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Newbery-winning author visits Champaign school for Asian American Heritage Month

Young adult novelist Erin Entrada Kelly speaks to a class at Kenwood Elementary in Champaign.

CHAMPAIGN – Students at Kenwood Elementary had a special visitor on Tuesday. 

Newbery-winning author Erin Entrada Kelly — a Filipina-American children’s book author — conducted a brainstorming session via Zoom with the students. She then spun a story out of the class’ brainstorm.

Trevor Nadrozny is the principal at Kenwood Elementary School in Champaign. He says Kelly’s visit is part of the school’s efforts to make sure marginalized students feel welcome.

“Whether it’s in library books or school curricula, students sometimes don’t see themselves in those spaces. If we really want to be inclusive and inviting, we should be intentional about trying to get those voices,” Nadrozny says.

The University of Illinois College of Education, which coordinated Kelly’s visit, is inviting Asian American authors to Champaign-Urbana schools all month to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

According to the college, the goal of the series is to teach empathy. The college’s staff and professors also say they hope to support schools as they integrate more Asian American history. This new emphasis is required by the Teaching of Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act, which was passed last year. 

Kenwood students say it was fun to meet a real author.

Kaidan, 11, says he wants to read Kelly’s books now. He fell in love with reading recently and has already read one of Kelly’s favorite books.

“I like reading by myself. It’s something that I do when I’m bored or when I have down time. It calms me down when I’m upset,” he says.

Jovita, also 11, says her love of reading prompted her interest in the talk.

“It was a good interview,” she says. 

Kelly won a Newberry Medal in 2018 for her young adult novel, “Hello, Universe.” 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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