Learn more about Erin’s books, her process, and how to incorporate her work into classrooms.

Bullying, otherness, acceptance, kindness, and empathy are common themes in my books. Many teachers, parents, and librarians use books as jumping-off points for difficult conversations. Growing up is hard. Kids need to know they aren’t alone. Books are powerful tools to encourage those conversations.

Download this free guide to start these conversations: Teaching the Books of Erin Entrada Kelly (A Free HarperCollins Guide) PDF

To teach Lalani of the Distant Sea, download the following free guide: Lalani of the Distant Sea Educator’s Guide (PDF)

Peek Inside My Notebook!

Educators often ask about my writing process. All of my books start as small ideas that grow and grow in my imagination. I’ll usually spend months in my head before I ever write a single word. Once the idea is well-formed, I put it on paper. I start with a notebook, always. That’s where I sketch out my ideas and, ultimately, where I write my entire first draft. These are examples from HELLO, UNIVERSE.

Virgil’s original name was Virgil Rios. And the original first sentence was: Twelve-year-old Virgil Rios had the memory of an elephant. Chapter One was eventually revised, and I changed Virgil’s name because I wanted him to have the same initials as Valencia Somerset. Books go through several revisions before they reach their full potential.

Chet Bullens, the neighborhood bully, originally had a best friend/sidekick named Eddy Bees. Eddy was cut during revisions because he didn’t serve much of a purpose. And (as I tell my MFA students), every scene, character, and sentence must serve a purpose.

Character development is more important to me than anything else. I want to create characters that feel so real, they walk off the page. As I’m developing characters, I’ll often ask questions of them, like this:

Teachers often ask how they can get their students excited about writing, and how they can teach them the importance of revision. Although revision is a critical part of the process (and something I absolutely love), it’s difficult to get motivated for revision if you aren’t creatively energized in the first place. Young people need assignments that they’re expected to revise, but they also need some where their *only* task is to be creative, whether that means writing upside down, with pink marker, in bubble letters, or in an invented language. And they can revise it, or not. To become a writer who is excited about revision, you have to be one who enjoys writing.

Thank you for spending time with my notebook!

Produced by Joseph Fedele Design. Illustrations by Lian Cho. Publisher: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins.

The creatures of LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA are reimaginings inspired by Filipino folklore. If you search for phrases like “Ditasa Ulod” or “Bai Vinca,” you will only circle back to the book. That’s because many of the creatures’ distinct characteristics and their names are derivatives of my imagination. That said, Filipino folklore was the driving force and inspiration for the book. Readers who are familiar with Filipino culture and folklore will recognize many callbacks and common Filipino themes, such as the power and mystery of nature, triumph through hardship, and survival through community.

When reading about the history, culture, and folklore of the Philippines, it’s important to remember that the country is comprised of thousands of islands separated by many, many miles. As with most cultures, folklore is often nuanced depending on geography. 

Here is a brief list of some the creatures of LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA, and their source of inspiration.

Bai Vinca. There are no creatures known as the bai in Filipino folklore; however, the country is home to thousands of mysterious and fascinating birds that aren’t seen anywhere else. As a result, birds are a very common motif in Philippine mythology.

Ditasa-Ulod. In the book, Ditasa-Ulod has the body of an eel and the head of woman. She guards the Veiled Sea, controls all its watery creatures, and drowns anyone who dares to pass. She is inspired by the naga. The naga are Filipino mermaids, with eels and/or water snakes for tails. Like Ditasa-Ulod, the naga are considered very beautiful. In LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA, Ditasa-Ulod despises humans and seeks to drown all of them, adults and children alike. The naga, however, are often considered gentle toward children. According to some Filipino folklore, the naga can take human form. This isn’t true of Ditasa-Ulod. She never leaves the water, cannot shape-shift into other forms, and wouldn’t want to if she could.

Fei Diwata. Diwata is a Philippine fairy and/or spirit. Some of them live in trees, like Fei Diwata in the book.

Goyuk. In the book, the goyuk are sorcerers who resemble mosquitoes. The goyuk cannot take any other form; they live in hives and kill humans with their stingers. There is no “goyuk” in Philippine mythology; however, folklore tells of witches and/or sorcerers known as mamabarang who either shape-shift into insects or trap malevolent spirits in insect form to do their bidding.

Nunso. In the book, nunso are creatures who live underground. Their homes can be identified by above-ground mounds. If you step on these mounds, the nunso grab your feet and pull you under. “Nunso” is a derivative of nuno sa punso, a dwarf-like creature from Philippine mythology. To avoid the wrath of the nuno sa punso, you’re supposed to ask permission to pass and let them know that you mean no harm.

Yootah. In LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA, the yootah is a vapory evil spirit that hides itself somewhere (such as a blanket) and mimics the sound of a helpless creature. The yootah can sense what kind of sound is most likely to allure certain passerby. If you’re an animal lover, for example, the yootah will mimic the sound of an injured animal. When you try to help, the yootah attacks your hands and gobbles them up like last night’s supper. The yootah are inspired by the tiyanak, a vampiric creature from Filipino folklore that takes the form of an infant or baby. As soon as a kind soul lifts the baby, the tiyanak shows its true form and attacks.

Whenbo. In the book, the whenbo are trees that eat the souls of the dead. When a human dies, the whenbo call the person’s spirit into forest and uses their soul as sustenance to help them grow. Once a person’s spirit is taken by the whenbo, it stays there forever. When you lean close to the tree, it whispers the dead person’s name. The whenbo in LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA are inspired by several various creatures from Philippine mythology, including the engkanto, which are ancestral spirits. Although the whenbo itself isn’t found in Filipino folklore, trees are extremely prevalent in Philippine mythology and play many functions, including homes for spirits, tree-dwellers, giants, fairies, and so on.

If you want to learn more about Philippine mythology, the best place to start is the Aswang Project.