Do you ALAN?

I’ve written quite a bit about attending the ALAN conference, but never about ALAN.

ALAN is the Assembly on Literacy for Adolescents.

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents is an independent assembly of NCTE. Founded in November 1973, ALAN is made up of teachers, authors, librarians, publishers, teacher-educators and their students, and others who are particularly interested in the area of young adult literature.

ALAN offers a wealth of opportunities to anyone interested in young adult literature. Our memberships is made up of teachers, librarians, professors, authors, publishers, agents, and anyone else who loves YA!  On the sidebar is a list of docs describing our mission, our outreach programs, our grants, our membership benefits, and our publications.

At the conferences I’ve attended, I’ve met academics, public librarians, lawyers who write YA, storytellers, teachers, publishers and authors. While I’ve been dismayed by the lack of people of color at the events, I have been impressed by their commitment to diversity.

During the conference, the following points were made.

• ALAN is looking to grow their membership. Currently, you can join for the ridiculously low fee of $20. Members receive copies of The ALAN Review.

• ALAN is looking for state representatives to work locally with members.

• There is a need for more people to review books for ALAN. The reviews appear on the ALAN website and/or in the journal.

• ALAN is making efforts to do more work with middle and high school teachers. You could be a teacher, publisher, author or student who has ideas on how this organization can provide resources for this endeavor.

ALAN maintains an online community which anyone can join. Log it, join the discussions, share your ideas and let your voice be heard! Think about going to the conference next year (Have I mentioned that you’ll receive 30 books when you attend??). Consider applying for a grant. Join! Give a friend a membership for Christmas! If you, like me want to see more books for teens of color, we both have to be more active in the YA community.

Do at least follow ALAN on Twitter and on FB

Male Monday: Torrey Maldonado

Torrey Maldonado is an author and educator. His first MG/YA novel, Secret Saturdays was a 2011 ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection. Torrey is also an advocate for literacy, education and young men of color. He recently agreed to the following interview and I think that you’ll be as amazed by his energy, optimism and hope in our collective future (i.e., our children) as I am.

First let’s start with  a few questions to introduce you to my readers.

Where did you grow up?

“In New York!” (to quote Alicia Keys’ song) “The Concrete Jungle where dreams are made of!”  My upbringing and path from poverty to being featured on NBC, CNN, and other media is more similar to Jay-Z though.  Red Hook, Brooklyn is where I grew up and it’s an “other side of the tracks” place that is full of contradictions.  On one hand, it’s the hard Brooklyn housing projects where my sister was the Day Care teacher of the NBA-star Carmelo Anthony.  Life Magazine in 1988 called our neighborhood the “Crack Capital of the U.S.A.”.  On the other hand, Red Hook “will make you feel brand new” (to quote Alicia Keys again) and it’s the tightknit, warm community where many “hipsters” and “artsy” types today visit, fall in love with, and set up shop.  Red Hook’s contradictions, charm, and warmth have a hold on me and it’s why I thought I’d write the next Harry Potter or Twilight series but blinked and I produced a debut novel set in Red Hook about two Red Hook friends.  I think Red Hook’s magic is what landed Secret Saturdays on states’ High and Middle School reading-lists and inspires Red Hook organizations and colleges to assign it next to classics such as The Outsiders and invite me to visit.

Do you have any pets?

I SO wish I had pets.  I miss my cat, Snow White, from my childhood.  Sure, she peed on and clawed to shreds my prized two-hundred plus-comic book collection!  Urgh!  But I still miss her because pets have a magic that I see makes people’s eyes light up more than when they see friends.  So why don’t I have pets?  My wife does this hacking cough, allergic thingy if she’s around animals for too long; so, I gave up pet-ownership for another love.  Now, we have a toddler and she may be allergic to animal-hair.  But every now and then, I get lucky and am invited to author-visit around the country and stay with pet-owners.  Oh, I’m in “pet heaven” then (hi to Mr. & Mrs. Udell in Husdon!  Hey to the Antony John family in St. Louis).

What do you enjoy watching on television?

I’m like the people who like my book—I like T.V., but only good T.V.  I rarely get to watch T.V. because I’m a veteran public school teacher PLUS an author PLUS a father PLUS an active collaborator with a few organizations that help youth evolve into their best selves.  The other night I got the rare chance to watch T.V. and I re-watched an international T.V. phenomenon—a first episode of “Heroes”.   Sci-Fi, fantasy, and magic realism T.V. feeds my “T.V. sweet-tooth” because it was that non-reality programming that sweetened by childhood when the hardships of my neighborhood soured my reality.  I also prefer T.V. or movies that have characters who look like the mix of our world.  My T.V. and movie tastes color my writing.  I wrote Secret Saturdays while constantly asking, “Would a young media-addicted ‘me’ read this?”  In other words, would today’s Young Adults and Middle Schoolers say my book has “made for T.V. swag”?  I still have a letter that a Bangladeshi mom wrote me.  She said, “Thank you. My son is addicted to video games and T.V.  For the past two days, he’s read your book and did none of those things.”  I hope someone who makes movies sees the similar response on from a Child and Adolescent psychologist.  She starts her therapy groups by reading a chapter of my book to grandparents, parents/caregivers, teens, and tweens and everyone feels my book should be a movie.  As for the multicultural aspect of my writing, both my family and my friendship-circles are proud because I’m on must-read Black, Latino, and multicultural book-lists.

Meat or vegetables?

Right now, you can’t see me but I’m licking my lips and eyeing Thanksgiving Turkey.  However, if you could look inside my mind, you’d see a steel-cage wrestling match: the meat-eater I am now versus the vegetarian I was for nearly ten years.  I come from a mixed—Black and Latino—upbringing, just like the half-Black and half-Puerto Rican two main characters of Secret Saturdays.  The cultures of my family and neighbors during my childhood put meat in every meal.  So Luke was able to resist “the force” that his Darth Vader dad was serving but, as much as I resisted, bacon tempted me back to the “meaty”-side of life.  It’s a tasty world yet I’m reminded of a sixty-something year old vegetarian I recently met.  How does he look forty years old with a muscular body like Duane “The Rock” Johnson?  He says his secret is he doesn’t eat meat.  He quit after the Vietnam War and has outlived his friends and family.  So, today, I’m eating meat yet should I?

Are there any books that stand out in your memories of childhood?

I still time-travel back to a “happy early childhood place” whenever I see Ezra Jack Keats’ A Snowy Day.   My mom would peel back those pages and I thought I was looking in the mirror—I thought that little brown, boy protagonist was me!  Interestingly, I was invited to speak on Election Day on an award-winning, all-male panel in the recent New York City Librarian conference.  Our session was entitled, “Engaging Boys in Reading” and the first man on the “mic” began by saying his favorite childhood book was A Snowy Day!  Wow!  To quote Roberta Flack or Lauryn Hill, he was “telling my whole life with his words”.  Is it a coincidence that we share the same childhood, favorite book?  I think the answer is in the weekend before that panel.  The weekend before, I was invited to speak at the YALSA Symposium in St.  Louis on a panel called “Guys Talkin’ to Guys: What Will Guys Read Next?”  Ours was a different all-male, diverse panel yet there were so many uncanny coincidences!  Most of the guys said they were drawn to similar books that I loved as a boy, tween, and teen.  Us loving the same books and types of books as children influenced another coincidence—we now write those kinds of books (books where fictional characters and dialogue feel real, comics and graphic novels, books that are cool for guys to be seen carrying, thinner books, and books with chapters as long as the attention-spans of today’s Young Adult and Middle School females and males).

What book(s) are you in the middle of reading right now?

I might be revealing that I’m a “history geek” with this answer.  I bought and, so far, am enjoying every moment I steal to read the just-released graphic novel The Hammer and The Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America.  As a teacher and author, I’m more in the middle of two places.  First, I’m in the middle of reading books that I use in my classes.  At the same time, I’m wrapping up writing a book that I’m told Young Adults and Middle School students will devour in under a day.  I just wish I could finish writing it in under a day.  

You’re an educator! What subjects and ages do you most enjoy teaching? Why?

I’ve taught for sixteen years in two capacities and see a strong connection between both fields.  For three years, I was a Conflict Resolution Trainer and Staff Developer for the U.S.’s largest victim-services agency and taught schools to set up and run Conflict Resolution programs.  There, I taught adults as well as classes from fifth grade through twelfth graders.  Then, I became a sixth grade Social Studies (History) and have loved it for the past thirteen years.  The connection between my Conflict Resolution and my veteran teaching careers is what most teachers do: develop students’ character.  That’s what I aim to do with my novel and I love one librarian’s review of me in her “Library Lounge Lizard” blog because she “gets” a part of why I teach and write!  She says: “I really loved this book and I will be encouraging teachers and librarians everywhere to read it and keep it in their classrooms and libraries.  The situation of [middle school] boys insecure about communicating their feelings with other boys without seeming ‘gay’ is practically epidemic and compounding that with the fact they sometimes live without positive male role models is a recipe for disaster.”  In Secret Saturdays, I show how kids are losing a language of their youthful honesty and trading their innocence for a new language of “fronting” and being mean and bullying and, for many, this is a fall into an abyss of non-stop ugliness as they falling into lower and lower rungs of meanness.  As a teacher and author, I enjoy being in the “tween and teen crossroads” to help kids sidestep the “abyss of the dis” and stay multidimensional and kindhearted as they walk into young adulthood.  I saw the Common Core Learning Standards on the horizon so designed Secret Saturdays in alignment with them so schools see the added-value in my book.  The heart of the Common Core is get students to listen like judges, think and read like detectives, and write like investigative journalists and Justin grows to excel in all three tasks by the book’s conclusion.  You’ll also find Core-based materials I designed on my site—lessons for major subjects, a Discussion Guide, test, and more.

What books do you recommend most often to your students?

It depends on the student.  I always follow this rule: the best salesperson is your peer.  A kid doesn’t want to hear my love for Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love (although she’s amazing because she does for women in that book what I do for males in Secret Saturdays and Nelson Mandela quoted her in his inaugural speech and Oprah loves her).  Do I think my male and female students should read A Return to Love?  Yes, but they don’t want to read that.  Young people want to wear the Michael Jordan sneakers that their friends wear and, similarly, they want to read what is popular with their peers.  So, when I figure out what issue a student is struggling with I assign a matching fan-favorite book almost the way a doctor prescribes the right medicine.  Basically, it’s always the same equation: a student has an issue, kids elsewhere recommend a book that addresses that issue, and I relay that book into the right hands.

In an interview about Secret Saturdays you talk about all the missing men in young people’s lives and in the lives of families.  I think men are also missing in the voice of teen/pre-teen books, particularly those of men of color.  What difference do you think it would make to have more Black, Latino, Asian and Native American men writing for teens?

Youth—especially young males—have gone so long without soaking up images of themselves in books or as authors that they’re dry sponges and will sponge-up anyone who remotely looks like them.  I participated in the upstate, NY, Hudson Children’s Book Festival and a Filipino boy spotted me and yelled, “YOU’RE FILIPINO, RIGHT?”  I didn’t have the heart to crush him and say “No”.  A one-hundred-and-eighty degree shift in this area would trigger massive, positive change for boys on many levels, especially in the explosion of boys who become men-of-color authors—like I did.  In the 1990s, my mom opened a New York Daily newspaper and showed me a Dominican Republican-American debut author who looks a bit like me.  His name was Junot Diaz.  I took that article and he represented my missing voice so much that I cut out and taped the article on my wall.  Then, again in the 1990s, my mom said a bestselling African-American author named James McBride—the writer of The Color of Water which is set in my hometown—would speak at our local Red Hook library.  I went and he autographed his book I bought with “To a fellow scribe (author)”.  Both Diaz and McBride don’t make up my exact racial make-up yet they fired me up so much that it ignited me to skyrocket into joining them as a professional writer.  I can’t count how many White, Mexican-American, Asian, Native American, and more tweens and teens tell me I inspire them how these authors inspired me. 

Do you think you’ll always teach?

Yes.  And write.

You mention quite often that you’ve always wanted to be a writer.  Looking back, what were some of the things you did, whether intentional or not, that helped prepare you to become a professional writer?

Remember in The Matrix how Morpheus kept waiting for Neo to be ready?  Neo’s whole life prepared him but he needed a push?  My whole life prepared me for the road I’m on but my mom almost slipping into a diabetic coma helped push me to become the professional-writer that she kept waiting for me to be.  Since I was in elementary school, I heard my mom brag that “My son’s going to write books someday.”  The possibility that she might die without seeing me fulfill her dream lit a fire in me that propelled me to write Secret Saturdays.  That’s why my book is dedicated to my mom.  That’s also backstory into how I got my start.  I think jobs I’ve had help keep me successful.  In high school, I had a few sales-jobs and, in one, I sold socks and ties to subway train-passengers.  The rule then was the rule now for most debut authors: “sell or sink”.  When I debuted, I was told “You’re responsible for setting up your author-visits and promoting your book.”  Having learned as a teen how to engage a person and establish responsiveness helps me as a professional writer.  Teaching has prepared me to engage large-groups and also know if I’m “hit” with an audience; so, I group-talk and write with a sense of what will “move” or “lose” an audience.  

I read Secret Saturdays quite a while ago!  In fact, I think I read it as an ARC.  I’m sure that in all that time, you’ve re-visited that story a lot as you discussed and introduced it to new readers. What are some of the storylines you might continue to develop in a sequel?

The publishing game is supply-and-demand.  I have a “hit” with readers and we’ll see if get a sequel.  One librarian made a bulletin board that said, “The 25 Most ‘Checked Out’ Books from Our Library” and my book was number one.  Secret Saturdays was more popular than a lot of books-to-movies!  Wow.  The other day, a girl asked, “When are you done with the second book?  I’m halfway through this one and I can’t wait to close it and open up the next.”  Also, when I author-visit ten out of ten times readers, teachers, librarians, and administrators ask, “When is book two coming out?”  They even have titles!  LOL!   Secret Sundays!  Manic Mondays!  If enough readers demand the book, Penguin will tell me to supply it and I’d love to get the chance to do what readers want: play out want what happens at the end between Justin and Sean; show their friendship change as new teen dramas crop up; see what happens with Sean and Vanessa (bom chicka wow wow); and guess who’s dads re-appear and bring a lot of action and craziness to the mix. . . .  As I cross-fingers and wait to be asked to write a sequel, I’m writing another book with other storylines.

Thanks, Torrey! It was a pleasure getting to know you. I hope Penguin will soon realize how much demand there is for a sequel to Secret Saturdays, as well as other stories you have to write!

Torrey’s bio: Voted a “2012 Top 10 Author”, NBC & more have spotlighted Maldonado & his “hit” ALA Quick Pick novel, Secret Saturdays.  Born & raised in Red Hook projects, he overcame neighborhood poverty & violence to be the first immediate family member to attend college.  Graduating Vassar, he trained schools to implement Conflict Resolution programs through the U.S.’s largest victim-services agency.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Baruch College.  A veteran teacher, his cross-cataloged—Young Adult and Middle Grade—novel is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes, made states’ Middle & High school reading-lists, & is assigned alongside classics in colleges.  Learn more at

Male Monday: Now accepting applications


The Institute for Responsible Citizenship is now accepting applications for the *Youth Scholar Academy (YSA)*
This program enables talented black male college students who aspire to careers in teaching to operate a summer enrichment program for high school boys.  We encourage students interested in education to apply.

YSA scholars spend two summers in Washington, DC interning at youth serving organizations. They also participate in challenging academic seminars, and meet influential leaders.

Students join a network of talented leaders.  Please share the news with anyone interested in applying.  The deadline is Friday, February 8, 2013.

Questions?  Contact Elijah Heyward, III at (202) 659-2832 or </mc/compose?>.

Please visit our website for more info:


review: My Name is Parvana

title: My Name is Parvana

author: Deborah Ellis

date: Groundwood Press, 2012

main character: Parvana

My name is Parvana is the final book in the Breadwinner series. While it feels more like Ellis is sharing an old friend with us rather than creating a new character, this book can be appreciated very much on its own. Parvana is a young girl in post-Taliban Afghanistan who had been working with her mother to provide an education for young girls. The story opens with her in the custody of American soldiers and Parvana refuses to speak to them. We live inside her memories with her as she both hides and remembers who she is. She makes little of the heroic things she has done in the past, but dreams big about what she can do in the future. The soldiers are unable to determine her motives because of her silence and it is in this silence that she maintains her dignity and strength. Parvana is not a larger than life hero in the new Afghanistan, rather she is an ordinary person who does ordinary things that make a tremendous difference to other people. The difference she makes easily becomes the difference we can all make.

War continues to rage in Afghanistan. American soldiers don’t know who to trust and many Afghans do not want traditions to change. Parvana is the story of one young woman in Afghanistan who is able to decide her own future. Her story is one of hope.

Deborah Ellis is a multi award-winning author who lives in Canada. Her fiction and non fiction books are often set in Afghanistan and a portion of the royalties from her books are donated to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International.

ALAN 2012

I had high expectations for ALAN because I had such a fantastic time last year. I wasn’t so sure as things began. Things began to feel so different from last year! I wasn’t ever excited about the idea of Vegas for a YAlit conference and even more so after getting here. The overpowering smell in the lobby made me sick and the walk to the convention center was too long and unnecessary. Once over there, the only amenities available were the restrooms.

I didn’t like my box of books, too much gore and romance. Too much centered on death. I had to ask myself why it’s so much easier for white readers to embrace books about serial killers rather than those by or about people of color.

I was so disappointed to see fewer than a dozen people of color in the audience and it seemed that even fewer authors were there as well.

I didn’t see anyone I knew and wasn’t connecting with anyone on Twitter. But then, @YABookBridges , someone I’d tweeted with since the last ALAN, contacted me to meet up for lunch and it was nothing but uphill from there.

I had so many wonderful encounters with authors! Because of this blog, those I connect with most are authors of color, however please do not think that I was not impressed to be in the same room with Lois Lowry, Sonya Sones, Blue Balliett, Anita Silvey and Lauren Myracle. Yes, I continue to be impressed by the strong presence of the many voices created for young women in YA, this year particularly through Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks. I want to be more like Patricia McCormick, Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters. Sure, it would be wonderful to be able to tell other’s stories with such eloquence, but I’d settle with having their drive to make a difference.

Mike Mullin and Isamu Fukui spoke about empowering students to become writers by letting them write whatever they want. And, that’s what someone did for Gaby Rodriguez. Through her senior project, she went from being a young girl who was afraid she’d never amount to being anything to being a young woman so in control of her own destiny that she became an inspiration for others.

Interestingly, the most diverse panel was “Dystopia” with Isamu Fukui, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mike Mullin and Marie Lu. I had to smile when Johnson said her book was inspired by Bahia, Brasil because my blog banner is from a quilt shop there.  I did get a copy of her book and plan to review it and hopefully interview her soon.

Sharon Flake was there when the announcement was made that Pinned made it to Kirkus’ Best Children’s Books of 2012 list.

My first breakout session explored the literary aesthetic in Indian, Black and Latino literature was… interesting. My mind couldn’t get much past hearing someone say she was going to describe the aesthetics of Black literature having no had no personal with the culture, but having read one article.

I could have listened to Ann Angel, J.L. Powers and Varian Johnson for hours more. They come from places of authentic interactions with people who are culturally different from themselves but they see and dwell in the similarities. They write to overcome barriers. For Powers, its in stories of war, for Angel its biographic narratives and for Johnson, its sexuality. It was all about social justice.

I’m still in Vegas doing the tourist thing!

This past year, I’ve noted a rapid decline in the number of books published by YA authors of color while the number of YA books in general is increasing. Few people of color attended this conference and indeed the number of POC authors was down as well. What is happening? How do we keep our voice in the mix?

I did have a great time at ALAN and my mind is exploding with ideas of what I want to do next. I went to Vegas alone and came back with so many new friends, new books and new ideas! It’s all about who did show up.

A is for…

If you visit Zetta Elliott’s blog, you’ll find that A is for Anansi, a bi-annually impressive conference” hosted by the Institute of African American Affairs, aims to deepen and diversify the cannon, conversation and scholarship of the literature as told by its most influential critics, scholars, teachers and producers.” It sounds like those of us who didn’t attend really missed out.

 ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Young Adults) is coming next week! Very few authors of color on the schedule. Very few authors of color got published this year. I know I’ll enjoy this conference, it was just amazing last year. But this lack of representation is unsettling. I did hear that the organizers were reaching out, so I’m not sure what happened.

APALA (Asian Pacific American Librarian Association) has a feature series entitled What’s Your Normal? Their most recent feature is “More Than Enough” in which Alla Aiko Moore states:

 We live in a world of Western thought and Universalist thinking, where, when two things conflict or oppose, only one can be true. This creates barriers in our communities and forces people to only acknowledge part of their identities in order to feel included and not isolated. People with multiple identities often feel like they are straddling two worlds, with their feet never fully planted in either one.

Read the article and I’m sure like me, you’ll question how often you find the need to place people in one category or another.

A is for Arab! The past couple of weeks, there have been several diversity events on campus and among them was the library’s presentation of “A is for Arab”. It seemed like such a good idea, to display banners that displayed stereotypical Hollywood images on one side and then dispelled the myth on the other. But, it didn’t work and the banners were pulled. There are a lot of reasons why it went wrong, but I took the consequences so personal. Here I was on the side that offered the offense! These things aren’t always intentional, but that doesn’t make them any less wrong. Conversations were held, lessons were learned and plans made for other events in the future.

Also during the events was a performance by Rohina Malik, “Unveiled”. If Rohina ever performs this near you, do go see her! This one woman show is the story of five Muslim women and how their lives have been disrupted by post 9-11 reactions to them. Using tea as a thread through the stories, we meet Arab women from a variety of countries and occupations. As Rohina relates quite passionate stories, she reveals the lives of very strong women who, despite it all, I was unable to feel sorry for: they didn’t need pity! It was clear these women would be OK despite the verbal, emotional and even physical abuse they’ve suffered, but the thing is that they should be more than just ‘OK’.

A is for ‘another post needs to go up this week’!! I have three reviews to share!!






Welcome, November 2012, officially proclaimed Native American Heritage Month. November also means ALAN!!! VEGAS!!! I can’t wait! My clock fell behind this morning and once again, I wonder who came up with this nonsense and why!

Regardless, I will vote this Tuesday!

The call for proposals for presentations at the 8th annual BCALA conference has been extended to 19 November.

PaperTigers continues to celebrate its 10th year with themed booklists. One of my recent favs is Rukhsana Khan’s list of religious themed books.  They’ve even added a Facebook page to continue the celebration there!

Right now, I’m multitasking because I’m  watching “Black Girls Rock” on BET while I write this post. The show began by honoring Kerry Washington and most recently honored Yasmine Arrington, a college student who began a scholarship fund for young women like her whose father’s are incarcerated

Looking for a real life motivator? How about the University of Illinois conference for Women of Color in the Academy to be held this April.

Looks like more storms are heading to the east coast. Be prepared, be safe. And, let’s take care on one another!