Authors Inspire Middle School Readers

Middle school book lovers had the opportunity to read, write and connect with award-winning authors Torrey Maldonado and Carlos Hernandez as part of the weeklong festivities during the Middle School Book Fair earlier this month.

Maldonado, a Brooklyn-based author and teacher, spoke about “Hands,” his latest book aimed at middle school readers. It’s the story of Trev, a young artist who is struggling to see his bright future as he debates using his talented hands to defend himself and his family. 

“I watched students light up and sit up straight as they connected with Maldonado’s stories about himself and his culture growing up,” said Jennifer Rathkopf, humanities teacher. “Maldonado spoke the language of superheroes, comic books and music, and students got excited as they saw the things that were important to them represented in and reflected by the author.”

Seventh grader Jisella Jorsling enjoyed Maldonado’s presentation and the writing workshop. “A lot of what he talked about I could relate to in my own life which made his story interesting,” she explained. “What I like about his books is that they have rap verses from a lot of songs that I listen to during my free time.”

Classmate Robert Mercedes ’28 is a big fan of Maldonado’s work and finds the author’s descriptions of his “childhood growing up in the city as a young Hispanic boy” relatable. “When I read his books I found the way he wrote them was unique and that style of writing was difficult to find anywhere else, so his books were always like a breath of fresh air to me,” Mercedes said. 

While Maldonado writes about his experience growing up in Brooklyn as a young man of color, Carlos Hernandez’s books are infused with Cuban culture and traditions. Head librarian Jillian McCoy, who organized the author visits and book fair, said “It is important to make sure that when we bring guest speakers on campus, we are offering ‘windows and mirrors’ by representing a variety of viewpoints that our students can connect with and learn from.”

Science fiction/fantasy author Hernandez met with students at Estherwood to discuss his time-traveling adventure book “Sal and Gabi Break the Universe” and its sequel, “Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe.” Both stories follow main character and magician Sal Vidón and his friend Gabi Reál through multiple universes. Hernandez also described his writing process to the students.

“He brought them through how he creates his worlds and gave them a writing prompt and had them write the beginnings of a story,” Rathkopf said. “His was a quieter energy and passion, but still wonderful and connected with the students and showed them how they could all be writers.”  

Waverly Beckwith ’29 has already put her newfound knowledge to use in an essay for class, noting that “Both workshops were very interactive; there were activities, fun writing prompts and tips for beginning a story.”

McCoy emphasized the value of these visits and the lifelong impression they can have on students: “One student had read Torrey Maldonado’s book ‘Tight’ five times, so seeing that student have a conversation with the author and get to connect with him on a personal level was very rewarding.”