Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly
Click here to watch the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards press conference. I asked Tae Keller, Christina Soontornvat, Carole Boston Weatherford, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and Erin Entrada Kelly to answer two questions and finish two sentence starters.
Hello, Erin Entrada Kelly! Congratulations on winning a Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space. As you know, I love hearing about the CALL. What was running through your heart when the Newbery committee was clapping and cheering for you?
Erin Entrada Kelly: I was out walking my dogs, taking a leisurely stroll, wondering who would get “the call,” looking at the beautiful night sky, freezing my buns off. When I came back in, I had so many missed calls. I assumed it was spam because I get inundated with spam. That’s why I cleverly equipped my phone—whose name is Agnes—with a ruthless spam blocker last year. (Yes, my phone has a name. Agnes). So ruthless, in fact, that Agnes assumes every unfamiliar number is spam and immediately declines them.
Then, a text message. “Hi Erin, this is not spam! Please call me back ASAP.” My first thought: That’s exactly what a spammer would say! Nice trick using my name, Mr. Spam Bot, but I’m no fool.
Keep in mind, it didn’t occur to me that the call was ALA. First of all: What are the chances that lightning would strike twice? Second of all: It’s a well-documented urban legend that the committee calls on the *morning of* the press conference. Not the night before.
But then I thought: What if there’s an emergency? What if something happened to my daughter, who lives in Vermont? I immediately started dialing my daughter’s number, but was interrupted by a message from my editor, Virginia. It said: “SOS! Answer your phone!”
Hmm, I thought.
Needless to say, I called the number. A calm-sounding, professional individual answered and said, “Hi, Erin. This is ALA. We will call you back in a few minutes.” And I said—fake-calmly and fake-professionally—“Okay. Thank you.” I hung up and proceeded to stare at the phone as if in a trance. At that moment, my partner Dan arrived with Chinese take-out. He saw me standing there, staring at Agnes, barely blinking, and asked: “What’s going on?” I frantically replied: “Something’s happening!” And he immediately panicked and said, “What? What’s happening?” All I could say is: “Something’s happening! Something’s happening!”
Then—the phone rang. Ever the dutiful soldier, Agnes declined the call on my behalf. I screamed and proceeded to press every button available to me. The committee called again. Agnes declined. All the while, I’m pressing buttons and screaming inaudibly, mixed with “Something is happening! Something is happening!” and pacing the room and Dan (poor Dan) is holding armfuls of chicken teriyaki and pork fried rice, saying “What’s going on? What’s going on?”
Finally, the call came through. Dan put the takeout on the table. I grabbed his hand and we listened on the speakerphone. I screamed loudly in the committee’s ears. They said various words that I don’t remember and I said something about the spam blocker then I started crying and I may or may not have said goodbye before hanging up, but I really hope I did.
WOW! That is an INCREDIBLE THE CALL story!!!!!!!!!
What does receiving a Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space mean to you?
Erin Entrada Kelly: It’s difficult to put into words. I’ll try to be succinct.
I wrote and revised this book during the most tumultuous year of my life. Writing has always been an escape for me, and I loved spending time with Bird, Cash, and Fitch. At one point, though, I wondered: Would anyone care about them as much as I do? I remember sitting at my little square table in my apartment, doing final revisions, surrounded by paper, clutching my pen. I looked down at my outline. The entire outline for chapter one simply said: “Fitch loses a quarter.” And that little, mean voice in the back of my head—the one we all have—whispered: ‘Fitch loses a quarter? That’s your whole chapter? That’s what your chapter’s about?’ And I burst into tears. I thought: No one will care about this book. I did a disservice to my characters.
I was wrong.
One of the most meaningful aspects of this book, for me, is the imperfect home life that the siblings share. So many young people grow up in imperfect, dysfunctional homes. So many young people feel like they’re floating in orbit all alone. Knowing that I reached one of them—much less the numbers that this Honor provides—is impossible to encapsulate eloquently.
Please finish the following sentence starters:
Story is inside all of us.
School librarians are like shepherds, leading readers where they need to go. We have many reasons to walk into libraries. There’s something we need to learn, maybe. Or we want to find a book to make us laugh. Or we need to cry. Perhaps we’re there for an escape. Or we just need a safe space to rest for a moment. No matter the reason—there’s always a librarian, right around the corner, who has the answer to your question. What a gift they are.
Thank you, Erin!
New York Times–bestselling author Erin Entrada Kelly was awarded the Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe. She grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and now lives in Delaware She is a professor of children’s literature in the graduate fiction and publishing programs at Rosemont College, where she earned her MFA, and is on the faculty at Hamline University. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut novel, Blackbird Fly, was a Kirkus Best Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, an ALSC Notable Book, and an Asian/Pacific American Literature Honor Book. She is also the author of The Land of Forgotten Girls, winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature; You Go First, a Spring 2018 Indie Next Pick; Lalani of the Distant Sea, an Indie Next Pick; and the acclaimed We Dream of Space.
Cash, Fitch, and Bird Thomas are three siblings in seventh grade together in Park, Delaware. In 1986, as the nation waits expectantly for the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, they each struggle with their own personal anxieties. Cash, who loves basketball but has a newly broken wrist, is in danger of failing seventh grade for the second time. Fitch spends every afternoon playing Major Havoc at the arcade on Main and wrestles with an explosive temper that he doesn’t understand. And Bird, his twelve-year-old twin, dreams of being NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but feels like she’s disappearing.
The Thomas children exist in their own orbits, circling a tense and unpredictable household, with little in common except an enthusiastic science teacher named Ms. Salonga. As the launch of the Challenger approaches, Ms. Salonga gives her students a project—they are separated into crews and assigned a position on a spacecraft, and they must create and complete a mission. As life at home gets more complicated for the Thomas siblings, this project prompts each of them to reflect on their places in the universe. And when the fated day arrives, it changes all of their lives and brings them together in unexpected ways.
Told in three alternating points of view, We Dream of Space is an unforgettable and thematically rich novel for middle grade readers.