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.