Matt de la Peña grew up in a small town near San Diego. He didn’t have a lot of money, but he knew he was surrounded by people who loved him and each other. When he wrote Love, the featured picture book for Community Read 2019, his goal was to help children today see the love around them.
On March 28, de la Peña spent the day in Charlotte visiting schools, launching a Storywalk in a park, and he shared the story of Love with educators and families at ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center. “My daughter was three when I started this book. I was seeing a lot of anger in the world, locally and nationally, and I wanted to explore the theme of love in the context of that environment. I wanted to translate that for her.”
He spoke of his process, and his collaboration with illustrator Loren Long, but the most compelling part of the presentation was de la Peña reading the book from the stage while children in the audience followed along with books in their laps. He walked the group through the story - the main character is a collective American childhood, diverse in every way, and the arc of the story is the child’s growth to adulthood and finding love on his own - in every setting, every economic circumstance. The child discovers love, play and joy even in difficult situations.
De la Peña explained his decision to include adversity in the book. He explored a page depicting a boy and his dog hiding under a piano, and asked the children in the audience to explain what they think might have happened. The responses varied with age and experience, ranging from an accident to a divorce to alcohol-infused anger. “We’re doing a better job in kids’ books depicting some diversity, but not emotional diversity. There are a lot of kids hiding under pianos. Books are vehicles for important conversations.”
And he left the audience with a responsibility – to be a part of the books they read. “Once a book is out in the world and in the library, it’s a collaboration between the writer and the reader. My job is to facilitate the story and leave space for you - the reader - to put pieces of your own story in the margin.”
The goal of Community Read 2019 was to start conversations. Love is proof that important subjects have no age limit.
Community Read 2019 was made possible with the generosity of presenting sponsor Bank of America and additional support from Foundation For The Carolinas and your Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation.