Dear Stuck-at-Home Student #1

Homebound Letter 1 – March 17, 2020


Dear Stuck-at-Home Student:


Hi, my name is Matt de la Peña, and I write books. Usually I’m out on the road, visiting schools. Or I’m working on a new book. But right now I’m staying at home with my family. You probably are, too. Since we’re all in the same boat, I’ve decided to write you some letters over the next couple weeks. They’re about things I’ve been thinking about lately. And trying to write about. And they’re about some of the books I’ve been reading with my own daughter, Luna, and what they make us think about. You can write me back if you want, with questions or comments. I’ll read them all and answer some of the questions in future letters.


My email is


Sound good? Good.


Okay, here’s the first one.


A few years back I wrote a book called Last Stop on Market Street (illustrated by Christian Robinson). In the story, the main character, CJ, takes a long bus trip through the city with his Nana. When they finally make it to their stop, CJ and his Nana get off the bus, and CJ looks around a little skeptically. They’re in a part of the city CJ isn’t as familiar with, and he can’t help but notice how rundown everything seems. He turns to his Nana and asks, “How come it‘s always so dirty over here?” His wise Nana smiles and points to the sky and tells him, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”


CJ sees that she’s pointing to the rainbow hovering over their soup kitchen, and he wonders how his Nana always finds beautiful where he never even thought to look.


I’ve been thinking a lot about that line lately: “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

When I first wrote it, I was thinking about my own attitude growing up. I was so focused on what we didn’t have, sometimes I couldn’t see what we DID have. I couldn’t see the rainbows. And there were many. And I believe what Nana says is true on a deeper level, too. When you know struggle, you’re able to see things with a deeper clarity. You in a better position to see what actually matters.


But today that line has taken on a whole different meaning. It’s no longer just about neighborhoods and who has money and gets a ride to school in a fancy car. It’s no longer about how much graffiti is on the walls. Today schools are closed in ALL neighborhoods. Today we’re not supposed to go to neighborhood restaurants no matter how fancy they might be. Maybe we’re all surrounded by dirt right now. If that’s true, are we still better witnesses for what’s beautiful? Does that idea still hold up? If so, what is something beautiful that you now see, that you couldn’t see before?


Tomorrow I’ll tell you what I see. And maybe I can share some of what others see (please list your first name and the city you live in).


Your friend,