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Erin Entrada Kelly: Celebrating Filipino culture

As a first generation Filipina-American, author Erin Entrada Kelly has used her family’s culture to help inform the stories she writes and the characters that inhabit them.

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Erin Entrada Kelly

Folktales, Fantasy, Fiction

Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of chapter books for tweens and teens, including Hello, Universe — winner of the 2018 Newbery Medal. Her books explore coming of age with sensitivity and honesty, dealing with issues such as bullying, building friendships, and feeling like an outsider.


A lot of my books are inspired by my mother, and she is from the Philippines, and she loves to tell stories. She’s a very devout Catholic. So I grew up listening to a lot of stories about the Saints, and she would share these stories with such passion and an underlying morality, of course. And life lessons that they had to offer, and that very much informed specifically “Hello Universe” the character of Lola, the grandmother, and her use of folktales to impart her wisdom on Virgil. In my other books, as well. It’s very much mirroring my growing up and hearing, I don’t speak Tagalog or any of the dialects, but of course I grew up hearing words peppered here and there, and so that’s incorporated in the books. And also things like food, which is integral to any culture, also prevalent in the books. So you know, it’s very much a reflection of the things I heard, felt, saw growing up. I actually went to Manila for the readers and writers festival, and it was my first trip back to the Philippines since my first book “Blackbird Fly” was published in 2015. And I was able to visit schools in Manila, and, you know there’s this sense of nervousness at first, because I’ve spoken to kids all across America, and I’ve heard from Filipino American families, parents, readers, and it’s been really overwhelming. But there’s always that question. I wonder how Filipinos will react or embrace the books, or relate? And one thing that I’ve absolutely learned as a writer is that when you’re writing about real life, real emotions, feelings of loneliness, not fitting in, and otherness, pretty much anyone can relate to them, at least you hope they do, and it seems as if they do, because no matter the background, we’ve all experienced what that’s like. So when I went to Manila, and I spoke to the the schools there, of course, everyone was excited and enthusiastic, and so appreciative of Filipinos being depicted in literature and celebrating the Filipino American culture.