I got the letter below from a very cool, smart and thoughtful fan of one of my books the other day. And being that I am off to Texas next week to go work with some teachers and kids who really dig my writing and other educationally oriented stuff (that’s the official terminology), well… just thought I’d share. Hey, it’s worth it if for no other reason than to counter-balance some of the negativity we perpetually see revolving around kids and schools.
Ya gotta love the fan mail, right?
May 16, 2011
Dear Mr. Sitomer:
My teacher recommended your book, The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriquez, because she knew I liked books that I can relate to, ones that are real, that could happen to anyone. So when my teacher told me we were doing a project in language arts class, and that we had to choose a book that had an impact in our lives, I instantly chose yours. I’m glad I read your book; it impacted me is so many ways.
Your book made me feel a lot of emotions. One of the emotions I felt was anger every time Sonia’s mother said “Family comes first.” She never put her family first. For example she would let her brother insult them by calling them “estupido” and that’s not giving them respect. She’s being hypocritical. So what does “family comes first” really mean to her? To my family it means being there for each other, supporting one another and sticking together. I also felt sad and mad when Sonia was telling us about Isabella, Maria’s baby, who is deaf and can’t hear her. “Children not having proper immunizations was still a big issue with people who lived in poverty.” This quote made me feel depressed because it’s sad watching or imagining having a kid with an illness that can’t be cured. I just don’t get why people have kids when they can’t take care of them—or even themselves.
Your book also caught my attention because Sonia and I have a lot of the same beliefs, especially about culture and stereotypes. “But I hate my culture too. I hate that so many stereotypes are true.” I agree with Sonia because I’m Mexican too, and I have witnessed so many of the behaviors that are generalities about our culture. For example, I’ve seen a Hispanic mother with six poorly-dressed, dirty, shoeless kids. I watch half of the Mexicans in my classes cause problems and do nothing. I see Latina teenage girls getting pregnant at a young age and dropping out of school just to take care of their babies. It’s like one baby taking care of another baby since they’re so young. I also hear Mexican boys trying to prove who the real man is just like in the following quote: “Now that you are forty do you think you are man enough for the habaneros?” I don’t think this is a valid way to prove who the real man is. A “real” man is a man who puts food on the table, acts like a mature man, takes care of his family, and doesn’t cheat on his wife. I wish we, as a race, could prove the stereotypes wrong.
Finally, your book made me think. I complain so much about the chores my parents ask me to do, unlike Sonia. The quote on page four shows how submissive she is: “Being the oldest daughter in the family of seven has its benefits: I cook, I clean, I mop, I sweep, I shine, I bake, I dust, I do laundry change diapers, wipe counter tops, and scrub the goopy grime off the floor in the shower. I even do windows.” Sonia doesn’t complain and she does so much. I whine so much and I don’t do hardly anything. This inspired me to try to stop complaining. When Sonia is molested by her “drunkle,” I realized that can happen to anyone—even me. “A part of me always knew that this day would come.” This chapter made me really think about whether I would be able to find my voice, whether I would be able to say stop strongly and loudly to the person that was hurting me.
Thank you, Mr. Sitomer, for taking your time and reading my letter. In the future I will recommend this book to my friends because I know they would really like it. They, too, would be able to connect with the book. Before I let you go I would like to know how you depicted the life of a Mexican family so well. You don’t look Mexican in your picture. Thank you very much.
Best line in a fan letter to me ever: “You don’t look Mexican in your picture.” Ah, kids… you just gotta love them.