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2018 Newbery Award winner: Hello, Universe

Hello Universe2018 Newbery Award Winner: Hello, Universe

Written by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books, 2017

ISBN #978-0-06-241415-1


Book Review


The start of summer vacation should be the bright spot in 11-year old Virgil Salinas’s year. But shy, insecure, and misunderstood, he only sees it as the official notice of his Grand Failure to talk to Valencia Somerset, the classmate he admires from afar. In fact, the only people he can truly talk to are his lola (Filipino grandmother) and Kaori Tanaka, his confident friend from another school who believes she has psychic powers that reveal one’s destiny. What Virgil doesn’t know is the Valencia feels as lonely as he does, having been abandoned by her childhood friends because she is deaf. And then there’s Chet Bullens, the school bully, who is determined to show everyone he has no fear. In Erin Entrada Kelly’s Newbery Award winning novel, Hello, Universe, the lives of these contemporary middle schoolers converge one day in the woods between their houses, raising complex questions about coincidence and fate, fear and bravery, self-acceptance, self-confidence, and strength. As in her previous novels, Kelly’s clearly compelling characters drive the plot, and the impressive skill with which she interlaces each of their unique attributes and backstories makes for a read that is both captivating and compassionate. Students will find themselves cheering for this friendship, debating which character is their favorite, and flipping back to the first page to read this charming story again and again.


Teaching Invitations

  • Unlikely Friendships. Why does it initially seem that the characters in Hello, Universe would not be friends with each other? What do you know about the characters at the beginning of the novel? Toward the middle? At the end? In what ways do their characters grow so that they can develop friendships with each other? After discussing these questions with your students, construct a solar system text set of other novels about unlikely friendships, such as The Way to Bea, by Kat Yeh; Raymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo; Liar and Spy, by Rebecca Stead; Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani; and The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz to further explore questions about unlikely friendships.
  • Coincidence and Destiny. Questions about coincidence and destiny have been popular literary themes throughout time, extending back to the myths and legends of many diverse cultures. With your students, brainstorm a list of questions related to ideas about coincidence and destiny. Then, with the help of a school or local librarian, gather a multigenre collection of texts print and digital texts, images, and videos that attempt to address those questions. For example, you might find stories about the Fates in Greek mythology or the Parcae in Roman mythology, read aloud Aesop’s fable “The One-Eyed Doe,” this CBS News article about unlikely coincidences, or this fascinating article in The Atlantic about the role of dice throughout history in shaping beliefs about fate and chance. After reading and discussing the texts you find, engage students in a debate about the events in Hello, Universe. Was the friendship between Virgil, Valencia, and Kaori always meant to be, or did free will play a part in it? Make sure students back up their arguments with textual evidence from the novel and the texts you have read together.
  • Family Stories and Folklore. Virgil’s Lola is a wealth of Filipino folklore and stories from her youth that Virgil takes to heart throughout the novel. What stories—both cultural and generational—circulate within your students’ families? Invite students to share them via storytelling, or invite families and community members to tell the stories to your class. Encourage students to write the stories down as well, or storytell them via multimedia tools, to share with the rest of the school and community. For help in preparing students to engage in the art of storytelling, visit some of the websites listed in Further Explorations below.
  • Strong Grandparent Characters. Lola is as vibrant, influential, and memorable as any of the tween characters in Hello, Universe. What other grandparent characters are like that? With the help of your school or local librarian, construct a text set that spotlights strong grandparents. Share these books with students to compare and contrast the characters. In what ways do the grandparents influence the protagonists in each book? In what ways are they similar or different from each other? From their children and grandchildren? Some books you might include are The Harlem Charade, by Natasha Tarpley; Felix Yz, by Lisa Bunker; Goodbye, Stranger, by Rebecca Stead; and Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña.
  • Behind the Bullying. One of the most absorbing chapters is the one in which we get a peek into Chet’s relationship with his father. Guide students through a close reading and character analysis of both Chet and his father. How does Chet resemble his father? How might his father’s words and actions have influenced Chet’s bullying behavior? How does their relationship align with, challenge, or complicate the knowledge, stories, and experiences your students already have about bullying? Invite students to role play scenarios between Chet and his father, as well as Chet and the other characters in the novel, that work toward standing up against bullying and helping the bully rethink and develop more supportive relationships with peers.
  • Learning More about Deaf Cultures. Valencia’s experience is just one example of a deaf student’s life. What are some others? What does Valencia do in her daily life to communicate with others? What strategies does she employ, and what are some other strategies that deaf communities and cultures use? In what ways does the world we live in support or marginalized the deaf? Invite various experts—especially members of deaf communities, themselves—to give presentations and workshops to the class. Have students identify ways they can help make their local community and lives more equitable for the deaf, and then encourage them to take action to make those ideas a reality.
  • After “Hello.” What happens after Valencia gets the text from Lola’s phone? Using what they know about each of the characters in the novel, have students imagine and write an epilogue to the story. It could be set the next day, or perhaps when everyone goes back to school after the summer vacation. What conversations do the characters have? What events occur or adventures do they go on? Make sure students go through the entire writing process as they create the next episode in the story, and provide a way for them to share their writing with each other once they have published their stories.
  • Erin Entrada Kelly Author Study. Gather a collection of Erin Entrada Kelly’s work and biographical information, including interviews and videos. As a class, read through the novels she wrote (her fourth novel, You Go First, is scheduled for release in April 2018), noting similarities and differences across the books’ formats and styles. Pay special attention to her use of diverse languages, perspectives, and characters. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the books. Based on students’ inquiries, observations, and analyses, compile a list of lessons about writing gained from this study and invite your students to try out some of the techniques you have discussed in their own work. See the websites and titles listed below as a starting point for gathering information.

Critical Literacy

  • Representations of the Deaf Community. Deaf protagonists, like Valencia, are rare finds in children’s literature. Is her depiction as a deaf tween and of her daily interactions accurate? What research did Entrada Kelly do to determine how to represent her? Build a solar system text set of Hello, Universe and other books about the deaf community, such as Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck and Cece Bell’s El Deafo (see others listed in Further Explorations below), to compare, contrast, and analyze the various representations, challenges, and abilities of the characters.
  • Representations of Asian-Americans in Children’s Literature. In her interviews, Erin Entrada Kelly has stated that she hopes her novels are not the first to spotlight Filipino-American children as protagonists, though she doesn’t remember any existing when she was a child. Asian-Americans, let alone Filipino-Americans, and their stories continue to be underrepresented or stereotyped in children’s literature. With the help of your school or local librarian, gather and share a text set of children’s novels with Asian or Asian-American protagonists. Some titles and resources are listed below, especially the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Have students compare and contrast how the characters are portrayed. What do they notice about their descriptions? Their plotlines? How do these challenge or align with stereotypes or misunderstandings about Asian communities and cultures? Then share the exciting news that this award, along with the Native American Children’s Literature Award, will be included from here on as part of the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards each year.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Erin Entrada Kelly’s website

ALA Newbery Medal

Book talks and trailers

Interviews and articles about Erin Entrada Kelly

Storytelling websites

Asian/Pacific American Book Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Literature




Books by Erin Entrada Kelly

Kelly, E. E. (201 ). Blackbird fly. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Kelly, E. E. (2016). The land of forgotten girls. New York: Greenwillow Books. See our review featured in the National Council of Teachers of English journal Language Arts here.

Books featured on The Classroom Bookshelf with Asian characters

House, S., & Vaswani. N. (2012). Same sun here. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Lai, T. (2011). Inside out and back again. New York: HarperCollins. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Lin, G. (2012). Starry river of the sky. New York: Little, Brown. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Martin, J. B., & Lee, J. L. (2016). Chef Roy Choi and the street food remix. Ill. by Man One. Readers to Eaters. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Wenxuan, C. (2017). Bronze and Sunflower. Trans. by H. Wang. Ill. by M. So. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Yeh, K. (2017). The way to Bea. New York: Little, Brown. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Books about and by deaf children and authors

Bell, C. (2014). El deafo. New York: Abrams. See our review featured in the National Council of Teachers of English journal Language Arts here.

Carey, K. (2007). The smart princess and other deaf tales. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Second Story Press.

Matlin, M. (2004). Deaf child crossing. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Millman, I. (1998). Moses goes to a concert. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

— (2000). Moses goes to school. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

— (2003). Moses goes to the circus. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

— (2004). Moses sees a play. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

Selznick, B. (2011). Wonderstruck. Scholastic. See our Classroom Bookshelf entry here.

Smith, D. J. (2006). The boys of San Joaquin. New York: Atheneum Books for Children.


Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.


  1. Kathryn Contini says

    I am reading that title right now!! So far it is SO good! Thanks for the tips!