Taye Diggs on writing children's books and bonding with his 'avid reader' son: 'His mother and I are very thankful'

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Actor and children's book author Taye Diggs on the importance of reading with kids and bonding with his son Walker. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Actor and children's book author Taye Diggs on the importance of reading with kids and bonding with his son Walker. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child rearing.

Taye Diggs has played a heartthrob who helped Stella get her groove back, Rent's stuffy landlord Benny and, currently, a family man football coach. But beyond Hollywood and the bright lights of Broadway, the actor's passion lies in books — something he attributes to having a teacher as a mom. Collaborating with longtime pal and illustrator Shane W. Evans, Diggs has written five children's books, the latest of which, Why?: A Conversation About Race, was released last month.

Who better, then, to step up on Read Across America Day for a live storytelling session? On March 2 at 5 p.m. PT, the All American star will take over the Lucky Charms Instagram account to read aloud from The Magic Inside, a new book detailing how the cereal brand's leprechaun mascot, Lucky, discovers — and learns to appreciate — his special powers. The takeaway that our unique attributes are something to be celebrated resonated with Diggs.

"A lot of the books that I write are focused on self-esteem," the actor, 51, tells Yahoo Life's So Mini Ways. "I feel like we're never too old to be reminded of that message. [Whether] you're a young person struggling in school or just an adult, there are always those moments when you feel a little bit out of place, and we need to be reminded that there is magic in being different."

He speaks from experience. Growing up, Diggs struggled to fit in, though reading proved to be a balm.

"I was very nerdy and on the outskirts when I was much younger," he admits. "So I would read to make myself feel better, and that was huge."

His love for literature is something he's passed on to Walker, the 12-year-old son he shares with ex-wife Idina Menzel of Wicked and Frozen fame. Diggs notes that he and Menzel are "very thankful" that their boy has become an "avid reader."

"Every once in a while, I just have to take a minute and just, like, thank the powers that be," the proud dad says, "because he's a crazy athlete, huge jock, but for some reason, we've been blessed. He really still is very involved and loves the arts and even more so loves to read. ... All the books that I write, I run by him first. When he was younger, I would read them to him and ask him what he thought. And now that he's older, he can read them himself. Luckily I've done an OK job so far. His opinion definitely matters."

In addition to sharing his dad's love of reading — and inspiring the books Diggs writes with him in mind — Walker also may have picked up some of his parents's theatrical chops. You'd expect nothing less from a kid whose parents met while starring in the original cast of Rent — but just don't tell him that.

Asked if his son has inherited the Broadway gene, Diggs — who has also performed in Chicago and Hedwig and the Angry Inch — smiles.

"He has, but he doesn't want to be reminded of [it]," the Chocolate Me author says. "He's terribly talented. Just the other day he was humming along with something. I said, "Wow, you have a really good voice.' He said, 'Why do you have to tell me that? Why did you tell me I have a good voice?' And I couldn't understand why he was upset at the compliment, but I think deep down inside he's very wary of us telling him he's talented so that we can get him to try to come over to our side," he laughs.

Though he credits Menzel for doing "all the heavy lifting," Diggs sees being a good listener and empowering his son as part of his responsibility as an involved father.

"The way we were raised, I was constantly told things," he says, "and I think that can kind of get in the way of a child's development — as opposed to kind of letting them have experiences on their own and reach answers through trial."

Diggs is also committed to "making sure he feels heard when he is going through certain emotions."

He adds, "As parents, we're kind of taught if the kid is crying, 'don't cry.' If the kid falls down, 'it's OK. You're fine. You're OK. You're OK.' And we're actually telling the child to kind of disregard how they're feeling. And I feel like it starts at that young age. And then when you're older, you know, you end up not knowing when and how or why you can have these natural emotions, and it can really get in the way of growing. So it's difficult, but I try to just be there and kind of let him tell me where I'm supposed to fit in and guide [him]. But yeah, there's a huge difference between how I was raised and how me and his mom are trying to foster him along."

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