Contributed by Erin Entrada Kelly
When I was a little girl, I wasn’t a Ramona, Harriet, or Matilda. I wasn’t Clementine or Madeline. I didn’t get in trouble—well, not until later—so I was never carted off to the principal’s office. I kept my nose in books, not corners. And I was quiet. Not shy; pensive. I spent time in my head. Played make-believe with my dolls. One day my room was an apartment in New York, the next day it was a schoolhouse. I was an excellent teacher with a real-life grade book and I had backstories for all my students. Sometimes my room was a church, busy office, or retail shop. One time I accidentally smeared lipstick on one of my dolls, so I pretended she’d suffered a grave injury. I rushed her to the ER immediately, of course. Coincidentally, my room became an ER and I was both doctor and mother.
I didn’t spend much time outside. For one thing, I was—and am—sickly and asthmatic. For another thing, that’s where the dirt and bugs are. People who went outside climbed tress and broke bones. My sister broke her ankle playing basketball. Within days her cast was cluttered with signatures. (I had a sneaky suspicion that my cast would not be so well- decorated.) No rough outdoor play for me. Too risky.
As a bonadfide bookworm, I spent a lot of time wandering through Waldenbooks. But I didn’t see myself in Ramona, Harriet, or Matilda, and I was no Madeline. So what was I?
A quiet, lonely bookworm who liked to spend time alone, that’s what.
So when I started writing books for young people, those were the kinds of characters I wanted to write. Those were the readers I wanted to reach. But there’s a challenge to hanging your hat on Quiet Characters. They spend a lot of time in their heads. They don’t interact with their world that much. This makes it difficult to put them on the page. Imagine watching a movie where the person is thinking the whole time. Their thoughts might be magical, but you’re not privy to them, so why would you hang around for ninety minutes?
There are many kids out there who would rather blend with the wallpaper than step into the party. Kids who feel lonely, but don’t know why, and are unsure of what they have to say, or who to say it to. In celebration of those quiet ones, I’d like to share some of my favorite books with characters who don’t have the loudest voice, but still manage to leave the greatest mark.
The Year of Billy Miller, by Kevin Henkes
Last year I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Henkes at a HarperCollins event. The first thing I blurted out was, “I love Billy Miller!” I may have talked about Billy Miller before I even introduced myself. I’m not sure. But that’s how close Billy is to my heart.
The Only Child, by Guojing
This book is so quiet it doesn’t even have words. Instead, there’s gorgeous, glorious, and imaginative art. The Only Child tells the story of a lonely little girl who falls asleep on a city bus on the way to see her grandmother. When she wakes up, she is lost and alone in an unfamiliar world. It’s completely transporting and original.
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
It would be impossible for me to love Ivan more. I have two gorilla stuffed animals at home and they’re both wearing IVAN T-shirts that I special-ordered for them. I know this may sound strange at first, but I found many similarities between Jane Eyre and Ivan—and I even made a case that they would make great friends.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Jane. She is proof that you can be quiet and unassuming, yet still be a total rock star. Jane might be quiet, but she’s no pushover. She doesn’t say something unless she’s certain it needs to be said and she’s the one who has to say it. She is principled, kind, patient, and loyal. Here’s how you can be awesome like Jane.
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
In Speak, the character hasn’t lost her voice—it’s been stolen through trauma. This book reminds us that your voice and identity are intertwined, and sometimes the road to find them is a difficult one, to say the least.
Meet Erin Entrada Kelly
Erin Entrada Kelly was raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but now lives in the Philadelphia area. Her debut novel, Blackbird Fly, received three starred reviews and was named a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection, 2015 SIBA Best Book of the South, and finalist for the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. Blackbird Fly was also nominated for the ALA Notable Children’s Book Award, earned an Asia Pacific Librarians Association Honor Award for Literature, and received the Golden Kite Honor Award. Kirkus, School Library Journal, and the Center for Multicultural Literature all named Blackbird Fly one of the best books of 2015.
Her second novel, The Land of Forgotten Girls, was named one of the best contemporary books of the year and one of the top 10 multicultural books of 2016 by Booklist. The Land of Forgotten Girls earned three starred reviews, was a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection, and earned the Parents Choice Foundation Gold Award for Fiction.
Erin’s third novel, Hello, Universe (March 2017), has earned four starred reviews.
Erin is also a short story writer. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. She has an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College.
Meet Hello, Universe
Acclaimed and award-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships. Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero).
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Sometimes four can do what one cannot. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. The acclaimed author of Blackbird Fly and The Land of Forgotten Girls writes with an authentic, humorous, and irresistible tween voice that will appeal to fans of Thanhha Lai and Rita Williams-Garcia.