The American Library Association announced Monday that Philadelphia author Erin Entrada Kelly has won the John Newbery Medal for the outstanding children's book of 2017 for Hello, Universe, a story about a diverse group of unlikely friends who form an alliance to take down a school bully after a prank gone wrong. The story is rooted in Filipino folk tales and is geared for ages 9 and up.
Kelly, who was raised in Louisiana, has written three other critically acclaimed books, including Blackbird Fly (2015) and The Land of Forgotten Girls (2016). She also writes short fiction and has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Kelly graduated from McNeese State University and identifies as Filipina American.
Kelly was driving on I-95 when she found out, a half hour before the honor was announced.
"I was understandably shocked. … I was floored, amazed, it was a tremendous honor. Still in a lot of shock. There are different bloggers who put out who they hope will win; cautious optimism is kind of my modus operandi. I knew people were talking about it, but you never actually think you're going to win something this big," Kelly said.
She said the diversity of this year's honorees was a long time coming. "To me, [diversity] is important because as I was growing up, I didn't see a lot of immigrants or Filipinos, certainly. I didn't see myself. So the thought that there are young people who can pick up a book today and see themselves in those pages is so powerful," Kelly said. "It's also powerful for young people to be reading about people outside of their cultures. The honor that this platform provides is incredible. Another thing that is really incredible to me is the opportunity to introduce Filipino culture to young people who don't have enough of it. It means more than I can put into words."
The Newbery, the highest honor a children's book can receive, is awarded by the American Library Association. Winners include Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, about to be made into a movie by Academy Award-nominated director Ava DuVernay, and Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia.
Jacqueline Woodson received the Laura Ingalls Wilder award for lifetime achievement. Woodson is the author of Brown Girl Dreaming, One Book, One Philadlephia's 2018 middle grade selection.
This year's Randolph Caldecott Medal for best illustration went to Matthew Cordell for his story of a girl and the wolf pup she saves in Wolf in the Snow. Nina LaCour's We Are Okay was given the Michael L. Printz Award for best young adult literature. Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give, one of last year's top-selling young adult novels, was cited twice. It won a William C. Morris Award for best debut book for teens and an Odyssey Award for best audio book.
Renee Watson's Piecing Me Together won the Coretta Scott King Award for outstanding book by an African American. The King Award for best illustrator went to Ekua Holmes for Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Eloise Greenfield, whose dozens of books include Honey, I Love and In the Land of Words, won the King Award for lifetime achievement.
The Pura Belpre Award for best Latino book went to Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar. The Pura Belpre illustrator prize went to Juana Martinez-Neal and La Princesa and the Pea.