Five Questions for
Author of Secret Saturdays
In October we welcomed Torrey Maldonado, a New York-based author who writes books for middle-grade and teen readers, to the Center for a KidsRead event. Torrey was also recently honored for his work as a teacher by the New York City Schools Chancellor.
Torrey spoke to seventh graders from The Renaissance Charter School and the Ascend Charter School about his book Secret Saturdays, which all the students read as part of our KidsRead program.
What inspired you to write for younger readers?
As a boy, my mom told me, “I read out loud to you when you were in my belly.” I believe her since she brought me to hear authors read throughout my life. Books lifted my sights from my housing project to the universe. Reading showed me my world was bigger than my zip code. Reading was my magic carpet ride out of poverty. As a boy, I loved seeing my mother’s eyes smile during read-alouds. Her love of reading inspired me to write and teach. When I see the smiling eyes of young readers, I remember my mother’s smiling eyes. And I give kids what books gave me: stories to show how big we are and how big our world can be, and stories that give readers a carpet ride.
How does your work as a writer come into your classroom—does it affect who you are as a teacher?
Kids deal with the same issues I had growing up. Kids wrestle with being different, friendship dynamics, and “isms.” On top of that, a lot of their required school reading bores them. I use writing and teaching to give young people exciting breaks, to validate their realities in school and outside, to help them better handle tough times, and I use a relatable, familiar voice when doing that. It’s my approach that affects both my writing and teaching. I approach both crafts in a way that kids don’t want my stories or classes to end. When kids ask, “When is your next book coming out because I read Secret Saturdays three times?” I feel my writing helps. When kids say they wish I taught them all day, I feel my teaching helps.
As an expert in conflict management, what are your strategies for creating realistic and compelling conflicts in your stories?
If I add up the elementary, middle schools, and high schools I’ve worked with as a Conflict Resolution Trainer for the U.S.A.’s largest victims’ services agency (Safe Horizons), it would be maybe a hundred schools. That gives me different lenses. Superman has x-ray vision and I wrote Secret Saturdays with my x-ray conflict resolution lenses. I spotted issues behind youth behavior then created a book to raise, then solve those issues. Schools email me and say they use Secret Saturdays almost like a conflict resolution manual. Pre-teens and teens don’t want to read a conflict resolution manual but they read Secret Saturdays. Some read it in a day. Why? Most youth prefer a thrill-ride. I did what the comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica Seinfeld, did. She realized her kids hated healthy foods so she snuck them in delicious snacks, then made a cookbook. I snuck conflict-resolution strategies and lessons in Secret Saturdays, yet instead of being “corny” Booklist calls it “infectiously readable.”
What's one thing that you hope young readers take away from your book?
From Secret Saturdays, I want children to get the rush I got from doing flips as a kid all day in pools. I want children to get pumped up about reading the way they get pumped up about video games, shows, movies, and comic books. I made Secret Saturdays a fast-paced mix of excitement, humor, and mystery and I want readers to be thrilled, then eat up more great, realistic fictions.
What challenges do YA and MG writers face (that those writing for adults might not experience)?
Many young adult and middle-grade readers quit reading many books written for adults in the first paragraph. Why? Many adult writers stay in their adult skin and speak as adults-to-adults. YA and MG readers are smart and want something more. So YA and MG writers have to do more. First, we have to “body hop,” like those Grand Theft Auto games, out of our adult brains and into the brains of tweens and teens. We have to write mostly from the tween or teen point-of-view. We have to nail the language and create authentic dialogue. We have to write standout stories that set readers on journeys, while we subtly impart themes and lessons. We have to write stories with an all-show approach. Those are some challenges we YA and MG writers face.
About Torrey Maldonado
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.
Visit his website for more information: torreymaldonado.com
About Secret Saturdays
An urban novel with the power and intensity of Walter Dean Myers's books
Sean is Justin's best friend—or at least Justin thought he was. But lately Sean has been acting differently. He's been telling lies, getting into trouble at school, hanging out with a tougher crowd, even getting into fights. When Justin finally discovers that Sean's been keeping a secret and is dealing with the shame of that, Justin wants to do something to help before his friend spirals further out of control. But will trying to save Sean jeopardize their friendship? Should Justin risk losing his best friend in order to save him?