YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction and Morris Awards

Monday morning, after the Youth Media Awards, I attended the YALSA Award Ceremony for Excellence in Nonfiction and the Morris Awards for books by a first-time author.

I love that YALSA announces the Finalists for these awards ahead of time — so they can get speeches from everyone and do an awards ceremony the same day that the winner is announced.

Here are my notes from the speeches:

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award

Shane Burcaw – Laughing at my Nightmare

(Video speech) He’s 22 years old. Blown away when he found out he was a finalist.
Has Spinal muscular atrophy.
Humor and positivity are keys to dealing with his disease.
Laughing is the best way to overcome.

Candace Fleming – The Family Romanov

She was worried about the story – might as well be another planet for her readers.
Conflict: 3 separate revolutions, each extremely complicated.
Had planned to focus on Anastasia – decided she was boring, so expanded her focus to the other children – they also weren’t that interesting. They were naive and cloistered.
Nicholas and Alexandra were more interesting, but they were adults.
Then expanded focus again to revolutionaries.
She saw a movie where the characters kept asking, “But who is interested in Russian History?”
This award tells her, “You are.”

Emily Arnold McCully – Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business – and Won!

Why Ida Tarbell? She was a defender of democratic values when they were challenged.
She was the only woman muckraker.
The author tried to squish it into 32 pages, but the story was too big.
Ida Tarbell saw the cost of the oil rush to ordinary people and the environment.
Science taught her to always look beneath the surface of things and verify.
The issues that led to muckraking are back.
She went after the story and told it true.

Steve Sheinkin – The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

His brother-in-law loves conspiracy theories – told him first atomic bomb was tested in Port Chicago – but that led him to the true story.
Heard from a man whose father was in the mutiny. Loves getting this story out.

Winner: Maya Van Wagenen
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

She’s the child of a historian, so knows the power of truth and primary sources.
Always wanted to be a writer.
Found the book before 8th grade — Her mother’s idea was to try the ideas and write about it.
Learned the kind of popularity Betty Cornell talked about was based on being a good friend and reaching out with compassion and understanding.
Greeting the world with your head held high will never go out of style.
None of this would have been possible without books and librarians.
Middle School Librarian was a light to the students there.
Has turned to reading nonfiction because it tells teenagers that their story is part of a much bigger fabric of history, and each one plays a unique part.

Morris Award, Honor Books:

Jessie Ann Foley, The Carnival at Bray

She’s a high school English teacher, here in Chicago. She loved librarians before she was nominated for this award, and now even more so!
Librarians help teens find books that speak to them.
“That is part of the beauty of literature: You discover that your longings are universal longings… You are not alone.” (A quote she read while writing this.)
She kept in tough scenes so girls who have gone through that would not feel alone.

E. K. Johnston – The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
due to weather, she isn’t here.

Len Vlahos – The Scar Boys

Central theme: The power of music can give anyone confidence, friends, even save a life.
Music can be an intensely personal experience, but is more appropriately a shared experience.
Music, like math or physics, is a universal language.
Math and physics are the foundation for music.
Music makes us feel something viscerally
Magic dust sprinkled on math and physics
Resonance – sound or vibration in one object produced from sound or vibration in another.
Perfect metaphor for librarians
Immensely skilled at finding the right book and putting it in the right hands.
Finding the perfect book to resonate with that reader and amplify the content.
“School librarians are my heroes.”
Writing is a solitary process, publishing is not.
Librarians help the work of writers resonate far beyond the walls of our institutions.

Leslye Walton – The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

She’s a teacher.
Wrote it with little hope than anyone would actually read it.
Didn’t write it as a YA book. She might have wanted to protect them.
When she was a teen, she experienced isolating grief, and hung out in the local library to find people (in fiction) who were grieving like she was.
There is beauty in sorrow.
I hope it makes someone feel less alone and more alive.
And that there is life beyond that sorrow.
Librarians, you are saving the lives of readers everywhere.

Winner: Isabel Quintero – Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

“To quote someone very dear to me, ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!'”
Started by reading “I Too Sing America” by Langston Hughes
Offended by someone who asked if her laborer parents were surprised that she is an intellectual.
Now she’s a professor of composition.
She thinks about her parents who had tough jobs when they came to America and worked to make sure their children had a different life.
She thinks about fat girls, pregnant girls, and gay teens.
The only option for a daughter of laborers is to think — because that’s what her parents have taught her to do.
It helps when you have a community of people doing the solitary thing together. (Her creative writing group)
“An honor and a privilege to be here, but that was to be expected, given who my parents are.”

Inspiring and lovely speeches! I always love the Morris Awards, because the authors are happy to be published, let alone to receive recognition. Makes me want to go home and Write!

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