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This year, thanks to the generous support of the Roundhouse Foundation, Deschutes Public Library is proud to offer the opportunity for young readers to get involved. The Novel Idea Youth Edition has the same goals as the adult version: find a great book that will engage readers, encourage discussion, and provide amazing programming opportunities. Our crackerjack Youth Services team selected Kelly Yang's Front Desk, a book that invites readers into the immigrant experience. Programming includes a Front Desk-themed monopoly game, a family book discussion, and a motel design challenge. We encourage families to read and discuss this wonderful book together and then join in the live virtual presentation by Kelly Yang on Saturday, May 1, at 4:00 p.m.


About the Book: Front Desk

Front Desk is a debut, middle-grade (third through eighth grades) novel about 10-year-old Mia Tang, who manages the front desk of a motel while her parents clean the rooms. As recent immigrants from China and desperate for work and money, they take a job managing a rundown motel in Southern California. The owner, Mr. Yao, is a crude cheapskate who exploits them. While her mother (who was an engineer in China) does the cleaning, Mia works the front desk and tries to cope with demanding customers and other recent immigrants.


About Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang immigrated to America when she was six years old and grew up in Southern California, where she and her parents worked in three different motels. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13 and law school at the age of 17. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she majored in Political Science, and Harvard Law School. After law school, she gave up law to pursue her passion of writing and teaching children writing. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project (kellyyang.edu.hk), a leading writing and debating program for kids in Asia.

As a teacher, Kelly helped thousands of children find their voice and become better writers and more powefrful speakers. Before turning to fiction, she was also a columnist for the South China Morning Post for many years. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She has three children and lives in San Francisco, California.

In addition to Front Desk, Kelly is also the author of Three Keys, the sequel to Front Desk, and the YA debut novel Parachutes (HarperCollins).


Author Interview Questions

Kelly Yang

I’d like everyone reading this book to take away that we all have the same hopes and dreams, even if someone looks different from you or comes from a different country.

The advice I would give to parents is to be open and honest with children. Children have an enormous capacity for empathy and understanding and the more tools we equip them with, the better off they’ll be.

My favorite scene to write in Front Desk was the scene of Mia and her Dad at the lake, going through the lucky pennies, and talking about why they came to America. The scenes that were most difficult for me to write were those in which the other kids made fun of Mia’s clothes, because that really happened to me in real life.

The most memorable interview question was probably did you ever think Front Desk would touch so many kids’ lives? And at the time I responded no, because it was a little book about a motel based on my childhood and I didn’t think that many people would find it interesting. Now I would say I can understand why it’s reached so many kids—because for the first time ever, they see themselves reflected in a book. And that is a powerful feeling!

Writing and debating are so important because your voice is your armor! We have to use it!

I wouldn’t be here without libraries and librarians! Growing up, I loved writing, but my parents couldn’t really help me because they didn’t know a lot of English. So I grew up in the library. I am walking, living proof of the power of libraries to change lives!


Essay: The Real Story

By Kelly Yang
(from the author’s website: frontdeskthebook.com)

When I was little, I had an enormous secret: my parents and I were first-generation struggling immigrants from China, we lived in a motel, and life was very, very hard. Carrying around this secret was like carrying a gigantic backpack, one I could never put down, except when I was in the library.

We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I went to eight different schools for eight different grades. At some of these schools, the other kids would tease me about my weird-looking clothes (bought second hand from a thrift shop) or my small eyes. I remember hiding in the library during lunch, crouching in between the aisles, hoping the librarian wouldn’t see me because we weren’t really supposed to be in the library at lunch. The librarian, of course, saw me. She came over, smiled at me—no judgment—and handed me a book....

From then on, I went to the library every day. What started out as my sanctuary, the only place I truly felt completely safe, quickly became so much more. Immersed in the pages of a book, I could be anyone. I could run alongside Lucy in Narnia and swim the chocolate lake in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! It didn’t matter that my parents and I worked seven days a week or that the last vacation my family took was coming here to this country—I could travel the world, be anyone, do anything!

And after I read each book, the wonderful librarians in my school would sit down with me and chat with me about it. They would ask me questions that nobody ever asked me before, questions like “How did you feel after reading this book?” and “Did the ending make your heart sing?” I was so moved by their questions and their interest in me. It made me want to read more and I devoured book after book. I felt smart in the library, whereas in class, sometimes I felt a little dumb, particularly when we had to read out loud (which I wasn’t very good at) or we were given a difficult award-winning book, which for some reason I just couldn’t understand. On those days, I would shrink in my seat, wondering if I would ever make it out of the motels.

I did make it out of the motels. I went on to enter university at the age of 13 and graduate from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. I owe it all to the heroic librarians of this country who looked at me and didn’t see a poor motel girl with messy hair and tattered pants. They saw a girl with potential. A girl with promise in English, a language she wasn’t born with but through their kind, patient guidance, picked up and embraced as her own. The librarians saw something in me my own parents did not see. That is the only reason I am where I am today.

I am living, walking proof in the power of libraries and librarians to change lives. And now, as an author, I am so proud to be giving back, writing accessible and important books with diverse characters so that all children can see themselves in books. I hope my books bring hope and comfort to children of all walks of life, just as the librarians in my school brought me.

Read more

Also Read

While searching for the 2021 Youth Edition novel, the Youth Services team also considered the following award-winning books. We hope you’ll read them as well.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; illustrated by Iman Geddy
Omar has spent most his life in a Kenyan refugee camp, caring for his non-verbal brother and dreaming of a better life. When given a chance to possibly change his path, will he take it?
Ericka Brunson, Community Librarian, Redmond

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Jude relocates to Cincinnati from Syria with her mother, leaving her father, brother, and war-torn home behind, and starts seventh grade in a new language. Jude remains resilient, remembering her brother’s parting words: be brave.
Sami Kerzel, Community Librarian, Sunriver


Upcoming 2021 Novel Idea Youth Events


Youth Services Team

  • Cheryl Weems
  • Chandra vanEijnsbergen
  • Julie Bowers
  • Sheila Grier
  • Roxanne Renteria
  • Sami Kerzel
  • Josie Hanneman
  • Ericka Brunson
  • Paige Bentley-Flannery
  • Carly Garzon Vargas
  • Rodrigo Gaspar-Barajas

Staff

  • Tina Walker Davis
  • Paige Ferro
  • Liz Goodrich
  • Ann Hettinger
  • Dana O’Connell
  • Suzy Olsen
  • Chantal Strobel
  • Laurel Westendorf

Sponsors


Donors

  • Wylie Ackerman
  • Tiffany Aguilar
  • Judith & Roger Aikin
  • Anonymous
  • Virlene Arnold
  • Lauren Backes
  • Cindy Gibb Barnes
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  • Florence Beier
  • Adrian Bennett
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  • Frederick Betz
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  • Victoria Gordon & Bob Bradley
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Page Last Modified Tuesday, March 30, 2021


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