Phil Bildner’s energy is infectious. The tension in my tightly wound shoulders began to melt the moment we shook hands. While being anxious is nothing new to me, my anxiety was especially high due to some objections surrounding Phil’s school visit for the release of his novel, A High Five for Glenn Burke. This incredible novel has been described as, “A heartfelt and relatable novel from Phil Bildner, weaving the real history of Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland Athletic Glenn Burke--the first professional baseball player to come out as gay--into the story of a middle-school kid learning to be himself.” A few parents at the first school we visited that morning were concerned about letting their kids read a book that featured a gay character and a boy understanding his own sexuality and preferences.
But Phil was ready for any bumps in the road and he wasn't about to let some negative, outdated attitudes slow him down. He cracked a joke, assured me that he not only expected it, but had already had schools cancel his visits over much less. He wasn't worried about the effect it had on his book sales. They just wanted to talk to the students.
All of them. Literally every one of them. Phil stood by the door and greeted each and every student that walked in the door. He gave everyone a fist bump or a hug, depending on their preference. He made sure that every single child was seen, acknowledged and welcomed.
Witnessing this act would not be the only time that my eyes filled with tears that day. The entire day was full of touching, heartwarming moments that restored my faith in humanity as a whole as well as the impact we can have as an individual.
Phil drew in the whole room, students and teachers alike, from the moment his presentation started with a slide declaring in big, bold, colorful letters:
YOU ARE ENOUGH
The entire room was hooked. Every single student was engaged from that moment on, and lost themselves in Phil’s incredible stories, adorable puppy photos, and interactive style.This incredibly powerful message was not unlike the intentional message of greeting every student individually. So many students raised their hands to ask questions at the end -- questions that were not just “I also have a dog” but truly thoughtful questions, the product of being engaged throughout the entire presentation.
But what struck me most about Phil was his humanity. After hearing about a student at our afternoon school who was in the process of coming out and struggling greatly, Phil decided to take the time to talk to them. What followed, dear reader, was something bigger and more powerful than I could ever put into words. Though it started with one student, their educator went back to her classroom to get other students who were going through the same or similar struggles. These were kids in elementary school who were grappling with the huge topics of gender and sexuality - who felt lost and alone in the world, who weren’t being heard, understood or supported at home, making a difficult time more troubling
Phil spoke to each student directly. He hugged them (after asking permission). He told them that they are important, they matter, and they are perfect exactly as they are. In the end, all five students formed a circle with Phil in a sort of group hug where Phil promised to be there for them if they ever needed anything. And you know what? I believe him.
I believe that Phil would support and encourage absolutely any child, much like he did for his former student, and current bestselling author, Elizabeth Acevedo. I believe that Phil genuinely cares about the kids he writes to and for. I believe that he lives for the author visits and actually SEEING those students that attend. And making sure they feel seen, too.
In the end, Second Star was able to donate a signed, personalized copy of Phil Bildner’s A High Five for Glenn Burke to each student in that group hug. Phil’s visit didn’t just restore my faith in humanity and the Good of people, but also in my own dreams and the power I have to follow them.
ABOUT PHIL: Phil Bildner is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books for kids. For eleven years, he taught in the New York City public schools before leaving to write full time. Phil is also the founder of The Author Village, a booking agency for authors and illustrators focused on sharing reading, the arts and community.