Newbery Honor Author Jasmine Warga

Happy Friday! I am launching my seventh annual Newbery series today. Hooray! 
Click here to watch the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards press conference. 

I asked Jerry Craft, Kwame Alexander, Christian McKay Heidicker, Jasmine Warga, and Alicia D. Williams to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters. 

Illustration Credit: Anoosha Syed 
Hand Lettering Credit: Jenna Stempel-Lobell
Hello, Jasmine Warga! I love hearing about THE CALL! What ran through your head when the phone rang? What were you thinking about when the Newbery committee was clapping and cheering for you?

Jasmine Warga: Hi, Mr. Schu! I was a huge bundle of nerves on Sunday night. I wish I could say that I wasn’t aware that the ALA awards were being announced on Monday, but I very much was—I’d been tagged in enough things over the month of January to know that some very lovely people (including some extraordinary awesome young readers!) were rooting for Other Words For Home to be honored in some way. But I was trying to stay realistic, though every time I tried to ground myself, hope would bubble back up. Hope, it turns out, is a really stubborn thing!

Around 9 PM on Sunday night, I remember talking with my husband, Greg (who you have met, Mr. Schu since we bumped into each other at ACE ☺) about how many readers have responded to the line in Other Words For Home where Jude says, “Hoping/I’m starting to think/might be the bravest thing a person can do,” and I decided then that I would be brave and hope for it, even though I knew it would likely not happen.

I struggled to fall asleep that night. I would try to tell myself to be realistic, but then I would also remind myself to be brave and hope. I woke up around 3 AM, and looked at my not-ringing phone. Around this time, I made peace with the fact it probably wasn’t going to happen. I remember listing all the wonderful things that had happened for the book, and feeling grateful for all of it. And then telling myself that tomorrow morning, I would get to find out what books had been honored, and that would be a lovely thing, too. With those thoughts, I finally got myself back to sleep.

The next thing I remember is Greg nudging me, and saying, “Jasmine! Your phone is ringing!” My ringer was off, but my phone was vibrating on the nightstand! The call came at 5:32 AM. When Krishna Grady, the committee chair, introduced herself and said the words, “John Newbery”—I began to cry. I think I made a sound like a scream, and then told them that I was crying. (I’m crying all over again as I type this.) I don’t really remember most of what I said to them because I was in a state of pure shock. I’m just so grateful to each and every member of the committee. Looking back now, I hope I profusely thanked them in the moment—not only for honoring my book, but for all the time and dedication it takes to serve on a committee! Whatever sounds I did make on the phone call woke up my two daughters so once I got off the phone, my whole family (including the cat and dog!) had a dance party. My kids kept asking why I was crying if I was happy, and I explained to them that sometimes when really amazing things happen, you feel so happy that you cry. I think they’re still confused by that, but they’re really excited about the stickers ☺.

What does a Newbery Honor for Other Words for Home mean to you?

Jasmine Warga: It means the absolute world. I grew up reading Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books—I distinctly remember running my fingers over the stickers on the cover of those books. But I also remember that none of those books ever featured girls who were quite like me, who had immigrant parents like my own, or who were wrestling with some of the specific questions that I grappled with as an adolescent—such as, “Do I belong here?” and “Am I truly American or American enough?”

Seeing that silver sticker on the cover of this book, of this particular story, is so enormously validating to my 12-year-old self as well as my grown-up self. And I hope more than anything that it’s validating for young Muslim readers, young Arab readers, and all young readers of color and/or young readers with immigrant parents. To me, that sticker for that very American award, says, “You do belong here, and your story matters.” So I hope it means that to young readers, too. Because their stories are valid, and they do matter, and they do belong. And I can’t wait to read and hear their stories.

Please finish these sentence starters:

Story is magic. Stories are the way I make sense of our messy and complicated world. The stories we tell about others and ourselves have enormous power to change and shape our lives. When you really think about it, all of us are a walking collection of stories. 

School libraries are sacred magical spaces. They’re places where you can feel safe to explore worlds different from your own. They’re also a safe place to tackle tough questions about your own world. School libraries are essential and life-changing. They’re places were every type of kid deserves to feel safe and welcomed. Signed, Jasmine Warga, who spent almost her entire 7th grade year eating lunch alone in her school library.

Borrow Other Words for Home from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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