I suppose most of us teachers at least think we know the answer, know what our students are reading. But consider what Matt de la Pena said in his Newbery speech.
He said he didn’t consider himself a reader, “but I read Basketball Digest cover to cover.” Why? “I wasn’t reading those magazines for stats or standings, I was reading to find out what certain players had to overcome to get where they were. I was in it for the narrative.” Do we notice and value the reading choices students make and do all we can to supply more of the same and to find other reading materials they might like?
He said he read ” my old man’s long silences…the way he pulled himself out of bed at 3:30 every morning to get ready for work…how he never took a sick day.” He read his “mom’s endless worry about the bills. About the empty fridge.” and “the way she looked at me and my two sisters. Like we were special. Like we could make something of our lives.” I wish all my students were reading this. I hope I am a little bit of that to them if they are not.
Here is what Matt says about students he meets as he visits schools: “so many of them are just like that old version of me. Self-defined nonreaders who spend all day reading the world.” If they are reading their world, they can write their world, too. Isn’t that an exciting thought?
We need to help them find the books that open their eyes to see that their stories are important. Matt de la Pena opened his speech with a quote: “I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.” We cannot continue to let children go through grade after grade at school thinking that same thing. We need to believe and put our belief into practice that books can be mirrors, windows, and doors for our students. Matt de la Pena was able to discover that, and look what happened! He closed his speech with same quote, adding “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”