April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

National Book Award’s Kid Lit Finalists Reach Out to Teens

When asked how one becomes a writer, 2013 National Book Award finalist Gene Luen Yang advised an audience of secondary students to “Give up TV” and read and write daily. Yang made the comments Tuesday during the annual National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, which he attended alongside Young People’s Literature finalists Kathi Appelt, Cynthia Kadohata, Tom McNeal, and Meg Rosoff.

Students from the Little Red School House with their librarian, Jennifer Hubert Swan.

The authors—who on October 16 were announced as the shortlist for the annual award from the National Book Foundation—gathered at the majestic 1903 courtroom of Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday.  There, they read from the acclaimed books that earned their nominations.

2013 Finalists for Young People’s Literature

Kathi AppeltThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster

Cynthia KadohataThe Thing About Luck
Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster

Tom McNealFar Far Away
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House

Meg RosoffPicture Me Gone
G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group (USA)

Gene Luen YangBoxers & Saints
First Second/Macmillan

Students from the Legacy School, The Little Red School House, Tompkins Square Middle School, Saint Martin Day School, and the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach were among the tweens and teens in the audience. Each of the students attending the event read one or more of the nominated book,s and were given the opportunity to ask questions of the authors.

Carol Mashamesh and Patrice Habib, humanities teachers at Tompkins Square Middle School, told School Library Journal that the students from their school gave up their lunch time to take part in a book club that read the nominated books.

The students quizzed the authors on characters, plots, and settings—causing some of the writers to pause and wonder aloud about their stories. Cynthia Kadohata was questioned about the younger brother character in her book, and she explained that he was inspired by her own brother, that she knew how it felt to protect him. Kathi Appelt explained why her book features animal characters rather than human ones. Animals continued to be part of the questioning as Meg Rosoff spoke about the use of dogs in her writing. And Tom McNeel explained  that it was easier to have a ghost tell his story.

The event was moderated by Sarah Harrison Smith, children’s book editor of the New York Times, who asked the students in the audience how they felt about having the New York Times including kid reviewers like the Guardian does. She also mentioned sheepishly that the Times had reviewed four of the five finalists—Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away  was the only one they missed.

Each participating student received a professionally designed press kit with biographical information on each author, summaries of their books, and materials related to the National Book Awards. Following the conference, the students had the opportunity to get their books signed.

The Teen Press Conference is a key part of the celebrations that lead up to the National Book Awards, which takes place this year on November 20.. The winners receive $10,000 prizes.

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.

Empowering Teens: Fostering the Next Generation of Advocates
Teens want to make a difference and become advocates for the things they care about. Librarians working with young people are in a unique position to help them make an impact on their communities and schools. Ignite your thinking and fuel these efforts at your library through this Library Journal online course—April 24 & May 8.