What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado

Hello, Torrey Maldonado! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for dropping by to celebrate and chat about What Lane? Thank you for writing a middle-grade novel that comes in at 139 pages. Each chapter is short and perfectly paced. I think teachers, especially fifth-grade and sixth-grade teachers, should read it aloud. It will help facilitate important conversations.

If I were interviewing Stephen, what’s a question he would want me to ask? How do you think he would answer it?

Torrey Maldonado: Wow. You asking that is HUGE! So is your wording! This is why. You’re saying, “I want YOU—Stephen—to share what YOU want me to know”. Mr. Schu, I have taught middle school for over twenty years. Whoah, just saying that makes me feel that’s a long time and makes me miss my afro. I’ve taught all my hair off! LOL! (I now have a baldie haircut.) Back to your question. Before the quarantine, I passed a colleague’s office and heard him say what adults have said my whole life and during my teaching tenure. He told a girl, “I’M in charge. I will tell you how this will go”. Minutes later, I cross paths with her in the hall. She’s so mad, steam almost smokes off her head. I ask, “What’s up?” She nods at my colleague’s door, “I hate him. He never listens. He always assumes . . .” Mr. Schu, we know adults treat kids of all racial, ethnic, or class backgrounds that way. Racism and privilege is a steroid to people’s “authority complex”. Look at media or social media. Bigotry, hate crimes, unfair policing, and more is seen as it’s seen in What Lane? Kids react to that in different ways, especially two. First, they respond like that girl with my colleague. I asked her, “So . . .?” She shrugged, “He wants to think he knows? Fine. I just shut up and don’t try”. Stephen does that in What Lane? He often doesn’t speak his mind. But his feelings and opinions—like all kids—never goes away, which is another way kids respond to their voice-suppression. So, you asking your question is you saying, “Stephen, your voice matters. Show me what YOU want me to know.” That’s you offering him lanes and asking, “What Lane?” If you do that, you’d be like his allies of the book. He’d smile big and lean in because he’d feel your empathy. He’d take his foot off the brake society presses on his heart and he’d put his foot on the pedal of sharing, and you’d both drive to a higher ground of empathy and alliance.

Thank you for this powerful response. 

Scenario: A bookseller at Greenlight Bookstore asks you to fill out a virtual shelf talker about What Lane? There is enough space for 267 characters. 

Torrey Maldonado: I'll use an expert to shelf talk What Lane? Betsy Bird, a great SLJ librarian, said “It's quick, thin and there’s not a drop of excess anywhere”. She adds, “I feel like it is a natural companion to our Newbery winner NEW KID”. Did she say that for its comics energy? Is it because it centers a Black boy protagonist and diverse cast? Or is it that it helps kids analyze behavior and gives them words to name feelings and space to discuss tough topics in fun ways? Read my book to find out and for a Brooklyn story never before told.

A perfect virtual shelftalker Thank you! 

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Stephen’s parents are all parents. Yes, their unique Brooklyn, NY perspectives gives you an exclusive window into another world. AND they are mirrors because most parents want to protect their child. Stephen’s parents seem different since his mom is White and his dad is Black yet they show a joy of life that Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sing in Ebony and Ivory: “people are the same wherever we go”. They’re “couples cute” and love and hate similar things and more.

I hope What Lane? helps kids better handle what’s been here for hundreds of years and what’s seen in this pandemic. Beth Parmer, a K-5 librarian in Columbus, Ohio, told me that an Asian girl said what happens in What Lane? happened to her dad. Parmer said, “And I think about how hard that must be for a child to deal with, and while I can’t take that pain or challenge away, your book gave us a space to process it.”

School librarians are to our real world what the “Justice League” is to comics. Libraries are superhero lairs. As a boy, my housing projects’ library was a fortress of solitude and books were Captain America’s “Super Soldier Serum”. Libraries transformed me from at-risk into writing and teaching to help kids see that they are heroic and can be their own type of real-world hero.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me… you’re doing that cool thing again. First, you asked, “what’s a question Stephen would want me to ask?” and now you’re amplifying my voice. I appreciate that and a fun question is, “How does the Hamilton musical relate to What Lane?” For me, “The song Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? relates because What Lane? tells unseen, unheard, and marginalized stories. It’s in a tween’s voice because I want young readers stories told in our canon.

Borrow What Lane? from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

Penguin's Description: 

Anything his friends can do, Stephen should be able to do too, right? So when they dare each other to sneak into an abandoned building, he doesn’t think it’s his lane, but he goes. Here’s the thing, though: Can he do everything his friends can? Lately, he’s not so sure. As a mixed kid, he feels like he’s living in two worlds with different rules—and he’s been noticing that strangers treat him differently than his white friends…

So what’ll he do? Hold on tight as Stephen swerves in and out of lanes to find out which are his—and who should be with him.

Torrey Maldonado, the author of the critically acclaimed Tight and Secret Saturdays, is a teacher in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised. His books reflect his students’ and his experiences.


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