De la Peña explains the meaning behind one of the illustrations of his book, "Love".
By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
Reading is the best part of school for some children. For others, it is the most nerve-racking part of the school day. During his visit to the Medfield Schools, Matt de la Peña was able to give both types of students something to which they could relate.
On Thursday, March 7, the students and teachers of Dale Street School welcomed Matt de la Peña as a guest speaker. The students, clustered together in the cafeteria, were bouncing with excitement at the prospect of hearing one of their favorite authors speak.
De la Peña visited each Medfield school to discuss his picture book, “Love.”
He began his talk by telling the students a bit about his background and his unlikely story of becoming a writer. “I was a reluctant reader. Does anyone know what that means?” he asked.
Students raised their hands.
“You wanted to read a lot?” one student asked.
A reluctant reader is actually the opposite.
De la Peña didn’t like to read when he was a child. He had a hard time with school, and struggled because of a lack of confidence. He was, however, very good at sports. Despite his difficulties with school work, de la Peña went on to attend college and played basketball at a D1 school.
“But I fell in love with something different. Can anyone guess what it is?” he asked.
“Reading,” said the students.
De la Peña excelled in his English classes and went on to attend graduate school, where he began working on what became his first book, “Ball Don’t Lie.” Since then, de la Peña has published 13 books, including “Carmela Full of Wishes,” “Last Stop on Market Street,” and “Mexican Whiteboy.” The last book’s title is a reference to de la Peña’s own heritage, with a Mexican father and a Caucasian mother, and is inspired by his own experience.
De la Peña’s reading of “Love” gave the students a greater insight into his writing process, the symbolism behind the book, and even why certain pages of the book look the way they do.
He answered questions as to why, on one page, there is a girl dancing on top of a trailer with a parent, and on another, there is a child watching the TV, and on another, there is a child hiding under a piano. Though some of the pictures incorporate very serious subjects, de la Peña felt it was necessary to include them in his book.
“I want everyone to be in this book,” he explained, “to be as inclusive as possible.” The book begins with the following poetic lines: “In the beginning there is light / and two wide-eyed figures / standing near the foot of your bed / and the sound of their voices is love.” De la Peña continued to read the book, eventually coming to the final lines that sum up the message of the book: “Everyone deserves love.”
During the final portion of his talk, students were given the chance to ask de la Peña questions. “What’s your favorite book?” asked one student. He didn’t miss a beat in answering his favorite book for each age group: one was “Each Kindness,” by Jacqueline Woodson; another was “Tiger Rising” by Kate DiCamillo; and another was “Everyone Sees the Ants,” by A.S. King.
For students who don’t yet enjoy reading on their own, Matt de la Peña’s visit gave them the opportunity to enjoy “Love” aloud. It also allowed them to see that just because they’re not good at reading now, it does not preclude them from becoming much better as they grow.
For students who love reading, de la Peña’s visit gave them the chance to learn about writing.
For all the students, though, de la Peña’s visit was a reminder of what his book, “Love,” taught them: that despite our differences, everyone deserves love.