Synopsis:

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Chris Crutcher is the critically acclaimed author of seven young adult novels and a collection of short stories, all of which were selected as ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Drawing on his experience as a family therapist and child protection specialist, Crutcher writes honestly about real issues facing teenagers today: making it through school, competing in sports, handling rejection and failure, dealing with parents. In King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, you will read about Chris Crutcher's life as a dateless, broken-toothed, scabbed-over, God-fearing dweeb, and once you have contemplated his ascension to the buckskin-upholstered throne of the King of the Mild Frontier, you will close your eyes, close this book and hold it to your chest, and say, "I, too, can be an author."

Chris Crutcher revisits his late 1950s and early 1960s youth in this funny yet poignant autobiography. From trying to impress a member of the girls' softball team (with disastrous dental results) to enduring the humiliation of his high school athletic club initiation, this memoir of the tricky road to adulthood is candid, disarming, hilarious, relevant, and never less than riveting.

In small-town Cascade, Idaho, where Crutcher grew up, boys played sports even if they had no interest or athletic ability. Crutcher often had neither, but that did not stop him from being recruited to play. He was not a natural young athlete, and his love of junk food, readily available from the vending machines at the family-owned gas station, further impeded his childhood and adolescent sports career. Eventually he did find his sports niche in swimming and, later in life, running.

Crutcher vividly describes a temper that was always waiting to trip him up even as it sustained him through some of the most memorable mishaps any child has survived. He discusses his career as a family therapist and the way incidents in his own life, including his quick temper, helped him relate to his clients. These incidents also found their way into his award-winning novels and short stories. But how did this guy, who lifted his brother's homework through the entire tenth grade, ever become a writer, not to mention the author of eight critically acclaimed books for young people? As in his novels, Crutcher's autobiography reflects real life and the hardships that go along with living and dying. The frontier may be mild, but the book is not. You will laugh, you will cry, you will remember. Harper Collins Publishers Reading Guide



Quotes from King of the Mild Frontier:

“It's easy to look back and say if things had been perfect, I could have accommodated all of those things into my life. But as a therapist I do not allow that word to be uttered in my office after the first session, because I believe the only reason for the existence of that word is to make us feel bad. It's the only word in the language (that I know of) that is defined in common usage by what can't be. It sets a vague standard that can't be met because it is never truly characterized. I prefer to think that we're all out here doing our best under the circumstances, looking at our world through the only eyes through which we can look at it: our own." - Chris Crutcher

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"A student asked me recently why somebody always dies in my books. I said, because somebody is always dying in my life. As they say, without death there is no story. Probably a better way to say that is, without loss there is no story, and death is simply the trump card of loss." - Chris Crutcher

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"At the beginning of my freshman year in high school I weighed 123 pounds, with all the muscle definition of a chalk outline. I couldn’t complete a push-up. I could run a hundred yards in approximately the amount of time it took me to get a haircut. And I was terrified. My brother, John, was a junior that year, at right around six feet and 230. He started at center on offense and middle linebacker on defense, and he had waited seventeen years to get me into an arena where he and his friends could pummel me without my bawling to my parents. And pummel me they did. I couldn’t have bawled to my parents anyway; to bawl you must breathe." - Chris Crutcher

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"It was clear that most of the time the temper was a product of self-contempt, aimed outward. The self-contempt came from fear, most often fear of incompetence (which is why my mother should have let me storm around in search of competence when I was still too small to do much damage)—a very difficult condition for a lot of men to admit to. Because the state of fear is such a difficult thing to identify and embrace, it usually gets expressed in anger. The bigger the fear, the great the self-contempt, therefore the bigger the anger." - Chris Crutcher

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"I know the answer to the question now, by the way: why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It came from my inner editor, that part of me that forces the wordy writer in me to dump ninety percent of all modifiers: Ask both questions again, minus the adjectives.

'Why do things happen to people?'

Just because." - Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher is the critically acclaimed author of seven young adult novels and a collection of short stories, all of which were selected as ALA Best Books for Young Adults. Drawing on his experience as a family therapist and child protection specialist, Crutcher writes honestly about real issues facing teenagers today: making it through school, competing in sports, handling rejection and failure, dealing with parents. In King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography, you will read about Chris Crutcher's life as a dateless, broken-toothed, scabbed-over, God-fearing dweeb, and once you have contemplated his ascension to the buckskin-upholstered throne of the King of the Mild Frontier, you will close your eyes, close this book and hold it to your chest, and say, "I, too, can be an author."Crutcher vividly describes a temper that was always waiting to trip him up even as it sustained him through some of the most memorable mishaps any child has survived. He discusses his career as a family therapist and the way incidents in his own life, including his quick temper, helped him relate to his clients. These incidents also found their way into his award-winning novels and short stories. But how did this guy, who lifted his brother's homework through the entire tenth grade, ever become a writer, not to mention the author of eight critically acclaimed books for young people? As in his novels, Crutcher's autobiography reflects real life and the hardships that go along with living and dying. The frontier may be mild, but the book is not. You will laugh, you will cry, you will remember.

For Teachers:

Discussion Questions


1. How does Crutcher’s coming-of-age in the 1960s differ from a teen’s coming-of-age today? What societal changes have ta ken place in the last fo rty years to change the definition of coming-of-age? Discuss the dangers today’s teens face versus the ones Crutcher faced.


2. Crutcher’s grandfather was a kind and caring man who often helped others when they needed it, no questions asked. He gave people “the benefit of the doubt.” Sometimes he was taken advantage of, but in most cases he was repaid for his kindness. What does it mean to give someone the benefit of the doubt? Would a teenage Crutcher have been given the benefit of the doubt by his high school principal or football coach? Have you ever been in a situation where you had to ask someone to give you the benefit of the doubt? Does it matter who you are, whether you are a football player, a cheerleader, a straight-A student, or the class clown? Are people as likely to give teens the benefi t of the doubt today as they were fifty years ago? Why or why not?


3. Crutcher admits to having problems controlling his temper in his younger years. What incidents did Crutcher experience as a young child that may have added fuel to the fire? How did his older brother, John, play into Crutcher’s anger? What is the “famous family story” his mother tells about how they cured his temper when he was two? Why did Crutcher ask her to stop telling the story?

4. Crutcher addresses real-life issues in his novels— teenage sexuality, abuse, race relations, suicide, etc. Why does his realistic approach to teen issues frequently raise the ire of the censor? Do you think his autobiography, King of the Mild Frontier, will be challenged? If so, for what reason?

5. Crutcher’s work as a family therapist dealing with emotionally and physically abused children has given him an unusual degree of insight into children and teenagers. What types of issues does Crutcher discuss in his autobiography? How does he use his own life experiences and those of his clients when writing his novels?

6. Janice Winthrop, one of the least popular girls in school, was voted Cascade High School carnival queen. Who instigated “rigging” the election so that Janice won? What was Janice’s response to her time in the spotlight? What did Crutcher learn from this experience?

7. Crutcher attended high school from 1960 to 1964, a time when girls’ competitive sports in schools did not exist. His high school principal went so far as to say, “Chris, you know girls aren’t emotionally equipped for competitive athletics”. Was this an accurate statement in the 1960s? Is it an accurate statement today? How has the public image of girls’ sports changed since the 1960s?

8. Crutcher re-created his swimming experience at Eastern Washington State in his novel Stotan!, which focuses on a group of high school swimmers. Crutcher defines a Stotan as “a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan: simply put, a tough guy who shows no pain”. The term was coined to describe the Australian runner Herb Elliot, a world-record holder in the mile run who dominated his event in the 1960 Olympics. Crutcher’s coach took the term and applied it to swimming. Which athletes of today could be considered Stotans? Why? Are all of today’s Stotan athletes male?

9. Crutcher writes about lettering in football and the C Club initiation he had to go through. At what grade level did Crutcher go through this secret initiation? Was this level typical? What events took place during this initiation? Were the coaches aware of what was going on? Is this type of initiation still happening today? Would it now be considered harassment?

10. Crutcher was not much of an athlete as a teen, but as an adult, playing basketball, swimming, and running are an integral part of his life. In the epilogue he states, “A sport has its own built-in integrity, doesn’t need an artificial one. Athletics carries its own set of truths, and those truths are diminished when manipulated by people with agendas”. What are the agendas to which Crutcher refers? How do these agendas affect high school athletics today?

11. When Crutcher was in upper elementary school he was enthralled with the series of Chip Hilton sports books by Clair Bee. In later years Crutcher realized that although the character Chip Hilton may re p resent something young readers can aspire to, “Chip also represents what can never be” What does Crutcher mean by this statement? How does it relate to the type of young adult novel Crutcher writes?

12. Crutcher was not much of a reader when he was a teenager. He only read when he had to and that was not often. What does Crutcher mean when he writes, “Serendipity did get me to read one book during my high school years”? Why had he not read before this? What was the book he read? Was the next school-assigned book as enjoyable?

13. Crutcher refers to a conversation with Reverend Grant, who asked him what his all-time favorite children’s book was. Crutcher answered that it was Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. The reverend then asked him if there was a lesson to be learned from this book. He also asked Crutcher if he believed that an elephant could hatch an egg. What was Reverend Grant trying to get Crutcher to realize about the Bible when he asked these questions?

14. Crutcher writes about a student at one of his school visits asking him why someone always dies in his books. What was Crutcher’s answer? Do you agree with him that “without loss there is no story”?


Greenwillow Books Reading Guide for King of the Mild Frontier