With the shift toward remote learning for children across the country, author visits to schools and libraries have been sidelined for the foreseeable future. To keep students engaged and interested in reading and writing, middle grade and YA novelist Kelly Yang has created a virtual talk about her experience as an author. After receiving numerous requests from interested schools, she decided to make her presentation free of charge. The program coincides with the launch of her latest middle-grade novel, Three Keys (Scholastic Press, Sept.), the follow-up to her 2019 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature winner, Front Desk.
“When I was a kid, I never got to meet any authors or hear them talk about their craft because my school never had the budget,” she told PW of her decision to create a video presentation for readers. “I also wanted to show kids of color that this is a possible career path for them because growing up, I didn’t see a lot of authors who look like me.”
Finding Her Voice
Dubbed “Dream Big,” Yang’s 45-minute video details her journey as a Chinese girl whose family immigrated to America without knowing a word of English. “I remember wondering whether I could ever become a writer in a language I wasn’t born with,” she recalled, adding how her choice to be an author enabled her to discover her own voice.
Yang’s personal struggles served as the inspiration for Mia Tang, the main character in Front Desk and Three Keys, who dreams of being an author and whose upbringing resembles Yang’s (she also manned the front desk of a Southern California motel in which her parents cleaned rooms). During a rather intimate moment in the video, Yang reveals that before releasing her first book, she was “scared about how her son would react to how I grew up.” After deciding to share her story and Front Desk was published to wide acclaim, Yang notes how “the world did not laugh at me… I won many awards… and it just goes to show what happens if you take a chance and believe in your dreams.”
Drawing upon the basic tenets of Three Keys—“listen, care, and keep trying”—Yang teaches budding writers her process. Among her tried-and-true tips, spoken in kid-friendly directives: writing and reading as much as possible, not worrying about making mistakes, and dissecting a book to better understand it. “I think it’s really inspiring for kids to hear authors talk about their love of writing and see that authors might be going through the same things—having to rewrite pieces, struggling with planning or how to craft real and believable characters—and hear their advice on how they deal with these issues,” she said.
Imparting her career-earned wisdom to viewers, Yang explains how writing has been therapeutic in helping her process different experiences and use her imagination, both as a child and as an adult novelist. “By choosing the way characters react and the things they say, we have the power to help shape the world—and instill hope,” she said to PW. Yang also believes that educators and librarians can encourage young writers by finding and recommending stories, especially as a way to balance online learning. “In this day and age of constant screen time, nothing beats the peace and joy of disappearing into a good book,” she muses.
To date, more than 1,000 schools have signed up for Yang’s virtual talk. Schools that are interested in participating can contact Kelly Yang for more information.