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?

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

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?

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

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.

Continue reading The Hub Reading Challenge – How to Get Started

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.

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

An Interview with 2021 Morris Award Winner Kyrie McCauley

Awarded the 2021 Morris Award, Kyrie McCauley’s If These Wings Could Fly takes an honest and unflinching look at domestic violence and the trauma imposed upon children in those situations. Both the book and our interview below address the issue, which we acknowledge may be difficult for some readers. If you, or someone you know, is in need of support or more information related to family violence, please visit McCauley’s website, where she has thoughtfully gathered resources on the subject. Thank you to Kyrie for this beautiful book and for her time in responding to our questions.

If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley

Continue reading An Interview with 2021 Morris Award Winner Kyrie McCauley

What to Do After Your Debut? Keep Writing, Of Course!

The 2021 Morris Award Finalists (shown above) were announced in December, and the winner will be revealed at the ALA Youth Media Awards on January 25. First granted in 2009, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award recognizes the most impressive debut published in Young Adult Literature each year.

With more than a decade of winners to look back on, let’s see which of our former debuts are still impressing readers today.

2010’s Morris Award went to L. K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout. Tragically, the author passed away just a year after receiving the award. The rest of the finalists from that year, however, have continued to contribute to YA in significant ways, perhaps none more notably that Nina LaCour, who went on to win the 2018 Printz Award for We Are Okay. LaCour’s latest novel, Watch Over Me, has been nominated for the 2021 Best Fiction for Young Adults Selected List.

In fact, several names on the 2021 BFYA nominations list were originally finalists for the Morris Award, including 2015’s Jessie Ann Foley, 2016’s Anna-Marie McLemore, 2018’s Nic Stone, and David Yoon in 2020.

Last year’s winner, Ben Phillippe, has been nominated. Both the winner of the 2019 Morris Award and one of its finalists have companion books that were nominated — Adib Khorram with Darius the Great Deserves Better and Tomi Adeyemi with Children of Virtue and Vengeance. And Becky Albertalli, the winner in 2016, is enjoying praise this year for Yes No Maybe So, cowritten with Aisha Saeed.

What about books out in 2021? Morris Award recipients have those, too!

Just released is Concrete Rose, 2018 Morris Award winner Angie Thomas’s follow up to The Hate U Give.

And out in August is In the Wild Light from 2017 Morris Award winner Jeff Zentner.

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

The moral of the story is this: no matter which finalist is chosen in 2021, we will look forward to reading them for years to come.

2021 Morris Award Finalists Announced

YALSA has selected five books as finalists for the 2021 William C. Morris Award, which honors the year’s best books written for young adults by a previously unpublished author. YALSA will name the 2021 award winner virtually at the Youth Media Awards on January 25, 2021 during the American Library Association’s virtual Midwinter Meeting. Registration is open now through January 15, 2021.

The 2021 finalists are:

  • Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard, written by Echo Brown, published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. 9781250309853.
  • The Black Kids, written by Christina Hammonds Reed, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. 9781534462724. 
  • If These Wings Could Fly, written by Kyrie McCauley, published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 9780062885029.
  • It Sounded Better in My Head, written by Nina Kenwood, published by Flatiron Books, Macmillan Publishers. 9781250219268.
  • Woven in Moonlight, written by Isabel Ibañez, published by Page Street Publishing. 9781624148019.

Annotations and more information on the finalists and the award can be found on the Morris Award page. Finalist seals are available for purchase by publishers and library staff to place on the finalist titles. Individuals can watch the Youth Media Awards live on January 25th at 8am CT online. For more information on YALSA’s William C. Morris Award and other ALA Youth Media Awards, please visit the Youth Media Awards web page.

Congrats to all the finalists and thank you to the 2021 Morris Award Committee for all the hard work, effort, and time they put into reading all submitted titles and selecting the finalists.

Members of the 2021 William C. Morris Award Committee are: chair Melissa Malanuk, Queens Borough Public Library, Jamaica, New York; Meaghan Darling, Sparta Public Library, Sparta, New Jersey; Laura Erwin, Bossard Memorial Library, Gallipolis, Ohio; Megan Garrett, Mid-Continent Public Library, Lee’s Summit, Missouri; Jamie M. Gregory, Christ Church Episcopal School, Moore, South Carolina; Lindsey Helfrich, Sacramento Public Library, Sacramento, California; Alicia Kalan, The Northwest School, Seattle, Washington; Carol Maples, Central High School, Pollok, Texas; and Ann Pechacek, Worthington Libraries, Worthington, Ohio.

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

conviction

Kelly Loy Gilbert is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Conviction is the story of Braden, a teen baseball phenom who has to contend with not just his father’s expectations for sports stardom, but his estranged brother, and his looming testimony in his father’s trial for the murder of a police officer.

Kelly, congratulations on your Morris nomination for Conviction! When did you start writing or know you wanted to be a writer? 

Thank you!  It’s such an honor, especially to be in the company of Anna-Marie McLemore, Becky Albertalli, Leah Thomas and Stephanie Oakes, extremely talented women (and lovely people) who’ve written truly incredible books that are all must-reads. I got to read both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and The Weight of Feathers before they came out, and I remember thinking to myself, oh man, 2015 is going to be a banner year for YA if there ever was one. (And I really think it was!)

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been able to read, and the first ‘novel’ I ever wrote was in third grade–I wrote it in my favorite fine-tipped turquoise Crayola marker, and it was concerned primarily with the bedroom of my main character–thinly-disguised wish fulfillment, of course (a canopy bed! A fish tank! An art corner with tons of supplies!). And then I wrote all through my school years, mostly novels (well, “novels”) but occasionally short stories, too.

As someone who is familiar with conservative/evangelical Christianity, I thought you portrayed the nuances of that sub-culture very well. Can you tell us a little bit about writing either from a similar background or research that you did?

This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction.
This shirt makes an appearance in Conviction

I definitely think ‘conservative/evangelical Christianity’ has its own culture and speaks its own language, and it’s one I’ve always felt fluent in–I grew up going mostly to a very pentecostal church in the late 90s/early 2000s, the heyday of Christian phenomena like True Love Waits and Christian boy bands and, like, shirts like this “His Way” shirt. I think the landscape of American Christianity is changing a lot and is much more varied and diverse now, and I know personally faith (which is still a huge part of my life) looks different to me now than it used to. There are many wonderful things from my church growing up that I hope I always hold onto, but at the same time I don’t necessarily believe a lot of the things I did then, and sometimes now I feel like the longer I believe the more questions I have. My current pastor said once that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty, and that really resonated with me in a way I think I would’ve dismissed entirely when I was younger.

But for Conviction I wanted to return to that particular sort of faith where everything feels black and white and certain, because I also remember what it felt like to believe that rightness mattered so much, that your highest duty to God was to fall always on the correct side of things. It was important to me to write a story that dealt with faith in a way that felt honest and complicated and nuanced, and so I wanted Braden to have to grapple with what it was like to experience a true crisis of faith–to find that nothing in the world was what he’d always taken for granted, and to have to figure out where that left him. I love reading about people’s journeys and experiences with their respective beliefs, and I’ve read a lot of honest, raw stories about people who left their faith, but (at least when I thought about books I’d read about young people) I didn’t feel like I’d read as many about people whose faith in its current form became untenable and yet they still found shards to cling to and rebuild into something else. And Braden’s faith is really real and defining to him, even if it’s built on certain questionable foundations, and so I didn’t think that ultimately it would be something he’d walk away from entirely; I felt it would be something he’d always have to come to terms with.

Another of the things that I found Conviction does really well is show the truth behind the carefully constructed facade of many families. Braden’s family has many dysfunctions –  violence, abuse, lies, bigotry – and Braden struggles to see and understand all of them. What promoted you to write about such heavy topics?

You know, it’s funny, I didn’t actually set out to write many of those from the beginning, but as I was getting deeper and deeper into the characters and asking why each one was the way they were, thinking about their backgrounds and their world views, a lot of those things came up (and then I think a lot of them are inextricably tied together–abuse and a cycle of violence, et cetera). And many things, particularly many of the family’s secrets, were discoveries along the way.

But I think also, because I was writing about a young person, I was interested in that shift when you start to see your parents as people rather than just your parents, and I wanted to explore that in a character who has everything riding on telling himself the same narrative he always has. Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Kelly Loy Gilbert

2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Stephanie Oakes

Stephanie Oakes is a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. The award winner will be oOOeM1xi_400x400announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Jan. 11, 2016.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is the powerful story of a teenager without hands, who has spent years of her life in a strict cult. She recounts her horrific life as a cult member as she’s behind bars; including the events that led up to the night a fire destroyed the cult’s encampment and resulted in the Prophet’s death.

The Sacred LivesCongratulations on being selected as a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award Were you surprised to find out you’d been selected?

I was completely surprised! I knew what an incredible year for debuts it had been, and I thought there was no way my book would be in the running. It was such a great feeling to get that call!

There have been several recent YA books that contain elements of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairytale Girl Without Hands. I read that author Rosamund Hodge spoke to you about it when she was writing her book Crimson Bound. Why did you decide to write a retelling of that particular tale?

Yes, Rosamund and I chatted about research while she was working on Crimson Bound—that was a fun connection to make. I just loved the story of the fairy tale so much. It was incredibly rich, while at the same time, there were great swathes of the original story that were pretty blank, so there was room to play around with characters, their motivations, and the setting.

It has a rather timeless feel to it yet I believe it’s supposed to be somewhat contemporary. What time period or year is it set in?

It’s set in modern times. I’m a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but I hadn’t ever read a retelling in a modern setting, so I wanted to give that a try.

The book’s first words are chilling, “I am a blood –soaked girl.” By starting it with Minnow’s brutal act of violence, it really draws the reader in. Was that always the way you’d intended for readers to be introduced to Minnow?

This book underwent so many revisions and rewrites that the beginning changed more times than I can remember. When I first wrote that line, I think it showed up around the third or fourth chapter, but gradually I realized that opening Minnow’s story on that scene was a real hook, so I shuffled it to the front.

Continue reading 2016 Morris Award Finalists: An Interview with Stephanie Oakes

2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Len Vlahos

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Each year, YALSA’s Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award morris_seal_finwinner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

Today we bring you an interview with Len Vlahos, a 2015 Morris Award finalist for The Scar Boys.

I listened to the audio book edition of Scar Boys, narrated Lincoln Hoppe.  Had you listened to him on another audiobook?  What made you choose him to be the voice of Harbinger “Harry” Jones?

I was so excited when I learned the Random House had acquired the rights to do the audiobook of The Scar Boys, but I was also mystified. I knew nothing about how the process worked. The producer, Kelly Gildea, sent me clips of four possible narrators. The production team had their eye on one in particular, but he sounded too old to me. I knew as soon as I heard Lincoln’s voice that he was Harry. Plus, he’d read King Dork by Frank Portman and absolutely nailed that.  (I should also note that I got to play guitar for the audiobook, which was a great experience.)

What music are you listening to right now?

Right this very second? The tapping of keys on my ancient Macbook. But in general, lately I’ve been playing Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, and Jackson Browne’s Solo Acoustic Vol 1. (In fact, your question made me stop what I was doing, pull out the Bose Speakers, launch Spotify, and put on some Jackson Browne.)

Were there any songs you wanted to use as chapter titles that didn’t make it to the final novel?

Actually, the original manuscScreen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.16.00 AMript did not use song titles as chapter heads; it used snippets of lyrics. So, for example, the chapter that currently starts with “Bad Brain (written by Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, and Marky Ramone, and performed by the Ramones)” originally started with “Gives me the shots, gives me the pills, got me takin’ this junk, against my will…”—New York Dolls Only, it turns out that pesky US copyright law doesn’t allow you to use a snippet of a poem or lyric in a work of commercial fiction without first getting permission. I tried to clear permission, but no one wrote me back. This part of Fair Use law — the copyright law governing use of others’ intellectual property — is actually a bit of a gray area, but it made my publisher nervous, so I changed all the chapter heads to song titles (which can;t be protected with copyright). I spent two weeks searching for appropriate titles that we recorded before 1987. It was a challenge but fun.

If money and copyright were not issues, would you have included all the songs from the titles with the audiobook or as part of a cd soundtrack or downloaded playlist?

Egmont made a Spotify playlist of the chapter heads: Scar Boys 

And yes, I would love it if they were in the audio book. However, those songs were chosen for the textual content. To get a better sense of what I really listen to, check out the playlist I made for my book tour.

I admit I judged this book.  I had an expectation that was far exceeded.  I loved the pervasive misery, the subplots of sadness like ;  reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Mrs. Mac dying so unexpectedly of cancer, Mr. K’s patient commits suicide, Richie’s accident, and even Harry’s dad loosing his job. Do you see yourself as an optimist, pessimist or realist?  What do you see for your future?

Oh man, what a question. :-) Okay, if we were playing truth or dare and you asked this question, I would have to tell you that outwardly I’m all pessimist, and inside I’m all optimist. I’m a consummate dreamer, My future? I see hard work, happy kids, and fresh air.

Be warned, by the way, Scar Girl — the sequel scheduled to publish in late August — is a lot darker than The Scar Boys. 

I spent way too much time thinking about the lost dog the family finds near a lighthouse while on vacation. I wanted a lot of things for Harry but I felt especially determined that he keep the dog. The impact of this scene changed when I reread it.  Instead of focusing on the dog, I was fixated on Harry’s dad and their terrible encounter. His dad’s quote “pain and stress can hijack a man’s soul and twist it out of shape” made me see how strong Harry was.  I didn’t think Harry’s soul was mangled from his accident. I felt an intense understanding of both characters at this exact scene. Did you write this scene in particular to help us understand forgiveness? 

Great question! There were a lot of things going on in this scene. First, when my family drove across country when I was six years old (I have an older brother and sister, and all five of us were crammed in a Plymouth sedan for three weeks), we found an abandoned dog at a rest stop in Texas. My dad really did throw his back out trying to coax the dog into our car so we could bring him to a shelter.

Second, I was paying homage to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. There’s a pivotal scene early in that book where the dad accidentally makes fun of his daughter’s stutter. It’s a powerful scene that has always stayed with me, and I was thinking of that when Harry’s father let’s his most horrible of insults slip.

Finally, I was thinking about ways of showing how Harry’s armor became hardened and how it shaped him as a person. That said, Harry doesn’t really come to understand the concept of forgiveness until he figures out how to forgive himself, which is kind of what happens with his story arc. (Whoops! Spoiler!)

Do you have a favorite music video that inspired your work? Or do you have a favorite video that was inspired by your work that we could share on The Hub?

I can’t say that any one music video inspired The Scar Boys, but I will share some video clips of students that were brave enough to play guitar and/or sing at my book events. It made the entire experience so wonderfully special. 

Now that Scar Boys has two awesome covers, do you love them both equally or do you have a favorite?  How involved are you in designing the covers?

Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design
Indies Asked to Choose Scar Boys Cover Design

Publishers have the decision making power over book covers, and I have been really fortunate that Egmont has included me at every step of the process. And really, there have been four covers.  There were two proposed covers for the advanced reader’s copy, which was changed for the hardcover. I kind of love them all equally. Designers are amazing people. It’s a talent I just don’t have. Finally, we just revealed the cover for Scar Girl

Pretty cool, huh?

Yes, Len, yes you are.

-Laura C. Perenic is currently reading Fat Boy Vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach