Kelly Yang (Front Desk): Books Between, Episode 56

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to Books Between – a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle grade books!  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fantastic books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two girls, a 5th grade teacher, and I just discovered the COOLEST thing last week and I have to share it with you!  There is this teacher named David Marsh and he makes stop motion LEGO Batman Book Talks. They are SO awesome! There’s one for Enginerds and one for Serafina and the Black Cloak – and, my favorite – the one for The Frame-up! I’ll drop a link to his YouTube Channel in the show notes. Do you yourself a favor and go watch them.

This is Episode #56 and today is all about Kelly Yang and her fabulous new novel, Front Desk.

Before we begin, I have two quick announcements! First is the Middle Grade at Heart Book Club update. This month’s pick is Where the Watermelons Grow, and I am so close to finishing that book – it’s so good and I can’t want to have Cindy Baldwin on the show to chat with me about it. In September we are reading The House That Lou Built and in October is Three Rules of Everyday Magic. So grab those books and let me know if you have questions you think I should ask the authors when they come on the show.

And second quick reminder that Monday nights are the #MGBookChat Twitter chats with some really juicy topics coming up like building book access in book deserts, creating a classroom community through books, and ending gendered labels of books. It can be very easy to get into the hustle and bustle of your day and forget – so set a reminder on your phone for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter.

Kelly Yang – Interview Outline

Our special guest today is Kelly Yang. And as you will hear – she is one incredible and humble person. And since she’s not going to talk herself up, I am. Kelly Yang is one of the youngest graduates of Harvard Law School – earning her degree at 17. She’s a columnist for the South China Morning Post and her features have been published in The New York Times and the Washington Post. She’s a commentator, a debater, and founder of The Kelly Yang Project – an award-winning writing and debate program for kids in Hong Kong. And that’s really just scratching the surface of this WOW Woman! I was really honored that Kelly took the time out her family vacation to sit down with me and chat about so many things – how to reach English-language learners, racial profiling, the Simpsons, her writing journey, and her childhood helping her parents run motels which was the inspiration behind her debut middle grade novel, Front Desk.

Take a listen…

Front Desk

Your debut middle grade novel, Front Desk, has been getting all kinds of love!!  For our listeners who have not yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about it?

Would you mind reading a favorite passage?

Aside from running the front desk of the motel, Mia is often translating for her family. Was this something you also had to do? If so – how did that impact you?

I adored Mia, but I really really came to love her parents! But… her mother could be carelessly cruel. Her pressure to be good at Math. And then when she tell Mia that the other kids are cars but that Mia is a bicycle – oh my GOD!  I started to wonder if maybe Mrs. Tang was just really scared for her daughter?

One of the most powerful scenes is when a car was stolen from the motel and in the course of that investigation, Mr. Yao discovers that the Tangs have been renting to black people. And he says, “I thought I told you not to rent to bad people.” That thread of discrimination and racial profiling (even by other marginalized people) was woven throughout the story at various points.  Can you speak a little bit about your thought process behind those sections?

I love following you on Twitter and I loved your thread about the Simpsons and Apu controversy. Could you talk a little bit about your response to that and your relationship to that character?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Kelly and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the : mark.

Your Writing Life

What was your journey from Harvard Law graduate to author?

What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads as a child?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?


Kelly’s website –

Kelly on Twitter and Instagram

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

The Babysitters Club series (Ann M. Martin)

Matilda (Roald Dahl)

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

Unidentified Suburban Objects (Mike Jung)

Peasprout Chen (Henry Lien)

Magicians of Elephant County (Adam Perry)

Alan Gratz

Ban This Book (Alan Gratz)

The Wild Robot (Peter Brown)

The Wild Robot Escapes (Peter Brown)

Orphan Island (Laurel Snyder)

Ghost Series (Jason Ryenolds)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s