The Writer in the Tough Teen

Matt de la Pena just won this year’s Newberry Award for a picture book, but he also writes young adult novels featuring working-class multicultural characters. Because of this, he is often invited to speak at urban schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. At one school visit, Matt talked with the principal as the students filed in. The principal pointed out a particular student, seated in the back. “That one’s a real instigator,” he said. “But don’t worry, we’ll remove him if he starts acting up. It wouldn’t be the first time Joshua blew an opportunity like this.” As he was introduced, Matt studied this kid. Joshua was bigger than everyone else. He had neck tattoos and a shaved head. He kept smacking the kid next to him in the back of the head and laughing. A nearby teacher shushed him.

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