Panel: The New Colossus: YA Writers on America’s Difficult History

Grades 9 – 12 Moderated by Brittany King, Dream Defenders. From Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese […]


Panel: The New Colossus: YA Writers on America’s Difficult History

Authors:Brittany King, Daniel Nayeri, Traci Chee , Jenny Torres Sanchez


Grades 9 – 12

Moderated by Brittany King, Dream Defenders.

From Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II. In Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue: (a true story), an Iranian kid, Khosrou (whom everyone calls “Daniel”), tries to tell a fantastic story full of both magical and scary places, to his classmates in a middle school classroom in Oklahoma. No one believes him, but it’s true. It’s his story. Through the lives of three teens, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña, making their perilous way from Guatemala through Mexico, We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez offers a gripping view of the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border.

Brittany King

Brittany King (Bk) is a poet/actor living in Miami, FL. A native of South Florida, Bk is Co-Director of Donkeysaddle Projects; a radical art/media organization dedicated to amplifying stories of resistance and struggles for equity and liberation. Their work fuses art, storytelling, and activism into work that challenges and moves communities to stand in solidarity with those agitating for a more just, freer world. Through her community organizing work with the Dream Defenders, she is building power by helping to shift, challenge, and create new narratives for her communities.

Daniel Nayeri

Daniel Nayeri was born in Iran and spent a couple of years as a refugee before immigrating to Oklahoma at age eight with his family. He is the publisher of Odd Dot, an imprint of Macmillan, making him one of the youngest publishers in the industry. Everything Sad Is Untrue: (a true story) (Levine Querido) tells the story of a boy named Khosrou —whom everyone calls “Daniel.”

He stands before a middle school classroom in Oklahoma trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them, he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much. But Khosrou’s stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment his family fled Iran in the middle of the night with the secret police moments behind them, back to the sad, cement refugee camps of Italy and further back to the fields near the river Aras, where rain-soaked flowers bled red, and further back still to the Jasmine-scented city of Isfahan. We bounce between a school bus of kids armed with paper clip missiles and spitballs to the heroines and heroes of Khosrou’s family’s past. Like Scheherazade in a hostile classroom, Daniel weaves a tale to save his own life: to stake his claim to the truth. And it is a true story. It is Daniel’s. Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review simply called it “A modern epic.”

Traci Chee

Traci Chee is a New York Times bestselling author of the YA fantasy trilogy- The Reader, The Speaker, and The Storyteller. In We Are Not Free (HMH Books for Young Readers) Traci Chee offers the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II. Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco. Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted. Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps. In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart. Kirkus, in a starred review, called it “A compelling and transformative story of a tragic period in American history […] Each voice is powerful, evoking raw emotions of fear, anger, resentment, uncertainty, grief, pride, and love. […] unforgettable.”

Jenny Torres Sanchez

Jenny Torres Sanchez is the author of The Fall of Innocence; Because of the Sun; Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia; and The Downside of Being Charlie. Pulga has his dreams. Chico has his grief. Pequeña has her pride. And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their home. Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go. We Are Not from Here (Philomel Books) tells an epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope. Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, called it “A brutally honest, not-to-be-missed narrative…gripping, heart-wrenching, and thrilling.”

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