A lot of the authors I saw speak in the past week have written books that readers have credited with saving their lives, either literally (helping them escape from dangerous situations or suicidal thoughts) or metaphorically yet still for realsies--showing them that they are not alone, that they have value, that they deserve love. And I get that. That moment when you find yourself on a page is powerful, and when that finding changes your trajectory, I’m sure you would remember that book and honor that author for the rest of your days.
There was a lot of talk at the conference about those books that save lives. But Matt de la Pena, who I’m pretty sure brings an astouding insight to every conversation he’s ever in, kept pointing out that books don’t save lives. Readers save their own lives, using books as tools. In other words, he’s handing the power they already have back to the kids who are his readers.
A related beautiful thought that he shared was that readers can save authors. He talked about how his academic success made him feel like a sell-out, like he was no longer “Mexican enough.” Meeting kids who have recognized their mixed race, Chicano selves in his books brings him back into the fold. I managed to avoid full-on bawling throughout the conference, but this was one of the times when I was more than a little teary.
And then there was Jason Reynolds, who said that although we say, “There’s no such thing as a kid who doesn’t like reading; they just haven’t found their book yet,” maybe it’s more that the non-reader kid hasn’t found their person who is going to hand them that book.
It all comes back to relationship. Book, reader. Teacher, student. Author, reader. Student, teacher. Book, teacher, author, student. Matt also reminded us that what we do in the classroom, bringing together a student and a book, might not have immediate effect. But years later, they might come back to that thought, that book, that moment when they felt seen.
I’m coming home determined to see my students, and to let them know that I value them. To name the qualities I see that they may not even consider. To not make them read between the lines in order to figure out that I see them as capable, as delightful, as enough.