By Torrey Maldonado, author, teacher and WRADvocate
When LitWorld told me about its February 24th World Read Aloud Day, I jumped to help spotlight the power of reading. Why? Reading showed me that my world was bigger than my zip code. Reading was my magic carpet ride out of poverty.
It was tough growing up where I did. When I was a boy, Life magazine called my Brooklyn housing projects one of the “worst neighborhoods” in New York. Living there while trying to navigate a community and family that were both torn apart, I felt alone and the raw absence of togetherness.
Whenever someone admitted to sharing feelings or life experiences with me, I clung to our common ground. Hearing how they worked through relatable issues strengthened me.
When I was a boy, my mother told me, “I read out loud to you when you were in my belly”. I believe it because throughout my life she has taken me by the hand so we could sit side-by-side to hear authors read. Getting lost in distant places described in books lifted my sights from my block to the universe.
As a boy, I loved to watch my mother’s eyes smile as read-alouds gave us access to things we needed—things that all humans need.
Her pouring her love for reading into me bubbled up a desire in me to see the worlds in books that were beyond my zip code. I wanted to rewrite my story into one where I wouldn’t stay poor and living in a cycle of poverty. The love of reading instilled by my mother helped inspire me to want to teach and write. Today, I do both.
This year marks my fifteenth year as a teacher. The New York City Chancellor of schools visited my classroom and honored me as a top educator. Secret Saturdays, my Middle Grade and Young Adult novel, is now used in schools across the U.S.A. to excite a new generation of readers.
When I read aloud now, I always see smiling eyes like my mother's in my listeners. I love pausing to ask, “Do you want me to stop reading?” They adamantly chorus, “NO!” I then test the power of a read aloud and joke, “You’re just being kind.” That’s where I’ve seen tweens to senior citizens beg that I “read just one more page”. Why? Interestingly, most tend to be like me. Maybe they had different upbringings. Maybe they didn’t need a magic carpet ride out of poverty. But, when listeners demand that I keep reading, their eyes say that they feel what I felt growing up: a hunger to hold onto togetherness, a need for validation and a space to feel things, and a desire to work through issues with others in ways that leaves us strengthened.
Torrey Maldonado was voted a "Top 10 Latino Author" and best Middle Grade and Young Adult novelist for African Americans and Latinos. He 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. His acclaimed novel, Secret Saturdays, made states’ reading lists and is assigned alongside classics and in anti-bullying initiatives.