Essay: The Second Grade New Redux

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

Words by Sloane Citron

From a young age, I was attracted to words and pictures on paper. Whether a magazine, catalog or newspaper, I would study the publications with great intensity, strongly attracted to the design, symmetry and words captured through the printing process. Where this preoccupation came from, I’m not sure.

My father was a surgeon and my mother a concert violinist, so nothing there. I did have an uncle who was the head of an advertising firm back east and a grandfather (who passed before I was born) who spent all his money on artwork and relished the creatives among us. I suppose I was bequeathed some gene somewhere that led me to a love of the creative process and all things printed.

In any case, when I was a child approaching my eighth birthday, I got the idea to start a newspaper for and about my second grade class, taught by the sweet, caring Mrs. Fabian. Like many of us, I remember more about her and this class than I do about my entire high school classroom experiences.

Named (and I realize this wasn’t very original, but I gather I can have some slack with but seven years under my belt) The Second Grade News, I told Mrs. Fabian about my project and requested her help. Specifically, I asked her to supply me with mimeograph sheets and to run them off for me on a weekly basis, all to which she readily agreed. For those of you who do not remember Kennedy being shot, mimeographs were blue, ink-smelling sheets on which one would write and then replicate by means of a hand-cranked mimeograph machine, thus creating copies of the original.

Mimeograph sheets, which had a distinctive smell that you either loved or hated, were used for everything from homework assignments to tests to, in this case, very basic newspapers. Mrs. Fabian would give me several of them, so that when I messed one up, I could start fresh.

I produced the paper on weekends at the very desk of my late grandfather. Taking pause from playing sports or doing chores or messing with my dog, Tamby, I would create two pages with a variety of fun and, to me, interesting information, along with line drawings, illustrations and cartoons copied from The New Yorker. I used every inch of the sheet, placing a short article on a new kid in class next to the weather report next to a word game next to sign-up information about our softball team. There would be a plethora of short, fun things to read or look at, divided by lines and boxes and squiggly marks.

I took pride in my publishing responsibility—the thrill of creating something, the smell of the ink and the act of running a business. Once Mrs. Fabian printed the 50 or so copies of that week’s paper, I would line up kids in my class to go door-to-door selling them for a nickel each. For every paper sold, they received two cents, and I earned three cents. On a good week, I’d make a dollar, far surpassing my quarter-a-week allowance. This allowed me such luxuries as an extra dessert at lunch—usually a drippingly-good, freshly-baked sweet roll for a nickel.

The business went along swimmingly for several months before a couple of the parents started complaining that I was exploiting their children. I wanted to tell these parents that I was doing these kids a favor, giving them important job skills for their future. But Mrs. Fabian shut me down and after a week of feeling disappointed, I moved on to another project—making bracelets from metal chain dog leashes and selling them (myself) for a quarter. This was much more lucrative, but it didn’t scratch my creative itch.

Anyway, the point of all this reminiscing is to say that the new front editorial pages of PUNCH (QuickPUNCH), which follow this essay (if you are not skipping around or reading back to front as I do) comes directly from the thought processes that brought you The Second Grade News.

Apparently, I’ve evolved little from that time, instead just relying on technology a few steps up from the mimeograph machine. I would like it if PUNCH could have that inky smell to it, as it is rather intoxicating in a good way, but in any case, I do hope you enjoy PUNCH’s version of my earlier project. As an aside, should you wish to purchase a dog chain bracelet, that can be arranged. Just know that we’re in an inflationary period so the price has shot up.