Shelf Life: Stories by the Book

Shelf Life: Stories by the Book

by Gary Paulsen

Newbery Honor author Gary Paulsen has long been an ardent supporter of books, reading, and literacy programs. To further the cause of ProLiteracy Worldwide, he asked prominent authors to write an original story; the only restriction was that each story was to include mention of a book. The result is this collection, Shelf Life: Stories by the Book. From


Newbery Honor author Gary Paulsen has long been an ardent supporter of books, reading, and literacy programs. To further the cause of ProLiteracy Worldwide, he asked prominent authors to write an original story; the only restriction was that each story was to include mention of a book. The result is this collection, Shelf Life: Stories by the Book. From Jennifer L. Holm's story of a girl on Mars trying desperately to return to Earth to Gregory Maguire's domestic intrigue; from Kathleen Karr's story of a thief in turn-of-the-century Chicago to M. T. Anderson's mysterious shipboard adventure; from A. LaFaye's tale of magical wonderment to Marion Dane Bauer's story of doing good, this volume provides a full range of reading for every taste. Other authors featured here are Joan Bauer, Ellen Conford, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Ellen Wittlinger.
Sales of this book benefit ProLiteracy Worldwide, an international network with more than 1,400 programs in the United States and 79 partner programs abroad, whose mission is to change lives through literacy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Introducing this anthology of 10 original stories, Paulsen (The Glass Caf , see below) declares, "I owe everything I am and everything that I will ever be to books." Those who share his passion will eagerly meet the protagonists here, young adults from the past, present and future who have been profoundly affected by particular books. In two of the selections, "Wet Hens" by Ellen Wittlinger and "The Good Deed" by Marion Dane Bauer, unlikely friendships are spawned by a common interest in a children's book. For the star of Gregory Maguire's "Tea Party Ends in Bloody Massacre, Film at 11," who would rather hide under the table with a horror story than meet the snooty, reactionary ladies who have ostensibly come to welcome her mother to the neighborhood, reading provides a much-needed form of solace. The sole survivor of a ghost ship featured in M.T. Anderson's "Barcarole for Paper and Bones" finds a way to rewrite an unsavory slice of history by creating his own fiction. Covering almost every genre of fiction, including mystery, SF, fantasy and realism, these well-crafted stories by familiar authors offer sharply drawn characterizations and intriguing premises. Other contributors include Joan Bauer, Margaret Peterson Haddix and A. LaFaye. Ages 10-14. (Aug.) FYI: Paulsen is donating all of his proceeds from sales of the book to ProLiteracy Worldwide, to which the publisher is also making a contribution. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Who would not love a collection of stories dedicated to promoting reading, celebrating books? The book jacket explains that Paulsen contacted young adult authors, asking them to contribute an original story to further the cause of ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that "believes that the ability to read, write, and speak English well is the key to living a full and free life in America." The only collection caveat was that submitted stories must include mention of a book. Readers of varied genres will delight in discovering how the books are woven into each story. Jennifer L. Holm's Follow the Water takes readers to a colony on Mars and introduces a lonely, reluctant adventurer who discovers her grandmother on Earth is dying and that her own health would be jeopardized should she return to Earth. The role of a book here is small, but poignant. Ellen Conford's In Your Hat reveals a smitten teen who avoids reading but is desperate for a book report. His quest places him in the middle of a questionable prank. Perhaps this reviewer's favorite story is Margaret Peterson Haddix's Escape, which focuses on family trips to a bookstore to select books to send to a father long in prison. The honest, reflective narrator deserves a novel of her own. Each story features memorable adolescent narrators and characters, and compelling situations. Other contributing authors include Ellen Wittlinger, Gregory Maguire, A. LaFaye, Kathleen Karr, Marion Dane Bauer, Joan Bauer, and M. T. Anderson. Each author comments on the roles of books or reading in his or her life. The volume includes information about adult literacy, as well as a dynamic autobiographical introduction by Paulsen, who discussesthe role that books have played in rescuing him from troubling life experiences. Although aimed at middle readers, the stories might also appeal to older, reluctant readers. Only an additional story by Paulsen could improve this collection. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Simon and Schuster, 192p,
— Patti Sylvester Spencer
Children's Literature
Gary Paulsen's latest project is an anthology for children in grades five through nine. In his introduction, Paulsen explains the anthology's aim: to keep children's interest in reading alive by showcasing ten stories in which reading positively impacts the protagonists' lives. Paulsen's goal—to create a small, meaningful anthology—is very admirable, but it is not without serious flaws. The greatest flaw is his failure to make a strong connection with any one target audience. Written to parents and teachers, the introduction leaves out children as if they were not reading the book. A disconnected feel pervades the stories that have no particular order, grouped neither by genre nor by appropriate age group. I found it difficult to switch genres and age-level from one story to the next: while story four features a tenth-grade boy who works mowing lawns, story five features a much younger girl, Henrietta, who hides under the table when company comes. Henrietta, who learns the power of words by reading aloud to company, could serve as a role model for fifth-grade students, but young readers may be alienated before finding her story on page 67. Two extraneous stories, "What's a Fellow to Do?" and "Follow the Water," augment the text's disconnected feel by hardly mentioning any impact of books and by straying from Paulsen's theme. The anthology does, however, contain a few gems. Ellen Conford's combination of realistic, mischievous characters and unexpected plot twists make her story, "In Your Hat," impressively funny. Margaret Peterson Haddix's "Escape" uses the uncommon experiences of having a father in prison and being homeless to capture a common emotion, anger towarduncontrollable circumstances. Both stories' book motif compliments Paulsen's theme. The anthology's best piece, A. LaFaye's "Testing, Testing, 1...2...3," also uses a book motif. By making words appear in a magic book that a witch for whom he works has given to him a boy who fails standardized tests finds his own voice and begins excelling. The story works so well it leaves the reader hoping for a second, albeit improved, edition. 2003, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Ages 10 to 14.
—Kelsey Dale Bickers
School Library Journal
Gr 5-10-To benefit ProLiteracy Worldwide, Paulsen has assembled a stellar lineup of children's and young adult authors to contribute original short stories in which books change lives. Paulsen's emotional introduction explains how books turned his life around for the better. It is an excellent preface to a diverse, entertaining collection. Jennifer L. Holm's intriguing "Follow the Water" features the first teenager on Mars, who compares her life on the Martian colony to the description of the Red Planet from an old science-fiction novel. In "Barcarole for Paper and Bones," M. T. Anderson created an intricate mystery about the written records of a deserted ship. Joan Bauer, Marion Dane Bauer, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Kathleen Karr, A. LaFaye, Gregory Maguire, and Ellen Wittinger also contributed stories that display a wide range of emotions in a variety of genres. There is a selection in this collection that will appeal to almost every reading taste.-Edward Sullivan, White Pine School, TN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The ten original stories-prefaced by Paulsen's cogent memoir-in this pro-bono gathering offer universal themes in a variety of settings. The authors were asked only to include references to books or reading. The results: a jokester tries, with devastating consequences, to fake a book report in Ellen Conford's "In Your Hat"; playacting inspired by Alice McLerran's Roxaboxen helps to heal a feud in Ellen Wittlinger's "Wet Hens"; Marion Dane Bauer compares an assigned "Good Deed" to a voluntary one; Jennifer L. Holm's "Follow the Water" features an unwilling young emigrant-to Mars. Older readers will respond to M.T. Anderson's weird and eerie nautical episode, and Gregory Maguire's tongue-in-cheek encounter between society snobs and a decidedly non-average child. Paulsen's proceeds, plus a percentage from the publisher, will go to ProLiteracy Worldwide; the stodgy intro by that organization's president is the only clinker here. (Short stories. 11-15)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt


Gary Paulsen

Books saved my life.

First reading them, then writing them.

As surely as my lead dog Cookie pulled me from the bottom of a lake after I fell through the ice, books are the reason I survived my miserable childhood. As certainly as my sloop Scallywag has safely taken me through storms and huge seas, books have sustained me as an adult.

The awfulness of my childhood has been well covered. But I remember two women who took the time to help me when I was a boy and both women, not so coincidentally, helped me with books.

Because I lived from the age of seven to when I was nearly ten in the Philippine Islands and had a private military tutor, I had never been to a public school.

We came back to the States when I was just short of ten and moved to Washington D.C. so my father, who was in the army, could work at the Pentagon. My mother promptly enrolled me in public school, took me there the first morning, handed me over to a teacher, and left.

I was painfully shy, terrified at the mob of kids and could not go into the room. It was an old school and at the back of the classroom, there was a cloakroom, a shallow closet the width of the room but closed in except for one door. I went in the closet and took my coat off with the rest of the children but then I could not leave, simply could not make my legs move to walk out into the classroom. I was too frightened.

There were many things the teacher could have done wrong. She could have forced me out, dragged me into the classroom, could have made me leave. Instead she did everything right.

She looked into the closet, saw me sitting back in the corner and disappeared for a moment and said something to the children. Then she came back into the closet and sat down next to me in the corner and put her arm around me.

She had a book, a picture book. I cannot recall the contents of the book except that it had a horse's head on the cover and she sat next to me quietly for a time and read to me softly and let me turn the pages. I was lost in the quiet of the cloakroom, lost in the book so deeply that everything else fell away.

After a time, it could have been ten minutes or an hour or my whole life, she asked me if I thought I could come out into the room and take my seat at a desk. I nodded and she stood and took my hand and led me into the classroom.

A few years later, when I was thirteen, another woman, a librarian, gave me another book and I consider every good thing that has ever happened to me since then a result of that woman handing me that book.

I'd been wandering the streets of the small Minnesota town we lived in one bitter winter evening, waiting for the drunks in the bars to get juiced. I sold newspapers, trying to scrape together a little money so that I could buy better clothes, believing, as kids do, that the right clothes might somehow lift me from my wretchedly unpopular social life. And if I waited for the men who hung around in the bars to get a few drinks in them, I could hustle them for extra change.

I stopped in the library to warm up. The librarian noticed me, called me over, and asked if I wanted a library card. Then she handed me a card with my name on it and gave me a book.

Later that night back at home, or what passed for home — a crummy apartment in the bad part of town — I took the book, a box of crackers, and a jar of grape jelly down to the basement, to a hideaway I'd created behind the furnace where someone had abandoned a creaky old armchair under a bare lightbulb.

I sat in the corner, eating jelly-smeared crackers, plodding through the book. It took me forever to read. I was such a poor reader that, by the time I'd finished a page, I'd have forgotten what I'd read on the page before and I'd have to go back. That first book must have taken me over a month to finish, hunched over the pages late at night.

I wish I could remember the name of that first book — I can't even remember what it was about. What I do remember about that evening at the library was that it marked the first of many nights the librarian would give me a book. "Here," she'd say, handing me a few battered volumes. "I think you'll like these." She would hand select books that she thought would interest me — Westerns, mysteries, survival tales, science fiction, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I would take them home to hide in the basement and read, I'd bring them back and we'd talk about them, and she'd give me more books.

But she wasn't just giving me books, she was giving me...everything. She gave me the first hint I'd ever had in my entire life that there was something other than my drunken parents screaming at each other in the kitchen. She handed me a world where I wasn't going to get beaten up by the school bullies. She showed me places where it didn't hurt all the time.

I read terribly at first but as I did more of it, the books became more a part of me and within a short time they gave me a life, a look at life outside myself that made me look forward instead of backward.

Years later, after I'd graduated from high school, joined the army, gotten married, had children, and made a career as an electronics engineer working in satellite tracking, books once again changed the course of my life. This time, though, I wrote them.

I was sitting in a satellite tracking station at about nine o'clock at night when suddenly I knew that I had to be a writer. In that instant, I gave up or lost everything that had made up my life until that point — my work, my family, certainly my earning potential.

Writing had suddenly become me.

I stood up from the console, handed in my security badge, and headed for Hollywood. I had to go to a place where I knew writers were; I had to be near them, had to learn from them. I got a job as a proofreader of a men's magazine, going from earning $500 a week to $400 a month, and apprenticed myself to a couple of editors.

These two men gave me writing assignments, and in order to continue receiving their help, I had to write an article, a chapter of a book, or a short story every night, every single night, no exceptions, no excuses, for them to critique. If I missed a single day, they would no longer help me.

I have been writing for over thirty years, spent most of it starving, trying to make it work for me, in my mind; trying to make words come together in the right patterns, movements, what some have called the loops and whorls of the story dance, and it has always been hard. It is, sometimes, still difficult. But I love writing more now, I think, than I ever have. The way the stories dance, the rhythms and movements of them, is grandly exciting to me.

I remember the first acceptance letter, the first time a publisher told me my writing was worthy of publication, the first after many, many rejections. There will never be another first like this one; not first love nor first hope nor first time never, no never like this.

Dear author: We have decided to publish your book.

Can you imagine? Your life, your work, your hopes and thoughts and songs and breath, we have decided to publish your book. We have decided to publish you. Such words thunder, burn into your mind, your soul.

Since then I have written every day and I have told many stories. Stories of love and death and cold and heat and ice and flame, stories sad and stories happy and stories of laughter and tears and places soft and hard, of dogs and the white-blink of arctic ice, stories of great men and beautiful women and souls and devils and gods, stories of lost dreams and found joys and aches and torture and great rolling hills and towering storms and things quick and hot and slow and dull, stories of graves and horses, pigs and kings, war and the times between wars, stories of children's cheeks and the soft hair at a woman's temple when it is moist, stories of rage and spirit and spit and blood and bodies on fences and hay so sweet you could eat the grass.

I write from my life, from what I see and hear and smell and feel, from personal inspection at zero altitude and I write because it is, simply, all that I am, because in the end I do not want to do any other thing as much as I want to write. But the force behind it, the thing that pushes me to write, that wakes me at night with story ideas, that makes the hair on the back of my neck go up when a story works, that causes my breath to stop and hold with a sentence that comes right, and that makes coming to the computer or the pad of paper every morning with a cup of tea and a feeling of wonderful newness and expectations, the engine that drives me to write is, surely, love.

I personally want just two things. I want to write and I want as many young readers as possible to see what I write. That's it. To write and to have readers.

I work all the time. I get up at four thirty in the morning, meditate for half an hour, then start working. Not always writing, but working. If I'm not writing, I read and study and write until I fall asleep at night.

I owe everything I am and everything that I will ever be to books.

The stories in this collection range from fantasy to farce, from realism to science fiction, but they all have something in common: books that change lives.

Ellen Conford's "In Your Hat" introduces a practical joker who gets his comeuppance when the girl of his dreams decides to help him with his book report.

In "Escape," by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a chance encounter with one of the volunteers at the homeless shelter where Isabel has been living with her mother makes Isabel consider that there might be a reason why her mother spends so much money on trashy novels.

In Jennifer L. Holm's "Follow the Water," a girl who never wanted to go to Mars with her scientist parents in the first place has to make the hardest decision she's ever faced, just when things seem like they might start to get better.

"Testing, Testing, 1...2...3," by A. LaFaye, shows a boy who is falling behind in school until he finally gets to learn things his own way, thanks to a magic book that the mysterious woman next door gives him.

In "Tea Party Ends in Bloody Massacre, Film at 11," by Gregory Maguire, a decidedly unladylike girl wins over her mother's stuffy visitors with the help of a book — even if the story she tells has nothing to do with the book she's holding.

The hero of Kathleen Karr's "What's a Fellow to Do?" is a young pickpocket who plans to make a fortune at the 1893 Columbian Exposition of Chicago. What he ends up finding there, however — an abandoned baby, just like baby Moses in the Bible — might just turn his life around.

"Wet Hens," by Ellen Wittlinger, tells how a favorite childhood book creates a bond between two girls when one of them gets into a fight with her best friend.

In Marion Dane Bauer's "The Good Deed," Heather's volunteer assignment — to read to a blind woman all summer — seems like a job to do, until the girl across the hall makes Heather realize that helping people is more than just a matter of duty.

"Barcarole for Paper and Bones," by M. T. Anderson, is an intricate puzzle of a story: a mysteriously deserted ship makes those who find it hope that the ship's written records will make some sense of the situation — but in fact, just the opposite proves true.

In Joan Bauer's "Clean Sweep," a girl and her brother unearth a book from a bitter old woman's childhood when they clean out her attic, which leads the woman to reconnect with a sister she hasn't spoken to in years.

It was and still is a wonder for me, what books are and how they become part of a reader's mind and soul. I thank all of the writers I've read and all of the readers who've read my books for allowing me the unending thrill of being a part of this crazy dance of words. And I wish the same kind of joy for everyone who holds a copy of this book in their hands.

Sales of this book benefit Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc. (LVA), a national network of over 330 locally based affiliates supported by state and national staff, whose mission is to change lives through literacy.

ProLiteracy Worldwide copyright © 2003 by Gary Paulsen

Meet the Author

Gary Paulsen is one of the most honored writers of contemporary literature for young people. He has written more than two hundred books for adults and young people, and is the author of three Newbery Honor titles: Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room. He divides his time between New Mexico, Alaska, and on the Pacific.

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