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The Power in Our Hands with Torrey Maldonado

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

Torrey Maldonado shares HANDS, a story about Trevor, a twelve-year-old who is a gifted comic-book artist, a good student, and would do anything to protect his mom and sisters.


Hands by Torrey Maldonado

Page length: 144 pages.

Recommended age range: ages 10 and up.

Twelve-year-old Trevor is a gifted comic-book artist, a good student, and would do anything to protect his mom and sisters. But his stepdad’s return stresses Trev—because when he left, he threatened Trev’s mom.

Listening to messages from media, a friend, and his neighborhood, he thinks he needs to learn to “throw hands,” and trains to box as good as Muhammad Ali and Creed on his bedroom wall's posters and others.

He bulks up and, at almost six feet tall, he gets so nice with his hands he feels ready to protect his mother. But is he? Everyone isn’t a fan of his plan because Trev’s artistic talents could help him build a better future.

After over twenty five years of teaching tweens and teens, Torrey Maldonado knows many young people see muscles as strength or feel they're alone to solve their problems. Hands is a tale of responsibility. The story questions what strength is and shows much can be achieved by an individual, yet more can be done with a team.

The book also shows how some who don't seem strong can be the strongest. Uncle Larry compares Trevor's mother to the Jedi, saying: “You know the Jedi have the Force? Well, your mother is a force.” He highlights how using hands for violence means following Darth Vader's path.

Trevor comes to realize his future is in his hands. He has to choose how to use them. And he doesn't have all the answers, but has a village pointing him away from traps and to the treasures of life. Hands is based on Mr. Maldonado’s upbringing in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses and readers and critics are celebrating its universal and timeless themes and applaud it as accessible, engaging, and heartfelt.






Listen along:


[0:04] Introduction

Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.

I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. Honestly. YOU, listeners, are my favorite kind of people.

This is a podcast all about exploring big ideas in children’s books and the way that stories can help us feel seen, understood, and valued.

Helping me out on today’s episode is my guy, Jonah. Jonah, take it away!

Jonah: Hi! My name’s Jonah. I’m 12 years old and I’m from Maryland.

Today on the Children’s Book Podcast, Torrey Maldonado talks about Hands.

Torrey Maldonado was born and raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects. He has taught in New York City public schools for over 25 years and his fast-paced, compelling stories are inspired by his and his students’ experiences.

His popular young readers novels include What Lane?, which won many starred reviews and was cited by Oprah Daily and the NY Times for being essential to discuss racism and allyship; Tight won the Christopher Award, was an ALA Notable Book, and an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year; and his first novel, Secret Saturdays, has stayed in print for over ten years. His newest book, Hands, releases this January and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.

Matthew: Hands by Torrey Maldonado.

“The author of What Lane? and Tight delivers a fast-paced read that packs a punch about a boy figuring out how to best use his hands--to build or to knock down.

Trev would do anything to protect his mom and sisters, especially from his stepdad. But his stepdad's return stresses Trev--because when he left, he threatened Trev's mom. Rather than live scared, Trev takes matters into his own hands, literally. He starts learning to box to handle his stepdad. But everyone isn't a fan of his plan, because Trev's a talented artist, and his hands could actually help him build a better future. And they're letting him know. But their advice for some distant future feels useless in his reality right now. Ultimately, Trev knows his future is in his hands, and his hands are his own, and he has to choose how to use them.”

[2:50] Meet our guest: Torrey Maldonado

Torrey: Hi, my name is Torrey Maldonado and I am a teacher.

I've been teaching for over 25 years. I've gone from when a lot of these comic book movies were just comic books to seeing them on the big screen, which is great because I teach and I like to help young people realize that they are super heroic.

I'm excited because January 24th, my newest middle grade book, Hands, publishes, and that's my fourth book. The types of books that I write are books that young people say, “Oh, that book needs to be a movie.” Or, “Can you turn this into a graphic novel? Cause it feels like a graphic novel.”

My books are middle grade books. They follow sixth grade characters. However, fourth grade and fifth graders love my books and two of my books, Tight and Secret Saturdays, got ALA Quick Pick awards for young adult reluctant readers. So I'm really happy that lots of young people, um, are connecting with my books and feel like they're cool.

Matthew: Yeah, you, they're not just connecting with your books. You're cool, too. It's amazing to have a nice teacher, a cool teacher behind them.

You, I know you know that we love to use this word. You even reconnected with me using that word, but Torrey, your books are unputdownable. You have a beautiful, beautiful way of writing these micro chapters, these, these quick “Oh, I can just read a chapter and then put it down. I've got time to read a chapter”, and then you find yourself reading multiple.

I work with K to four and my fourth graders do know your books and do love your books. And I know that I am not a unique case.

We have a lot of Maldonado fans in our midst.

Torrey: Oh, thank you. I love hearing it. That's the music and that's candy to authors. Uh, we, we love hearing it and we eat that up.

[4:55] What kind of reader did you have in mind?

Matthew: Often authors have a specific kid or group of kids in mind when writing a story. You could probably say the same for Mr. Maldonado, though he was also thinking of his kid-self when it came to writing Hands.

Torrey: There's that Michael Jackson song at lyric: “I'm looking at the man in the mirror”. And, with Hands, I was looking at the boy in the mirror.

The book is largely autobiographical and while I wrote the book that I needed when I was in the sixth grade, and really I needed this book. And when the issues that show up in Trevor's life started showing up. So I needed this book when I was in the fourth grade, the fifth grade, and it continued through high school.

I wrote that book for young tweens at the same time. Young tween book reviewers have been reading hands and they've been saying, uh, what is another reason I wrote the book.

I wrote the book for lots of students, uh, especially boys who think that or see muscles as strength.

And I wrote this book for lots of kids who feel alone and feel that they have to solve their problems by themselves, because the book Hands helps show that using hands doesn't mean you're strong. And external strength and being muscley, that doesn't mean you're strong.

There's, there are lots of ways to show strength. So, we see Trevor, in Hands, showing the type of strength that lots of young people show on a daily basis, and we wanna encourage young people to show that more often.

The book is also about how lots can be achieved by being an individual, but lots more can be achieved with the right team. So, a line that repeats itself in the book is “it takes a village to raise a child”, and the right village can take young people to greater heights of humanity and greater heights of allyship and friendship.

[7:13] Feeling east and west

Matthew: You use this line a lot, which I just haven't ever heard before, which is that that east-west pull. “I'm feeling east and west.” And I just thought, “Wow. I'm gonna use that.

I'm gonna use that.” That feeling of feeling like being pulled in opposite directions and, and, and how, how, how, how it feels to be in situations like that. Hmm.

Torrey: I gotta give a shout out to the cover of… Those who are tuning in can't see the amazing cover art of hands. However, that east and west that you talk about… That shows up inside Hands.

The boy, Trevor, he feels east and west like it shows up on the cover because on the cover you have Trev drawing. He, he's really nice with his hands as an artist.

And then you also see the flip, where, on the cover, Trev is boxing because he's listening to all of these messages from friends and family, media and school on how he should use his hands.

So he's, he's torn. He's really feeling east and west.

[8:30] My mom is Yoda

Matthew: Hands centers on 12-year-old Trevor, a talented artist and lover of comics, who turns to boxing in order to protect his mom and his sisters.

I loved how Torrey Maldonado played with the idea that experiences or circumstances in life can propel us or grow us in ways we might not expect.

Torrey: Absolutely. You know, experiences in life can propel us to do things. And I often liken experiences to fire or to fuel. It could, it could fire us up and propel us in the right direction, or it could propel us towards a “oops”.

And I'll never forget when I was a young boy, about Trev's age and Hands. I remember coming home and there was a magazine on the cover, uh, uh, was Mike Tyson. And I was immediately drawn to the this magazine for a few reasons. Number one: Mike Tyson at the time was the heavyweight champ of the world. And in my neighborhood being toughmattered because it was a really tough neighborhood. So kids wanted to be Mike Tyson, like I wanted to be Mike Tyson.

But another reason why I was really drawn to the magazine was because my mom, she monitored everything I read, and she usually was around to look to see what I was reading. But on this one day, I walked into my house as a middle schooler. There wasn't a family member home, so the magazine was all mine.

And I picked up the magazine and my happiness flipped to anger really quickly and to confusion really quickly because in the magazine was a 9-page photo spread of my neighborhood. And, Matthew, the way these pictures portrayed people who knew me and people who I knew, it just wasn't right. It just wasn't humane. It just wasn't respectful.

And I'll never forget that experience being fire in my belly. I wanted to use my hands like Trev in the book to get revenge.

And my mom comes home and she sees my face and she has what I describe in the book Hands as ESP, Extra Street Perception. And we know that's the same thing Peter Parker has.

It's the same thing that Miles Morales has. It's this spider sense. We all have that, and great parents have it. They can look at their child and know, and no, in an instant what's going on.

And my mom walks in, she sees my face, and she says, “What's wrong?” And I told her, “Look at this magazine”. And she said, “I thought I, I didn't look through the magazine. I got it from you because my Tyson's on the cover and I know you like Mike Tyson.”

I said, “Yeah, but ma. Look.”

And I showed her, and she told me something. And I joke about my mom being my Yoda because she was short and she would often speak in quotes and riddles. And two of those quotes I'll share in a moment.

In Hands, the boy Trev, he realizes, he says, “You know, my mom is my Yoda because of the wisdom she gives me.” And, and also it also shows up in riddles. And so my mom said to me in that moment that I'm looking at this magazine and I'm upset and angry and I want to do something with my hands, she says to me, “Torrey, what do you wanna do?”

And I said, “I wanna beat them up.”

And she says, “Uh, finish this sentenceTorrey. If you can't beat them…”.

And I didn't know what she meant. And she says, “Join them”.

And I was like, “If you can't beat them, join them? Okay, ma.” Like, what does that mean?

And then she says, “Here.” Picks up a pen and says, “Here. The pen is mightier than the sword.”

And again, I'm looking at my mom baffled. What are you talking about, ma? You know, the pen is my sword? If I can't beat them, join them?

And she connected those two together by saying, “You can't, you can't. You're sixth, you're a sixth grader. You can't go and find the people who did this nine page photo spread and beat them up. But you can join them in the world of storytelling and you can tell the truth about what kids are experiencing and what's going on in life, and not just paint one side of the picture and not show one side of the coin, but show everything. Show the yin and the yang.”

So, um, I have to say that that experience was fire. It was fuel that has driven me through the years and drives me today to write books, to show young people that in these moments where you are angry or you are confused, there is a way that you could use your hands and you can use your mind to reroute and to make things right.

[14:14] “Throwing hands”

Matthew: With a title like “Hands”, you can bet that the author is calling your attention to how hands are used, both throughout the story, and also throughout your own life.

In the story, we read moments where hands are used to defend, to create, to comfort, to support, to carry, to transform.

Jonah, what are some of the ways you use your own hands?

Jonah: With your hands, you can do many things. You can write a book. You can write a story. You can draw. You can do many things, such as playing video games with you hands, high-fiving people, fist-bumping them. There are lots of things you can do with them.

Matthew: Yeah. It got me wondering about how aware Torrey is of the ways he uses his hands, both in his work as an author and also as a teacher.

Torrey: That's a great question. Hands, for me, mean a few things.

One, we could use our hands to build. We could also use our hands to knock down. We could use our hands as helping hands.

But also, the reason that I use the word “hands”, is it centers around a phrase that gets used 24-7, 365 days a year, not only in Brooklyn where I live, but all over the world: “throwing hands”.

Right? You, um, just today in the hallway at school, I hear one kid yell, “World star'' and start saying, “Oh, he's gonna throw hands”.

And you know, it's really interesting when we think about hands, because when we think about hands, we think about control, right? They say you have it in the palm of your hands.

And, you know, um, in this book, Hands, Trev, he feels as if he doesn't have control. He feels as though he, um, as that things are slipping through his fingers and it feels as if someone else holds the power in their hands. And we see this in the book where we have another young boy who seems to hold the power, you know, in his hands.

And Trevor’s scared and fearful in that situation. There's a bully situation going on. But there's also a situation of bullying with adults too, and it feels as though that adult holds the power.

So this book really is about revealing that each of us hold a tremendous amount of power in our hands and that we have a firmer grasp on things than we think. And how can we identify those areas where we have a little grasp so that we can make it a stronger grip in a positive way.

[17:32] An excerpt from ‘HANDS’

Matthew: This is a powerful book and, I think you can tell, it has a powerful voice behind it, telling you the story.

I asked Mr. Maldonado if he could share an excerpt of Hands with all of you. He did not hesitate.

Torrey: Young people are constantly looking at the behaviors of adults and how adults use their hands and how adults respond to different situations. It makes me think about a scene in Hands where Trev is looking at Uncle Larry. I'm not sure if we have time, but can I read the scene?

Matthew: I would love that! Please do.

Torrey: Okay. So Trev, this is a, a scene in the book where Trev is frustrated, he's angry, he doesn't know how to get hit, those emotions he's experienced on the inside, out of him, he feels stuck in, um, his neighborhood and he wants to have an escape. And who crosses his uncle.

Now the uncle isn't blood related. The uncle is someone who shows us love. And that's a message that comes out in Hands is that family could be people who we choose, people who fight for us, respect us, encourage us, involve us, need us, all these things. So he sees Uncle Larry, and this is what happens. This is chapter 54. Page 111. By the way, there's only 136 pages of the book that circles back to what you said, Matthew, about how I write very thin chapters and thin books.

Yeah. But that are thick with complexity. So this is 136 pages that I'm proud of. And then now we're on page 111.

(Excerpt from Hands. Chapter 54, pages 111-112.)

And so we see here how he's taking cues from adults. How do adults respond in situations?

And he learns to act like those positive adults. But not only does he learn to act like positive adults, um, going back to what we talked about with how hands can be used. Hands can be used as helping hands.

The chapter ends with him talking about Little Cole. Little Cole is an eight year old who is his neighbor. And Trev is taking cues from the adults on how to act and then teaching someone younger ways to navigate the world so that he could fulfill his promise without hurting himself or hurting anybody else.

[21:56] A message from Torrey Maldonado

Matthew: Listeners, as we close our time together, I intentionally save this space just for you. Whether you are a reader of Mr. Maldonado’s books, or hearing about him for the first time.

Whether you consider yourself a reader at all, or if you’re listening because someone recommended this podcast to you. It does not matter.

All that matters is that you’re here and that you’re listening. Because this message is just for you.

Mr. Maldonado? Take it away.

Torrey: Any moment that you wish to take flight, you can by reading the book that is right.

And after you take flight, hopefully whatever you learn in the book to make things right, come back to your world and try to make them right.

So, I encourage you to pick up a book. Escape into another world. It could be realistic fiction like mine. It could be fantasy, like others. But seek out the treasures that make those worlds and those books better and come back and make our world richer.

[23:22] Closing

Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.

Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.

Torrey? Where can listeners find you?

Torrey: So, readers can find me on Twitter at @TorreyMaldonado. The way you spell my name is T-O-R-R-E-Y. Last name is M-A-L-D-O-N-A-D-O.

You could also find me at my first name and last,

And if you read any of my work and you connect to anything and you would like to get in touch with me, there's a feature on my website where it says, contact the author. And a lot of times people think that goes to somewhere in the universe and it never goes to the author. Well, mine will lead you directly to me. And I'm happy to answer any questions that you have about my work or to help you with tips on how to tell your story.

Matthew: Visit for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.

Want a copy of Hands? Jonah, where should people look?

Jonah: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at

Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.

Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (

Our music is by Podington Bear.

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We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at

Be well. And read on.

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