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October 23, 2014

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Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People

walexander Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People

National Book Award winner William Alexander.

At teen press conference, kids grilled finalists on their research, their inspirations, and their editors

First time author William Alexander took home the National Book Award (NBA) for Young People last night for his book Goblin Secrets (S&S, 2012), about a boy who joins a theatrical group of goblins.

The day prior to the award ceremony, 200 secondary school students had the opportunity to grill Alexander, along with the four other finalists in his category, at the NBA Teen Press Conference, probing them on topics ranging from character development to their relationships with their editors.

Panelists Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People

Finalists William Alexander, Carrie Arcos, Patricia McCormick, Eliot Schrefer and Steve Sheinkin at the NBA Teen Press Conference at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Now in its 15th year, the press conference, which was held at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, is a key event leading up to the NBA ceremony.  Alexander, along with Carrie Arcos, Patricia McCormick, Eliot Schrefer, and Steve Sheinkin, took center stage to face their young audience, which had prepped for the event by reading all of the finalists’ books. The event was moderated by Coe Booth, author of Tyrell (2006) and Bronxwood (2011, both Scholastic).

Students from New York City area schools had done their homework before the conference. High schoolers from Brooklyn’s Kamit Preparatory Institute had read Arcos’s debut novel Out of Reach (S&S, 2012), a story of addiction and self-discovery, along with McCormick’s Never Fall Down (HarperCollins 2012), a harrowing tale of the reign of terror in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge.

coe Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People

Moderator Coe Booth at the Press Conference.

Kids from Tompkins Square Middle School were versed in other titles including Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build―and Steal―the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 2012) and Schrefer’s Endangered (Scholastic, 2012), a story set in the Congo.

After reading selections from their books aloud, the panel fielded questions. Kids asked Alexander if his drama school experience helped him as a writer. Yes, he said, because actors, like goblins, are superstitious. Responding to the question about how long it takes to write a book, Sheinkin described the amount of research that goes into a nonfiction study such as his.

The inquiry that received the most chuckles from the panel was whether they ever get annoyed with their editors, many of whom were in the audience. The authors, unsurprisingly, danced around the topic.

Schrefer, whose book tells the story of a girl who must save a group of bonobos—pygmy chimpanzees—and herself from a violent coup in the Congo, was impressed by how engaged the students were. McCormick was struck by the depth of the students’ questions, and Arcos was generally thrilled to be in a room of young adult readers.

SteveS Debut Author William Alexander Nabs 2012 National Book Award for Young People

Steve Sheinkin signs a copy of his book for a student.

Each participating student received a press kit featuring biographical information on each author, book summaries, and materials related to the National Book Awards. Following the conference, the finalists autographed books for audience.

This article was featured in School Library Journal's Extra Helping enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to your inbox for free.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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  1. [...] Tuesday morning the five of us reunited for the Teen Press Conference. This particular event gave me hope for humanity. Dozens and dozens of kids asked us piercingly [...]