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The inside of the convention center with a sign for National Book Festival and many visitors carrying bags walking in front of it.
Visitors explore the expo floor at the 2023 Library of Congress National Book Festival, August 12. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

A Teen “Take” on the National Book Festival: Teens & the World’s Injustices with Lesa Cline-Ransome & Jennifer De Leon

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This post was written by high school student Karen Araya-Porras, a teen volunteer at the National Book Festival. This is the second in a series of posts written by teen reporters sharing about their National Book Festival experiences.

The Creativity Stage at the 2023 National Book Festival featured a session that discussed “Teens & the World’s Injustices”. As a teen reporter sitting in the audience, it was clear how passionate authors Jennifer De Leon (“Borderless”), and Lesa Cline-Ransome (“For Lamb”), are about diversity, teens, and the authors’ communities. “Borderless” is the story of Maya and her mother as they cross the border into the US.  “For Lamb” follows the story of two teen girls living in the south in the 1940s, under Jim Crow laws.

A photograph of a woman in a white shirt with dark skin, glasses, and short hair sitting in a chair.
Lesa Cline-Ransome in her National Book Festival publicity photograph, as taken by John Halpern.

During the session, the authors focused on their books, and how the main characters, both age 16, deal with trauma. Both authors provided insightful answers when asked why it’s vital to read about these topics. Cline-Ransome highlighted “teens both experience and witness very difficult subjects everyday”, and that “literature is a way to help teens figure out some really difficult questions that they might have”. I believe getting to read and talk about topics such as, lynching and immigrant detention, discussed in both books, helped raise my awareness of these subjects and increased my empathy.

One thing I love about the Library of Congress and the National Book Festival is the space it provides to have conversations that should be happening everywhere, ones that don’t shy away from the harsh truth. Sessions where you think about the difficulties of the world are incredibly important, and something that these two authors executed flawlessly.

“Celebrate your diversity”, De Leon said, an idea so simple yet so powerful. As a Hispanic teen, the statement stuck with me the entire day. Both authors chose a unique voice for the characters; De Leon used some expressions in Spanish, and Cline-Ransom used African American Vernacular English. When asked why, Cline-Ransome spoke about wanting readers to “hear and experience the beauty of our language”. De Leon also used a distinct voice to allow the characters to stand out, and to let readers “feel seen” in their language and identity.

A woman wearing a blue shirt looks directly into the camera
Jennifer DeLeon’s publicity photograph for the National Book Festival, as photographed by Matthew Guillory

There were many heartfelt moments during this session, from hearing a story from Jennnifer De Leon about visiting students from Guatemala being in “awe” that their stories mattered, to the audience members telling the authors how much their books meant to them. It was an incredible opportunity to be part of this event. As an audience member you could feel the heart and emotion that these authors poured into their writing, and many of us were left speechless.

In a session in which many crucial topics of adversity were discussed, I felt a sense of compassion and a bond in the room. “Even in anger, and pain, and sadness; there is strength, and sacrifice, and community”, Cline-Ransome said. At the end of the panel, the authors discussed what they hope teens will do after reading their books, and mentioned the importance of teens speaking out and using their voice. Their comments made me feel inspired to use my own voice to write this blog post. This has furthered my passion for writing, and led me to discover an interest in journalism as I apply to colleges this fall.

Time Stamps

  • 7:38 – The authors discuss the importance of teens reading about the world’s injustices.
  • 9:36 – Jennifer De Leon speaks about celebrating your diversity.
  • 11:56 – Authors speak about why they each chose not to conclude their book with a happy ending.
  • 17:39 – Lesa Cline-Ransome and Jennnifer De Leon talk about why they chose to write in voices that were distinct to their cultures.
  • 37:34 – Jennifer De Leon talks about the message she is hoping to show through her writing, the students she met, and their experiences, which were similar to the main character in her book.
  • 42:12 – The importance of self-care when reading or writing about traumatic topics , and wanting to show the strength the characters have and the support their communities provide.
  • 57:48 – The authors discuss what they hope readers take away from their novels, and what steps they hope teens take after reading the books.

The following discussion prompts may help families and teens after watching the above video:

  • After thinking about the importance of reading about difficult topics, what are some topics you want to learn more about?
  • Think about a community or group that you don’t know a lot about. What are some ways you could be more informed?

If you’d like to learn more about some of the topics discussed in the panel, such as segregation, check out classroom materials about segregation, or this blog post with photographs from this time.

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