The Side-Yard Superhero by Rick Niece is a delightful book that takes you back to small town living in simpler days when you knew your neighbors and you could leave your front door unlocked for the paper boy to deliver your newspaper. When Rick was just four, he moved with his family to the small town of DeGraff, Ohio (population of about 900). He found a sense of community and friendship there that solidified who he was and his experiences shaped his character. When Rick was 9 years old, he became a paperboy which were coveted jobs at this time as there were only 4 paper routes in DeGraff. He kept this job for 9 years until he left to go to college at The Ohio State University. During those 9 years, he got to know the neighbors along his route and made many special friendships. The most important one was with Bernie Jones, a young boy with cerebral palsy who was confined to a wheelchair. Bernie would wait for Rickie, as he called out to him in his side yard every day he delivered the newspaper. Rickie would read Dick Tracy and other comics to Bernie daily. I was impressed at how much compassion and empathy Rickie had as a young boy with Bernie. This was a true friendship and it may have been the only friendship that Bernie had ever had. Rickie became close to many customers over the years and they were all sad to see him turn over the route to his brother when he went off to college.
As a reader, you get the feel of this small town life during the 50's and 60's and Mr. Niece shares many stories and experiences from his childhood. I enjoyed the stories related to his years as a paperboy who delivered the paper 6 days a week accompanied by his faithful dalmatian dog, Lady. These were the days when you actually knew your paper boy and left the envelopes with your payment inside your screen door. One of my favorite stories was when Rickie and his friends took Bernie in his wheelchair to the town carnival. Bernie experienced the fun house, the food and had a blast with the kids as any kid would experience at a carnival. There was even a surprise in store for him that I won't give away.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It reminded me of my younger years growing up in the 60's and 70's when my older brother was a paper boy. We also grew up in Ohio and I still live there today. I would often help him fold and deliver the papers and accompany him on his route as he collected payment from his customers with his handy dandy coin changer. It made me wish that young children today and my own son would have opportunities and freedoms such as being a paper boy. Also, that they would have a greater sense of community and maybe even learn more compassion through these type of experiences.
The Side-Yard Superhero, is described by the author as "Automythography" this is defined as : A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact. It is also considered book one of a trilogy. Mr Niece is currently the President of the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, Arkansas. He lives with his wife, Sherée, and they are the proud parents of 675 students. You can read more about Rick Niece, here