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December 14, 2021

By Laurie Hornik, Middle School English Department Chair

On November 10, for our most recent Fieldston Middle Literary Lunch, 50 students assembled in the Tate Library to attend the virtual Teen Press Conference for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Students had the opportunity to virtually meet six authors: Kwame Alexander, author of several much-loved books including “Crossover,” “Rebound,” and “Swing;” as well as five Young Adult authors who are finalists for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature: Shing Yin Khor, author of “The Legend of Auntie Po;” Malinda Lo, author of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club;” Kyle Lukoff, author of “Too Bright to See;” Kekla Magoon, author of “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People;” and Amber McBride, author of “Me (Moth).”

Over the course of an hour, over the now-familiar Zoom format, Alexander asked the authors a series of questions and presented video clips of students asking the authors their own questions. Students asked the authors questions such as, “As a writer, do you feel it is your responsibility to teach and inform, or just to entertain us?” “When did you become a full-time writer?” “Where do you get your ideas?” For this last one, Lukoff explained how ideas can really come from anywhere. Seemingly off the top of his head, he gave this example: “I’m on the subway. And I’ll see someone in a weird hat. And I’m like, oh, that’s a weird hat. I wonder if that hat is actually sucking out that person’s brain!”

Fieldston Middle students had a terrific time participating in this event. Ben F. ’28 found it to be “very entertaining and informative.” Jade R. ’27 “loved the part where each of the authors got to read a piece from their book” aloud to everyone. At the end of the conference, Clarke G. ’27 borrowed “The Legend of Auntie Po” from the Tate Library so that she could read the rest of the book. “I don’t see many books about LGBTQ+ people in what I read, so it was really nice to basically have a whole book about it,” says Clarke.

At the beginning of the conference, Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, explained that the work of the National Book Foundation is “to connect people with books.” It’s a simple and important mission, and it’s one we believe in at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School. During this time, when it’s harder to have in-person visits with authors, the Fieldston Middle English Department and Tate Library are grateful to be able to keep finding ways — such as this conference — to connect the students with the amazing contemporary books that are being written especially for them, and with the authors who write them.

You can watch the recording of the Teen Press Conference for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature here.