Matt de la Peña, Love, and Mirrors and Windows

There’s a concept in teaching and learning that readers, especially children, use books, stories, and the characters they encounter like windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. It’s an issue of representation – of seeing yourself reflected in the characters you meet – but also seeing the faces and stories of others.

When you and your family attend a Library Storytime or browse the shelves looking for a picture book or chapter book to bring home, you’ll find a wonderful diversity of cultures, families, children, and stories represented. We encourage you use the books you choose to help young learners interact with the stories as a window, mirror, and sliding glass door.

Rudine Sims Bishop explained this concept more than 25 years ago: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

“Love” written by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long

There is a beautiful picture book called “Love” by Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long that manages to serve as window, mirror, and sliding glass door simultaneously for readers.

de la Peña, who is visiting Fort Collins on Friday, September 14 for a presentation and book discussion, set out to write a prose poem about love that he could share with his young daughter as well as with “every kid [he] met in every state [he] visited, red or blue.” What he found after writing an early draft was that it didn’t quite ring true for him. It was uplifting and happy and joyful…and it “failed to acknowledge any notion of adversity.”

The published book came out in early 2018 and quickly became a New York Times bestseller, depicting the many different definitions and demonstrations of love, and reflecting the broad diversity of families. Each page depicts a different child in a different family and living in a different situation. It’s one of the elements of “Love” that readers admire most. And it creates a lot of discussion – particularly around the pages and artwork that depict love in all circumstances, even difficult ones.

For instance, one section of the book portrays a young boy looking out the window of his apartment watching his father trudge through snow early in the morning on his way to work. The boy’s older brother hands him toast and a glass of orange juice. de la Peña’s accompanying text reads, “And in time you learn to recognize/ a love overlooked./ A love that wakes at dawn and/ rides to work on the bus./ A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.”

de la Peña intentionally includes situations like this that are sad or difficult but that depict the real life scenarios of many families. In this way, many readers will engage with the book as a mirror reflecting their own family and home. Others will experience many of the pages as a window into the lives and emotions of classmates, neighbors, and other community members. But, in all of its pages, there is love.

de la Peña will talk about his journey from reluctant reader to author and share his books during a free author visit on Friday, September 14 at Block One Events (428 Linden St.). Doors open at 6:00 PM and seating is limited. Book sales and signing, hosted by Old Firehouse Books, will follow the presentation. de la Peña’s appearance is part of Poudre River Public Library’s Hispanic/LatinX Heritage Month celebration throughout September.