Even award-winning authors can start out as reluctant readers.

Matt de la Peña, who won the Newbery Award in 2016 for his children’s book “Last Stop on Market Street,” wasn’t always so literary-minded.

“I grew up in a very working class neighborhood in California, near the Mexican border. I never saw family members reading. I thought it was a club that people like us didn’t belong to,” de la Peña said. “Looking back, I was the exact kid that needed to read. Coming from that machismo neighborhood you’re taught not to feel, and reading is a way to experience emotion.”

De la Peña’s short story for teens, “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium,” is in the “Flying Lessons & Other Stories” anthology (Yearling Books, 2018), part of this year’s All Pike Peaks Reads program. He will talk about his “journey from reluctant reader to author and the transformative nature of literature” and will sign books Thursday at Library 21c. A short question-and-answer session will follow.

“I spent all my after-school hours playing ball. I think it was my goal in high school to go to college for free because I knew we weren’t going to be able to pay for it,” the author said. “Once I got there I had a free education and could choose any class I wanted to. I took a female writers class where authors like Alice Walker and Sandra Cisneros changed my world.”

De la Pena, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., has written six young adult novels, including “Mexican WhiteBoy,” “We Were Here” and “The Living,” and several children’s books including the recently released “Carmela Full of Wishes.”

“I’ve visited hundreds of schools and met tens of thousands of young people. And so many of them are just like that old version of me. Self-defined nonreaders who spend all day reading the world. My mission as an author is to help a few of them translate those skills to the written word,” he said.

This year’s All Pikes Peak Reads focus on diversity, multiculturalism, immigration and resiliency, said Rebecca Philipsen, young adult services senior librarian for the Pikes Peak Library District.

“We look at authors we’ve enjoyed, who’s popular and authors whose titles we think will hold up well in a ‘one community, one book’ type of situation,” she said. “This year we kept running around de la Peña’s name. He writes children’s as well as teen books and has an impressive body of work for a wide range of ages. Even though he wasn’t the main author of this collection, we thought his story complemented adult programming as well. It’s something anyone could read and enjoy.”

The venue seats about 400 people, and Philipsen said she expects a solid turnout.

“In the four years we’ve been doing these events, we have had everything from 100 to 500 people in the audience, with the greatest number for author Ally Condie in 2014. This is the kind of evening with an author event that hopefully lots of people come out to. We’re ending the season with a bang.”

MICHELLE KARAS, THE GAZETTE, MICHELLE.KARAS@GAZETTE.COM

Features Reporter/Special Sections Editor

Michelle is a features reporter and editor of The Gazette's annual Best of the Springs and FYI magazines. A Penn State journalism graduate, she joined the Gazette in 2015.

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