Teachers for Teachers | It’s Monday! We Think Readers Will Find a Friend in These Characters #IMWAYR
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It’s Monday! We Think Readers Will Find a Friend in These Characters #IMWAYR

In an interview with Jessie Grearson from Kirkus, Erin Entrada Kelly said, “All my novels begin with a picture of a character. Then I start asking him or her questions—my favorite being why.”

When we read this line from the interview, we smiled.  The characters in Erin’s books are so relatable we wondered how she developed them. We love that we now have a glimpse into her writing process, so we can share it with students when we read her texts.

In Erin’s books, readers get to know each character’s strengths, wishes, and worries. Readers see that characters can be both strong and vulnerable.  We watch as characters share some personal problems and thoughts with others, but also hold back information to protect themselves. Her characters are complex.  It is this complexity that we want readers to notice and ponder.

What a gift these books are to middle-grade readers as they journey through puberty and grapple with the ups and downs of friendships and changing family dynamics. As we read, we couldn’t help but think, “I wish I had a book like this when _________ (student’s name) was dealing with _____________.”  In case you haven’t read Erin’s two newest books, here are a few highlights:

Hello, Universe

When the main character, Virgil, falls victim to bullying and is missing, three girls, Valencia, Gen, and Kaori, work together to find him. As these characters try to locate their friend, readers watch as each character learns to appreciate his/her strengths.  Valencia, who is deaf, sees how her strong problem-solving skills and her knowledge of the woods are valuable to others.   Kaori realizes how her determination can bring people together, and Gen learns to believe in her own ingenuity despite her young age.  As Virgil lays stuck at the bottom of a well, he reflects on his situation and understands that he must stand up for himself.

This 2018 Newbery Award winner has just the right balance of suspense and endearing characters.  It is a story about believing in yourself, in fate, and in the importance of giving people second chances.  It will push your students to think about how characters impact and change one another, and to think about the complexity in all of us.

You Go First

You Go First is a book we want to have in our hands when students struggle with friendships and difficulties at home.  In this story, kids see that they are not the only one who has a friend choose to spend time with someone else, parents that get divorced, or a sick parent.   As the characters, Ben and Charlotte, deal with their problems, readers learn that problems in life are not static and over time, feelings and situations will change.

To bring this point home Erin Entrada Kelly uses the passage of time in a unique way.   The story takes place over one week, and the book is divided into parts by the day of the week – (Part 1 – Monday, Part II – Tuesday, etc.)  Since the timeframe of the story is so short, readers see these characters make new friends, adapt to new family situations, and accept changes in their lives.  This book gives kids hope that they are not alone and that other people face many of the same difficulties.

If you haven’t had a chance to read these texts, add them to your summer TBR stack. These are books to read aloud and books to hand to a reader when they need a friend.

  • Avatar
    Elisabeth Ellington
    Posted at 11:25h, 18 June Reply

    I loved both of these books, especially Hello Universe, which wasn’t much on my radar before it won the Newbery. Have you read her first novel, Blackbird Fly, yet? I think you’d like that one as well. I am saving The Land of Forgotten Girls. I hate finishing all the books by a favorite author and having nothing left to read, so I often save one for later, when I need it!

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    Shaye Miller
    Posted at 14:09h, 18 June Reply

    The one regret I have with reading these two Erin Entrada Kelly books is that I read them both with my ears (audiobooks). It’s what was available at the time and so I took advantage. Nevertheless, I’m guessing reading them with my eyes would have been more fulfilling. There’s something to say about certain timbres of voices that don’t resonate with different people (and I see Abellera was the narrator for both books). I would like to read Elisabeth’s other suggestion, too: Blackbird Fly. Thanks for sharing!

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    Posted at 14:17h, 18 June Reply

    I have read Hello Universe (actually listened to the audio) and enjoyed the multiple perspectives, You Go First is one my TBR list. Have a great week!

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    Linda Baie
    Posted at 14:56h, 18 June Reply

    I have read and loved Hello Universe, have not read the new one. It’s fun to hear her words about her approach.

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    Jane @ Raincity Librarian
    Posted at 19:56h, 18 June Reply

    Both such incredible books.

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    Lisa Maucione
    Posted at 21:10h, 18 June Reply

    I agree that if anyone hasn’t read these books they should be added to their summer TBR lists. Erin Entrada Kelly is an amazing writer and these books will definitely give middle grade readers possibilities for navigating the challenges they face while growing up.

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    Michele Knott
    Posted at 21:22h, 18 June Reply

    I actually liked You Go First better than Hello, Universe. I read H,U on my kindle and liked it, but had a hard time relating to it. I wonder if I would like it better if I had read the book version?

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    Posted at 07:20h, 19 June Reply

    I have Hello, Universe in a bag of books that are ready for summer reading! The themes look like good ones for the beginning of the year.

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    Posted at 01:20h, 20 June Reply

    I know I am missing out on not reading either of her books yet; I will have to fix that!

    Happy reading this week 🙂

  • Avatar
    Myra from GatheringBooks
    Posted at 11:03h, 25 June Reply

    I am loving the Erin Entrada Kelly love in this post. I have reviewed and read Hello, Universe and agree with everything you shared here. Have you ladies read her The Land of Forgotten Girls yet? I thought that was pretty well done too. 🙂

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