E Train is a sixth-grade podcaster, book reviewer, and literacy advocate. He is the host of E Train Talks, where he has interviewed writers as diverse as James Ponti, Heather Clark, Lisa Fipps, Fleur Bradley, and Jerry Craft.
In addition to reviewing and promoting middle-grade authors, E Train has partnered with literacy groups like The Coalition for Literacy Equity (he was recently a panelist at their annual conference) and Tween Author Boot Camp in an effort to end book deserts across the country and encourage reluctant readers and book lovers alike.
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You are clearly a voracious reader. Where did your love of books begin?
I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. From the day I came home from the hospital, my parents instilled a love of reading in me. They read to me twice a day, every day! I guess books are just a part of me now!
You talked about joining multiple online middle grade bookclubs during the COVID pandemic. At what point did you start to think: hey, I should start my own podcast?
Thanks for asking!
So, as you said, I attended many virtual library book clubs all across the country, and those inspired me to review books on my YouTube channel, and of course, helped me discover some of my favorite books to this day, but it wasn’t until my mom signed me up for a virtual podcasting/broadcasting class where the idea of creating a podcast crossed my mind.
So, after the first day of class, I created an account and reviewed my heart out & eventually started interviewing literacy advocates too!
Most people don’t enjoy public speaking. How nervous were you when you started E Train Talks? Do you get nervous now interviewing authors and other literacy advocates?
I’ve always loved public speaking, but that does NOT mean I don’t get nervous, especially talking to authors. Even with months of experience, I still get extremely nervous when speaking with other literacy advocates.
There’s always that thought of “What if I mess up?” But, in each interview I’ve done, I find myself settled in about two minutes in. Authors and all book enthusiasts are some of the nicest, and most supportive people I’ve ever met. Guys like James Ponti and Jerry Craft who are extremely popular, and busy, are actually genuinely nice and hilarious people!
Where did you come up with “E Train”?
I don’t know how the name E Train came about. My dad tells me he called me lots of names starting with E when I was little, and E Train sort of stuck. I wish I had some sort of hilarious, or even any kind of a backstory behind the name, but I don’t!
You talk about reading as a journey. What are some of your favorite destinations on that journey, the writers who’ve inspired you the most?
Reading is certainly a journey, and I have two favorite destinations! On July 27th, I had the honor of interviewing one of my, if not my favorite authors ever (I’ve loved his books for years), the New York Times Bestselling author of the Framed and City Spies series, James Ponti!
James has been my writing hero for so long, so getting the chance to not only interview him but call him a friend is AMAZING!
My next favorite stop on my journey was not only being interviewed on my local news show, Good Day Sacramento, but also having the awesome opportunity to review and share my book recommendations once a month on the show starting September 1st!
My reading journey has led me to places I never thought I’d be!
What are your Top Ten Favorite Books?
Honestly, this is the most difficult question to answer. If I stuck to one genre it might be easier, but when you’re a fan of almost every style of story, it makes it extra challenging. I’ll list some of my favorites, in no particular order!
This is just a sampling of my all-time favorite novels, not even close to the actual number of my best reads!
- City Spies by James Ponti
- Starfish by Lisa Fipps
- Anybody Here Seen Frenchie by Leslie Connor
- Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
- New Kids by Jerry Craft
- Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
- The Fairy Tale Reform School by Jen Calonita
- The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
- The Aggie Morton Mystery Queen Series by Marthe Jocelyn
- The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves by Tom Philips
- Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone
- Charlie Throne Series by Stuart Gibbs
You mentioned that your mother was instrumental in developing your love of reading. Are your parents readers? What books do they enjoy?
My parents started reading to me the day I came home from the hospital and we’ve never stopped.
My dad enjoys reading non-fiction autobiographies and fictional thrillers, while my mom reads mostly romantic comedy and fantasy fiction, books like The Land of Stories and Harry Potter.
My mom is now reading many of my book recs, like Fish out of Water, Ban This Book and Fish In a Tree. So, she’s now an MG fan too!
You’ve talked to librarians, writers, even a literary agent. What are the most fascinating things you’ve learned about the literary world since starting your podcast?
One of the most fascinating and important things I’ve learned about the literary world since starting my podcast is the importance of patience. For some authors, it takes years and years for their book to not just get published, but also to escape the querying trench.
Some of my favorite authors queried 1 agent, 20 agents, or even close to 100 agents before they finally found someone to represent their book(s). Since my dream is to become a published author, my goal is to learn how to be patient and trust the process.
How do you select the individuals you want to interview?
When I first decided I wanted to interview people on my podcast, I shared a Twitter post asking if anyone in the book world would consider talking to me on my podcast. I didn’t expect to receive over 30 offers from literary agents, publishers, librarians, and authors, but I did, and that’s how I first made contact and found bookish people to interview.
Now I’ve started asking many of my favorite authors, and I’m being asked by writers if I will review their books and interview them. It’s really a dream come true!
What do you do to prepare for interviewing your guests?
To prepare, I first make sure I’ve read at least one of their books. Then, after I’ve read or reread their novel, I research my upcoming guest on social media and google. The last thing I do is write my script and questions.
Who are the top five writers you wish you could have on E Train Talks?
Well, first off, I’d have to say Rick Riordan, because he’s the reason I started reading fiction in the first place. I’d also love to talk to Alan Gratz, Gordon Korman, Stuart Gibbs, and B.B. Alston!
What are some little known books that you think deserve more attention?
One newer book that I can’t recommend enough, Lemon Drop Falls by Heather Clark, really needs to get in the hands of readers. It’s such a touching story that I could not put it down, and I loved it so much. It’s a story that makes you feel all the feels!
Are you a reader who feels like you have to finish every book you start?
I’m a reader who would like to finish the books I start, and I mostly do.
My mom really encourages me to give books a chance. She’s always suggested I read at least the first 100 pages of a novel before I decide. So, unless it’s a scary or inappropriate read, I always try to dig in and see what happens. There’s only been a small handful of books that I never actually finished.
You have stunningly sharp sartorial style for a boy your age. Have you always favored bow ties and dapper hats?
I’m pretty sure I owe my style to my mom. She started dressing me in hats, suits, and bow ties when I was just a few months old, but now I choose to wear bow ties and hats. I’ve worn them my whole life and plan to keep wearing them.
You’ve interviewed hugely successful writers like James Ponti and Jerry Craft, been featured on the GoodDay show and in The Week Junior, and were even invited to be part of the LitEquity Next Generation of Literacy Advocates panel. All before you started sixth grade. How has your success at such a young age impacted your life?
It has been a dream come true! I’ve enjoyed meeting my literary heroes so much and I’ve not taken any moment for granted.
I loved being featured on Good Day and in The Week Junior, it’s been so much fun, but it’s also been a lot of hard work. While other kids were out playing this past summer, I was writing and researching. I’m not saying I spent all of my time working on my podcast, but I have to work pretty hard to be prepared and keep up with everything.
I don’t think it’s changed me much. I’ve had to work a lot more so it’s probably helped me prepare for middle school and for when I one day have a job.
I think having the chance to talk with so many amazing authors and other book enthusiasts has given me the chance to really practice public speaking. Talking to so many amazing authors has also really helped my writing and given me important knowledge about what happens in the literary world.
Tell me about the LitEquity conference. What did you do as a panelist?
The LitEquity conference was a day-long Literacy virtual event that featured all kinds of people in the literacy world. It was a day filled with discussions about books, book banning, reading, teaching, and all things books! I learned so much!
There’s so much that needs to be done to get books in the hands of kids. So many kids don’t have access to books and it just breaks my heart. I want to try and do what I can to help end the book deserts.
I was on the Next Generation of Literacy Advocates: A Panel of Kids. It was a panel of three kids total and we each talked about what we are currently doing to advocate for literacy, as well as our thoughts for the future. It was a wonderful experience and I was so proud and honored to be included.
You have pledged to work to end book deserts. Tell me about your efforts to spread literacy and get books into the hands of kids.
Everything I’m doing on my podcast is to promote a love of books. From reviewing books and talking to the writers behind the books to attending as many literacy virtual talks as I can, to starting my own book drive.
I’m trying to learn as much as I can and find new ways to help spread a love for reading. I’ve recently started volunteering for our local library and I’m also doing an ongoing read-aloud book series to try and inspire younger readers.
Another project in my future is partnering with Tween Author Boot Camp and Book Drop to try and bring books directly into the hands of kids in classrooms! There’s a lot to be done and I’m just happy to be doing something.
Many young people who love reading as you do also aspire to be writers. Do you have an interest in writing books? What kind of stories would you like to write?
I do hope to be a published author someday. I imagine I’ll want to write realistic fiction and maybe some fantasy fiction as well. I really enjoy writing.
I’m currently writing helpful tips for middle schoolers. One piece of advice I’ve been given by many of the authors I’ve spoken with is to write something and finish it. I know it must be very good advice because that’s the one thing I have the most trouble doing. It’s easy to start a story, but finishing one is not so easy!
Do you have any advice for young people who want to become published authors?
I’ll pass on the advice from the previous question again. Try to finish what you start. It doesn’t matter the length of the writing project but just try and finish it. The other I’d say is to keep trying. Don’t give up! It could take many nos before your yes arrives!
What would you say to other young people who are interested in starting a podcast?
I recommend taking a podcasting class. I took an online podcasting class before I started my podcast and I learned a lot! I’d also say go for it! There’s nothing to lose and lots to gain!
You also do virtual classroom events. What are these events like? What kind of response do you get from these students?
I love visiting classrooms virtually! I have so much fun talking with kids about books. The kids I’ve met virtually have all been kind so far. I think they are probably happy to be doing something different during the school day and I’m excited to be meeting new people and sharing my love of books and reading. I hope to visit more classrooms in the future!
Many kids don’t really enjoy reading. What three books would you recommend to someone who doesn’t like to read?
I recommend the Framed series by James Ponti or any of Stuart Gibbs’s books. Both authors know how to write exciting page-turners and can keep a reader’s interest!
I’d also recommend Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Fish In a Tree is a book about overcoming reading roadblocks and is a really meaningful and relatable story.
What are some of your favorite bookstores?
In the past my mom checked most of my books from our public library because she says she’d we’d go broke otherwise, but since I started my podcast, I get most of my reads from authors these days.
My TBR Stack is really, really tall. Also, lately, we’ve been trying to support our local Independent bookshops/stores like East Village Bookshop, Capital Books, and my mom and I are planning to explore The Wild Sisters Book Co. next.
I love visiting indie books stores. The East Book Village bookshop has been a big supporter of my book journey, and I’m so grateful!
You’re a music fan. What are some of your favorite musical artists?
I am a music fan! I love singing and listening to music. I’ve been a fan of the Beatles since I was very little, and I’m also a fan of Billy Joel, Queen, and especially Michael Jackson!
Outside of reading and reviewing books, what else are you interested in?
Besides reading and writing, I like to play video games and watch YouTube videos. I also enjoy playing basketball and tennis and spending time with my cousins, friends, and family.
If you could recommend one book to President Biden to read, what book would it be?
Wow! That’s a great question! I might have to borrow this question for my podcast sometime.
I think President Biden, and all politicians should read any novel about kids changing the world! We kids are full of new and innovative ideas. We’re told that we’re the next and best generation, yet we’re also told to not worry about important and relevant topics. How can we be the latest and greatest generation if we’re silenced from everything going on in the world?
One book I’d recommend is Dress Coded about a group of tweens who fight back against the cruel and unjust school dress code through a podcast and social media. They made a big difference not just in their community, but in their county and beyond too!
Of course, there are so, so many more stories about kids changing the world, but Dress Coded has really connected with me.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Christmas or Halloween?
You can take one book with you to a deserted island. What book would you take?
I’d love to bring a journal with me. I can record my thoughts, and who knows, maybe that journal could become the start of a publishing company or a book! I can already see it! E Train Island Publishing!