Dear Simone Elkeles,

When I tweeted that my students (the delinquents) are digging your books, I wasn’t expecting anything from you.  So your offer of bookmarks for my students is wonderful, and yes, I would love some. Thank you.

perfect chemistryJust so you know, though, and please don’t take it personally, but they will probably tag them, or tear them up to throw the pieces at one another.  And any faces on the bookmarks will be branded with gang numbers across the forehead. It’s not you, it’s them.  They’re not used to gifts.  Besides, what’s a kid who only reads once or twice a year going to do with a bookmark?

You see, the only reason they read while they’re in my class is that I’m part saleswoman.  I can sell the heck* out of a book like Perfect Chemistry because I teach Alexes and Carloses and Luises.  At least, I teach them before they become who they are by the end of your novels.  And, though they would never admit this, they are suckers for the love story.

They read when they’re with me because it’s one step up from jail and one step removed from real life.  Their homeboys aren’t around to give them shit** about reading a book in general, and a love story in particular.  These kids don’t go to the library unless they’re forced.  They don’t pick bookshelfup a book in the real world unless they’re going to make fun of it.  But I’ve built a classroom library that meets their unique tastes.  Made up primarily of realistic fiction that revolves around tough issues, like guns and gangs, death and abuse.

Simone, your books are at eye level.  That’s because I want them to read something that they can not only relate to, but that they can aspire to.  If I could turn all my kids into post-high school Alex, or get them into the military like Carlos, I would do just that.  I believe in product placement almost as much as I believe that these kids can change their destiny if they really want to.  Most of them will have to do it alone, though.  They won’t have Brittany to push them out of the gang life and into college.  And most of them don’t have Luis’ mind, so they have to rely on something else to get them out of their predetermined fate.

That’s us.  You and I together.

So, yeah, send me some bookmarks if you want.  But if you want to go bigger, do more… send me a book just for Colton or Jose or Jesus or Daniel.  Address each one and tell them, “Yes, kid, you CAN do this, too.  You CAN be like Alex. Or Carlos.”  They’ll hide it in their binder, carry it home and stash it somewhere that their friends won’t see it.  But it’d be theirs.

If not, though, that’s okay, too.  They aren’t very good with gifts.

Yours sincerely,

Kelli

 

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