being a teacher

Dear Dav Pilkey

Dear Dav Pilkey,

You don’t know me, not unless you count the every brief moment I stood in front of you a few hours ago in your book signing line.  Yet I feel like I know you, perhaps that is what happens when your books have shaped the reading lives of so many of my students, I have seen the power they hold to transform children, I am grateful.  But just recently your books have taken on a new meaning for me.

You see, our oldest daughter, Thea, is what some would define as a struggling reader, we choose not to but instead just see her as a child who has not yet found her place in the world of reading, who so desperately wants to belong but still feels like she is on the outside looking in.  Who is developing with every book encounter she has.  Who has to work so hard when it comes to something that others find to be so easy.  Who for all of the years of her school experience has been given support by extraordinary teachers who have helped her believe that one day those words will come off the page and come alive.   Just not yet…

She reads every night, pulling a stack of picture books next to her bed and fighting me when I tell her it is time to turn off the light.  Her reading is flipping through the pages pulling the story from the pictures.  I am astounded at her inferring, at her comprehension, yet the words on the pages escape her and often she simply gives up trying.  The pictures must be enough as she spins her tales of what the authors meant to write.

Just a few weeks ago she told me that she was not a reader.  That she hated reading because it was so hard.  And who can blame her?  She sees how easy reading comes to some and knows just how much time it can take for her to just conquer a single page.  But she tries and she does.  Coming back long after many kids would have given up.

Last week she came holding up a copy of Dog Man.  She had gotten it at her book fair.  “Mom, I can read it!” she told me.  In my head I thought that would make sense because of all of the illustrations.  She would probably be able to put together most of the story.  As if she read my mind, she repeated triumphantly, “Mom, I can really read it!”  And she did and she could and she sat next to me reading the first page and then the next, carefully figuring out the works as the story unfolded before her. She said that she was so happy because she had finally found the book that was just the right fit for her and were there any more because she had reading to do.

As she sat next to me, there were so many things I wanted to say.  To congratulate, to point out her success, to her I told you so, but she didn’t need that.  She needed me to laugh out loud with her.  She needed me to look at the flip-o-ramas.   She needed to me experience the book with her and so we did and I thought of the kids in my own 7th grade classroom who don’t discover your books until they get to our library.  Who don’t discover their own powers as readers until the pages of Captain Underpants or Dog Man open to them.  Who for so long have given up on reading and then find you and then realize that it wasn’t that reading wasn’t for them, it was just that the just right books took a long time to find them.

As I told her I was headed to NCTE she asked me if you would be there.  If you were if I could ask for another book for her.  I told her I didn’t know but I would look.

So when I came around the corner today and saw you signing your book, I felt the universe aligning in way it hasn’t done in a long time.  Like somehow it knew that this proud but worried mama needed to know that her kid that works so hard really is on the path of becoming a reader.  And so I got in line and I waited and when I got to you I found that I had few words because there you were and there weren’t enough words to tell you just what you have done for me.

So here are the words that I meant to say, “Thank you for writing books that are meant to be laughed at.  Thank you for writing books that I can place in the hand of my 7th graders and know that they will read them.  Thank you for writing books that remind us about everything that is good with reading and the imagination.  Thank you for writing books that make kids feel like they are readers, even if they have a long way to go.

So dear Dav Pilkey, I am sorry I couldn’t quite get the words out but just know that you being the kid that sat in the hallway doodling led to my daughter believing a truth we had been telling her for so long.  I don’t think I will ever have enough words to thank you, but I thought I, at least, should try.


Pernille, Mama of Thea

PS:  Yesterday at school a package arrived.  Much to my surprise it was from Dav Pilkey.  Turns out this little blog post had somehow made it to him and as I read the note, I started to cry again.  In the box among several things was Dogman 2, the final copy, and a note letting Thea know she was the very first child to receive this version in the world.  There are no words to describe how Thea reacted when she opened the package.  She has spent the last 24 hours reading in her room; laughing, showing me pictures and telling me how much she loves Dav Pilkey.  I do too, Thea, I do too.


14 thoughts on “Dear Dav Pilkey”

  1. This brings tears to my eyes. This is a message to every author/illustrator out there, not just Dav Pilkey. Thank you for expressing it so perfectly!

  2. Perfect Pernille. From my librarian perspective, I could say the same about Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books engaging so many of our reluctant readers. Thea would love the banana doodles, toast doodles = engagement. 🙂

  3. 💙💙💙💙💙! Thank you, Dav. You rock, Thea! My heart is so happy that you were found by the book that was waiting just for you!

  4. Beautifully expressed. I also have had students that find that author/ book and it is so rewarding. This is why we do what we do.

  5. This is beautiful. I hope that your daughter is able to find any happy successes with the books Dav Pilkey writes. Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series was like that for one of my students this year. What an amazing experience to watch the growth of a reader like that! It’s like a rare flower blooming to me.

  6. Loved this! Had a similar moment meeting Melanie Watt, author of the Chester books. Got all emotional. Feel the same about Jeff Kinney and Rob Buyea. Amazing writers. I see the transformations in my Gr. 5 readers every day as they get excited about good books. Thanks for sharing – it’s great that your daughter has caught the tail of this kite.

  7. This sums it all up! I’m glad you were able to tell Dav what an impact this book is. I tried to look him up on Facebook to write my own “Thank you” and came across your blog.
    I have resisted Dav Pilkey and his Captain Underpants books for years. When my almost 8 year old brought me the scholastic flyer with his many “wants” highlighted, I turned away from Dog Man. Maybe I’m a snob. I don’t get “boy” humor. Usually I’m pretty open to anything, but for some reason (without reading any of his books…) I internally said, “no” and moved on to another selection he had made. I judged a book by it’s cover. Something I NEVER do in any other aspect of life, so why would I do it with this author’s titles?
    I was an avid reader as a kid, I worked as a Merchandise Manager at Barnes and Noble for 6 years (my son was 3 when I left) and now I’m the Secretary on the Board of Trustees and a desk volunteer for our small-town, Gibbs Library. My son has been a great reader since he was 4. It was a struggle teaching him to read (I am NOT a teacher – I lack the patience), but he has shown so much interest in books since he was tiny that I felt it only due justice to teach him to read even at such a young age. Plus, after watching parents come in to the bookstore for 6 years struggling to find something… ANYTHING that their boys will read, I was determined to help my son to continue his love of reading. Anyway, yesterday, he and I were doing our volunteer shift at Gibbs and throughout the shift I kept coming across titles I thought he would enjoy. Usually he just gives a thumbs up, he checks it out on his own and we move on to the next thing. Yesterday, he stumbled across Dog Man. I tried to keep my eyes from rolling, but who am I to tell him he can’t read a book. I half thought, “He’ll never read it.” as even though he reads above his age level and enjoys reading, he has to be heavily prompted to read.
    This morning he was driving me crazy just being the loud 7 year old boy he is. I sent him up to his bedroom to do his scheduled listening therapy and told him instead of playing, I’d like him to read. I sat downstairs ready to enjoy 20 minutes of peace and quiet on a Sunday morning, but within 3 minutes, I was hearing Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man being read aloud with great animation. It was so great to hear how much he was enjoying the book!! He should be doing his listening more than 30 minutes at a time so I HAD to interrupt and shut off his CD player. I cringed opening the door thinking, “This is it. He’ll never pick the book up again.”. See, he doesn’t love chapter books or anything he can’t complete in 20 minutes for that matter. HOWEVER, I opened the door and his eyes lit up. He was so excited to share “The best book EVER!”. I told him of course he could continue to read if he wanted to and he said, “I’m going to finish it!!” From that point on he came out of his room every few minutes to tell me about this or that funny part. He said he can’t wait for the Scholastic order to come in so he can read the second Dog Man book. Oops. Since I’ve gotten off my high horse I guess I ought to go order it. Unfortunately our local library doesn’t have Dog Man Unleashed, nor does the next town over, nor is it available digitally through the Maine State Library. I’ll be e-mailing my son’s school on Tuesday to make sure the teachers are aware of this title in the chance there are other kids in the school that might benefit from it!

  8. My experience as a kid was very much like your daughter. It took me a long time to find the books that pulled me into reading. I always struggled with reading, declaring I hated it, and pushed against doing it wherever possible.I didn’t start reading confidently on my own until I was 12. I didn’t have Dav Pilkey growing up, but I did have Asterix. Those books turned me from someone who wanted nothing to do with books, into a kid who wouldn’t put them down. Once I found them, I never stopped. Many many years later, I became a librarian and I now get the joy of helping kids like me find that book that makes them soar inside.

    What I didn’t know until I attended university is that I am dyslexic which is why I struggle to read. Even now in my mid 30s, I have a hard time reading. At times I still get frustrated and disheartened with reading. I can’t do it at all when I’m tired. But the love for books once found, never goes away. I peresevere and use my experience to encourage kids who have the same problems so that they know they aren’t alone.

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