The People Who Write Questionnaire: Torrey Maldonado

Torrey Maldonado, author of Secret Saturdays_PeopleWhoWrite

Torrey Maldonado‘s acclaimed debut Secret Saturdays was a 2011 ALA Quick Pick.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Boy Meets World.

What is the greatest story ever told?
I joked with a packed house, “My character is at risk of becoming a real-life Darth Vader.” Everyone laughed and got it. So STAR WARS…

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
An unimaginable number of jobs have been created by Disney. It all began with Mickey Mouse so he may be the greatest character invented.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Any schoolteacher-author-parent publishing two books-a-year. He/she has the Holy Grail. I’m “Tim Robbins-ing” out of Shawshank just to do one.

What is your favorite word right now?
Vacation. It’s when I write. Most of the year, I’m in my Clark Kent suit. On vacations, I show my “S” and do what I do. Write, feel super.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Balderdash. It means “nonsense”. It weirded out my 3rd grade teacher too. Instead of looking it up, she gave me detention for using it.

How many words have you written today?
The great news is I’m in Disney World and haven’t written a word today. The bad news is my writer’s brain is “GUILTing” me for that.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Hot spot to write = spot with hot music. [My characters] Sean’s and Justin’s playlist, that I list in Secret Saturdays, rocketed me through writing the book.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
That I can’t wave wands and things happen. Like pen a book a week. Or reply to folks’ asking my first be a film with a “POOF” and SO IT IS!

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I loved visiting a school of 2,000 youth plus parents who read and loved my book. Note to self: “Try taking a selfie with them next time.”

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Each writer has their own process.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
If your book hooks readers like Hunger Games and Harry Potter, yours will be BIG. Critics say mine and some of my friends’ do but…

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
My writing is what I needed as a reluctant reader — fun reads with meaty issues to transform me.

Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” and best Middle Grade and Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Maldonado was recently honored as a top teacher by NYC’s schools Chancellor. His work builds boys into multidimensional males and youth into global, caring citizens. Before teaching, he trained schools to implement Conflict Resolution programs through the U.S.’s largest victim-services agency. Praised for its timeless feel, his acclaimed novel, Secret Saturdays, made states’ reading lists and is assigned alongside classics and in anti-bullying initiatives. His forthcoming works also are inspired by his and his students’ lives.

Diverse Children's Books to Put on Your List

Torrey Maldonado's Secret Saturdays_peoplewhowrite

Secret Saturday’s is a compelling chronicle of a Latino boy coming of age in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Latinos make up 16% of the U.S. population and almost 25% of public school students, but they are not adequately reflected in children‘s literature (one of the only growing sectors in the publishing industry) or on classroom reading lists, Motoko Rich pointed out in a New York Times article this week. Citing Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Magic Treehouse series among his favorite reads, eight year old Mario Cortez-Pacheco is quoted in Rich’s article as saying “I see a lot of people that don’t have a lot of color.”

Not being able to personally identify with or relate to content has been linked to poor performance on standardized tests, which obviously has farther reaching ramifications on the future success of students. Writer Mona Se Queda gave a compelling example in a piece published in Persephone Magazine:

“I once saw an essay question asking children to write a persuasive essay about why fishing is fun. That seems at first glance to be a pretty innocuous question, as I was raised with a father who loves to fish.  However, how many children from the inner city go fishing? How would they know if it is fun or not? A student may be able to produce a well-thought-out essay in general, but if they are not familiar with the prompt, they will not succeed according to the exam.” 

There needs to be more balance. It’s not only important that kids like Mario see stories that reflect them and their experiences in the classroom setting; it’s crucial that all students be exposed to a diversity of stories. I’m not just talking race. Reading books that handle class, gender, geographical location, sexual orientation, and culture are just a few of the ways students can begin to understand and learn to empathize with experiences that are unfamiliar to their own.

NeonSeon's_Life of Shouty_peoplewhowrite

Shouty goes from “overweight and overwhelmed to fit and focused”

Understanding and empathy are a large part of why stories are so powerful. As writers, we strive to tell our stories — stories we hope will connect across race, gender, class, etc — because we ourselves will never forget the first time we connected with a story or character in a book.

That flutter of recognition and identification validated what we were feeling and who we were/are. Likewise, we’ve been consumed with stories we couldn’t put down even though, on the surface, we had nothing in common with the characters/no familiarity with the setting or subject matter because the story transcended all the barriers to capture the human experience we all share.

We need to advocate for inclusion of more diverse stories on kids’ school reading lists, and personally expand the reading selection of the kids in our lives. With the holidays upon us, this is a good opportunity to gift a book.

Bookseller Aurora Anaya-Cerda shares her recommendation of Latino children’s titles in a companion New York Times article on the topic.

In Kwame Alexander's children's book, nine year old Indigo Blume spearheads a clean-up campaign in her neighborhood.

Nine-year-old Indigo Blume spearheads a clean-up campaign in her neighborhood

She includes one of my faves, Torrey Maldonado’s middle-grade title Secret Saturdays about a young boy struggling to define what manhood is in the absence of his incarcerated father. I also recommend:

1. Sharon Draper’s award-winning Copper Sun about a young girl ripped from her village in Ghana and shipped to America as a slave,

2. Kwame Alexander’s Indigo Blume and the Garden City about an intrepid and poetic nine-year-old girl that spearheads her neighborhood’s clean-up campaign and rooftop garden,

3. Martin Wilson’s YA novel What They Always Tell Us about a gay teen struggling to come out to his family,

4. Liza Monroy’s Mexican High about an American teenage girl who starts her senior year of high school in Mexico when her mother, an employee of the State Department, gets reassigned,

5. NeonSeon’s charming Life of Shouty picture books that adults will enjoy too,

6. and my own book, Powder Necklace, about a teenage girl whose mom ships her off from London to boarding school in Cape Coast, Ghana after she catches her entertaining a boy at home unsupervised.