Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Where Are The Village Criminals In Contemporary Kids' Lit?

While on that retreat that I will be fondly recalling for months to come, I read another terrific book by Castle Freeman Jr (I've mentioned him before), this one called Go With Me. Go With Me was about three unlikely people banding together against what a minor character calls the "village criminal."

Now, Freeman's books are set in Vermont, and though they are contemporary books, they deal with a Vermont I knew growing up, not the arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois Vermont I experience while on retreat. Not that there's anything wrong with arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois. It's just my people are not arty-farty, bohemian bourgeois. We're the kind of people who say, "arty farty" (though not so much bohemian bourgeois).

I mention all that to explain why the "village criminal" thing struck a chord with me. I knew of village criminals when I was a kid. There were a couple of teenage village criminal drug dealers when I was a teenager and a truly legendary guy a few towns over who I believe was what would be described as a life-long offender of the petty theft type. My Uncle Mickey went to school with him.

A village criminal seems like a perfect character for a gothic or, perhaps comic, kids' book. But I can't think of any.

This may be because generic suburbs are the settings for so many kids' books, and in all the years I've lived in suburbia, I can't recall hearing about any village criminals. Crime isn't reserved for the "village criminal" in these parts. Town hall and insurance company employees are always getting arrested for embezzlement here, to say nothing of doctors ripping off Medicare if not committing far more unsavory crimes against their patients. We had some counterfeiters at the high school a few years ago. They were all nice eighth grade boys from good families, which was not how the village criminals I remember would be described.

I suspect village criminals don't appear in contemporary kids' books because no one would believe a town would produce just one.

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