March 10

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Brave Storytellers by Beth Vrabel

“I like that she did things on her own.”

 

This was the feedback I recently was gifted from a young reader about Nellie Murrow, the eleven-year-old protagonist in The Newspaper Club.

 

When Nellie moves to a small New England town, she misses the bustle of the city. But Nellie is the daughter of two journalists, so she grabs her reporter’s notebook and heads to the park. If she knows this sleepy town’s stories, maybe she’ll find her place within it.

 

Nellie is the brave kid I pretended to be when I was a child. The youngest of three daughters, I never felt like I quite measured up. I didn’t have my oldest sister’s composure and grace. I lacked my other sister’s charm and confidence. By nature of my age and rank, I wasn’t nearly as informed about what was happening in the world. And my whole world was my family.

 

So, I pretended, for as far back as I can remember, to be a writer—specifically, a journalist. There’s a picture of me at age four, holding a microphone on Christmas morning: “Breaking news: Amy has more presents than me.” As I got older, I always toted a notebook for scribbling down observations I’d turn into books of family stories to give as gifts. This way, I could wedge myself into the story, find my place within it, and use my voice.

 

That notebook gave me purpose. Made me brave.

 

It was something I could do on my own.

 

This generation of kids is the first in one hundred years to grow up during a global pandemic. There are no models for how to be brave, how to be independent, how to be a kid during Covid 19. And yet, they’re doing it.

 

As someone who found her own safe, pandemic-free childhood to be full of mystery and confusion, I am in awe of today’s children. They’re adjusting—often faster than the adults around them—and they’re doing amazing things.

 

Take, for example, nine-year-old Lily Jennings of Virginia. Lily is the editor-in-chief of Kingston Chase Kids News, in which the third grader, along with her little sister and a team of recruited reporters in her community, cover stories, ranging from bird watching to making friendship bread to building on serialized fiction.

 

Or Riley Ahlgren, a fourth grader in Connecticut, who put painted rocks with happy messages along hiking trails this summer. When it was too cold to play outside, she helped organize a drive to uplift healthcare workers with homemade cards, and the project evolved to being schoolwide.

 

Each town has young people like Lily and Riley, who have figured out a way to stay informed and stay within the stories around them.

 

In the second Newspaper Club book, Cubs Get the Scoop, a shocking event stirs the adults to swoop in. Soon the cub reporters must figure out a way to prove they’re capable and worthy of running their newspaper. They have to fight to be the storytellers.

 

I’m so grateful for the caregivers, educators, community leaders and librarians who continue to offer space for all storytellers, especially those for whom a blank page might not seem like an invitation. Teachers such as my niece, who builds in time for her remote class to share and vent. She doesn’t often get a response, but one day a student clicked on his camera and showed her his pet bunny. The next week, another introduced her siblings. Those small moments forge powerful connections.

 

Someday, when we look back on this time, we’re going to be astonished by our kids’ strength. How they adapted, how they persevered, how they stayed connected.  When they tell the stories from this time, they all might not have bold, world-changing moments. But each of them is a hero.

 

And while each of us sometimes feels like we’re facing this strange time on our own, we’re going to get through it, together.

 

Beth Vrabel is author of the Cybils’-nominated Caleb and Kit, ILA award-winning A Blind Guide to Stinkville, JLG-selection A Blind Guide to Normal, The Reckless Club, the Pack of Dorks series, and The Newspaper Club. She lives in Connecticut with her family.

 

The second book in The Newspaper Club series, The Cubs Get the Scoop, goes into paperback this week! To celebrate, we will be gifting three commenters a set of books 1 and 2 of The Newspaper Club in paperback. Leave a comment and enter to win!