Freshmen attend National Book Awards Teen Press Conference



Freshman students gathered in the Old Lincoln School (OLS) auditorium to view the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference.

Fifty freshmen gathered in the Old Lincoln School (OLS) auditorium on Nov. 11 at 10:30 a.m. to view the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, hosted via Zoom.

English teacher Evan Mousseau received a grant for his classes to engage with the books in this contest in their classrooms. Mousseau also organized for students to view the conference as part of this project.

Mousseau said he hoped students would find this project both stimulating and enjoyable.

“Two of my 9th grade classes have been reading the finalists for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and working in groups of five to judge the books as they read, scoring them according to rubrics that they developed based on advice from past National Book Award judges. My goal was really to create an authentic experience of evaluating and comparing books for my students as a way of engaging them with literature in a different way than we usually do in class,” Mousseau said.

Mousseau also said this process has been very successful for his students and will produce a powerful end result.

“The reading has been fast-paced and the reactions from different teams have been really interesting to see. Students have been really engaged as critical readers, comparing the books’ strengths and weaknesses with a real sense of purpose. There has also been a lot of authenticity in the process, which I think has made it more meaningful,” Mousseau said. “We’re writing reviews of the books that will be submitted to a New York Times review writing contest and then writing final letters to folks who have helped us in the unit: the authors of the books, the past judges who offered us advice, the program organizer who included us in the teen press conference, the publishers who granted us early access to one of the books and the PTO who funded the whole thing.”

Kwame Alexander, award-winning author, emceed the press conference in which each of the five finalists for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature read an excerpt of their books.

The finalists are: Shing Yin Khor (The Legend of Auntie Po), Malinda Lo (Night at the Telegraph Club), Kyle Lukoff (Too Bright to See), Kekla Magoon (Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People) and Amber McBride (Me (Moth)).

After each finalist read a portion of their work, Alexander hosted a Q&A session with each finalist. The authors answered questions about their stories and processes from students around the country attending the conference.

One student asked author Kyle Lukoff what inspired him to write Too Bright to See. Lukoff said the storyline was motivated by personal experiences trying to understand the world around him.

“As a kid I was always very confused by other people, and I have always tried to figure them out. That’s one way books are so magical: you can understand others who may have different reactions in situations,” Lukoff said.

Author Malinda Lo also answered questions about her inspirations. Lo said based on her curiosity, she researched and learned about many new topics to incorporate in her writing.

“A lot of people think inspiration is one thing, but for me inspiration is a whole bunch of things that build off each other. There were so many different bits of inspiration that popped up along the way. I was so inspired by researching the history of the time,” Lo said.

Freshman Julian Libby Alicea asked author Kekla Magoon about how she sought to portray the Black Panther Party and how widespread perceptions of this party affected her novel, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People.

Magoon said she tried to provide a strong baseline introduction about the party because many do not have an accurate understanding of all their efforts.

Lo answered questions about the impact of including LGBTQ+ representation in her novels, which she said is important in Young Adult literature.

“When I started writing my first novel, I simply set out to tell a story that I wanted to read, and I wanted to read a fairytale where a young, lesbian woman falls in love and has a happily-ever-after. As a writer, I want to express my inner creativity, and for me that has been putting people like me in the books that I write,” Lo said.

The winner of The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature will be announced Wednesday, Nov. 17.