An Interview with Printz Award Honoree Traci Chee, Author of We Are Not Free

Each year, a committee of thoughtful and diligent YALSA members reads dozens of titles to determine the winner of the Michael L. Printz award for literary excellence in young adult literature. The committee also selects honor titles, a small group of exemplary books that merit special recognition. In 2021, the committee selected Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free to receive this honor designation, and this multi-vocal novel about the incarceration of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor is worthy of every accolade it has received.

We are so grateful for Traci’s words and her wisdom, and most especially, for her time, given so generously for this interview. If you have not yet read We Are Not Free, perhaps this interview will convince you to move it up the TBR pile! And if you are a fan of audiobooks, the full-cast recording of this one is tremendous.


THE HUB: Besides being an important part of United States history, the events you explore in We Are Not Free are part of your family’s history. Would you describe your research process and how you balanced the external research with the personal stories from your family?

CHEE: For the first twelve years of my life, I wasn’t really aware that this had happened — I just didn’t know about it. And then, when I was twelve, my grandfather was awarded an honorary diploma from this school in San Francisco where he would have graduated if he hadn’t been evicted and incarcerated. That event put the incarceration in my mind as a thing that had happened in history and also a thing that happened to my family. But even then my family didn’t really talk about it very much. It was still something they played really close to their chest.

So, after that initial seed, I started reading novels like Journey to Topaz or Farewell to Manzanar, so I had this little bit of exposure through fiction, and then, I started hearing family stories here and there about what they had gone through in the camps. For example, there’s that moment in We Are Not Free where Yuki is shouted out of the ice cream parlor, and that is inspired by something that happened to my great-uncle when he was 8. So, I was gathering these things, and then in 2007 my mom and my aunt took me on a pilgrimage to Topaz, the incarceration camp site where my grandparents were. We drove all the way across the Nevada desert to this middle of nowhere, high desert location, and I got to stand at the old cement foundations where the barracks had been, where my grandparents had lived when they were 13 and 16. I got to look at the original barbed wire fences that had enclosed them, and it was a hugely powerful experience. That moment was when I really understood, as best I could without having experienced it myself, how harrowing it must have been to have been uprooted from San Francisco, which is so different from high desert Utah, and then to be plopped down there in what felt like a foreign country. 

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Amazing Audiobooks (#AA2022) Featured Review of Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Lost in the Never Woods - Audiobook cover art

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas; narrated by Avi Roque
Macmillan Audio
Release date: March 22, 2021
ISBN: 9781250779557

Wendy Darling can’t escape her past, even though she remembers nothing about it. She and her brothers disappeared into the woods five years ago, and Wendy was the only one who came out. Now, children are disappearing again, and Wendy almost ran over a strange boy with her truck. He says that Wendy is the only person who can help him save the missing children, and Wendy wants to help, but doing so will mean stirring up old secrets, secrets her mind has kept hidden. 

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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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Amazing Audiobooks (#AA2021) Nominees Round Up, December 16 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Amazing Audiobooks nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

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We Are Not Free by Traci Chee; narrated by: Scott Keiji Takeda, Dan Woren, Ryan Potter, Ali Fumiko, Sophie Oda, Andrew Kishino, Christopher Naoki Lee, Grace Rolek, Erika Aishii, Brittany Ishibashi, Kurt Sanchez Kanazawa, and Terry Kitagawa
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release date: September 1, 2020
ISBN: 9780358343561

Fourteen Japanese American teens are cruelly taken from their San Francisco homes to  internment camps purportedly to protect the U.S. west coast from Japanese espionage or sabotage during World War II.  The Nissei’s stories start the same, but have many different outcomes as they make their choices and too many choices are made for them.

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Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, June 19 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
HMH Books for Young Readers / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: June 9, 2020
ISBN: 978-0358131434

During World War II, the lives of thousands of American teens were upended when they and their families were sent to prison camps intended for people of Japanese descent. Chee follows the lives of fourteen different teens during this time period, all American citizens who were punished and hated simply because of the color of their skin. 

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Diversify YA Life: Diverse Debuts

Who says the little man can’t make waves?  No one in the book business can say it, just ask the We Need Diverse Books movement. With every new year comes new authors and with 2016 we are seeing not only debuts of color but characters of color. Below is a list of YA debut authors of color and books from debuts that feature characters of color.

Diversify YA Life diverse debuts 2

Debut Authors of Color

Inspired by Indian Mythology, Maya’s future life of love is cursed with death. When Maya is forced to marry for political reasons, her new reign as the queen of Akaran soon becomes marked with magic and mystery.

Seeking a change and a little adventure, Julie travels to New Orleans with her youth group to build houses.  When she doesn’t find the change she so desperately needs with her group, she sets out on her own to discover the city when she meets and falls in love with Miles.

Reshma is a high school senior and has made it her mission in life to get into Stanford. When a literary agents seeks her out to write a novel, Reshma soon realizes that no one wants to read about a boring over achiever so she sets out to live the life of the average teenager.  Reshma discovers that there’s more to life than studying.

In this steampunk debut, Avrilis changes history and saves a life that she shouldn’t have saved and she finds herself a fugitive in two different worlds.

Taylor’s rep goes from ice queen to the girl who gets around when she’s found drunk and in the bed of the school’s bad boy.  In order to reclaim her good rep, she convinces the bad boy to pretend to be her boyfriend and not just another notch on his belt.

 

Joss Byrd is just trying to please a demanding director and an overbearing mother in the glamorous world that is Hollywood.

Latoya Williams is a black girl in an all white school and makes a wish to make her life easier and to be white.  Find out what happens when Latoya’s wish comes true.

Paloma High School is shrouded with rumors of a teacher student relationship and everyone begins to find someone to blame.

Vika and Nikolai are enchanters and they are being sought by the Ottoman Empire for political gain.  In order to find the best enchanters, the Tsar announces a duel where the losers must die.  Vika and Nikolai see this as an opportunity of varied reasons but what will happen when they fall in love knowing that they both can’t survive?

After the murder of Sefia’s parents, she’s sent to live with her aunt until her aunt is taken.  Armed with survival and combat skills, Sefia sets out to find her aunt and the answers surrounding her father’s murder.

Set in Victorian London, Rose sets out to find her missing sister and discovers that they both might possess special powers.

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