Erin Entrada Kelly

For Newbery Medal recipient Erin Entrada Kelly, reading isn’t only entertainment or a diversion. It literally saved her life.

The author explains that she has suffered from chronic depression her entire life: “Without books, I would have felt so much more alone than I already did. Opening a book is like coming home.”

Kelly’s elementary school library in Louisiana played an important role in her life. She discovered two of her favorite childhood books there, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar and Halfway Down Paddy Lane by Jean Marzollo, checking them both out so many times that she knew exactly where they were on the shelf.

One of the things she loves about the area where she lives now in Delaware is the library system. “My local library is also my favorite writing spot,” she says. “I tuck myself away at one of the tables near the windows and write, write, write.”

Kelly believes strongly in the power of libraries and the importance of their presence in communities. Her writing process only begins after she’s spent months thinking about a fictional world in her head—then, she gets out a notebook and writes longhand. Only when she’s completed that does she type up her work, print it out, and complete edits on the page.

She was an avid reader from an early age and realized at about eight years old that she could write her own books. In addition to being an author, Kelly teaches writing. “Being around other writers builds creative energy, and I thrive on creative energy,” she tells us.

Her new book Lalani of the Distant Sea was influenced by the rich, complex tapestry of Filipino folklore. As she explains, “Filipino folklore is rooted in nature, and it’s wonderfully and incredibly dark, which is certainly true of the book.” Still, she says the world of the book doesn’t directly parallel folklore, as it comes from her imagination. Kelly recommends the Aswang Project for readers who are interested in Filipino folklore.

Kelly is inspired by a wide range of authors and books, including When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, “in which there is not a single wasted word,” The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, “which breaks your heart and stitches it up again,” Zeroboxer and Jade City by Fonda Lee “for her mind-blowing world-building,” Kevin Henkes’ The Year of Billy Miller “for its subtlety and truth,” The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, one of the most lyrical and atmospheric books she’s ever read, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang “for its management of art, theme, and prose,” and A.S. King’s Dig and I Crawl Through It. Kelly admires that King doesn’t condescend to her audience and acknowledges that young people are far more complex than adults give them credit for.

Choice in reading is freedom, she says. What she wants all of her readers to know is that they are never alone.

Lalani of the Distant Sea is available now at Queens Public Library.