Thursday, January 25, 2024

Youth Media Awards 2024

Last week, at it's annual conference, the American Library Association announced top books, digital media, video and audio books for children and young adults. The most prestigious, the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults, was given to:“The Collectors: Stories,” edited by A.S. King. Four Honor Books were also named: “Fire from the Sky,” by Moa Backe ├ůstot, translated by Eva Apelqvist; “Gather,” by Kenneth M. Cadow; “The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption,” by Shannon Gibney; and “Salt the Water,” by Candice Iloh.

Only This Beautiful Moment,” by Abdi Nazemian is the 2024 recipient of the Stonewall Book Award, for LGBTQIA+ books.

The Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author of outstanding books for children and young adults went to:“Nigeria Jones,” by Ibi Zoboi.

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults went to: “Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed,” written by Dashka Slater.  Four other books were finalists: “America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History," written & illustrated by Ariel Aberg-Riger; “Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam,” written & illustrated by Thien Pham; “From Here,” by Luma Mufleh; & “Nearer My Freedom: The Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano by Himself,” by Monica Edinger & Lesley Younge.

The 2024 Alex Awards winners for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teens are: “Bad Cree,” by Jessica Johns; “Chain-Gang All-Stars,” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah; “Chlorine,” by Jade Song; “Fourth Wing,” by Rebecca Yarros; “The Hard Parts: A Memoir of Courage and Triumph,” by Oksana Masters; “I Will Greet the Sun Again,” by Khashayar J. Khabushani; “Maame,” by Jessica George; “Starter Villain,” by John Scalzi; “The Talk,” by Darrin Bell; and “Whalefall,” by Daniel Kraus.

Watch the announcements for all of the awards here:

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Write the Hook 2023 Winning Entries

The scores from our three contest judges, Jessica, Sarah, and Viktoria, are in and tallied. Thank you Judges! Twenty Write the Hook stories were submitted to the teen story writing contest at the end of December. The contest was open to teens in grades 6 to 12, who are residents of Essex County in Massachusetts. Teens entering the contest were required to write the start of a story, "the hook," to create interest in reading further.

 Here are the 2023 Write the Hook Winning Stories:
First Place Story Entry Grades 6-8  
Megan Snyder, (Miles River Middle School student) 
for "Fights"

My breaths were heavy and formed a cloud of white in the freezing air. The snow was falling at an incredible rate, sticking to my raven locks. I shivered as a gust of wind tickled my skeleton, the street was so quiet, all of the shops windows were dark, and the lights shut off. As I felt the bone chilling wind, I thought of going back to my house. The fire was probably still burning in the hearth. It would be warm and comfortable, unlike this cold weather. Then I thought of the yelling and screaming I had escaped from. At this thought, the temperature felt as though it had dropped, and I put my head down, and walked farther along the sidewalk, into the freezing night.
As I walked farther and farther away from my house, I started to hear footsteps behind me. I looked out of the corner of my eye, but all I saw was a shadow. The rhythmic steps continued to get closer as I turned the corner and hurried along the street, scared by who could be behind me. The shadow tapped on my shoulder. Frightened, I spun around to face my own brother. “It is quite indecent to stalk your own family, brother,” I scolded. He answered with nothing but a mysterious smile.
“What are you doing sneaking around at this time of night,” he asked.
“I had to get out of the house,” I replied. “There was so much yelling.”
“Not another fight,” he said with a sad frown. “I know a way to get that off your mind, follow me.”
While my mysterious brother was guiding me somewhere unknown, the street lamps got brighter, and I noticed his features more clearly. His hair was a beautiful brown with ginger highlights. He was tall, and wearing a perfectly tailored suit that was cut in all the right places. My brother is quite a vision I thought. Then he turned to face me, although he had felt me staring. A small gasp escaped my mouth. His perfect face was completely messed up. His symmetrical lips were bleeding, and one of his deep ocean eyes was paired with a black eye. “What happened to your face, Emmett?” I practically screeched.
“Oh, this. I got into a little scruff,” he replied calmly “You should see the other guy.” He laughed a small short laugh that I could tell was forced. He looked at me and saw my angry expression, his shoulders deflated, so fast I could have imagined it.
His expression quickly changed as he said, “Here it is.”
I took one look, and glared at him furiously.“What,” he said, clearly not picking up the hints.
“I’m only 18, I can’t drink,” I yelled. “Are you insane?” He took one look at me, and answered “Please Lavender,” He said with attitude in his tone . “You don’t fool me, and you look like you could use a drink.” He took my eye roll as an okay, and practically shoved me up the steps into the bar.
The bar was not what I had expected, it wasn’t packed and there was no stage with people dancing, or singing karaoke. Emmett was walking at a swift pace that I was jogging to keep up with. Then, he stopped abruptly, I was confused for only a second until I saw the reason. There was a huge, scary looking guy standing directly in his way. “Hey Felix, it's really jumping in here,” Emmett said jokingly. I thought this Felix guy was about to beat Emmett up until he started to laugh. His laugh was like no other; it could have made the grinch happy.
Felix unhooked a red velvet chain hanging across a doorway. Then I realized that was a passcode, and this bar was supposed to be empty. I was about to follow Emmett in, until Felix put his hand up.
“Who are you and how old are you?” he asked. Of course my brother just had to rescue me.
“She’s my sister, Lavender, and she’s 21,” he said automatically.
Felix responded suspiciously, “I don’t believe that she is 21, and if she is anything like you, I bet she can speak for herself.”
“You're right, I can,” I said, shooting my brother a dirty look.
“Well…” Felix said impatiently. “Are you 21?”
“Yep. For sure,” I said, giving him one of the brightest smiles I could muster.
“Okay… I believe you,” Felix said. He stepped aside and let us pass through the doorway, into the private room.
A gasp escaped my mouth. The ceiling was like a huge cathedral. It was tall, with intricate designs and details decorating it. The floor was a plush velvet, and there was a huge bar in the middle. “Come with me,” my brother whispered. “There is someone I want you to meet.”
Second Place Story Entry Grades 6-8  
Mira Heidorn, (Homeschooled)
for "The Fourth Dimension"

It's been one week since the disappearances started. Every day for the past seven days, one person has vanished. We've looked all over the island, but no luck. It seems like they just disappeared off the face of planet earth!
Robert Mae was the first to disappear. He was off on a hunting trip with two of his friends. On the second night of their trip, all three of them were still awake late at night, laughing and telling stories around a campfire. The fire was burning low, so Robert told his hunting buddies that he was going to go find some more firewood and be right back. according to the two that returned from the trip, he never made it back to the fire.
The second person was a woman named Allison Torket. She was rounding up her cows on her farm, and one of them was not there, so she told her husband not to bring in the cows because one was missing and she would be in the woods looking for it. Six hours later, and she still wasn't back.
The two most recent disappearances were of Hope and Lila Kai, the daughters of the Chiefs, and my sisters. Yesterday, they were out on a walk, looking for wild blackberries. There were no witnesses to their disappearance, so no one knows how they ended up missing. Now, my parents have stationed three bodyguards to wait outside my room each night, daring whatever it is taking the people to come and get me. It's sort of comforting, but at the same time, it's endlessly annoying. I can't go anywhere except my backyard, and I'm forbidden to go looking for my sisters, or anyone for that matter. I mean, kids half my age are looking for their families, while I'm confined to my bedroom.
For all I know, Hope and Lila could be dead right now, or screaming for me and our parents as they're being dragged further and further away. The thought's in my head are so terrible, i have to force myself to stop thinking. It's right then that I know what I have to do. I have to find my sisters.
I wait until midnight, when I know the guards are giving in to sleep. Slowly, I get out of bed, expertly tip-toeing around all the creaky floor boards. I reach my closet door, and quietly turn the handle. Inside I find the decoy of myself that I had made earlier. I carefully tuck the fake me under the blankets. I hesitate before placing the head on my pillow. I'm starting to think this is a bad idea, but I fuel myself with thoughts of reuniting with my sisters, and i keep going.
After step one of my plan is complete, I move on to step two. This might be the hardest part of tonight: escaping. Obviously, I can't just walk out the front door, so I rigged a sort of elevator\ladder type thing to safely carry me down the three stories of my house, through my bedroom window. I like to experiment with inventing and engineering, but I've never done anything like this, so I'm just prying it will work.
Slowly, I work up the nerve to step into the bucket that's dangling outside my window. It sways a little under my weight, but it holds me! I'm so happy I let out a little shout. Quickly, i cover my mouth. I don't think anyone heard me, but i pause for a moment, just in case. When no one comes bursting into my room, I slowly crank a lever that will bring me to the ground.
Inch by Inch, I come nearer to the earth. Finally, I hear a clunk and I know I've made it. I'm so happy I could dance around the yard, but I don't. I need as much time as possible to search. I start with Allison Torket's barn, hoping I can find a clue pointing me in the right direction, but all I find is cows and chickens and more cows. next I walk into town square and look up and down all the streets but find nothing. After at least two hours of useless searching, I come to the edge of the woods. I realize I've been unintentionally avoiding it. I stare into the forest. It's usually buzzing with noise, but tonight It's completely silent. Even the wind seems to direct itself away. Then everything hits me. It all makes sense, Robert disappeared on a hunting trip in the woods. Allison disappeared looking for her cow in the woods. Hope and Lila disappeared looking for blackberries, and every person knows the best place for berry picking, is in the woods! and the four others who are missing ( Madison Brown, Cara Small, Benjamin Tucker, and Jessie Oliver.) They all disappeared in the woods too!
Shaking with nerves and excitement, I cautiously take one step into the woods. Nothing happens. I feel safe to take another, so I do. I start running through the woods, calling the names of those people. I'm so confident I'm going to find them.
And then I stop.
I don't choose to, but i have to. some unknown force has me frozen in place. I try to make a sound, but nothing comes out, my voice box is locked. I feel dizzy. Something here in the forest is so wrong. I want to turn around and sprint home, but I can't. My eyes want to cry but nothing comes. Suddenly, I jerk forward. The thing is forcing my legs to move.
Step, step, step.
I'm terrified now.
Step, step, step.
Then I'm running. Closer and closer to something that's making my body do things that my brain does not agree to. Just as I reach my max speed, I start to slow down. Now I'm walking again. My movements are smoother, and i turn to my right and start walking in that direction. After what seems like multiple lifetimes go by, I stop walking. Stop moving all together. I can't even breath! And then it releases me. I'm shaking so hard and gasping for air. I try to speak, and this time it works. The thing is gone completely. It has lead me to this place for a reason, I know it. I just don't know why. I'm starting to think it was here to help, no matter how confused or scared it made me.
I shake out my limbs and start to take a step, but a deafening voice inside my head tells me to STOP MOVING! I immediately obey and put my foot back where it was. The voice tells me to look down. And I don't know if I should, but i slowly turn my head down. And I scream. I scream with every fiber in my body, every ounce of strength I have. What I see is a dark hole of swirling nothingness and unknown, and I know what I have to do. I don't have a choice. It's the reason that thing brought me here.
I take a deep, shaky breath, close my eyes, and jump.

First Place Story Entry Grades 9-12 
Yash Bolishetti for "Fear"
(Pingree School student, and author of: Aaron Aarrowwood and the Arena

There was a crunch. A slight change in the rustle of the leaves so imperceptible that any other creature would miss it. She tensed, picking her head up and sniffing the air. Invisible tendrils snaked into her nose. The scent of mud, mildew, and the small deer, innocently chewing at the lush jungle grass.
But there was something else. An alien scent that she had never encountered. It was cold, metallic, and unnatural, but with an undertone of fear so palpable she almost snarled in humor. She made no inclination that she sensed its presence. When a hunter is being hunted, they resort to their purest natural instincts, their cunning and calculating senses, taking everything in.
Without any legible purpose, she turned away from the lake she had been sipping from, her tail flicking the surface of the water and texturing it with a pattern of ripples. She angled herself towards where she thought the scent was coming from, taking a wide arc to avoid approaching it head-on. Her paws were silent, her claws retracted so that she moved across the jungle floor with the impact of a ghost.
Her eyes flicked across the entire area, although her head stayed still. The browns and greens of the trees had become familiar to her over the years. So familiar that they seemed to be a part of her. Which was why she knew something was wrong. The presence was closer, the smell of fear stronger. Her ears detected breathing, so quiet and slow it could have been coming from a dead man.
Then she saw it. The trees above shifted as uniformly as clouds, and a shaft of light pierced the undergrowth. Like a spotlight, it revealed a dark figure, hunched down and quiet. In their hands, a shining silver tube, pressed close against him like a child’s blanket. The figure didn’t move or flinch at the light cast upon him. More movement would only give further confirmation of their position. Better to stay still and pray she had missed his reveal.
But she hadn’t. Despite his admittedly respectable skill, this was her home, her land. She refused to be evicted from it by some small, fearful creature. Without conscious thought, she leaped forward, but not towards her seeming attacker. She still had second thoughts about the tube which forced her to remain cautious. Instead, she dove into a sect of bushes a dozen feet away, her nimbleness seemingly able to squeeze through the gaps in the leaves without a sound.
But the sight of her sent a panicked yell from her attacker, a shrill, primal noise that gratified her. It was immediately followed by a bang that sent her ears ringing and the fur across her body on end. The assailant, seeing that his quarry was gone, scrambled from the bushes to avoid any unforeseen attacks from the rear. They stood tall, on two legs like some of the spider monkeys on their branches, garbed in black clothing that only made them stick out more in the green, shifting foliage.
She stayed still, despite the surprise itching across her limbs. They were smarter than she had given them credit for, assuming that they would stay hiding in their bush, ready to be pounced upon. The hunter’s eyes gazed right over her, the black and orange strips of her pelt breaking up her figure and allowing her to blend into the cluttered backdrop. The roles had been reversed, only they couldn’t see her, sending them into a fit of panic as they spun their silver tube around.
She stayed crouched in a pouncing position, basking in the fear that radiated from the failed attacker. Her muscles in the back of her legs tightened, tensing and coiling her power into one, powerful leap. She exploded out of the bush with as little noise as she entered, her claws now extended and poised to rip their throat. He spun around at just the right moment to witness his demise. He seemed to glow with fear as he raised the silver noise tube, which wouldn’t be enough to scare her off.
There was another bang and more ringing in her ear, but that wasn’t the part that threw her off. A violent, smashing force collided with her shoulder muscle, and she was sent flying back. Burning pain crept through her whole body as she crashed to her side, a blistering heat that only got hotter.
She let out a pitiful roar, more a groan as she tried to get to her feet. As she set her left paw down, a fresh burst of pain shot through her body and she nearly dropped again. She balanced on her right paw and stared at her attacker. They had gotten up after leaping back in shock and were glaring at her with a new expression. Triumph.
Her body went cold as she felt an alien feeling crawl up her body.

Second Place Story Entry Grades 9-12 
Skyler Thompson, (Hamilton-Wenham Regional H.S.)
for "The Alibi"

The dust was thick and stifling as it rose in waves from the streets. It filled my lungs with powder and burned my eyes as I padded down the road to the main quarter of the city. My gait was unhurried as I didn’t want to gain attention from onlookers but inside I was racing, my insides jumbled. Tension curled around my shoulders and pressed on my chest. I kept pushing all my thoughts to the edge of my brain hoping they would just disappear into the darkness, yet they kept sliding back like my brain had become a bowl. The incident had only been two nights ago yet my whole life prior seemed dull, as if it hadn’t even happened at all. The person I once was seemed to have also died that Tuesday night. I made my way into the main square of Nihilla elbowing past angry locals and confused tourists. The square revolved around a giant fountain stood stoic in the middle. The water once was crystal blue, now it was murky and the fountain bed was filled with wishes long forgotten and floating garbage. All around the square stood market stalls selling barbecued rats, overpriced jewels, and everything in-between. The smells of body odor, spices from the food stalls, and waste that coated the streets created a aroma that seared my nose, the unseemly scent mixed with the dust cascading through the air and the anxiety that roared through me prompted me into high alert and engulfed me in a pain indescribable. Why anyone visited this place for pleasure was beyond me. I slowly began to scan the square, searching for the militia in the throng. A small group of soldiers patrolled this area of the city at the same time every day. Just a small reminder of those in higher power, the Elite. They told us that they tried to send out troops to protect us, told us they tried to do the right thing. Too bad everyone knows it's a lie. Knows that the rich and pretentious sit on their thrones of gold and toy with lives of millions. They pay their militia well though, and the people need money. Many people join even though their allegiance lies elsewhere. My brother scoffed at this, angry at the people’s desires over the revolution. I used to tell him they couldn’t join he revolution if they were dead. Now I think he might be right. Among those who joined is my best friend, Gideon. My eye caught a flash of the familiar olive green that colored the militia's garb. I headed that way, trying to squeeze through the crowd without bumping into anyone. Eventually I came upon the militia and immediately spotted Gideon standing with the others. They crowded around an old beaten up fan slowly putting out air, but it was better than nothing in this heat. Some of the men began to load up the cruiser. I had always wanted to ride in one of the floating aircraft but they were strictly for government use. However, them packing up meant I was late. I quickly hurried over to Gideon so as not to miss him.
“Gideon!” I shouted hoping he would somehow hear me over the roar of city bustle. Miraculously he turned, eyes searching for whoever called his name. I ran up to him and when he saw me he grinned,
“Vanessa! I was worried when you didn’t show up earlier.” I smiled, the words of my friend slowing down the panic that had been eating me alive since Tuesday night. 
“Yeah, sorry, running late.” He nodded as this was a regular occurrence but then suddenly he frowned.
“Are you alright? Is something wrong?” Dammit. He was always too smart for his own good. Could always read me a little too well. 
“I’m in a little trouble is all,” I tried to smile but it turned out more like a grimace. Gideon glanced back at the militia nervously but I knew the crowd would drown out our words. 
“What did you do, V?” Already I made up my mind that I couldn’t tell him. I needed him for my alibi, but I couldn’t tell him what I had done. He was too far in enemy lines. Nothing could ever get back to him. Nothing to link us to each other. 
“Where were you last night?” I asked nervously. Gideon blinked at the shift in topic but answered in stride,
“The pub, I was there alone, just had a few drinks then I went home around midnight.” I shook my head,
“No, we went out together, I had one too many beers so you took me back to your place.” My eyes pleaded with him. 
“You slept on the couch and left in the morning after breakfast, very hungover.” He replied looking more concerned now. I sighed in relief, we had covered each other so many times he didn’t even blink at the lie. “What happened this time?” He asked worry, lighting up his eyes. I remember when it used to be excitement. He never used to be protective of me, but after my brother died at the hands of the Elite, he got more protective, taking over for my brother. The thought of Markus saddened me and I forced myself to blink away the grief. 
“Nothing crazy, Gideon.” The lie felt heavy on my tongue. 
“Okay, but if you need anything you ask, alright?” He said, eyes pleading. I sighed, 
“Oh, and Melissa wants to have another game night, even though you totally smoked us last time.” I laughed, the fond memory coating me in warmth, until I remembered the way the woman lay there, her eyes staring at me, unseeing. My smile faltered. I could tell Gideon noticed my sudden shift in mood but he didn’t comment on it thankfully. 
“Okay, I’ll drop in soon. Thanks Gideon.” He flashed me a smile and ran back to his team. He jumped onto the cruiser before he hesitated. He turned back around to look at me. “Be safe!” He yelled, worry still creasing his brow. I waved back. My hand was heavy and surprisingly my eyes started to smart. I turned away just in case he could see the tears. I had just betrayed the one person who loved me. But there used to be two. Gideon could never know what I had done. It was all for Markus. My brother who was executed for plotting against the Elite, for believing in a world that didn’t turn round for a couple million to live lavishly on the backs of billions. I would carry my brother's dream because he was one of the good ones. Because they cut off his head and broadcasted it. Because he was made into a message, a warning. Well, message received. That's what I told her. When I held a knife to her golden throat. Why when she begged me for mercy, I told the Elite Officer that because of her, my brother was dead. Told her that when she reported my brother, she murdered him. So I was going to do the same thing to her.