Saturday, February 13, 2021

An Interview with Erin Entrada Kelly 2020 Mythopoeic Award for Children's Fantasy Finalist


Erin Entrada Kelly is a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for her book Lalani of the Distant Sea. She was raised in Lake Charles, La., but now lives in suburban Philadelphia. Her mother was the first in her family to emigrate from the Philippines. Erin's books have won several awards, including the APALA Award for Children's Literature, the Golden Kite Honor Award, and the Gold Award for Fiction from the Parents Choice Foundation.


“Fast-paced and full of wonder, this is a powerful, gripping must-read.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“A lush and mysterious fable, full of beauty, full of wonder.”—Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal–winning author of When You Reach Me

Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut fantasy novel is a gorgeous, literary adventure about bravery, friendship, self-reliance, and the choice between accepting fate or forging your own path.

When Lalani Sarita’s mother falls ill with an incurable disease, Lalani embarks on a dangerous journey across the sea in the hope of safeguarding her own future. Inspired by Filipino folklore, this engrossing fantasy is for readers who loved Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Disney’s Moana. 

Life is difficult on the island of Sanlagita. To the west looms a vengeful mountain, one that threatens to collapse and bury the village at any moment. To the north, a dangerous fog swallows sailors who dare to venture out, looking for a more hospitable land. And what does the future hold for young girls? Chores and more chores. 

When Lalani Sarita’s mother falls gravely ill, twelve-year-old Lalani faces an impossible task—she must leave Sanlagita and find the riches of the legendary Mount Isa, which towers on an island to the north. But generations of men and boys have died on the same quest—how can an ordinary girl survive the epic tests of the archipelago? And how will she manage without Veyda, her best friend?


What is the most important idea that led to the writing of Lalani of the Distant Sea

I wanted to write a story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I wanted to celebrate the power of compassion, empathy, equality, and community. It was very important to me that the characters who ultimately influenced change in Sanlagita were not magical, powerful, or particularly brave and mighty — at least not in the ways we typically define those things. I write for the quiet kids — the ones who feel invisible. I want them to know that I see them, and they are beautiful, and they are brave, and they can do great things. And they don't have to change who they are to make any of that happen.

How does this book fit in with the rest of your writing? Do you prefer writing one-off stories or series? 

It's my only fantasy novel (thus far!). My other novels are realistic fiction. But it shares similar themes. All of my books focus on the small, but mighty. The quiet, lonely kids out there who are trying to find their place in a world that celebrates ego and brawn. I generally prefer one-off stories. But there are exceptions. There are always exceptions.

What is your philosophy toward writing for children? Do you think it is substantially different than writing for adults? 

Great question! I've written for both. My publishing career started with short stories, actually. My philosophy is quite different. When I write for children, I'm writing for 'little Erin.' I picture a young reader, in their room, feeling unmoored, and lost, and alone. Feeling like no one understands them. That's the kind of kid I was, so those are the kids I write for. When I write for adults, it's more about reflection.

A fantasy book based on Filipino folklore is an interesting departure from "standard" fantasy literature. What inspired you to look off the beaten path of northwestern European folklore? What do you think of the importance of expanding the cultural scope of Fantasy? 

I'm Filipino-American. The world is a diverse place. All stories deserve to be told. All readers deserve to see themselves on the page. All cultures deserve to be represented across literature, and that certainly includes fantasy.

Have you read any of the Inklings books and do you like them?

Yes. There is much to love, and much to think about. My favorite of these is The Hobbit. I love Bilbo, and I appreciate that he stays true to who he is throughout the novel. 

Who would you consider an influential author to you? How have they shaped your work? 

There are so many! With Lalani of the Distant Sea, one of my greatest influences was Kathi Appelt's The UnderneathThat novel has influenced me in many ways as a writer.

If you could recommend one book for everyone to read, what would it be and why? 

That is such a difficult question, and it changes by the day. At the moment -- perhaps because it's on my mind — I would highly recommend The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. Especially for writers of children's literature. She works magic with language. It's unlike any other works of children's literature that I've read. And she takes a common trope — anthropomorphic animals — and does something truly wonderful, heart-wrenching, and incredible with it.

Do you have any new books in the works? 

Always! I'm about to launch a series for younger elementary readers called Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey, about a quiet and timid little girl with a big imagination.

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