Newbery Authors: Erin Entrada Kelly

We have several amazing new books by Newbery authors coming out over the next few months. We're taking a moment to highlight each of these creators, starting with Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Award Winning author of Hello, Universe and the brand new novel, The First State of Being.

Seven Questions for Erin Entrada Kelly

Where were you sitting (or standing or sleeping) when you got the Newbery call?

At the time, I worked as a corporate copy editor for a company based in Philadelphia. I was on my way to work, stuck in traffic on I-95, when the call came through. I turned around and drove right back home.

Name one thing that changed in your life after winning the award?

It’s impossible to name only one, because so many things changed. Even now, it’s all very surreal. There is one incident that I think about often. Not long after winning the award, I was at my local library looking for a new book to read. I was in the mood for a rich, layered, well-crafted middle grade novel. I walked over to the librarian’s desk, but she wasn’t there. I saw a stack of bookmarks with NEWBERY MEDAL WINNERS written at the top. Aha! I thought. This will be a great place to find the best books to read. And there, at the end of the list, was my book. It caught me completely by surprise. In that moment I was just a reader looking for a good book. I stared at that bookmark for a long time. Then I checked out Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

What is your favorite place to read?

I’ll read anywhere and everywhere, but I especially love to read in the tub with an excessive amount of bubble bath. To date, I’ve lost three books to the water—Fox 8 by George Saunders, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick.

And your favorite place to write?

The study rooms at Appoquinimink Community Library.

What's the most memorable question a kid has asked you at a school or library visit?

A student once asked: Are you happy that you were bullied? Because if you weren’t bullied, you wouldn’t be able to write about it the way you do.

It was such an interesting question. I think about it all the time.

Give us your best piece of writing advice for kids.

A lot of young writers tell me they have trouble finishing their stories because they get new ideas and want to write those instead. I tell them to follow their muse. It’s okay if you don’t finish every story you start. I had stacks and stacks of unfinished stories when I was a kid. I still have them now as an adult. The most important thing is to write. Even if the stories are unfinished. Even if the stories are imperfect. Even if the stories don’t quite make sense. Just write.

How would you pitch your new book to a producer in Hollywood?

Probably like this: “So, uh, I have this new book … it’s about a 12-year-old kid named Michael … but it’s also about, uh, these other kids, and anyway, these different things happen, and—er, um—so there’s time travel, and oh! It’s set in the nineties … and, so, anyway …”

But ideally, like this: “The First State of Being is a story of time travel, friendship, and first love. Set in the past, drawn from the future, embracing the present.”

A Letter from Erin

There was a book I’d check out again and again when I was a little girl at T.H. Watkins Elementary in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It was Halfway Down Paddy Lane by Jean Marzollo, the story of a fifteen-year-old girl in the 1980s who goes to sleep one night and wakes up in the year 1850. That book—along with the premiere of Back to the Future, starring my childhood celebrity crush, Michael J. Fox—sparked a lifelong fascination with time travel. Specifically, time travel that is rooted in the real world.

I’ve often wondered why time travel captivates our imaginations so deeply. Is it because no one has done it yet, that we know of? Is it because we wish we could change things about our own past? Is it because we wish we had the power to rework tragic events in history and mold a better society for ourselves?

My fascination with time travel is centered in curiosity. I’m desperately curious to know what everyday life was like for people in past centuries, and I’m desperately curious to know what the world will look like in two hundred or two thousand years. It’s frustrating to accept that there are curiosities we will never fully understand. But then, that’s what makes them curiosities in the first place.

I knew I wanted to write about time travel at some point in my career. But I also knew that the story would have to be told through a single character who had my whole heart. Characters are everything to me. They are, and will always be, the most important part of any story I write.

That’s where Michael comes in. Michael is twelve, and he has a lot of worries. He worries about his mother, who works three jobs to take care of him. He worries about the future. He worries about the crush he has on his babysitter, Gibby. He’s convinced that if he had all the answers, he wouldn’t worry so much. He hasn’t yet learned that every time life hands us an answer, it creates another question.

This a story set in the past, drawn from the future, celebrating the present. I hope you enjoy spending time in the first state.

Erin Entrada Kelly

About The First State of Being

About Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Entrada Kelly was awarded the Newbery Medal for Hello, Universe and a Newbery Honor for We Dream of Space. 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. Before becoming a children’s author, Erin worked as a journalist and magazine editor and received numerous awards for community service journalism, feature writing, and editing from the Louisiana Press Association and the Associated Press.

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; Those Kids from Fawn Creek, named to numerous best-of-the-year lists; and three acclaimed novels for younger readers, Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey, Surely Surely Marisol Rainey, and Only Only Marisol Rainey, which she also illustrated. She lives in Delaware.

More Books by Erin