Interview: Erin Entrada Kelly Believes Everyone Deserves To See Themselves In Books

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“All young people deserve to see themselves in books. No one is invisible, and no one should be treated like they are,” according to author Erin Entrada Kelly. That is maybe why she writes about Filipino characters like herself in her books, so that Filipino readers know they aren’t invisible.

As a matter of fact, her book, The Land of Forgotten Girls, was the first chapter book I’d seen the Filipino side of myself represented. (The first picture book was Cora Cooks Pancit.) That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to be interviewing her!! I love Erin Entrada’s books because they are relatable and have captivating lines that stick with you. In You Go First, this line of the book still is stuck in my head, even though I read it a few years ago: “Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard balanced an unopened Dr. Pepper can on her hand and thought, This is what it feels like to hold my Dad’s heart.”

Not only are her stories interesting, her life is too. Erin Entrada Kelly had worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, copywriter, book publicist, and a copy editor before getting a book deal in 2012. Now, she has published six books and has even won the Newbery Medal for her book Hello, Universe! The book will soon be turned into a Netflix movie and her book You Go First is going to be a stage play.

Erin Entrada Kelly now writes full-time and teaches part-time. She is currently on the graduate fiction faculties at Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa., and Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minn. Erin Entrada Kelly says reading, writing, and teaching are some of the greatest joys in life. Doing this interview with her may be one of my greatest joys! Read it below.

Question: What does it feel like to have won the 2018 Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe?

Answer: It’s very surreal. Winning the Newbery Medal is a life-changing experience. I still can’t believe it!

Q: Can you explain your path to becoming an author?

A: I’ve wanted to be an author since I was eight or nine years old. It’s been a lifelong dream. I started as a short story writer, so that’s where I got my first publications. My first short story was published in 2008. Meanwhile, I queried agents. I found my agent in 2011 and got a book deal in 2012. But I’ve been reading craft books, writing magazines, and articles about publishing virtually my entire life–all in preparation for a dream that eventually came true.

Q: What three pieces of advice do you have for budding authors?

  • A good writer is a good reader. Read, read, read.
  • Write, write, write!
  • If you don’t finish a project because you get distracted by a shiny, new idea, it’s OK. Write where your muse takes you.

Q: Do you have a quote or motto you live by? How has it affected you and your writing?

A: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I think about that quote a lot. It reminds me that no matter what, you have to love yourself first. No amount of book deals, money, or awards can make you love who you are. You have to appreciate all the things that make you beautiful before you can appreciate what other people see in you.

Q: A lot of your books represent diversity. Some of your books have characters who are Asian and Filipino. Why do you think diversity is important in children’s literature?

A: All young people deserve to see themselves in books. No one is invisible, and no one should be treated like they are.

Q: What is your favorite Filipino dish and why? Mine is pancit, because it is like a noodle salad! 

I love pancit so much! But if I had to choose a favorite, it would be lumpia.

A: Out of any of your books, which of the characters is your favorite? Which one is the most like you?

A: It’s difficult to pick a favorite because I love them for different reasons. I love Ben Boxer from You Go First, because he is sweet and optimistic and he’s interested in things that most kids his age don’t care about, like presidential history and recycling. I love Soledad from The Land of Forgotten Girls because she is tough and loyal and independent. I love Virgil from Hello, Universe, because he is quiet and kind; Valencia because she is strong-willed; and Kaori because she is a free-thinker.

As far as the characters who are most like me: Apple from Blackbird Fly and Lalani from Lalani of the Distant Sea. They are both sensitive and empathetic and unaware of all their strengths. I’m also a lot like Cash in We Dream of Space, because he really hates school — and so did I.

Q: In Hello, Universe; Valencia’s chapters are written in first person, while the others are in third. Why is that?

Valencia’s chapters are in first person because she doesn’t interact with many people in the beginning of the novel. One way readers learn about characters is seeing them interact with other people. By writing her chapters in first person, she’s able to interact with the reader.

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Elena! I am also always on the lookout for books that represent my kids’ Filipino heritage. I really loved Lalani and the Distant Sea, as well as Cora Cooks Pancit.


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