Malcolm Mitchell is the author of the new children's picture book My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World. A former professional football player with the New England Patriots, he is the founder of the Read with Malcolm initiative. He lives in Atlanta.
Q: You note that you based your character Henley on yourself. What inspired you to write this picture book for kids?
A: Growing up in a low-income environment presents several obstacles. One of those obstacles, for me, was grasping a firm understanding of the importance of reading.
Fortunately, through self-exploration I developed a love for literature, so much so that I wanted to write relevant content for children growing up without understanding the magical powers of reading.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I hope from this story young readers understand that reading plays an important role in our overall development, that in order to succeed you must read.
I hope through My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, young readers learn that there is a special book out there for everyone. Sometimes it can be hard to find, and sometimes the best stories are found within ourselves.
Q: What do you think Michael Robertson's illustrations add to the book?
A: Michael is an extraordinary artist. His illustrations in this book shines a beautiful light on a heartbreaking reality for millions of kids around the world. We must never forget reading is not a natural phenomenon, but an acquired skill.
Michael’s illustrations are a breath of fresh air, taking readers on a visual journey that captures every feeling associated with being illiterate and the overwhelming belief that you can overcome that challenge it with a special book.
Q: As a professional athlete who has founded a literacy initiative called Read with Malcolm, what do you see as the right mix between sports and reading for kids today?
A: Inspiration, Excitement and Entertainment. In a world of technology-based learning, video games, social media, etc., basic reading skills have taken a back seat.
The attraction of short-term pleasures is a tough temptation to avoid. We all find ourselves distracted from more long-term goals by more enjoyable short-term activities. Why is it so hard to stay the course on our long-term projects, even when we are certain that the advantages of sticking to it will far outweigh the more immediate benefits of putting them off?
We must not ignore the truths of immediate gratification when it comes to kids and reading. Reading is tough, reading can be boring, learning to read can be a long process, acquiring the tools afforded by reading proficiently takes time.
Reading takes an exorbitant amount of time when compared to the time it takes to learn the newest interphase of a recently released video game. No one is born with the innate ability to read.
Put those truths up against the immediate gratification or sports and we can quickly understand how reading never gets a fair chance, especially in low-income communities where 80 percent of preschool and after-school programs have no age-appropriate books for their children.
So, how can we fight this reality for millions of students and help kids understand the long-term benefits of being an active reader? How can we convince them that reading can be fun, reading can be cool, and most importantly reading will give you the tools necessary to live a productive life? I’m working on finding that answer.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Today I’m working on a picture book for new fathers to share with their children. By taking my experience as a fatherless child and passion for now being a father I hope to deliver a true and inspirational book for family read-alouds.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: While a student at the University of Georgia I learned the importance of reading. For most kids learning that lesson so late in their academic career ensures they will be dropouts, on welfare, or in jail.
A child’s 3rd grade literacy rate is the most accurate tool used to project their productivity in society. In 2017, according to NCES (National Center of Education Statistics) only 35 percent of public-school students were at or above proficiency in grade 4 reading.
If illiteracy was a medical condition, we would consider it a global epidemic. Individuals who cannot read are excluded from many opportunities that allow us to be fully functioning people with the ability to make choices. Illiteracy traps individuals in a cycle of poverty, limited choices and makes it difficult to achieve social mobility.
The point I’m trying to make is independent reading = independent thinking and independent thinking = freedom.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb