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Best of the National Book Festival: Jewell Parker Rhodes (2018) and Angie Thomas (2017)

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

Today’s post includes two selections from the Library of Congress National Book Festival, one for children (ages 7-12) and another for teens (ages 13+).

Writing and thinking prompts for both presentations:

  • Have you read “Ghost Boys,” “The Hate U Give” or any other works by Jewell Parker Rhodes or Angie Thomas? How has each author’s talk changed the way you think about her or her work?
  • What surprised you about the authors’ talks? What do you wonder about?
  • If you had been at one of these talks, what would you have asked the author?


Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of “Ninth Ward,” a Coretta Scott King honor book; “Sugar,” and “Towers Falling.” In this talk from the Children’s Green stage of the 2018 National Book Festival, she discusses her New York Times bestselling book “Ghost Boys.” She is introduced by Sasha Dowdy, a program specialist in the Library of Congress Young Readers Center. This presentation is recommended for children ages 7-12.

The presentation begins at 2:17 and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Inspiration for “Towers Falling” (3:22)
  • Why she wrote “Ghost Boys” (6:29)
  • “Everybody needs their story heard, everybody needs their story felt, and all of us connect across time” (7:20)
  • Artist video. Watch it here.  (8:04)
  • Final lines of “Ghost Boys”: “Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.” (10:33)
  • Q&A begins (11:00)

Thinking and Writing Prompts

9:49: Jewell Parker Rhodes says, “Art can make us understand tragedy better” and that she wrote her novel to help people better understand racial bias. The Library’s collections include examples of art created in response to tragedy, including murals of Trayvon Martin from New York and Detroita detail of Guernica, a famous painting by Pablo Picasso; and an online exhibition of artwork in response to September 11.

  • Use this talk or the artwork in the collection as inspiration for an artwork of your own. Think of an issue you care about or a tragedy that needs to be better understood, then consider how you want to express yourself. Is it through words? Images? Drama? Create a work of art that expresses your feelings or perspective. What did this work of art help you say about your thoughts and feelings regarding this tragedy?

13:34: Jewell says that her grandmother is her greatest inspiration: “[She] filled me with so much loving and so much wisdom. [She said,] ‘Jewell, everybody in the world is as good as anybody else. Jewell, child, do good, and it will fly back at you. Jewell, child, wear clean underwear, always!’”

  • Collect three pieces of advice from a member of your family. What does this advice mean to you? How does it apply to your life?

20:37: Jewell Parker Rhodes’s main piece of advice is: “Read, read, read, and read some more.” Read something written by a person who doesn’t look like you, or someone who comes from a different background than you. It can be a book, a short story or an article online.

  • What can you relate to, and what about their perspective is different from yours? What surprises you? What makes you uncomfortable? Explore what surprises you or makes you uncomfortable by reading more about it. What questions do you have based on this perspective?

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Angie Thomas is an inspiring, barrier-breaking new writer. Her debut novel, “The Hate U Give,” exposes the challenges of being black in a white world. The book was published in 2017 and in 2018 was made into a feature film. In this presentation from the Teen stage of the 2017 National Book Festival, Thomas discusses “The Hate U Give” with Washington Post editor Marisa Bellack. This presentation is suggested for teens.

The presentation begins at 3:15 and timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Writing for young adult audiences (3:30)
  • Influences for “The Hate U Give” (9:52)
  • Code switching (11:34)
  • The importance of representation in books (“if we give kids the books that they want to see themselves in, they’ll read”) (17:21)
  • Q&A begins (20:48)

 Thinking and Writing Prompts

10:05: Angie Thomas talks about why she decided to focus on the witness to a shooting and at 10:20 discusses how the character is judged for the way that she communicates as much as she is for the information she shares.

  • Think about your favorite book or consider a story from your own life. Now think about a witness to the event or what the story looks like from someone watching it. How does the story change if told from another perspective? What questions do you have from this viewpoint? Try to identify how many different perspectives on the event or story there might be.
  • Thomas encourages us to look beyond the way that people communicate to see the truth they may be speaking. Watch as legendary author James Baldwin interviews a group of youths during the 1963 riots in Birmingham, Alabama. Listen for their truths.

24:18: Angie Thomas says that, for young kids, “empathy is more powerful than sympathy.” At 25:20, an audience member thanks Angie Thomas for her work and says “because of this book I understand these issues so much more.”

  • What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? How can you help younger kids or even your peers empathize with others? What harm, if any, do you see in being only a sympathetic bystander? Have you read a story that helps you better understand an issue or another perspective? What questions did that new perspective help you raise?
  • Select an oral history from one of our collections – the Veterans History Project, the Civil Rights Oral History ProjectOccupational Folklife Collection – and listen carefully. Then consider: How does hearing this story help you better understand the issues the person was facing? And how might sharing your story help others?

Explore More

Hear authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely discuss “All American Boys” and share stories of their disparate experiences with the police.

Angie Thomas is a lifelong resident of Jackson, Mississippi:

Angie Thomas was once an aspiring rapper, and Tupac Shakur is one of her influences. Read more about Tupac and his song “Dear Mama,” which was added to the Library’s National Recording Registry in 2009, here. Or, make hip hop music using the Library’s public audio collections with Citizen DJ.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.


  1. Jewell Parker Rhodes is the one who given her stage name as “Being Creative – For Children Talk”. I am the recitation fairy being for you all today, she said. The work she shown up by her wording on the stage for the eyes of innocence.
    Cruelty of the world for being so unfair for the child who was unknown from the facts on being murdered by the police, just because he was playing with the fake gun toy. The wonder was to show that skin color can judge the humanity, and it’s existence should be backdrop as all lives matters not for the sense of color but yes respect can be driven from the beings character.
    Awaken the country by the standing gratitude to those who are living in heaven for their innocent heart. This candle march can give them the thoughts of surrendering their soul as “Rest In Peace”. This can be the true justice for them. Candle march can make others feel that “Our lives really matters”.

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