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Neil Riley didn’t want to become a teacher. He went to Law School bearing dreams and ambitions of making decent money and enjoying a good life, but the Vietnam War got in the way. It is 1969, Riley is a healthy man in his early 20’s, and the only honorable way of escaping his duty of fighting for the country is to become a schoolteacher in New York City. The city needed teachers. He gets the job and starts working at Grant Elementary School, a tough district Uptown, not knowing exactly what to expect of his temporary new career. His plan is to stay there until he is 26, the cutting age for boarding a military aircraft headed to Asia. Then he would be free to do whatever he wants. In the meantime he has to learn how to deal with a 6th Grade class, populated with a distinctive and very difficult group of children, from all sorts of rough backgrounds. The teaching job proves to be much more complicated than what he expected and he has to fight a different kind of war inside classroom 6-306.
“I’ve been told (Vietnam) it’s my war”, he says. Little wars are fought every day inside American homes and schools. Neil Riley’s journey will be a hard path to understand the world around him and to transform other people’s lives. The country spends millions on Vietnam, but text books arrive just in the end of October, there’s no special ed for kids who need it, and Neil uses money from his own pockets to buy supplies for his pupils. Every child in his classroom has a particular universe and each one resonates in Neil’s mind and soul, igniting engines for deep changes inside himself. His colleagues at school and his love interest, CC, complete a constellation of nicely crafted characters. The author’s elegant prose and precise dialogues scores the novel an A+.
With the Children is Henry Webb’s first novel. He is part of the community of writers at Sarah Lawrence College – The Writing Institute (New York), where he edited a collection of stories in 2008, Thursday’s Group , and also participated in several public readings showing excerpts of this novel. He was born in Florida, published the story A Sparrow Falls in 1972 on the extinct Mixer Magazine, and also joined the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.