Alumnus writes children’s books to share life lessons.
When an empty nest brought back cherished memories of reading bedtime stories to his daughter who had just left for college, Michael Genhart ’84 began writing his own children’s books. Six years, 13 books and several awards later, what started as a hobby has become much more—a way to honor and relive the diverse facets of his family, as well as show what family can mean to others.
His latest book, May Your Life Be Deliciosa, is based on Genhart’s childhood memories making tamales around Christmas time with the rest of his family. “I grew up in a multicultural home; my father is Swiss- American and my mother is Mexican-American, so our tradition at Christmas, like it is for many of Mexican heritage, is to have a tamale-making party called a tamalada. It’s a day-long party with a lot of work, but it’s super fun because everyone has a job to do, and there’s music, dancing and storytelling.”
The book recounts the tamalada and the many stories his grandmother shared, many of which had been passed down to her through generations. She not only shared how to make tamales but also lessons for a happy life, encouraging her grandchildren to support each other (like the tamales in the pot), be flexible (like the corn husks) and add love to everything you do (like the olive in the tamale), among other invaluable life lessons.
Genhart also shares his experience as a father in Rainbow: A First Book of Pride, published in 2019. As gay parents, he and his husband recalled reading children’s books to his daughter and feeling the absence of picture books showing LGBTQ+ families like his own.
“I wanted to create a book that introduced children to rainbow families going about their lives just like everyone else, while also celebrating the colorful meaning behind each rainbow stripe,” says Genhart.
Genhart says he intended for the book to be enjoyed by all families, not just those who are LGBTQ+. He believes that introducing kids to the community at a young age could help familiarize them and eliminate the prejudice and exclusion experienced by many queer families.
“When children pick up books to read, it is important that they can see themselves and their families reflected on the pages as well as see people who don’t look like them,” says Genhart. “And that’s true for all types of families.”
He also draws inspiration from the issues he confronts as a clinical psychologist in San Francisco. With themes of empathy, diversity and inclusion, Genhart’s books are informed by the principle that seeing oneself represented is an important aspect of feeling accepted.
“Nothing is more delightful than hearing, ‘That’s me!’ or ‘That’s my family!’ from a child who recognizes herself in a story. Not only does this encourage further reading but it also allows a child to relate to important messages contained in the storylines. It’s a powerful way to build character and help them grow into who they are.”
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