Prather’s Pick: ‘Pay It Forward,’ the young readers edition
September 30, 2014
This week's book for readers ages 8 to 12 is very special. It's the young readers edition of "Pay It Forward." The adult version of the novel, same title, was written by author Catherine Ryan Hyde 14 years ago. That book was an international best-seller, and it became a major motion picture.
In 2001, the adult "Pay It Forward" was chosen for the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults List and thus became a book that high school students started reading. So now Hyde has modified the original version of the novel so that it's suitable for young readers. According to the author, this 2014 version is "a bit shorter and more appropriate for the young reader." The characters are the same. But the ending is "a little different."
The leading character in the novel is a 12-year-old boy named Trevor who perhaps can be described as an ordinary junior high school kid except that in some ways he isn't ordinary at all. He lives with his mother, Arlene, who works two jobs to keep things going, especially since her husband and Trevor's father has been missing for months and months. His wrecked pickup truck was found, after it rolled a few times, but Ricky never has been found.
One day, something remarkable happens. Reuben St. Clair moves to Atascadero, California, to teach social studies. It just so happens that he is Trevor's teacher. Most people have trouble getting past Reuben's face because he was injured in Vietnam. He wears an eye patch because he had to undergo 11 surgeries to repair his face. The place where his eye had been is covered over with tissue grafts, so he has no eye at all.
The kids are all curious about Mr. St. Clair's eye patch, but when he begins to talk, they tend to get used to it. That first day they are interested in an extra-credit assignment that he writes in big letters on the blackboard: THINK OF AN IDEA FOR WORLD CHANGE AND PUT IT INTO ACTION.
There's mixed reaction in the classroom, but Trevor knows that he's going to give the assignment a try. So he thinks about the $35 per week that he makes. He thinks he can afford to give it to someone who needs something, like food or something to wear. He figures that if he helps three people out in this manner and each of these people help three apiece, well, pretty soon there will be a movement of kindness and goodwill all over the world — in fact, according to his calculator, at the 17 level, it could involve 43,046,721 people.
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So Trevor puts an ad in the paper and 48 people show up. He explains to them that he will do a good deed for people and ask them to "pay it forward" to three others. The people are skeptical, all except one named Jerry. Imagine Trevor's mother being awakened by her son, who asks if Jerry can take a shower. Later, when Arlene wakes up and realizes what Trevor is doing, she marches right down to the school and meets with Reuben.
But this is only the beginning. Next, Trevor helps Mrs. Greenberg. On the day to report on the extra-credit assignment at school, Trevor says he's disappointed that things aren't going as planned. But he doesn't intend to give up. He starts again.
Down the line, Curtis Chandler, an investigative reporter, gets a call from a police officer, a friend. The police officer says something's going on. The number of shootings has dropped by 80 percent. A man named Mitchell Scoggins says there's a "movement" going on. And Chris traces it back to "Pay it Forward." There's a lot more to this story.
This outstanding book is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2014). The hardcover book costs $17.99, or you can find it with the new books at the Moffat County Library.
There is a curriculum guide at the back of this book, complete with discussion questions. There's also information about the Pay It Forward Foundation, created in 2002 by the author.