Nov. 1, 2020

Spotlighting Lived Experiences From a Kids Perspective With Mathew Klickstein

Spotlighting Lived Experiences From a Kids Perspective With Mathew Klickstein

Spotlighting Lived Experiences From a Kids Perspective With Mathew Klickstein

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Today’s guest is prolific storyteller Mathew Klickstein. Mathew is a writer, speaker, and filmmaker; just to name a few. He talks with Mai Ling about his work with the Kids of Widney High, a group of young adults with developmental disabilities who formed a touring rock band. These experiences inspired Mathew to write the YA book titled, The Kids of Widney Junior High Take Over the World!, which imagines what the real-life kids might have experienced in Junior High.

Contact Mai Ling: MLC at

Contact James: James at



Introduction 00:00

So I had a lot of opportunity to see these experiences, and I wanted it to be something that kids could understand so that we can kind of educate them at a younger stage while they're making those stereotypes or archetypes or understanding the world.


Mai Ling 00:19

Welcome to Xceptional Leaders with Mai Ling and Martyn, where we spotlight high profile topics and amazing people who are changing the worldview on disability. I'm Mai Ling Chan of And I'm typically joined by my cohost, Martyn Sibley from, but he's not available right now, because he's so busy with his new marketing company, Purple Goat ( You can definitely check out everything that's going on with him and his world, on Facebook and on LinkedIn. And next month, we will have an episode where he interviews a guest, and we'll be able to connect back with him. But this week, I'm really excited to share information about Mathew Klickstein( the wonderful book that he has brought to us. What's really very interesting about this is how important it is for us to build our relationships outside of the disability community, because you never know how you're going to move ahead, and how you were going to build things with someone in the future. And so, you should always invest in your relationships with people. Also, I share a very, very personal story about how Matthew and I met. And I have to say I'm a little humbled by the events that led up to it. But I learned a lot. And I hope that you find some takeaways out of this also. The most important piece of that is that we are representing the disability community as leaders. And as much as we are finding that people with disabilities are marginalized. We are also finding that leaders like ourselves, who are trying to bring things to market or trying to shine a spotlight on individuals or organizations, we are also finding that we are having to fight the good fight and really having to push our platforms up front. And that takes a lot of hutzpah and a lot of perseverance and passion on our part. And the story that Matthew shares about he and I and our interaction is really important. And I wanted you to know that I'm not perfect, although we all pretend, you know, to put our best face forward all the time, there are things that do you fall through the cracks. And this is a great example of how I handled it and how important it was to handle it well, especially to someone like Matthew who has a lot of experience working with different platforms, TV shows, I mean, he's just, he's very successful. And he's also finding difficulty. So, I hope that you enjoy this really heartfelt interview, just finding out Mathew's journey and what he's been doing for, I think it was 10 years of putting this book together. And then us also sharing our personal interaction to show you that we are real people, doing real things, to try to help real people. So, hope you enjoy this episode. Well, welcome. I am so excited to have Mathew Klickstein here with me today. He is the author of a new book coming out actually, it's out already. It's called "The Kids of Widney Junior High Take Over the World!" ( I don't want to give the whole story away. So, I'm going to try to keep that to the end. Because what's really important is Mathew's journey to writing the book and all of the wonderful things that he's done for the disability community. Mathew is a multi-platform storyteller and a pop culture historian. He's done works with Nickelodeon and The Simpsons. He's an author and a storyteller. He's also done work with Sony television, the Food Network, Wired Magazine (, the Baltimore Jewish Times (, and he's just prolific with producing content on so many different platforms. So, I'm really excited for you to get to know him better. Welcome, Mathew.


Mathew 03:54

Thank you for having me on the show.


Mai Ling 03:56

Let's start with how did you get your book published? I know that a lot of the people that listen to us are kind of toying about being a self-publisher or you know, sending it out there to get a publisher house to work with us. So, can you give us a little bit of tips and tools and how you did this?


Mathew 04:14

It's obviously something that comes up a lot for me, I've had many different books come out on many subjects through both the major publishers and the smaller ones. This one is probably the smallest publisher I've worked with in any format. They've been very dedicated, very hard working and plucky and innovative when we needed it as well. I loved working with their editorial team in particular, and the design team that actually put the book together, made it look the way that it did, did a fantastic job as well. They called Schiffer, S C H I F F E R publishing ( And this book because it's a middle grade reader for ages eight to 12. Really, it came out through their imprint Schiffer Kids. And I have to say, that anybody who's going to tell you how to get an agent or how to get published in one fell swoop is lying to you and wants to buy property in Florida too.


Mai Ling 05:04



Mathew 05:05

So many different ways. And so many different circumstances, every single book I've had published, just like every other large project I've worked with via TV and film has been a completely different situation every single time with totally different circumstances. So, I could go into further detail. But for the purposes here, I will just say, you really have to just figure it out and find the best way and the best set of circumstances for your particular project. And that's just doing the research, talking to people, you know, in the industry, and educating yourself to what it is that the market wants and what you want to do.


Mai Ling 05:38

Right, I remember you talking about relationship building? And how important that is? Can you expand a little bit on that?


Mathew 05:45

Well, as we had discussed in the past, I've really never gotten a job based on a resume, or, or something like that. I've been freelancing pretty steadily since my early 20s, almost 20 years ago now. And you know, I've been on staff and certain papers and things like that here or there. But for the most part, I'm jumping from project to project. And to do that, I find that the best way is to leverage the relationships you already have, and to make sure that they are genuine relationships, because these are people you're going to be working with on a project, suddenly, they're no longer just a friend of yours, there's somebody you're going to be having business dealings with. And you need to make sure you can depend on them, they need to make sure they can depend on you and that you guys aren't going to have some kind of internecine fighting or squabbling about who's got what and this, that and the other and duties. So, it's getting to know people truly getting to know them, and then realizing they have a talent, or a skill set that you can work with on some project you're doing. So, I do think that relationships in your life are very important, for sure for that very reason.


Mai Ling 06:50

Exactly. So, you hope you're just so prolific and working on all different platforms. How did you come upon this group of kids and working in the disability community on the story?


Mathew 06:59

For some reason, I've always had a deep innate interest in the so called disabled community, I used to read Of Mice and Men ( over and over again, as a kid, I was really into the movie Sling Blade (, for whatever reason, even as a much younger person, I was very aware of things like Outsider Art and the works of people like Jean Dubuffet ( And some of the early sort of proto impressionists or people who were doing artwork or looking at artwork done in insane asylums or whatever it is. So, I always had a real interest there, I was the teacher aide for my junior high school, special ed class that was taught actually by a friend of mine's mom. And throughout high school and early college, it just was very fascinated by outsider art. And that kind of thing I've learned about the kids of Widney High. Turned out, they were very close to where I went to film school at USC, I was invited to go check out their class. And that was 21 years ago. And right away, I started making films about them and films with them for classes at USC and started having some other friends get involved. And surely enough, I became very involved with the kids of Widney High, their lives, their families. I'd get invited to their, you know, cousin's camp scenarios or whatever. And all these different get-togethers and gatherings, I was almost part of their family started helping and taking them to shows and you know, it just went from there.


Mai Ling 08:16

That's wonderful. A lot of times we find that in the disability community of leaders, you know, people who are starting nonprofits, and writing books, and all of that, that we didn't have our start in this area, you know, our career started elsewhere. And then we find that we're using our talents and our resources to do something in this niche and actually create, and I love finding people like yourself who, like I've said a number of times, you're just prolific in so many different platforms. And so now, you know, taking this on in this specific area, is very unique. And so, I wanted to also bring up in the spirit of being transparent and genuine. I really want to share how you and I met, because it seems like you were really working so hard to personally promote the book and, you know, get out there and really get this book noticed. So, can you share with our listener how did you and I come to know each other?


Mathew 09:07

Yeah, it was it was actually a little bit tempestuous at first, just some technology glitches that we're all dealing with right now, was neither of our fault. But, you know, sometimes these things do happen. Through a friend of mine who's early in the podcast, he had suggested that I reached out to podcasts such as yours, just to see if you might be interested in helping us promote and talk about the book and the kids that were behind some other projects we have coming out about them right now. So I had gotten in touch with you, you were nice enough to set aside some time so that we can have kind of a pre interview, and you can get to know me a little bit better and what we'd be talking about on the show. That meeting was set up. We both agreed to it. And then I went was ready for the zoom meeting of course and you were not there.


Mai Ling 09:49

Tan tan tan......Hehehehe


Mathew 09:52

So of course I was reasonably a little upset like everybody right now, might so much of my schedule is based on other people's schedules and I'm doing all these different projects, promoting this one and everything else that I was, you know, understandably a little bit irate. So, I sent you an email that I'd like to think was still professional and respectful that made it clear that I was a bit ticked off.


Mai Ling 10:12

A little bit irate,


Mathew 10:13

A little irate, just a little irate. Yeah. And, you know, I sent it off and made it clear, you know, I still would be up for something. But that, you know, we would need to make sure that we're both on time and so forth. And you were nice enough and generous enough to come back very graciously wrote a nice Mia culpa about it and admitted that it was your responsibility, even though it's a tech problem or something, these things are going on right now. And I appreciate it. Not only that, you said that, but that you responded at all, you didn't just ignore me and say, Oh, this guy's a whack job, forget him, you knew that the project was something very important. I had something to offer to your listeners and to your show. And so, you were very contrite and respectful in your response. And we decided, let's, let's keep this going. And indeed, we did. And since then, we've been talking and discussing, you've been helping me with some things with the book, you've introduced me to some other people that I appreciate that I've also been talking with. So, I'm glad we did this, and I'm glad it worked out. And that we were able to let off a little steam, but also go right back into doing what needed to be done.


Mai Ling 11:14

Thank you, Mathew. And I really, really wanted you to share this, you know, I am a little humbled by it. But I want our listener to know so many pieces to this. The first is that, yes, if you say you're going to be somewhere, you have to be somewhere, right. And I really did have an integration issue with two calendars, you know, integrating with Calendly. But the other piece was, you know, showing up for our industry. And when you responded, that's what I heard in there. And I felt like I was representing the disability community of leaders, and that we have a responsibility to maybe it's too overdue, but because you know, we talk about people being marginalized, I really believe that businesses are marginalized, you know, nonprofits and books and, and everything that's in this space. And you actually really, you know, shone a spotlight on that, that I need to show up even more. So, can you share a little bit about that.


Mathew 12:01

That was as I told you, and why I appreciate it, you understood where I was coming from, it wasn't just that you missed a meeting. This does happen, obviously, quite a lot. But even before zoom time and whatnot, it's just the way that we are as human beings. But in this case, I was particularly frustrated, I think I let it out a little bit more than I normally would in an email to you was that as we discussed, I feel that of all the projects I've ever worked on. And I've been I've worked on many different projects, I've promoted many, even within the last few months. So even during pandemic, and I know how to get press in the New York Times, and I know how to get press in the LA Times. And I know how to do certain things with TV and radio and so forth. What I've done the last 20 years big part of being a creative these days, you have to do it yourself even when you're working with new companies. But I have never seen such a lack of interest or really stepping up to help promote, as I have with working with really anything, I've ever done with the kids of Widney High. And this too is going on 20 years, I was in LA for about 10 years working with them. And we were showing things and trying to get things to HBO and Comedy Central and MTV. And sometimes we'd work with people from these scenes in South Park and other groups. And there were some people who really did a lot to help us out. And we're so grateful for that. But it was always so hard to get the word out about what we were doing media wise then. And now. And I do think and in talking with a lot of people I know with disabilities, especially those who are also filmmakers or trying to be in film or actors or actresses, some of whom you connect to me to some of whom I've known for years. They say that that's true. And even with some of the so-called social reckoning that's supposed to be going on right now, in media and entertainment and certain other places. It seems like the disability community is being left out of the conversation in a large way. There's been little moments here or there. And some more things are happening for sure. But it's just not the level some of the other things that are going on right now. And we've been really feeling like we've been shut off from being able to talk about the kids of Widney High, their book, the version, the documentary that we have coming out and somebody other things going on, people just don't want to hear about disability. And so I was taking out some of that frustration, I think on you that it wasn't just you're missing a meeting, it was like, Oh, another one of these meetings. Where I have to talk about this.


Mai Ling 14:08

Right. Yeah. And I think that's so important, too. And I appreciate that again, you know, for our listener, it's not often that Mai misses a meeting. So just so you know, if I'm like five minutes late, you need to call my mom or something, right. It's just Where is she? And then the second piece is when something happens like this, you know, I just feel like we have to do better, you know, we, we really have to be humble, we've got to put our ego aside and make sure that that we're connecting the dots because I think it's so much harder. And then the people that are going to benefit from a book like this, Mathew, which we're going to get into, I just want everyone to know Yes, we're going to talk about the book, but for the people that are going to benefit from this book. It's all the work that Mathew is doing personally.


Mathew 14:50

I think that's a good point. I will say though, and you're talking about getting rid of the ego when you're dealing with these kinds of projects or promoting or so forth. I think that's a really good Important point too. And I was just having this conversation with my good friend, Dion Green (, he lives out here in Dayton, Ohio, where I am, he went through a lot of trauma over the last two years, he lost a father, there was a tornado that hit his house, a lot of other things have gone on. Yeah. And he's been writing about it and talking about and getting more involved in community events, and so forth. But we were saying one of the difficult things is that he gets a lot of congratulations for him, or a lot of like, good, you're doing good work. And that's not what he wants. He wants people to know about the work that he's doing. He doesn't want it to be about him. He wants it to be about the work. And I was saying, I feel exactly the same way. I almost wish I could take my name off of this book. Because that has been a lot of Matt, you're doing this great work. And Matt, this is so good that you're doing this. And oh, Matt, isn't that nice. And like, Don't worry about me, we need this for the kids of Widney High, for the book for the nonprofit is getting some of the profits that's been really hurt that we're working with. Also, when it comes to the book and some of these other things. It's about the kids and the disability community that they represent in their own small way. It's not about me. And so that part of it gets a little frustrating too that it's a lot of, you know, people feeling like they're helping me out or doing favors for me. And I'm trying to give it a you should care about this community. And this group, the kids of Widney High in particular, because they're doing all this amazing stuff. And they don't have anybody or anything pushing them or promoting them. They don’t have any money. They have their challenges with a disability, especially right now during pandemic.


Mai Ling 16:22

Yes, yeah, that's right. They say that real success is when the project takes a life of its own. You know, it's


Mathew 16:30

Right, I just hope that happens soon with this one, because it's been tough, but you know,


Mai Ling 16:34

It will. Okay, so let's get to the book. I loved it. Thank you so much for my copy. It's always wonderful now that I published a book, I know what that feels like to actually have a book in your hand. So, I absolutely appreciate it. And the first thing that I noticed is that, you know, in all types of mediums, like say, movies, and TV and film, and now books, people with disabilities aren't seeing the representation of themselves, you know, and if they do, it's a stereotype. You know, the, this is something that Eileen Grubba (, as an actress on was very prolific on TV, with HBO, and so many different shows, is that she's really pushing for actors to have roles that are not the spotlight of the story. So, it's not the guy in the wheelchair, it's a person who's happens to have a disability, but he is the main, the, you know, the main role in that, that storyline. And that's, that's what we need to see. And that's what this book does. I'm so excited. There's so many great quotes in here. The first thing I want to start out with is that Who is this book written for? Like whom would be your perfect reader?


Mathew 17:35

That's hard to say. I mean, I know it's cliche and very broad to say everybody that honestly is the truth in my heart, it is a middle grade reader. So technically, it's for ages eight to 12, a little older than the picture books, but a little younger than the tween teen, why novels, so it's more along the lines of a Judy Blume or Louis Sachar, or Roald Dahl, that kind of thing, Phantom Tollbooth little prints. But like those books, what we're aspiring to is that though it's technically written in the voice of in the perspective of a younger person, that older persons will enjoy it as well, especially educators who can use it as part of their curriculum or classes. But I want it to be something that they'll actually enjoy themselves reading, just like I hope that the parents and babysitters and older brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and so forth, will enjoy this as well, the way that you would enjoy a really good Pixar movie that might be technically for kids, but adults can really get into it as well. And that's what I hope was going on with this book. As far as ability level. I'm hoping that people without disabilities, especially kids will see better ways of interacting with people with disabilities. But I also desperately hope and believe that people with disabilities will read it and as you say, see a much more authentic and genuine representation of themselves. Because we have so many different characters with so many different disabilities, the kids of Widney High, which is a real group that I've worked with, like I said, for 20 years, they consulted and I pulled a lot from things that actually happened to them or things they've said, so that it could be as genuine as possible and not, you know, be relegated to stereotypes or, you know, things that aren't necessarily true and misrepresentations. That's what we really want to do here, especially showing the array of all the different kinds of disabilities and the way people feel about them and that kind of thing.


Mai Ling 19:12

Yeah, and you did such a great job of setting the tone. You know, you talked about it being a genuine representation. So, there are so many times in this book, when I'm like, wow, you know, what a great perspective. And I'm thinking this is like a 10-year-old, right? So I'm going to jump right into this great quote, it's on page 14, our main character Robbie, he, he gets into an altercation, and this bully kid turns around and says, Get back to your special ed class and make more cotton ball snowman or whatever you do in there. And I was like, shocked because this is just something that mean kids say, right? And, and there it was page 14 and its kind of just put you in the perspective of you know, this is what it looks like. It's not all candy coated, you know, sugary and I don't know I, it made me feel like a Super fudge and Captain Underpants. But we were talking about something really real for the first time.


Mathew 20:07

Yeah, I mean, obviously, it was difficult to get in the mindset of these bullies, although I've seen that kind of behavior before. And I wanted it to be that specific. And I was really putting myself back there to when I was a kid, when I was at this age and the kinds of things I saw and heard, and I didn't want my bullies in this story to be strawman or Hollow man I really wanted them to be sure people and without giving too much away, we see a little bit of them at the end and kind of how maybe they've have the potential to change as well in a very, I hope, truthful way. So, I wanted there to be some real warts and all and even with the kids of Widney High themselves. As you can tell, they're all very three dimensional, nuanced characters, they fight and they make mistakes, and they do things they regret, is one of them says, we're not all angels. And I think that's also really important to remind people, especially younger people that you know, just because someone has a disability, they're not going to be these, you know, perfect ideal angels, they get in trouble and get in fights and everything just like everybody else. And we really wanted to show that in this book.


Mai Ling 21:09

Yes, I also loved the way that you just captured their genuineness and honesty just as a child would. So, I'm going to jump to when he comes upon the two characters who are blind, they have vision impairment. And he says, quote, When I realized he was blind, I turned to ask Mr. Monagan, who's the teacher, if he was going to touch my face, like I'd seen in the movies? And the teacher says, Why don't you ask him yourself? And that's just great. I mean, isn't that perfect, that's, that's what kids would do. And, and it's also taking out that, you know, talking about the student, as if the students not there, I mean, you just captured so many things in that in, in in a genuine interaction.


Mathew 21:45

Well, as you said, not only did the kids consult a bit on this, but I've had those experiences, I mean, I've been out in the world have the kids of Widney High all over the place all over LA, I took them on a tour of the West Coast and have spent serious intimate time with them, and much of it out in the public eye. And so I've had these experiences like that, where and I have to sometimes remind people that they might come to kids of Widney High show, come up to one of the kids of Widney High members to tell them how much they like the show and they start talking to me. And I have to, I have to go like, here, I'm not in the band, you're talking to the wrong person, you know. And it's like, Hello, Phoebe right here, whatever. So, there is this kind of strange divide, and forget a real that does often start, of course, in younger years. And so that's why I've been trying to do this book for almost 10 years, it was so difficult to get it published, or to someone to buy the idea, even though I'm selling all these other books, and on all these other subjects. And so I had a lot of opportunity to see these experiences, and I wanted it to be something that kids could understand, so that we can kind of educate them at a younger stage, while they're making those stereotypes or archetypes or understanding the world. And so that was always my goal with this. And I'm glad that it's starting to happen. So, we'll see,


Mai Ling 22:54

Oh, you did such a beautiful job. You also did a great job of introducing these diagnoses, right? So, we have cerebral palsy and you, you helped to kind of describe the student without describing the diagnosis, right? You also talk about autism and vision impairment, but then also something is as common as diabetes, you know, where the student has a sugar issue. And we've seen that which is amazing. And kids get scared, you know, they don't know what it looks like. It's so now your reader has the experience of reading it. And then when they see it later, they might actually because kids are so smart, like, oh, that kid's got diabetes, I could totally see someone doing that, right. But then there's this one that's near and dear to my heart, because I am a speech language pathologist. And that's Cain, who does have a vision impairment and diabetes also has a stuttering impairment, which is a disfluency. And you represent it so warmly, you know, and the reader literally stutters along as they're reading, and you just come to be patient. Right. And that was just beautiful. I want to thank you for that. I haven't seen that too often.


Mathew 23:55

Yes. And you'll notice with some of the diagnoses, as you say, we were very clear about what they were we talked about them very explicitly, but others and the stuttering was one of them. It's just implicit because Cain happens to stutter. I don't think the word stuttering ever comes up. I don't think anyone brings it up or talks about it. It's just something right away that you as the reader need to understand and someone who might not understand stuttering might ask their parent or teacher, you know, why is why is this book written like this, and they have to explain what stuttering is. And so, there's a conversation going, and we really wanted to walk that line of some of the diagnoses we didn't really even want to talk about, we just want them to be there. Because that's how the real experience is not everybody who has certain diagnosis is going to talk about it or discuss it all the time, maybe at all, especially ones like something like stuttering or maybe some kind of a mental impairment or issue that might not be as easy to see. You might learn it a little later down the road, you might you know, and I've certainly had that happen too. So I wanted that to be a part of the book is that there's diversity not only in the disabilities but in how the people who have them deal with them or talk about them or maybe not talk about them the way that they come up sometimes a lot, and other times, not at all. And I thought that was very important to kind of show the different perspectives on how disability itself is dealt with by the people in the story.


Mai Ling 25:15

Yeah, and you do a wonderful job. I was surprised when you talked about MID, mild intellectual disability. And that, again, just as an as an introductory statement, or information that a student might be able to reach back to later on with, you know, when they have another experience, but I have to say, the student that's most endearing to me is Daniel, and that's because he has a podcast, right? I love that. And he's also an advocate, which is something that student’s essay, you know, in the in the middle grades that they don't, they're not exposed to as much and I love this quote on page 33. Daniel is the one member of the group who takes everything a bit too seriously. The kids are really important for him. And I later learned that it's because he sees the group as a way to help people outside the disabled community understand, said community in a better way. And I was like, Oh, he's an advocate.


Mathew 26:06

Yeah, no, Daniel is incredibly passionate when it comes to politics and socio politics, he actually did put himself through a very rigorous broadcast program at one of the local colleges, it took them a little longer to do it just because he both lives with blindness and cerebral palsy and has certain other issues as well. So, he had a lot of extra challenges. And also, was coming from an extremely poverty-stricken background. So, it was a true accomplishment. I was actually there at his graduation, along with Michael Monagan And we came to support him when he finally graduated, because we knew how important that was to him. And everything he had to do, in addition to the regular stuff that quote, unquote, everyone else needs to do to make that happen. And he did it. And he has been doing a lot of podcast work and other things with radio and whatnot. It's his dream. And I wanted to give that to the character that's loosely based on him in the book. So yeah, that was fun to be able to do and also modernize it a little bit. I know, some people have read it, some of the references are kind of 80s and 90s, because that was my childhood. So, you know, I couldn't help myself. But you know, I didn't have the main character said he's an old soul. So, I was like, okay, that's why he's into some of this stuff. But I wanted there to be some modern things. And what better way of doing it than having one of the kids of Widney High members be an independent podcaster. That just seemed like, okay, clearly this is happening now.


Mai Ling 27:22

Yeah, exactly. And that makes the reader again, who, you know, I'm thinking more of like the kids. So if teachers are using this as a required reading, that makes the reader feel like this is cool and trendy, just like, you know, having a cell phone in the book, or, you know, whatever that is, I don't remember seeing a cell phone in there was there.


Mathew 27:39

I think that there's the use of cell phones. At one point when they're calling Michael during the spoiler alert police chase later, they use the cell phones. But that was something important to me to both because I didn't want cell phones to be too resonant in the story, I kind of want to step away from that. There's other little lessons and kind of some subtle hints throughout the book that I think it's important. One of the characters talks about meditation, for example, and the importance of mental health, even if you don't have a quote, unquote, disability. So, I didn't want cellphones to be too apparent in there, because it would have been like cigarette smoking in a way in certain older movies where you know, that people smoke, but there's too much of it. Just wanted to kind of pull it back a little bit. So, there's less cell phones.


Mai Ling 28:19

Yeah, that's a good point. You also didn't want too many teaching moments, because then it's like, becomes bored. Here we go. Boring, you know,


Mathew 28:25

Yeah, I didn't want the characters to pontificate or to lecture. And that's why I think to have a character like Mr. Monagan is based on the real Michael Monagan, who really is like that is this kind of Zen guru ish type of guy. And he's obviously very caring and compassionate. He's kept the kids of Widney High going almost single handedly these last 30 plus years, there's no question. He's put a lot of his own time and money and energy into it. But he also wants to make sure that the kids aren't too coddled. But even when they were younger, that was true. And I wanted that to be a big part of the story. He talks about things like the dignity of risk, and he talks about things like learned helplessness. And he has wanted to do as have the kids and I just to present this idea that just because someone's disabled doesn't mean, they can't take care of themselves to do certain things. And you have to kind of push them a little bit or let them do it without just like tying their shoe because they asked like, well, they might not tie their shoe themselves when you let them do it, so they can learn how to do that. And those are some of the lessons that come out just organically as they did for me when I was working with the kids or other groups over the years that I've worked with, as well all over the country as I have.


Mai Ling 29:31

Absolutely. And you know, you talked about this being kind of like the Pixar movies, which might be for adults, you know, there's some adult humor and things like that. Well, this is I want to read your quote down from page 51 that I thought wow, like, Who is this message for? So Daniel says, I have to tell you, Robbie, I love being in the kids of Widney Junior High, but sometimes I cannot help but wonder, Do people really like our music or do they only come and cheer us on because they feel bad for us? And I was just oh like I just felt that and then Robbie says because he's a kid he says, I'm sorry. Daniel says, think about our name Robbie. Daniel says, Will people still think of us as kids? And Robbie, being a kid says, Oh, yeah, you're right. Well, what about the Beach Boys and the Beastie Boys and totally goes off with, you know the name idea. And I was like, Yeah, like, I'm going on looking at this as an adult and all the heaviness in the garbage that comes with it and titles and all of that. And he was just being a kid, and I loved it. So, I really wanted to thank you for that.


Mathew 30:30

Well, thanks. And I'm glad you were able to catch that. And I did, I did want these important moments that you know, might be a little bit over the head of certain kids. But I think a lot of them that would be reading this book or reading a book like this will hopefully either a be a little bit maybe brighter than the other bulbs in the box, so to speak, or more importantly, have you know, an adult with them a parent or a teacher, somebody, an older brother or sister who can maybe explain some of those moments I didn't want, obviously age the characters down, it's the kids of Widney Junior high, instead of the kids of Widney High on purpose, you know, to make it more accessible when younger, but I wanted some of the messaging and I wanted some of the moments and some of the dialogue to read as a little older, for those, you know, maybe smarter kids or brighter kids or hard working kids. But the other thing I'll just say really quick, is that also, yeah, as we were just talking about, I really do reread Roald Dahl and Judy Blume and Louis Sachar. And, again, the Phantom Tollbooth and The Little Prince and Shel Silverstein, there's so many books that are quote unquote, for kids. But as you get to be more and more of an adult, you read them again, you see aspects you might not have seen before, even in something like Dr. Seuss, the Lorax, for example, he realized, Oh, this is about environmentalism, this is important. And so I need trees, I want I wanted there to be something in the book or aspire to make something in the book, that maybe these kids will read it when they're 10 or 11 years old, and enjoy it, have fun with it, because it's a fun, entertaining story. But maybe when they're 15 16 20. And they look back on it, they're reading it again, they go, wow, there's a lot here that I didn't even really notice. And maybe it had some positive impact on their life without them even noticing it or realizing it. And that's the greatest joy if that can happen. And that's coming from me as the author that's coming from who the kids of Widney High are. And the kind of expansive broadening perspective you can have you open yourself up to more different people with different disabilities and whatever else. So that's what it's really about.


Mai Ling 32:16

It's a beautiful offering. It really is Mathew, I just want to thank you, I'm really excited to get this into the hands of educators and also people that are in the industry too. Because that helps them with maybe changing the vocabulary or changing their perspective, you know, and how they talk about it. So, thank you for coming today. And how do we stay in touch with you?


Mathew 32:35

I keep my website very up to date. It's simply it is Mathew with one t,, find everything you need there including stuff about the book, The Kids Of Widney Junior High Take Over The World from Schiffer kids, also has its own website, that Schiffer put up. It's beautiful. It's got a lot of information. Of course, there's our Amazon page, please, like I keep telling everybody, it's something we have to just live with and take more seriously, if you've read the book or you read the book, enjoy it, please review it, please rate it, even if it's not great, the more of those better for recommendation algorithms and such as part of the game these days. So please do that. If you read it and you enjoy it. That's everything about me and the kids of Widney High, The Kids of Widney Junior High Take Over The World.


Mai Ling 33:20

Excellent. And we're just so thankful for everything that you have done to bring this forward to bring this to the world to all of us. So, thank you, Mathew.


Mathew 33:27

Thank you. Thanks for having me.


Mai Ling 33:31

Thanks so much for joining us for this episode. And remember that if you have a creative idea that you're ready to start on and want help from someone who truly understands what it means to build a disability focused offering, visit and let's get started.


Martyn 33:44

Be sure to check out to embrace your place as a world changer. If you are serious about becoming an influencer and impacting the world, please join me in my VIP Academy where we focus on you and build momentum together. Will see you in the next episode.

Mathew Klickstein

Writer, Speaker, Filmmaker

MATHEW KLICKSTEIN is a longtime multi-platform storyteller who focuses mostly on pop culture history/creative non-fiction. His work has appeared in regional and national publications (both online and off), television/film/theater and -- most recently -- comic books and podcasts.

Mathew's writings have appeared in such publications as: WIRED, The New Yorker, New York Daily News, Splitsider (now New York Magazine's Vulture), Heavy Metal Magazine, Alternative Press, ABLE Magazine, Boulder Weekly, Yellow Scene Magazine, Colorado Daily/Daily Camera (as Staff Writer), OC Weekly, Willamette Week, Hammer to Nail, Entertainment Today (for which he was Editor-In-Chief), iTechPost (for which he was Deputy Editor), Bleeding Cool, Fade In Magazine, the Kansas City Star/Ink Magazine (for which he created and ran a regular foodie column), Decider (NY Post), the Baltimore Jewish Times (for which he was the Senior Reporter) and the Baltimore Sun.