“An Open Letter to Matt De La Pena and Loren Long (with Gratitude and Love)”

Dear Matt and Loren:

I know that you are probably looking for feedback from readers four to eight years old. As the under-ten blog community is relatively small, perhaps you won’t mind some appreciation from a reader. . .forty-eight.

As a secondary classroom teacher who shares picture books with older readers, I could open with how your book can serve as mentor text for poetry presented in a sort of list. Or, we could talk about how your book presents the rhetorical mode of definition and flips it on its ear by way of not leaning upon a classic definition of love, but rather leading the reader to reconsider what love is and how it manifests itself outside of a sterile, textbook definition.

We could do this. We could suggest any number of defenses for bringing this picture book into the secondary classroom, or we could lower our defenses. And, instead of looking for a value-added reason for sharing Love in the secondary classroom, I am going to go with a vulnerable reflection and share why I am so grateful for this book.

You see. . .Matt. . .and Loren. . .in thirty-two pages you were able to take me back thirty-two years. And I find myself. I not only find the theme you tucked inside of the dust jacket and case, I find THE ME you depict within the verse and vision of this book.

“. . .each night the sky above your trailer turns the color of love.”

Thank you for trailers.

Thank you for sharing and showing the love that comes in the form of a colorful sky that provides canopy for the trailer. I. . .I grew up in a mobile home. On the back of a property belonging to my grandparents, I never knew that my family did not have much. I knew our home could blow over in a good windstorm. And I knew the skirting around the front, sides, and back of our home was merely a cover-up for the wheels that could take my home to another place. No. I never knew that I had any less of a home than any of my classmates. Not when I could sense walls around me that kept me from the heat and from the cold. And held a family inside who loved me. It was enough. A picture book that depicts people who live and love in trailers. . .wow. . .thank you.

“But, it’s not only stars that flame out. . .”

Thank you for going to that place where love is hard to find let alone define.

In a picture spread for which you have received push back, I found a way back. To a time when my visits with my mother were court appointed and time-limited to hot summer days each year. Two of the people in this share are no longer with us on this side of heaven, Matt and Loren. But my mother had great difficulties with drinking. She would begin as happy, work her way to anxious, to sadness, to depression, to anger and resentment, and, finally, belligerence. One evening, I found myself being held by the hands of my mother and my step-in father. I was in a love-of-war match between these two people. My mother wanted to take me out of the house. God knows where we would have gone (or if we would have gotten there). My step-in father lived up to his title and stepped in. He knew what he was up against. Nebulous love made foggy by drink. He fought the good fight against the verbal abuses hurled at him knowing that to let go of me would be to let go of wife and step-son. Keeping one would stay the other.

And my mother slept in the car that night. We found her the next morning asleep in the front seat. We never spoke of that incident at any other time in our time together here on earth. And it might be because I found that love I thought had gone missing the night before in the apologies of the day after. We could debate the quality of the love and how it was expressed, but like the boy who lived in a mobile home, I had no idea that I was poor in love. I never thought that my family was anything less than what my classmates had waiting for them after the last bell of a school year. Not when I had hands that would hold mine. Hands that would fight for and defend me against harm. They were enough. A notion that not every home always conducts itself in a manner that would present itself nicely in a picture book for children? Thank you. Thank you for sharing and showing what this must look like for many children with whom we share books as authors, illustrators, librarians, and classroom teachers.

“. . .everything smells new and it smells like life.”

A special thank you from a this reader’s heart for the reclamation of the red balloon in the name of innocence and children’s literature. I grew up with Albert Lamorrisse’s The Red Balloon, a book and a film that would be created fourteen years before I would appear in the world. I do not know how I found the book or the film. It probably called to me from a trip to the public library in Petoskey, Michigan. No matter. We show the film each year in Room 407 as a mentor text for wonder and for friendship and for empathy and supports. You have brought back the red balloon and there is no fear; it is doing what the red balloon has always done in children’s literature. It floats and it follows. It is. And, I hope that this thank you leads more and more teachers and librarians back to The Red Balloon. You painted it on the page. And it was not missed. Thank you.

Thank you for not designing Love to be presented as a Seek-and-Find or a “Where’s Love?” book, but rather a slow, purposeful reveal within those things we see around us each and every single day. It will make it easier for those readers who give up easily when those elements we take for granted that everyone sees but are cloaked to them.

Thank you for not making Love to be some kind of meta-fiction where if I read more carefully, I’ll see the trickery of Love and be allowed in on the joke.

Thank you for presenting Love in the form of a longer letter. It’s the best way (outside of saying the words) that we can broadcast love over time and distance. You’ve written and illustrated a thirty-two page love letter to readers and you didn’t make us fill in the blanks or check the box. You invited us and allowed us to be. . .who we are. . .with each definition and depiction of love.

Matt and Loren. . .you must know. . .and you do know (don’t you?) how important this book is at the beginning of this year. In a more healthy expression of love for books and reading, I like to visualize that you are handing the book to me and I am handing it to my readers in the room by way of sharing the book in reading it aloud.

Our students need to hear our voices reading this book aloud. If we cannot find the words to speak to these children, then the verse and the visuals are here. I have no sway over such considerations, but I would suggest that Love become a part of the national education standards. Shuffle them all in the interest of making Love part of the Human Standard 1.1 (or one-to-one). You must know that these standards only suggest text to be used in the classroom. I would ask these people who look at standards to move toward specificity in regard to Love.

We must beseech our fellow librarians to seek out Love. To bring Love into the building. To make sure Love is finding its way into the classrooms. That Love is on the lips of the lead readers in these rooms. That readers in those room hear Love spoken. And that we all take time to reflect upon Love once we have felt. . .encountered. . .experienced Love.

And that once we have received for ourselves all that Love has to offer that we share Love with others. With everyone we meet.

As long we seek carry Love in our hands into those spaces we call communities. . .living. . .laughing. . .learning. . .and loving communities, there will plenty of Love to go around. We’ll remember with each description and depiction that we cannot look alike, but we can be love-alikes.

And if we sense that Love needs a little push, we could always consider gifting Love to those who have seen or experienced it yet. There’s plenty of Love to go around.


Warmly (and in love),


Paul W. Hankins c/o Room 407

English 11 and AP English Language and Composition

Silver Creek High School

One thought on ““An Open Letter to Matt De La Pena and Loren Long (with Gratitude and Love)”

  1. I appreciated reading this open letter to the author and illustrator, Paul. This book has affected so many of us (adults) in profound ways. It’s clear that it will find a special place in many homes and classrooms in the weeks and months to come.

    BTW: I tried posting a comment about 10 minutes ago. (It was more eloquent than what I wrote above.) Did it ever go through? It was under my first name, Stacey. Please let me know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *