For kids, their favorite cartoons or comic book characters will come and go, and eventually be replaced by entertainment for teens and adults. But for people like Jorge Aguirre, a Montclair dad who writes for childrens shows like Dora the Explorer, Handy Manny and Go, Diego, Go!, the characters stay in his imagination for years and years.
As Aguirre gets ready to release his newest work—Giants Beware!, a graphic novel about an adventurous young girl named Claudette—he spoke to Barista Kids about moving from L.A. to Baristaville and listening to the voices in his head.
How long have you lived in Montclair?
We moved about a year ago. We had been in Los Angeles for 6 years. My wife and I wanted to move back east with our 2 kids, who are 1 and 4, and we had family around here and near Washington, DC. With my work and my wife’s work (she’s a documentary filmmaker), we’re limited to around here or L.A. As we started asking around, Montclair, South Orange, Maplewood…these towns kept popping up over and over.
Chris Gifford, the creator of Dora the Explorer, lives in Montclair, and he’s one of the people who recommended it. It’s an amazing place. We’ve found there are so many interesting people here. I haven’t met anybody dull yet—everyone we meet is doing interesting things.
How did you get started writing for kids?
I got started through a friend of friend who was head writer on Go, Diego, Go! She got a script I’d written to the head writer. I hadn’t focused on writing for kids until then, and I discovered that I really liked it. Diego is very science and animal oriented, and I found that I liked breaking down those facts for kids. I was also learning a lot about animals in the process!
What are the things you have to keep in mind about the age of the audience you’re writing for?
The funny thing is that you write the same way you would for anyone—you need a compelling plot. But the drama can’t be too scary, the words have to be understandable, and the situations have to be relatable to kids. I wrote a Handy Manny about a snow day, and I had to think about what kids like to do when it snows, like sledding, so I built a story about the tools going sledding. Giants Beware!, the graphic novel coming out in April, is for an older crowd [7-10 years old], so it can be violent, but it’s not bloody violence—it’s more adventure oriented.
When you’re working on something like Dora that’s a huge hit, does it affect you knowing how many kids are going to be seeing and hearing what you wrote?
I get such a kick out of that! When my sisters or friends say they’ve seen one of my Doras or Mannys, I don’t feel pressure—it’s just fun.
Is there anything from your NJ life that you’ve seen seep into your writing work?
I can’t think of anything specific yet. It was actually a pretty rough landing. We moved just before the big snowstorms in January and we went right into survival mode. I grew up in Ohio, and I forgot how stressful shoveling snow is. I wasn’t prepared—I found myself shoveling in my dress shoes! I’d become so soft, and now I’m hardening up again.
It’s rough moving across the country, and for two freelancers, it’s stressful because you’re always looking for work. Somewhere around May or June is when we started to really fall in love with the area. It hasn’t seeped into my writing yet, but I’m definitely energized from the transition.
Do you think about the impact of having a Latino voice or perspective in creating TV or books for kids?
One of the things I learned on Dora was to make it seem normal, to seem cool to be bilingual. It’s nothing exotic. Some adult shows are about exoticizing these characters. For kids, you want to make it normal and cool.
Who is your favorite character to write?
Right now I’m going to say Claudette, from Giants Beware! She’s an 8-year-old girl warrior, and she has a brother, Gaston, who wants to be a baker, and a friend named Marie who wants to be a princess, and they go on a quest to kill a giant. I was able to get silly doing it. I really love the fun stuff you can do with a girl warrior who wants to kill a giant. There’s twist & turns.
Really, though I love writing Dora, Manny, Diego, Martha, etc., because I don’t think I could write a character I didn’t love. But Claudette’s special because she’s the only one I created myself, and because of that, I know her the best. She’s stuck in my mind, and her voice is like a mischievous kid voice chattering away in my head.