Parents' editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello shares her strategy for sparking a conversation with her kids. 

By Liz Vaccariello
Courtesy of Liz Vaccariello

Although the interruptions never cease, I station myself in the kitchen on weekend afternoons. I want Sophia and Olivia to see me reading and writing (Mommy works hard on her work), and I like to toss out nuggets of news as they pass by and see what sparks a discussion.

“Says here that astronomers may be on the verge of finding a ninth planet."

“A 6-year-old got tetanus and was hospitalized for 57 days because he wasn’t vaccinated."

“You watch Fuller House? The lady who plays Aunt Becky was caught cheating to get her daughters into college.”

This winter, I was preparing to interview Henry Winkler at a conference on the occasion of his latest book release. “The Fonz didn’t read a book until he was 31!” I said. That stopped the girls. I explained that the actor on the show Happy Days was dyslexic. He had struggled in school but got accepted to Yale School of Drama on the strength of his audition.

If his learning disability didn’t sink his self-confidence, then a dad who called him a dummer Hund (German for “dumb dog”) all his life did the trick. When an agent asked him to write a children’s book, he thought, “I can’t do that! I’m a dummer Hund!”

Winkler, 73, has now co-authored 29 books about a boy with dyslexia named Hank Zipzer, who has to find the thing about himself that is special (for Winkler it was acting). Everybody Is Somebody is the ninth in a series of Here’s Hank chapter books. They are printed in the font Dyslexie, which is easier to read.

 

The evening after my interview, I told the girls what it was like to meet one of my childhood heroes. I wanted them to know that the Emmy Award winner bragged about his grandkids and remains humble and grateful. During our interview, Winkler read the last page of his book aloud to the audience of magazine executives. The scene is between Hank and his mother:

“Everything you do, Hank, you do in your own way. That’s your gift.”

“Yeah, but a lot of times that gift gets me into trouble.”

“You’re very special,” she whispered. “Never forget that.”

As Winkler read, I heard his voice catch. “The audience couldn’t see the tear that rolled slowly down his cheek,” I told the girls. “But I could.”

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