An Interview with Alex Award Winner TJ Klune, author of The House in the Cerulean Sea

Each year, the Alex Award committee works to select ten titles published for adult readers that might have special appeal to young adults, ages 12-18. One of the 2021 selections is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

The House in the Cerulean Sea is brilliant and gentle, the narrative slipping on like a well-worn sweater while performing a certain magic that makes it all feel fresh. The story focuses on Linus Baker, longtime employee of the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. His job as a caseworker sends him into orphanages designed for the care and keeping of these children with unusual or fantastic gifts, and his judgment on those facilities determines whether they stay in operation or not. He lives alone with his cat, Calliope, and suffers the constant rain and near-daily harangues from his neighbor until one day, he is unexpectedly chosen to go on a month-long observational visit to an orphanage shrouded in secrets. Home to the most dangerous, highly classified magical children, this orphanage is run by the mysterious Arthus Parnassus. As Linus gets to know Arthur and these remarkable children, everything begins to change.

The book is a delight, and we are grateful to Klune for this thoughtful and inspiring interview!


photo by Natasha Michaels

THE HUB: This book defies classification! Published as an adult title, winning an Alex Award for YA crossover appeal, it could also easily fit on middle grades shelves next to Harry Potter or the Penderwicks or the Melendy quartet from Elizabeth Enright. Why do you think this book works across so many ages?

KLUNE: I think there’s something not only topical about the story, but also universal in its messaging. Fantasy is often filled with grimdark stories (absolutely nothing wrong with that!), and we don’t get to see a lot of “happy” fantasy these days. I wanted to write a story that reminded me of the cozy fantasies I read as a kid, books that not only made me happy, but allowed me to believe everything could be okay. Hope can often seem like it’s in short supply these days, and while a novel like The House in the Cerulean Sea won’t fix the world’s problems, I hope it can at least serve as a small reminder that we are capable of so much when we stand for what we believe in and lift each other up.

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Closing Out National Poetry Month with an Interview with Poet Nikki Grimes

April is creeping out, which means the end of National Poetry Month, but that does not mean you should stop reading, writing, and celebrating poetry! To keep you inspired, we are thrilled to share this conversation with perennial favorite and poet extraordinaire, Nikki Grimes. Her memoir-in-verse Ordinary Hazards was a 2020 Printz honor title, and her newest release is sure to cement her status as one of our finest poet-teachers! Thanks so much to Nikki for taking the time to share her thoughts and words with us.


poet Nikki Grimes

THE HUB: Your latest book Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance is an anthology, a history lesson, and a collection of new original work all aimed at celebrating women’s voices. In the introduction, you note how often women have gotten lost in history until someone (like you!) recovers their stories and shares their words or ideas. How did you go about discovering and recovering these poets? Where did you look? How did you find them?

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April: Cruelest Month or Kindest? National Poetry Month

T. S. Eliot famously opened his classic poem “The Waste Land” by proclaiming April “the cruelest month,” and students everywhere might agree when April rolls around and teachers pull out their well-worn poetry unit. April is National Poetry Month, which for poetry lovers means the spotlight shines on their favorites, old and new. We encourage the celebration of poetry year round, but in honor of the 25th anniversary of this special designation, here are 25 new titles, ideas, and resources to mark the occasion.


1. Though she needs no real introduction, we would be remiss if we didn’t start our list with NY Times #1 bestseller Amanda Gorman and her forthcoming collection, which includes her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

2. Invite your teens to participate in the Dear Poet project, where young people get to engage directly with award-winning poets, such as Janice Lobo Sapigao:

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Earth Day is Every Day! (pssst: it’s also next week)

Since its origin on April 22, 1970, Earth Day has evolved into a multi-day celebration and call to action. This year, the festivities kick off on April 20 with a global youth climate summit and the Hip Hop Caucus “We Shall Breathe” event. On the 22nd, President Biden will host world leaders at a Global Climate Summit, where we hope they will respond directly to the work and words of the young environmental activists leading the conversation for change. To help bring more teens into that dialogue, we’ve gathered resources from around the web and the world.

No Planet B from Haymarket Books and Teen Vogue is a collection of essays that embraces the intersectionality of the climate movement. Editor Lucy Diavolo recognizes that young people have already demonstrated their capacity and willingness to lead on this issue, and this book gives them the microphone. From essential FAQ-style pieces to journalism on the global plastics crisis or publicly owned utilities, this book covers a lot of ground and would be great for a young activist in the making or as a classroom curriculum support.

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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?

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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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