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Erin Entrada Kelly: Exploring bullying in Hello Universe

Award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly knows Chet in Hello, Universe is a bully, but she wants people to see there are reasons behind his behavior.

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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.


With Chet bullying in “Hello Universe” is probably the most discussed character when people talk about the book with me. Because I, you know, wanted to depict kind of what he’s about. That was a struggle, because I didn’t want to be overly sympathetic to Chet, because he’s not a nice person, and but I also wanted to show, you know, where it comes from. And so I thought well where would a kid like Chet…you know, people pick up these habits from all different places. Than in his case, it’s his father. And I wanted to show something that felt honest and settled. So in the case with Chet his father is a bully, but not necessarily in the sense that we typically think of. A bully it was like pushing, shoving someone into lockers and this kind of thing. He makes passing comments about others in the guise of trying to be funny, or feelings of superiority, being judgmental. And it’s these kind of covert methods of putting people down and judging and judging others, that plants the seed for Chet that he and/or, his father are somehow better than… But at the same rate he is seeking out his father’s approval, because his father is so judgmental, and difficult to please or impress. And so Chet struggles with his own, you know, conflicts as everyone does. Trying to get that approval, but also exercising his, you know, perceived power over people that he thinks aren’t as good as he is. I hear from kids a lot who are being bullied, which is always sad. I also hear ironically I will hear from grownups, and they’ll tell me that , “Oh, we don’t have bullying in our school.” And lo and behold after the presentation kids will come up to me and they’re being bullied. And so I hear from kids from all walks of life, for all different reasons, You connect with the books in in all different ways. Including by the way kids who do not even like the book.