Homebound Letter 9 – April 10, 2020
Dear Dads of Stuck-at-Home Students:
A few weeks before the world changed, I spoke at a community event in Linn, Oregon. The woman in charge of the event was very smart and very ambitious. She knew that families on the working class side of Linn might have a difficult time getting to the venue, which was in an affluent neighborhood clear across town – and her main objective was to have these two very separate communities come together in the name of books and literacy – so she arranged for district buses to pick families up.
It worked. She packed this beautiful new high school theater full of people from all walks of life. As I was being introduced by a district librarian and the superintendent, I studied the faces in the crowd. Families and teachers and old folks and book lovers. Local politicians and media members were in the reserved seating up front. Children gripped programs. Or a copy of one of my books. Some sat on a parent’s lap. Some played in the aisles. A mom hurried a crying baby out the back door of the auditorium. But there was something different about this crowd. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
As I stepped forward to take the microphone, it dawned on me what it was. I’d never seen so many dads at one of my events. More specifically, Mexican-American dads. Which made me think of my own Mexican-American father. And myself. Before I began my actual talk I had to verbally acknowledge this. I thanked all the dads in the crowd for bringing their child or children to a book event. Along with their wives. But I have to be honest, I told them. Moms are always stepping up in this category. It’s not often that I see the dads here, too. So, thank you.
At the end of that talk I returned to the dads. And I issued them a challenge, the challenge I want to put forth to any dads reading this letter today.
First a quick intro for anyone who is new to these letters. My name is Matt de la Peña, and I write books for young people. Usually I’m out on the road, visiting schools. Or I’m working on a new project. But right now I’m staying at home with my family. Like we’re all staying at home. Since everyone is in the same boat, I’ve been writing letters to kids. They’re about things I’ve been thinking about. And trying to write about. And a lot of your kids have been writing me back, which is so inspiring. This time I’m inviting YOU to write me back. You can leave me a comment on Instagram. Or Facebook. Or you can send an email to: email@example.com. (All of my previous letters are collected on my website.)
Research shows that one of the most important things you can do as a parent is read to your children. Many leading educators, who are working incredibly hard to transition their classes online, say the best way for parents to support their kids’ interrupted elementary school education is to read books with them. So often (especially in working class communities) it’s the moms who fill this role. Which is great. But I think it’s important that dads read to their kids, too. When you read a book with your child, you’re lifting them out of their current stay-at-home status. You’re taking them on an adventure. You’re exposing them to language, different syntaxes, the musicality of words. But the benefits go way beyond the actual story. You’re also spending time with your child. You’re sharing an experience. You’re sharing YOURSELF. Often the conversations you have with your child about the book are even more important than the text on the page.
One other thing. There is no such thing as a “boy book” or a “girl book.” Read anything and everything you can get your hands on, regardless of gender. Trucks for girls. Princesses for boys. And vice versa. If it’s a good-enough story, our kids will follow. Young people often develop these silly categorizations by watching us.
Look, we’ve all seen the troubling family stories that are starting to come out of this stay-at-home time. Not everyone is in a safe environment right now. And I’m really wanting to boost the good family stories. My challenge for all the dads out there is this. Let’s all read to our kids. Every day and every night. Whatever book they want to read. And if you’re comfortable with it, post a picture. I’ll start. Here’s a picture of me and by daughter reading Wishtree (by Katherine Applegate) last night.
As you can see, we’re close to the end. The money pages, as my dad and I call them. What about you? What are you and your child reading together right now? Any good?