelings of nostalgia. Remember paperboys? How kids could earn a little extra money by getting that crack-of-dawn delivery job that put a few more coffers in their pockets? Nowadays, many paperboys have been replaced with adults. Adults with cars, no less. Looking back at Dav "Captain Underpants" Pilkey's Caldecott Honor title, "The Paperboy", the reader is transported to those ethereal moments that exist for some kids even today just before the sun rises. It's a story about a boy, his dog, his job, and that's about it. No grand statements or surprising moments. Just a lovely look at a once common suburban ideal.
On the title page we see a dull gray truck leaving the loading dock of the Morning Star Gazette in (what most of us would call) the dead of night. It makes its delivery of a stack of newspapers at one of the many houses in a particular suburb. The first sentence sets the mood perfectly. "The mornings of the paperboy are still dark and they are always cold even in the summer". A boy forces himself out of his warm bed and makes some breakfast for himself and his corgi dog. After bundling the papers up, the kid and his faithful companion make the familiar route and think their private thoughts. Just as the sun is rising, boy and dog have finished their job and they return home just as everyone else in the family is waking up. The paperboy and his pet, however, climb back into the bed, "which is still warm" and dream of soaring through the night sky.
The book records each small action that the paperboy accomplishes with a small unassuming note of triumph. Sentences like, "It's hard to ride a bike when you are loaded down with newspapers. But the paperboy has learned how to do this, and he is good at it". Also, getting out of a warm bed to do a job is exceedingly difficult to accomplish sometimes, "but they do". Kids don't have to ford rivers or climb mountains to be brave. Just making yourself to do something uncomfortable or unpleasant can be heroism enough. Pilkey recognizes this and celebrates it with understated aplomb.
I loved the fact that the dog in this book was a corgi, by the way. There just aren't enough corgis in children's literature, gol durn it! Aside from Tasha Tudor's books ("A Time To Keep" comes to mind), corgis are the most ignored picture book dogs out there. This is hard to figure when you consider just how cute and cuddly they are. They're the world's only permanent puppies! So if you happen to be a children's illustrator and you feel you have a certain amount of clout in the publishing world (ho ho!), get the word out: We Need More Corgis.
The obvious companion to this book, right off the top of my head, is "The Adventures of Sparrowboy", by Brian Pinkney. In fact, if Mr. Pinkney weren't such an original author in his own right, I'd be mighty suspicious regarding all the similarities between these two books. "Sparrowboy" follows an unassuming paperboy who acquires the power of flight. "The Paperboy" follows an unassuming paperboy who at the end of the book dreams of flight. Both are African-American young men who live in suburban neighborhoods. If you're more interested in doing a full-on paperboy storytime, also consider Don Brown's, "Kid Blink Beats the World". That's a kind of paperboy heroism the likes of which we'll probably never seen again. "Sparrowboy" and "Kid Blink" would be obvious pairings, but the tone of "The Paperboy" has far more in common with Jane Yolen's well-regarded, "Owl Moon". Both books revel in the feeling children have when they are out in the mysterious night and no one else is awake. If you're thinking about having a storytime that considers the natural mysteries that come when the sun is gone, these two are obvious companions. Read alone, however, "The Paperboy" will still extend its quiet bravery to the children that read it. Even if they've never seen a paperboy before, they'll understand how great it can sometimes be to have a job of one's very own