Front Desk, by Kelly Yang | Speed Interview
The Children’s Book Review | September 14, 2018
The Children’s Book Review: Which five words best describe Front Desk?
Kelly Yang: Emotional, honest, funny, important and accessible.
Can you share a highlight from the book? Your thoughts on, or an excerpt of, your favorite sentence, paragraph, or page?
My favorite page from the book is page 77, where Mia and her dad are sitting by the lake searching for the lucky pennies and talking about America:
I looked at my dad now, two years later. He had grays in his hair. The creases on his forehead had become ditches.
“Would you still have come?” I asked him softly. “If you knew?”
He looked up at me.
“In a heartbeat,” he said. “You know why?”
I shook my head.
“Because of you. You’re my special penny, Mia,” he said touching my nose. “You know that?”
I smiled. Just sitting next to my dad by the beautiful lake, it made me so happy. I decided right then and there it didn’t even matter if we ever found the 1943.
(But it would be nice if we did).
If you had to take a vacation with one of the characters from Front Desk, who would it be? Why?
Definitely Hank. He just seems like such a fun guy, full of stories and wisdom. I would love to hang out with him and eat one of his Saltine burgers!
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
The best reaction from a reader so far was when a 10-year-old girl came up to me at a book signing and put a note in my hand. The note said her father is an immigrant from Taiwan and her mother is a 1stgeneration Chinese American, born in New York. Her mother was raised in a Chinese restaurant when she was little, and she’s read FRONT DESK 10 or more times. She told me that reading my story, she felt seen for the first time. That just brought tears to my eyes.
Other amazing reactions include kids setting up their own front desks at home (complete with tip jars!) and writing letters about things they’re seeing in their community, trying to affect change. It’s been so wonderful seeing all the reader reactions to this story and I’m thrilled beyond words it’s resonating with so many people!
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
Yes!!! Right now, I’m reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (and simultaneously watching the show). I’m also reading an ARC of the incredible Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older, and Grenade by Alan Gratz.
For your writing energy: sugar or salt, tea or coffee?
Sugar, for sure. I love baking and eating cookies.
Writing tools: computer, pen and paper, or all of the above?
I draft on the laptop, though before I start writing, I will outline in a notebook with a pen. There’s something absolutely magical and uniquely liberating about putting an actual pen to paper. Maybe it’s because when I was nine, my teacher would put on soft, classical music after lunch and tell us to write whatever we wanted for half an hour. I, of course, lived for that half an hour and now, whenever I am writing in a notebook, I’m transported back to that time in my life and the ideas flow easily.
Can you tell us one more thing we may not know about Front Desk, your writing style, or yourself?
Did you know I used to be a teacher and the Hot Seat game was something I came up with and used to play with my kids? As a teacher, I loved writing all the classroom scenes!
Written by Kelly Yang
Publisher’s Synopsis: Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.
Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.
Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.
Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books | May 29, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1338157796
About the Author
Kelly Yang’s family immigrated to the United States from China when she was a young girl, and she grew up in California, in circumstances very similar to those of Mia Tang. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13, and is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Upon graduation, she gave up law to pursue her dream of writing and teaching kids writing. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States. She is also a columnist for the South China Morning Post and has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Atlantic. Kelly is the mother of three children and splits her time between Hong Kong and San Francisco.
Please find her online at:
This speed interview with Kelly Young, author of Front Desk, was conducted by Bianca Schulze. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Chinese, Diversity, Immigrants, Kelly Yang, and Middle Grade Books, and Speed Interview.