Home Features Teacher and author Michael Leali earns a Golden Kite 

Teacher and author Michael Leali earns a Golden Kite 

An image of Mr. Leali holding
Image Credits: Trinity Heard

Since publishing his first book, “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy,” Michael Leali has been busy winning a Golden Kite Award for Middle-Grade Fiction. The Golden Kite award gives out $2,500 to the author and $1,000 to their chosen nonprofit organization. Leali chose the Ali Forney Center, a center aiding homeless LGBTQ+ youth with resources to guide them to independence. 

For the Golden Kite Award, judges look at around 170 books in the middle-grade fiction category and choose five finalists. Two of the finalists will be selected as Honor Winner and Winner. Leali’s first novel, “Civil War of Amos Abernathy,” was placed as Winner, the highest award in this category. 

The Golden Kite award honors outstanding literature and is a dream for many children’s book writers.

Here are a few past winners for the middle-grade fiction category:

2021- Renée Watson’s “Ways to Make Sunshine” (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

2020- Padma Venkatraman’s “The Bridge Home” (Nancy Paulsen Books) 

2019- Susan Hood’s LIFEBOAT 12 (Simon & Schuster)

According to Leali, it all began in November when his editor asked if he was a member of the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. Once Leali told his editor he’s been a member since 2017, his editor submitted “The Civil War of Amos Abernathy” for consideration for the Golden Kite Award. 

Related Article: Meet Mr. Leali: a teacher and writer in one

“I didn’t think much of it at that point,” Leali says. 

At first, Leali believed there was no chance he would win. For the ceremony, he says he had only prepared bullet points rather than a speech because he felt he had a small chance of winning.

“I was one of five finalists for the award for middle-grade fiction, and the other four finalists are absolutely incredible and several of them have won multiple awards in the past and I have not,” Leali says.

On Feb. 24, judges, finalists, and the public were invited to join the Zoom call (available to watch here) announcing the winners of each category. With over 300 Zoom viewers watching, Leali was announced as the Winner of the 2023 Golden Kite for Middle-school Fiction.

Still in shock, Leali had to set his emotions aside and share the bullet points he had prepared.

“As I turned my camera off, I just started crying because I was so overwhelmed with emotion,” Leali says. 

After this accomplishment, staff and students celebrated Leali’s win with congratulations in the halls and staff emails. 

“Some of my students, I shared with them as well that I won the award and it was fun to have that moment with them,” Leali says. 

Leali wasn’t very convinced that he would win, but after the judges’ comments, he could gather what made them decide to choose “Civil War of Amos Abernathy” as a winner.

“They were really impressed with how I tackled big topics like fellowship, co-conspiratorship, intersectionality, standing up for what you believe in, finding your voice, and connecting to all of that is the representation of the LGBTQ+ community,” Leali says. 

When writing for middle school students about big topics, there are a few things that Leali keeps in mind.

“When I think of middle school readers, I think about how to tackle serious topics in a way that is accessible and I try to keep an element of fun in everything I do,” Leali says. “I really like using humor in my writing and to break up those moments that are more serious with a snappy bit of dialogue or some sort of physical comedy.”

It was the writing style, voice, and use of epistolary chapters that the judges were impressed with.

Before even applying to the Golden Kite Awards, Leali had already been working on his next novel. Leali began drafting and editing “Matteo” in January and finished around June 2022. He is now working on preparing for launch events and trade reviews. The first trade review from Kirkus became open to the public on March 13, 2023.

If you want to read Leali’s “Civil War of Amos Abernathy”, you can find it here and in stores like Target, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble. The paperback version will be available on May 2.

Launch events for “Matteo” will be within the same week the hardcover is released: May 23, 2023.

Leali always seems to be up to something new each time he is interviewed for 42Fifty; stay updated on his website to see what he does next!

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My name is Trinity Heard, I am a Senior at Oswego High School, and this is my second year writing for 42Fifty. I am very excited to continue working with the team and help other learn more about journalism. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, baking, and editing. I also am a part of the Student Council as President and work as a crew member at Culvers. I look forward to being involved in 42Fifty as a managing editor for this year.



  1. Hey Trinity – you did a great job capturing Mr. Leali’s voice in this article! Thanks for covering his recent successes. I think it all started with his great biology teacher! :). (It was me. LOL). Nice work!

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