By Malcolm Mitchell
As a young Black kid living in an underserved community, if someone told me that I would grow up to become a published author and founder of a youth literacy foundation, I would have laughed with a lack of conviction. Even now when I see the title of my latest picture book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, I shake my head, not quite believing that book has my name on it. But the truth is, this story comes from my own personal experience as a struggling reader who found a path to loving books. Both my story and Henley’s story are examples of the magical power books possess whether you’re the reader or writer.
In Valdosta, Georgia, where I grew up, my community promoted two pathways to a better life for little Black boys like me. Being an athlete or being an entertainer—those were the two options. Both having very prolific identities that do not require a tremendous about of traditional education for success. I was no different than the other kids living in my neighborhood, so I did what felt natural: Play football and neglect school. School presented challenges every day and so did football practice, but overcoming physical adversity was on trend with my neighborhood’s culture. Reading books, not so much.
Like the principal character in my new book, Henley, nothing felt lonelier than being the kid in class who couldn’t read well. Deep down inside, I knew I was as smart as everyone else. I also knew that I really liked stories and the pictures that went with them in some books. Fortunately, through athletic scholarships and people who believed in me, I was able to go to college. That’s when my reading struggles really began to show up. Trips to the grocery store were stressful because there was so much reading involved in the simple act of buying food. I would misread labels and grab the wrong items.
Mishaps with reading kept happening. I realized that I needed to make an important decision. I wanted to be a better version of me, which meant becoming a stronger reader. I began by practicing reading as much as I practiced football. At first, some words were too big, some sentences too long and some books too thick, but I kept at it. I always had a book on me and read every free moment I could find. Through effort and hard work my reading, step by step, became limitless. I read fiction and nonfiction, children’s stories and romance novels, sci-fi thrillers, and autobiographies and eventually began writing.
My journey with reading created a desire in me to inspire others who struggle with reading. So I started a nonprofit, Share the Magic Foundation, whose mission is to transform the lives of children through literacy. Through the Foundation’s Read with Malcolm literacy initiatives, we strive to accomplish our mission by providing books and innovative and inclusive programming to students living in underserved communities.
I hope from this story all young readers understand that reading plays an important role in our overall development; that in order to succeed you must read. I hope children of color will see themselves through the characters in my new book and are inspired by knowing that they too can be great readers and writers. Through My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, young readers will 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.
Share the Magic Foundation offers free Virtual Reading Challenges throughout the year that infuse the concept of a sports theme with reading as part of their Read with Malcolm programs. The next free national reading challenge is READBowl: The World Championship of Reading. Kicking off on January 11, 2021, READBowl runs for four weeks called “quarters” and culminates with Malcolm announcing the World Champions on February 7. Registration is free and open. Copies of My Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World will be part of the weekly and overall prize packages for READBowl this year. Visit here for information and free registration.
My Very Favorite Book in the Whole World by Malcolm Mitchell, illustrated by Michael Robertson comes out on December 29, 2020. Order the book here!
Henley hates to read. When Henley is supposed to be reading before bed, he builds a castle with his sheets. Henley hates reading so much, he took a wagon full of books to the town swimming pool to find out how well they could swim.
When the daunting task of finding his favorite book is assigned at school, Henley is at a loss. He goes to the library and the bookstore. He looks at so many books of all shapes and sizes, but none of them have made Henley excited enough to read more.
After a fruitless search, Henley returns home, but defeat quickly turns to triumph with one exciting discovery: his mother kept all the books that he wrote when he was younger. That is when Henley gets an idea.
At school the next day, Henley is just as excited as his classmates. And he shares the new book he wrote, The Book Boy. Because there is a book for everyone, even if you have to write it.
Malcolm Mitchell is the author of The Magician’s Hat and the NFL rookie who helped the New England Patriots win Super Bowl LI. Malcolm’s passion to introduce book ownership to students and improve literacy in schools inspired him to found Share the Magic Foundation and create innovative and inclusive Read with Malcolm literacy initiatives.
Born and raised in northern Ohio, Michael Robertson graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in painting. He spent 10 years as a toy designer and character developer, before trying his hand at illustration. His work has appeared on many children’s products, greeting cards, books, toys, and magazines, and has received multiple recognitions from the Society of Illustrators.