Malcolm Mitchell admits he had one reason for going to school while growing up. And it had nothing to do with learning.
“School was a requirement to play football,” Mitchell said Saturday.
Did he ever read a book for fun?
“Oooh, no,” Mitchell laughed.
His stellar football skills led him from Valdosta to the University of Georgia and then to the NFL, where he’s a member of the Super Bowl champions New England Patriots. But in college, Mitchell said, he finally acknowledged he struggled in reading and writing.
“That’s when it really hit me that there were some things I needed to work on,” he said.
As a 19-year-old, Mitchell went to work, starting with children’s books and challenging himself to learn the skills he needed off the field. There was little time for watching television and Mitchell says he didn’t spend his college days partying. He played football and focused on bettering himself. While he was a student, he wrote a children’s book titled “The Magician’s Hat.” Now, he’s on a mission to make sure kids in all communities have access to books and experience the joys of reading.
In February, the expanded edition of the book, which has been newly illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, was released. The book tells the story of David, a magician who loves to perform his own type of magic: the magical power of books. David pulls books out of his hat for the kids and shows them that through reading, anything is possible. And on Saturday, Mitchell read the book at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Edgewood and signed copies for children and adults.
Barbara Provenzano bought a book for her 16-month-old grandson Joey.
“I fell in love with his story,” Barbara Provenzano said. “He’s got such a platform right now so he should use it, especially with kids not wanting to read.”
Avery Lamb, 7, and her 9-year-old friend Izzy Zyglis were still wearing their soccer uniforms and cleats as they waited for Mitchell to sign their new copies of “The Magician’s Hat.”
“Thank you for giving books to kids that don’t have them,” Avery told Mitchell.
Mitchell greeted football fans and book fans of all ages Saturday, signing dozens of books and posing for countless pictures and selfies. Layne Wiggins, the store manager, said books have been her career for 23 years. But rarely are authors as approachable and laid-back as Mitchell, she said. And his book offers a strong message for readers of all ages.
“This is just who I am,” Mitchell said. “Books, football, writing. This is me.”
A lifelong UGA football fan, Frank Spence said he’s a regular at the bookstore and couldn’t miss the chance to meet Mitchell. And he made sure he wore the right colors: red and black. Spence asked Mitchell to sign one book for himself and another for a friend.
“This is just so inspiring,” Spence said. “He’s just a role model for young people.”
Mitchell said he’ll continue to promote his book until mid-April, when he returns to Boston for football. No matter what he’s doing, he still makes time to read at least an hour a day. Mitchell says he would like to eventually write chapter books for older readers. But until then, he enjoys the opportunities to meet fans of all ages.
Kim Miley said she loves Mitchell’s personal story, so she brought her niece and two nephews to get their new copies of “The Magician’s Hat” signed. Will, Gabby and Preston Flournoy also posed for pictures with the football star.
Though she loves Mitchell’s efforts to promote reading, she not-so-secretly wishes he played for another team.
“I might just cheer for him,” Miley said. “I still ain’t cheering for the Patriots.”
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