Punching the Air: Ibi Zoboi's 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry Honor Speech

Firstly, I always have to thank my co-author, Exonerated Five member Yusef Salaam, for extending such warmth and grace throughout our process of drafting, revising, publishing, and promoting Punching the Air, a story inspired by Yusef’s experiences as a wrongfully incarcerated teen. We can never truly understand Yusef’s journey. However, through Amal’s story, readers can step into his soul and begin to make sense of the unwavering hope and determination that shaped a life, and the lives of so many teens like Yusef and Amal. It is also through my own compassion for the boys in my family and community that I set out to co-author this book with Yusef.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry winners.]

Any recognition for this book is a testament to justice being served, a voice being heard, and a certain truth being acknowledged. Thank you to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for selecting it as an honoree and seeing the value in this story, its words, and its characters. A heartfelt thanks to our team at Balzer + Bray for donating copies to the readers who need them most, incarcerated teens all over this country. This is one small step toward compassion, justice, and social change. Thank you!

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read co-author Yusef Salaam's BGHB speech here and illustrator Omar T. Pasha's here. For more on the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB21. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Ibi Zoboi.

Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the co-author, with Yusef Salaam of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor book Punching the Air (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins), illustrated by Omar T. Pasha. She received a 2023 Walter Honor in the younger readers category for Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler (Dutton). Her latest book is Nigeria Jones (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).

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