Popular author Chris Crutcher visits pupils, signs books at Aviano schools
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — There aren’t a lot of 60-year-old men who have teenage girls come up to them, introduce themselves and say: “You’re really awesome.”
Chris Crutcher is one of them.
The popular author of a series of books for young adults visited with pupils at the high school and middle school Tuesday and signed books afterward in the base library.
He wasn’t exactly treated like a rock star. But his audience of about 30 fans did appear to be enthusiastic.
“He’s one of the few speakers we’ve had come to the school that had everyone’s attention,” said Taryn Coullier, a ninth-grader waiting to get a copy of “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes” signed.
“You’re really awesome,” said ninth-grader Jhameike Hampton, addressing the author a few minutes later.
Not everyone shares that opinion. Many of Crutcher’s books have been banned from school districts or libraries across the States. Critics cite story lines that feature topics such as sex, suicide, homosexuality, racial tensions and child abuse.
Karen Muller, an English teacher at the high school, said she is well aware of the criticism of Crutcher’s work. But she and fellow teacher Elizabeth Baldwin spent about two years working to get the author to come to Aviano. Thanks to bake sales, a garage sale, selling doughnuts in the morning and several donations by organizations at the base, they finally came up with $4,500 to get him to Aviano.
Even children who resist picking up books tend to get into Crutcher’s work, Muller said. In fact, Aviano decided to make reading one of his books a requirement for ninth-graders this year.
“The thing the kids like about him is that they see one another in the books,” she said. “The characters talk like they do and act like they do and that’s what gets him into trouble sometimes.”
Crutcher, a licensed therapist who lives in Spokane, Wash., said he doesn’t intentionally try to create controversy.
“One of the worst things about banning a book, is that, so often, it gets taken out of the hands of the kids who really need to read it the most,” he said.
He said 14 years as a therapist have given him plenty of material to work with. He still has a few clients and serves on a child advocacy board, but spends a lot of his time writing or traveling to promote his books these days.
His first book, “Running Loose,” was published in 1983. So he didn’t act surprised when a few of those children getting a book signed said it would be given to their mother. He said his latest, “Deadline,” is supposed to hit stores in September.
Crutcher said he uses material from his own childhood — his father was a B-17 pilot whose military career was winding down around the time he was born — as well as his therapy work to generate ideas for the books. He doesn’t expect anyone to recognize himself in the books, though he said many people have similar experiences.
“You don’t have to believe it happened,” he said in a response to a question during his middle school address. “But you have to believe it could have happened.”
Crutcher said he wanted to encourage children to pursue their dreams, whether it was writing or something else.
“If there’s a message in any of my books, it’s probably: In the end, you’re the author of your own life.”