An Interview with 2021 Morris Award finalist Nina Kenwood, author of It Sounded Better in My Head

The William C. Morris Award is awarded each year to a debut YA publication. After considering the wealth of excellence each year, the committee selects 5 finalists, announced in December. From these, the winner is chosen (2021: Kyrie McCauley’s If These Wings Could Fly) though all of the finalists demonstrate unique greatness in every page. You can watch the 2021 Morris Award Celebration event, where each of the finalists offered some amazing reflections on their work and these times.

In It Sounded Better in My Head, author Nina Kenwood provides a glimpse into that tenuous stretch of time between finishing school and making University departures that is common to so many teens. Kenwood, writing from Australia, is able to shine a light on the unique aspects of the Australian system while tapping into the universal experiences of those late teenage years. From social anxieties to relationship questions, family turmoil and looming adulthood, It Sounded Better in My Head covers a lot of ground. We are thankful to Nina for taking the time to answer some questions and for her remarkable book!

Author Nina Kenwood
author photo by Lian Hingee

THE HUB: Since a ton of our readers likely aren’t familiar with the Australian Educational System, perhaps we should start there. The book opens just as Natalie and her friends have finished their final final exams, which I understand is part of the placement process for University. Would you explain that system a bit more? Help us know where Natalie is in life?

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An Interview with 2021 Morris Award finalist Christina Hammonds Reed, author of The Black Kids

The William C. Morris Award is awarded each year to a debut YA publication. After considering the wealth of excellence each year, the committee selects 5 finalists, announced in December. From these, the winner is chosen (2021: Kyrie McCauley’s If These Wings Could Fly) though all of the finalists demonstrate unique greatness in every page.

Finalist Christina Hammonds Reed is a force, and her debut The Black Kids offers a compelling portrait of a young Black woman growing up in Los Angeles, coming of age just as the city erupts after Rodney King’s beating by police and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved. At the 2021 Morris Award Celebration event, Hammonds Reed pointed out that her main character, Ashley, and the city of L.A. were on “parallel journeys of self-reckoning.” This book is beautiful and complicated, and we are so thankful for Christina for participating in this wide-ranging and thoughtful interview.

author photo by Elizabeth T. Nguyen

THE HUB: For those of us who were teens in the 90s, this storyline doesn’t feel like historical fiction. The beating of Rodney King and the unrest in L.A. filled our television screens and dominated the news for a brief season. For today’s teens, this story might be totally new to them, but it will – tragically – feel like current events. How did you balance the past and the present as you dove into this story?

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The Hub Reading Challenge – How to Get Started

There are several ways to approach the 2021 Reading Challenge here at The Hub, though there’s no easy way to five in a row! One way to get started is to look at the 2021 ALA YMA winners and honorees, many of which can fill more than one spot on the Bingo board.

2021 Hub Reading Challenge Bingo

Let’s begin with those top corners. The Odyssey Award is given each year to excellent audiobooks produced for children or young adults. The 2021 winner was Kent State by Deborah Wiles, which is also a full-cast audiobook, so it would work for either corner. Another award-winning title with a full cast audiobook is Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free, a 2021 Printz honor book.

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The 2021 Hub Challenge Has Arrived!

Here it is: The Hub Reading Challenge for 2021!

This year, we encourage readers to get involved at whatever level they prefer. You can aim for traditional BINGO with five in a row, or you can take on one of the bigger goals! From reading with a tissue box to laughing out loud, this year’s challenge covers a lot of ground, and it gives you the chance to read along with our Selected Lists team members. As you read new YA this year, we hope you are discovering titles that would make a great fit on the Amazing Audiobooks, Best Fiction for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels, or Quick Picks nomination lists. When you do, we want to hear about it, so grab the field nomination form (available at the bottom of each week’s posts) and make a suggestion! When you do, you’ll be sharing the love AND earning a spot on this year’s BINGO board!

Most of the spots are self-explanatory, but we’ll make sure to highlight a few each time we check in, and if you have questions, there’s a spot for those in the sign-up form.

Click the download button below to get a PDF of the bingo board. Our first check-in will be next month, so get started!

An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Christina Soontornvat

YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is awarded each year, chosen from a field of 5 finalists (2021: Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh). This year’s finalists covered a wide range: the space race, a primer on democracy, the memoir of a genocide survivor, and a biography of a complex figure in the narrative of the United States. And then there is Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team which takes readers on a harrowing journey underground and into the hearts of the boys, their families, and the international rescue team working to bring them out safely.

Recounting the details of the 2018 event where a team of soccer players and their coach go exploring and find themselves trapped by unseasonable flooding in the cave system of Tham Luang, Soontornvat draws upon her Thai heritage and an immense wealth of empathy and curiosity to tell this gripping and emotional story. In this interview, we talk survival and sports and much more.


THE HUB: This book is so compelling! I, of course, had heard the story of these boys and their coach who had been trapped in this cave. I knew the outcome, and still I was completely captivated. I was nervous. I felt the urgency of the rescue. I was terrified at times! All the while, I knew that the outcome was a good one, was a miraculous one in many ways. How did you do that? What magic were you working to create such intensity and urgency in a story where the outcome was already known?

SOONTORNVAT:  Thank you! That was something I worried about a lot when I was writing – that people who knew how it ended might not want to read it. But really when I was interviewing people who were involved in the rescue, they were still so emotional about what happened. They were there in the flesh when the boys came out alive, and they still kind of got goosebumps and still pinched themselves, saying, we can’t believe this actually worked! It was still very raw for them. So I was just trying to capture that emotion that I felt when I was speaking with them, even though it was 2 months after the rescue took place. 

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An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist John Rocco

YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is awarded each year, chosen from a field of 5 finalists (2021: Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh). This top five represents the best of the best in nonfiction, each of them handily able to rival the most action-driven novel for engagement and intrigue. These titles, however, also aim to inform, to reveal, and to enlighten.

How We Got to the Moon by John Rocco

John Rocco’s How We Got to the Moon (also a 2021 Sibert honoree) is remarkable on all those counts. It is also the only finalist this year where the author is also the artist. Rocco’s Blackout was a 2021 Caldecott Honor title, and his work has seen wide circulation via the Percy Jackson titles, for which he created the covers. Besides the sheer beauty of his work, in How We Got to the Moon, Rocco uses the art to teach, to tell the whole story of what it took to successful send astronauts to the moon and return them safely. It is a compelling story, full of narrative details to keep the pages turning; however, it is also a highly effective series of lessons in science and mathematics and engineering.

Thanks to John for sparing the time for this interview and for his wonderful book. To hear more from John and the other four finalists, click here to watch the Virtual Excellence in Nonfiction Celebration.


author John Rocco

THE HUB: The thing that might surprise readers is that you drew every illustration in the book. Despite a wealth of primary source documents and photos, you decided the illustrations should all be drawn. What lead to that decision?

ROCCO: I’ve seen many books that use mixtures of photographs and diagrams and maybe one or two illustrations scattered throughout, and I always felt there was a bit of a disconnect. I think for kids, especially when you’re handling such complex information, having it created all in one style and by one hand, gives it much better accessibility.

When you’re looking at historic events, like the Apollo program, there are so many fantastic photographs. They documented everything! But a lot of it was in black and white, and you’re seeing a photograph of a bunch of people working on a rocket, or the astronauts, and it’s hard to place yourself in that world. There’s a wall there. That is something that happened back then. And I wanted to create a book where you’re going through it in real time, so you’re in it. I think it’s a lot easier for readers to suspend their disbelief with that feeling of being part of the process, and I think that can be done with illustrations. So I had to just decide, OK, I’m going to illustrate this whole thing.

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An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist Elizabeth Rusch

YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction is awarded each year, chosen from a field of 5 finalists (2021: Candace Fleming’s The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh). This year’s finalists covered a wide range: the space race, an international rescue, the memoir of a genocide survivor, and a biography of a complex figure in the narrative of the United States. But none is more immediate and practical than You Call THIS Democracy? by Elizabeth Rusch.

Cover Art

This primer on “how to fix our government and deliver power to the people” is clear and thought-provoking, delivering lessons and suggestions in accessible and meaningful ways. And in this interview, she expands on some of those lessons, reminding us that we all have a part to play in forming a more perfect union. With great thanks to Liz for this book and for her time in answering our questions!

author Elizabeth Rusch

THE HUB: Nonfiction titles such as You Call THIS Democracy? often make use of infographics and other visual features. These feel particularly effective, and I wonder how that process of design worked for you. How involved were you in the book’s design and graphic elements? How do you feel about the interplay between the text and the graphics?

ER: When I envisioned You Call THIS Democracy? I knew I wanted some powerful visuals. Sometimes readers need to see something to understand it. For instance, when I made the point that politicians draw bizarre voting district maps to manipulate the outcome of elections, I thought it was important for readers to see examples of these strange maps. 

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An Interview with 2021 Morris Award finalist Isabel Ibañez, author of Woven in Moonlight

The William C. Morris Award is awarded each year to a debut YA publication. After considering the wealth of excellence each year, the committee selects 5 finalists, announced in December. From these, the winner is chosen (2021: Kyrie McCauley’s If These Wings Could Fly) though all of the finalists demonstrate unique greatness in every page.

Finalist Isabel Ibañez has lots of talents, and in her debut Woven in Moonlight, she puts them all to excellent use. From art to storytelling, Ibañez delivers a complete package full of action, emotion, and history. As she builds this rich and beautiful world, she helps readers build empathy and understanding.

author Isabel Ibañez

We are grateful to Isabel for her book, her voice, and her art! We are also grateful for the time she granted for this thoughtful and fascinating interview!


The Hub: Woven in Moonlight is a celebration of the senses: smells, colors, sounds, food! What was your motivation behind including all those sensorial experiences?

II: I don’t want to assume, but I don’t know of any other YA author who is Bolivian, so when I was drafting this book, I felt this awareness that for a lot of people this would be an introduction to Bolivia. I wanted to do Bolivia justice because I grew up going there, and my whole family is from there. My brother and I were the only ones born in the United States. It’s where my grandparents are, and I have something like 27 first cousins. I love Bolivia. I know the way it smells, how it tastes, the food, I love the art, and I can see myself walking down these streets because it’s like another home for me. 

The decision to include all those details is because I wanted people to experience it the way I experience it. Woven in Moonlight is a profoundly personal story, so deeply tied to my lived experience, my culture, what you would see on our dinner table, the politics and the history – all of it was really influential in writing this book.

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Graphic Novels and Comics to Enjoy for Black History Month — or anytime!

Thanks to YALSA member Annierra Matthews, a Research Services Librarian at Mercer University, for compiling this collection of excellent graphic novels and comics featuring Black characters and/or produced by Black creators. Click here for the fiction collection she curated earlier this month.


Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St.-Onge, Joy San, and Genevieve FT

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin, Jenn St.-Onge, Joy San, and Genevieve FT: Hazel and Mari fall in love with each other at church bingo in ’63. Torn apart by others around them, they can’t be together. Years later, they meet again at bingo and find the bravery to share their love with the world.

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An Interview with 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Winner Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming is no stranger to accolades. Her work has been lauded by numerous outlets over the years, and this year, she was honored for her work on two books: Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera (winner of the 2021 Sibert Medal) and The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh (winner of YALSA’s Award for Excellence in Nonfiction).

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

We are so grateful to Candace Fleming for this thought-provoking book and for her time as she prepared these remarks for us, some of which were included in her speech at the 2021 Excellence in Nonfiction Celebration. Weren’t able to attend live? YALSA recorded it! You can find the video here.


THE HUB: Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Charles Lindbergh is not an admirable figure, and some would argue that to make him the subject of a biography is to elevate his abhorrent views. Why drew you to him as a research subject? What would you say to those who might challenge the “need” for such a book?

FLEMING: I believe I wrote an honest biography of Charles Lindbergh, a thorough and well-researched telling of his life that puts it in context. I wanted readers to consider who he was, and whether he deserves to be elevated or lowered in the eyes of history. Biographies aren’t written just to elevate the lives of people we admire.  They’re also meant to tell us what happened – honestly and fully.  They’re meant to show how people from history fit into our times.  And Lindbergh certainly fits into our times.  It was current events that compelled me to write this book.  Echoes of his past had become part of my daily present –political rallies seething with rage, attacks on the press, xenophobia, racism, America First.  Sounds familiar, huh?

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