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Book Review: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

And the Oscar goes to…

Typically, best picture movies are edgy or push the envelope, they often have cultural ramifications, and of course, they’re are extremely well-written with phenomenal acting. In the kid lit (or children’s literature) world, the John Newbery Medal is also shiny and gold, but unlike the Oscar, it is a seal that adorns future copies of the winning book. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the 2018 winner of the Newbery Medal and it embodies all those qualities we’ve come to expect from award-winning films.

Intended Audience of Hello, Universe

Middle Grade (children ages 8-12 or upper elementary school)

Summary of Hello, Universe

Virgil Salinas is a shy, sweet boy in a loud Filipino-American family, heading into the summer before 7th grade. Virgil consults twelve-year old Japanese-American Kaori Tanaka, a budding psychic and horoscope-enthusiast, about his woes. A twist of fate later allows two additional characters to also collide in a nearby woods, a bully named Chet Bullens, and a hearing-impaired marine-life lover named Valencia Somerset. As the story is told through multiple perspectives, over the course of just one day, the characters find themselves all needing something from the other in order to solve a problem, one that just may involve the bottom of a well, a guinea pig, and a hero.

What to Know Before You Read Hello, Universe

  • Watch for the fascinating traditional Filipino stories woven into a very modern story.
  • Sometimes the same character narrates for several chapters at a time, sometimes for only one chapter before switching. It requires the reader to pay attention and get to know the characters. The author helps by including a simple picture you would associate with each character to help.
  • The bully, Chet, repeatedly calls the other kids “retard” and refers to Valencia as “deafo.” Please discuss that while the author chooses Chet’s language to reflect how hurtful these words are, they should not be repeated. Erin Entrada Kelly addresses this choice on her website with these words, “I will write scenes that are realistic (to the best of my ability), even when they’re uncomfortable. Because life is uncomfortable sometimes. Unfortunately for many, it’s uncomfortable most of the time. And those stories have a place.”

Why You Should Read Hello, Universe

  • Every student deserves to see him/herself in a book or see the world through lenses that are not their own. These four families cover a range of ethnicities and family dynamics. Two of the characters receive special education services. As someone who reads a lot of middle grade novels, I will tell you this is not common.
  • While Chet Bullens is quite the bully, Erin Entrada Kelly does a great job giving us a peek into the root of his behavior, which may prove to be a great conversation starter when your child wants to discuss bullying.
  • It’s modern. These kids text (responsibly) and deal with real-world problems in a less than accepting society.
  • While it’s 311 pages, the font and some fun graphics make it a faster read.
  • Valencia loves to write in a notebook, especially when she wants to capture her scientific thinking. Bonus points for characters that model strong writerly habits!
  • It’s part of history. The Newbery Medal has been awarded since 1922 and boasts an impressive list of classics.

After You Read Hello, Universe

Also by Erin Entrada Kelly:

If You Liked Hello, Universe, Try These Books Next:

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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