Posts Tagged podcast

Interview with Tween Podcaster and Literacy Advocate, E Train

If you’re not familiar with E Train, the preteen literacy advocate, booktuber and podcast host, now’s your chance! Six months shy of his thirteenth birthday, this soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boy has been reviewing books, interviewing authors, and spreading kindness—virtually and in-person—since the age of nine and a half (!). Today, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome E Train (aka Ethan) to the Mixed-Up Files.

Interview with E Train

MR: Thanks so much for joining us today, Ethan. It’s an honor to have you here!

Ethan: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa. I’ve loved reading your interviews with fabulous authors and members of the book world, so it’s a great honor to join you!

The Boy Behind the Mic

MR: What inspired you to host a podcast? How old were you when you started, and what were you hoping to achieve?

Ethan: I started my podcast at age eleven, after taking an online podcasting class on Outschool, an online virtual classroom. I’d already created a YouTube channel and was sharing videos, but I thought a podcast might be a fun and convenient way to share book reviews. My mom, dad and I wrote down different podcast names we liked and then voted. “E Train Talks” won! I really had no aspirations in mind; I let the journey take me. I did have one goal, though—to highlight the stories I liked, and to hopefully inspire others to read middle-grade books.

My Day is Booked

MR: How do you select which books and authors to feature on your podcast? There are so many to choose from!

Ethan: That’s a great question, Melissa! Originally, I said yes to almost everyone who asked to be on my podcast. At the time, I didn’t focus on the book genre, or if I’d heard of the author. I was just so excited and happy that writers were interested in talking to me, and sharing their writing journeys. Plus, I was homeschooled at the time, and I had quite a bit of time on my hands.

As my podcast grew, so did the number of people asking to be interviewed, and I learned quickly that there was no way to say yes to everyone—so I’ve had to cut back a bit. I was about to end homeschooling and start middle school too, so I knew I’d have to cut back on the number of monthly interviews I was hosting, which was around four to six interviews per month. As much as I’d like to keep that number, each interview requires reading and reviewing at least one book, as well as preparing interview questions, so it can be time consuming!

Now that I’m in middle school, with lots of homework, I try to host an average of two interviewees per month—give or take. Choosing who to talk to isn’t easy, so I try to base it on how much I enjoyed the book, or if there’s an important and compelling message the author is trying to share in their story.

Author Extravaganza!

MR: How many authors have you interviewed since you started podcasting? (I know it’s a lot, so ballpark…?) Also, I know you can’t choose a favorite, but which interview was the most memorable, and why?

Ethan: I get asked this a lot, and it’s always the most difficult question to answer, but I looked through my YouTube channel and podcast and, as of now, I’ve interviewed 90 authors, literacy advocates, kindness heroes, and more. It feels like every guest on my show becomes my new favorite, or most memorable, because every single person has something amazing to contribute, and honestly, it’s just too hard to choose one. But I’ll share several interviews that I’ll always keep with me.

The first is my talk with Stuart Gibbs. I’ve loved his books for a very long time, and talking to him was monumental. I remember I had a terrible cold that day, but there was no way I was canceling my talk with a book hero! Next is Gidon Lev, a Holocaust survivor who always focuses on the joy and hope in life. I’d never met or talked with a survivor before, so it was a life-changing experience. Oh! and, my interview with the legendary James Ponti was one of my most memorable podcasts as well. James is an unbelievably kind person, and he’s so knowledgeable and interesting to talk to. Three more meaningful interviews I had were with authors, Dan Gutman, Torrey Maldonado and Lisa Fipps—all incredible people who left a book print on my heart!

And, finally, another memorable experience was interviewing the authors who contributed to the MG anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories. I’m not just saying that because I’m here with you, Melissa, but as an upcoming Bar Mitzvah boy, reading about the characters’ experiences, and talking with the authors who wrote the stories, gave me insight into some things I can expect.

Advocating for Literacy

MR: In addition to interviewing authors and hosting your podcast, you are a self-described literacy advocate. Can you tell us more about the work you do?

Ethan: When I started my podcast and YouTube channel, I had no idea how many kids in the world don’t have access to books. Even in my own city there are lots of kids who don’t have many—or any—books of their own. I was shocked by the numbers, and I only learned this after listening to Dr. Molly Ness, an incredible advocate for literacy.

When I found out that there were millions of kids without access to books, I knew I wanted to do something, so I started book drives and was so happy when people started to send books! So many authors and book lovers have contributed to my book drive. Two people who’ve really supported my book-drive efforts are the amazing teacher-librarian extraordinaire, Elizabeth Blye, and the incredibly generous and wonderful Jennifer Frances, Founder and CEO of Bess the Book Bus.

Because of the many generous book donations, I’ve also been able to visit and talk with kids at local Title One schools in my community and hand deliver books to entire classrooms. Last year I partnered with Book Drop, which is run by author Jennifer Nielsen, and I visited a local school with my book hero, author Stuart Gibbs, to talk about the joy of reading. We shared books with every student in the school! I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to talk to kids about books, and then see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get to take a book home!

Teen Readers’ Choice Awards

MR: Along these lines, you were chosen as the 2023 Teen Readers’ Choice Awards Book Hero. What was it like to win such a prestigious award, especially at the age of 12?

Ethan: When I heard the news, I literally leapt for joy! I think it was the best news I’d ever heard. So, the Teen Reader’s Choice Award is part of Teen Author Boot Camp, and they hosted a beautiful and fun awards gala for authors and teen writers. What made the experience even more special was that the award was presented to me by another book hero of mine, the wonderful author Jennifer Nielsen. Talk about making memories! I’m so unbelievably grateful for being recognized and awarded for my literacy work. The entire experience was inspiring and a night I will never forget.

Bar Mitzvah Boy

MR: Let’s turn to your Bar Mitzvah, which will take place on January 6th. (Here’s Ethan, pictured with Rabbi Herman). Can you tell us about your Bar Mitzvah Project? Spoiler alert: It involves books 🙂 Also, what does becoming a Bar Mitzvah mean to you?


My Mitzvah Project is one I’m extremely proud of. Continuing with my theme of book drives and getting stories into the hands of kids who need them, I’ve started an Amazon Wishlist and launched a GoFundMe, where people can donate money or books to help me continue sharing stories with kids in need. Every dollar goes directly to ordering books for kids in need. This project goes hand-in-hand with my Torah portion of helping those in need, when Moses was called upon by God to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. Along with my book drives, I’m also spotlighting Jewish-themed books, as well as Jewish authors every month on social media and on my Bar Mitzvah Project Webpage.

(For more on Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah project, click here. And check out Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories, edited by MUF’s very own Jonathan Rosen, with a story by MUF contributor Melissa Roske.)

Ethan for President (of Seventh Grade)

MR: Rumor has it that you won the election for president of your seventh-grade class. Congratulations! Can you tell us about the campaign? What will your responsibilities involve as president?

Ethan: Thanks! I’m excited about being seventh-grade president. I ran against two other candidates. Campaigning was a lot of fun. With my mom’s help, we made posters, stickers, and buttons to help spread the world. On top of campaigning every day for two weeks, we filmed and shared a campaign video, which I made with my dad. I also created a TikTok campaign page, and my mom and I made a couple of extra campaign videos to share.

To run for office, I had to get two teacher recommendations as well as have a good GPA. It was such an exciting day when I heard I’d won the election! I haven’t been told all my responsibilities yet, but I know I’ll be helping to organize and attend school events as well as learn new leadership and community-outreach skills. I’m hoping to add some kindness and book- themed events to the calendar too, if possible!

MR: How do you balance your responsibilities as a student, podcaster, literacy advocate, and soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boy? It can’t be easy.

Ethan: You’re right, Melissa. It’s not always easy to balance things. On top of being a middle-schooler, I’m on a school quiz bowl team, and I’m in an IB program, so my studies can be very rigorous at times. Next year will be even tougher, so I’ve been trying to find ways to balance everything. One thing that’s helped is cutting my interviews from four to six per month to two or three. Also, with my Bar Mitzvah training coming up, I’m going to have to learn how to manage my time. Now that summer vacation is here, I’m hoping to get as much as possible accomplished before seventh grade starts and my Bar Mitzvah training gets more difficult.

MR: How do you spend your free time, Ethan? I know you love basketball and playing the ukulele…

Ethan: I like to play video games, watch funny videos, hang out with friends, read, play piano and sing, play quiz bowl, and yes—play as much basketball as possible. This summer, for instance, I’m playing in a basketball league. I also love spending time with my family, especially my cousins. As for the ukulele, apparently I went through a big ukulele phase when I was two and three years old. I thought I played pretty well, but I’m not sure everyone listening would agree!

Ethan Tells All

MR: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like Mixed-Up Files readers to know about you? Now’s your chance!

Ethan: I host a monthly book-review segment on Good Day, Sacramento, where I review middle-grade books as well as picture books and a little YA. I’ve been at it since September 2022. I’m also a kid reporter for the Sacramento Kings, where I’ve had the amazing opportunity to interview the players, and even appeared on national television, TNT.

I’m often asked when I started reading, and my mom tells me I asked to learn when I was two-and-a-half years old. I was reading chapter books by the time I was three and a half. I’ve also had a passion for trivia and history for as long as I can remember! Lastly, I’m a Giving Tuesday Spark Leader. As a Spark Leader, my goal is to spread as much kindness through literacy as possible, especially around Giving Tuesday Spark, in November.

Lightning Round

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred snack?

Cheerios with milk.

Favorite subject in school?

Probably History or World Language (we get to learn French, Chinese, or Spanish at my school).

Favorite book? (This is a tough one, I know… 🙂)

Wow, that is a toughie! Probably Starfish by Lisa Fipps. But I love so many!

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?



Something discreet, like knowing exactly what to say in all situations. It can come in handy!

Favorite place on earth?

Hawaii is so beautiful. I also love Hotel Del Coronado, in San Diego.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?

My favorite book, a journal, and a water purifier.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Ethan. It was a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

Ethan: Thank you so much for having me, Melissa! This has been so fun, and an honor to talk with you! I can’t wait for what’s to come in my book journey, and to see who you’re interviewing next on MUF! Bye!

About E Train


E Train is a 12-year-old award-winning literacy advocate, booktuber & podcast host, on an amazing adventure reviewing books and interviewing authors, book enthusiasts and kindness heroes. He is also visiting schools across the country (virtually & in-person). Find E on his website and YouTube Channel, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram. You may find his podcasts here. (Please note: E’s mom approves all of his tweets, posts, and content.)

STEM Tuesday — Serendipity Science — Book List

Do all discoveries, inventions, and innovations require plans and procedures? Nope. Serendipity, a blend of chance and wisdom, play a huge part in many instances. Tales of accidental brilliance are fun to read and show us the part in plays in all of our lives. Here’s a list of books that tell tales of serendipity.

Accidental Archeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries by Sarah Albee

Sarah Albee tells tales of the secret treasures that are found all around us in Accidental Archeologists. Readers will discover many incredible tales in this book of accessible archeology.

Building Blunders: Learning from Bad Ideas by Amie Jane Leavitt 

As a part of the series Fantastic Fails, this book shares building failures that led to learning.

Gadget Disasters: Learning from Bad Ideas by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Another in the Fantastic Fails series, Gadget Disasters introduces readers to gadgets gone wrong and what designers learn from those missteps.

How to Become an Accidental Genius by Freida Wishinsky and Elizabeth MacLeod, Illustrated by Jenn Playford

Yes, you can become an accidental genius too, according to these two authors, who share a series of inspiring tales of global inventors.

Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be by Charlotte Foltz Jones, Illustrated by John O’Brien

Readers will find the stories of common things, like potato chips, and their chance invention. Mistakes can lead to success.

Rhinos in Nebraska: The Amazing Discovery of the Ashfall Fossil Beds by Allison Pearce Stevens, illustrated by Matt Huynh

It’s difficult to believe that rhinos, elephants, and camels once roamed North America. Readers will learn about a startling archeological discovery right in the heart of Nebraska in this book that proved their existence.

All In a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger

Lori Alexander tells the fascinating story of self-taught scientist, Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s great discovery.

Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries That Changed Our Lives by Birgit Krols

Here is another book that features the backstories of some of our most important, fun, and useful inventions.

Great Medicine Fails by Barbara Krasner

Can bloodletting with leeches actually lead to a medical success? Read about some of the biggest failures in medicine that led to important success.

Alexander Fleming: Scientists and their Discoveries by Bradley Sneddon

Penicillin is one of the world’s greatest discoveries and has one of the most fascinating stories. Discover how a chance mold contamination led to saving countless lives across the planet.

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Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also served as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 international title about farm and food is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US: A Year In The Life Of An Organic Farm. Visit her at 

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Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. Academy Award winner and environmentalist Jeff Bridges calls Planet Ocean a “must read.” Newman, a Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, and a Eureka! Gold Medal from the California Reading Association for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at

The Seed of Something Great – An Interview with Story Seeds Podcast Creator Sandhya Nankani

A few weeks ago I was visiting a writing class and mentioned a podcast called Story Seeds. At first I thought maybe I was doing a bad job explaining it, but then I realized the collective silence of the room wasn’t confusion – it was utter amazement.

Photo credit: Marj Kleinman

“Is this real?” someone finally asked.

Is it ever! And today I’m sharing my interview with Story Seeds creator and executive producer, Sanhya Nankani. She told me all about the development of this quite amazing project, as well as her path toward producing content for young readers.

CL: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Sandhya! Let’s start with your journey to children’s media – can you give us a glimpse into the path that led you to the work you do now?

SN: Well, I have a pretty non-traditional background and don’t quite fit into a box or a linear path in terms of my path! I studied history, got my masters degree in International Affairs, and once upon a time, planned to work in international development…but I was always passionate about the written word, media, and communication. I finally joined the “publishing” world in 2004 when I was almost 30 – at Weekly Reader Classroom Magazines, where I was part of the literacy magazines group. I edited a magazine called Writing for Teens and also got to work on some proof of concept digital experiments; this was the time when digital magazines were just making inroads.

From there I moved to more formal educational publishing at Scholastic, where I worked in the English Language Arts group on some iterations of their successful product READ 180. This is where I cut my teeth on developing curriculum and teacher materials and parsing standards and began thinking about how to create engaging kids content that can also support curriculum.

Then, in 2008 or so, I ventured out on my own and started my studio Literary Safari!

I’ve always been interested in the intersection between print and new media and how innovations (whether it’s POD, digital content, audio, or apps) can be applied to the content that children engage in and consume, I guess — and playing and experimenting with it. 

CL: What a cool journey! So one of the things coming out of your studio is Story Seeds, which is all about taking an idea and helping it grow into something bigger. That seems to be true of the podcast itself, as well – can you take us through the beginnings of that idea and how it blossomed into a fully produced show?

SN: As an editor of Writing for Teens magazine, I worked with lots of young writers and authors, and there was one project I’d helped launch called The Weekly Writer where an author started a story and kids helped them continue it on a weekly basis — we would pick a paragraph each week. This was a web-based project, but I’ve always thought about the collaborative nature of it and loved working on it. Then, a few years ago, Literary Safari worked as vendor for an educational publisher where we commissioned diverse trade authors to write leveled chapter books for the classroom market. Ideas (what I called story seeds) were provided to us by the publisher and I worked closely with authors to help them grow the seed into a story. During this project – we created 75+ books, including graphic novels – I started thinking about this wonderful author network that I had built over the years and what joy I derived from it, as well as about how the seeds were sometimes not that great and one day I remember saying to myself, “I wonder whether kids would have better ideas than this!”

When we finished the project, I was eager to continue working closely with authors – I had enjoyed it so much, especially the process and challenge of matching authors to story ideas – we worked with Jerry Craft, Derrick Barnes, Traci Sorell, and several more award-winning authors on that project —  and I was eager to find a way to do that for a wider audience.

CL: So collaboration has obviously had a big role in your creative life – can you share a bit more about the role collaboration has played in your various pursuits?

SN: When my daughter was little, we used to do what I called “studio” time, where we would collaborate — she would tell me a story or the beginning of a story, and I would ask her guiding questions and she would talk and I would write and she would draw. I’ve always looked back on that experience and thought about how it was empowering for her as a child to be heard, to get to illustrate and think out loud even when she couldn’t write, and what it meant for us to put our heads together and collaborate — and all of those things definitely inspired the “seed” for Story Seeds – because as a mom, as a creative, as a producer and as an educator, I really believe that young people need spaces where they can be empowered and have their voices heard and centered. 

I’m also very interested in interdisciplinary collaboration – as I’ve seen how people from different technical backgrounds and fields create rich experiences when they come together. I’ve created some apps for kids such as HangArt, for example, and the development of that was driven by the intersection of art & words in the formation of literacy, and showing how they are not separate from each other but support one another in learning and in play. 

CL: Well, your list of collaborators in Season 1 of Story Seeds is pretty impressive – names like Dan Gutman, Jason Reynolds, and Veera Hiranandani just to name a few. How did you connect with so many talented people?

SN: I have always had a radar for noticing new talent and diverse voices. Early in my career I received a grant from the Asian American Writers Workshop for example to help diversify a collection of grades 9-12 Language Arts textbooks published by then Holt, Rinehart and Winston Elements of Literature textbooks. Since then, I’ve also worked with authors, commissioning them to write original works for the publishers that employed me.

Connecting with authors took a bit of digging and detective work to figure out how to reach them and who would be a good match for what. That was something I always loved, but mostly it takes being brave enough to bring an idea to them and ask them if they want to be a part of bringing it to life. That is what I did with Story Seeds – once we had selected ten story seeds and kids to feature on our first season, I made a list of authors who would be good matches for them (it was a bit like matchmaking) and then tracked down the authors or their agents and shared the idea about the show. We were super lucky to have uber librarian Betsy Bird as our podcast host, and she was an incredible

Story Seeds host Betsy Bird | photo by Sonya Sones

resource to us in the match-making process as well, with suggesting authors when as well. I feel very fortunate that most of the authors we approached signed on right away and felt connected to our mission of empowering kids and were excited to collaborate with them.

CL: So with that said, do you have a favorite episode of the podcast?

SN: That is like asking a mom to name her favorite child!!! I love them all and each one, like one of your favorite books, had a special story behind the story – whether it was how the kids were matched up with authors, a production adventure, or the way in which the author and kid connected. What I found amazing was the deeper level of connections each of our “matches” had when they finally met up — that was something none of us could have predicted.

For example, Jason Reynolds and Irthan both had a deep love of music and commitment to social justice which you hear on Episode 10, and Sulaf and Susan Muaddi Darraj both love Agatha Christie on Episode 8, on Episode 1, Dan Gutman and Hannah were finishing each other’s sentences, and on Episode 7, Carlos Hernandez and the twins Siri and Zarana collaborated in a way that went beyond what we had imagined as producers of the show, and well, Veera Hiranandani and Willa were such deep thinkers who shared a common experience of school on Episode 2 and so on. 

CL: Well, one of MY favorite things about the podcast in general is the activity book that goes with it. Can you explain a bit about what the activity book is and how it works?

SN: Yes! IMAGINATION LAB: Experiments in Creativity is a companion to Story Seeds and features QR codes that kids can scan to listen to an episode of the podcast, then launch their own creative experiments in writing, reading, and STEAM. It’s techie yet screenfree! For each episode, we have created activities and printables that go hand in-hand and that showcase themes, author’s craft and tips, and draw listeners into their own imaginations. We tried to tie the activities to different disciplines because we strongly believe that storytelling is a doorway to learn about EVERYTHING in the world. It has made me immensely happy to hear early praise for the book from many teachers and parents, as well as Geek Dad!

CL: As you know, our focus here at Mixed Up Files is middle grade books and resources for the middle grade audience – do you have a favorite middle grade book? How has it shaped your thinking as you work on projects in the media world?

SN: The middle grade books that I’ve recently been drawn to are ones that tell stories that I never had access to as a young person growing up in the United States – or as an immigrant coming here at age 12. Over the past few years, it has been extremely gratifying to read the books of authors Saadia Faruqi (A Place at the Table), Rajani LaRocca (Midsummer’s Mayhem), Veera Heeranandani (The Night Diary), Janae Marks (From the Desk of Zoe Washington), Roshani Chokshi (Aru Shah series), Varian Johnson (The Parker Inheritance) whose stories reflect my experiences, my middle grade dreams and ambitions (mystery solver, sleuth, etc.!). But I would have to say that the book I most recently read that just knocked me over is Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue which I wrote about here at my Instagram.

CL: SO many great books! My TBR list is already a mile high, but I may have to climb up there and add Daniel Nayeri’s new book to the top 🙂 So what’s next for you, Sandhya? Any new seeds you’re planning to cultivate this coming year?

SN: I always have my thinking cap on about new ways to meet kids & families at the interaction of print and digital media — and am brewing some ideas that are growing out of this pandemic experience and my thinking about where we can go from here in terms of the lessons and opportunities around storytelling and learning.

I’m also actively working to figure out how to make a second season of Story Seeds. The response to the show has been so incredible – it does require resources to continue producing a show that has this production value and to continue to bring authors of this caliber together with kids and to have a host like the wonderful Betsy Bird. So we are looking for sponsors who see the value in reaching kids and families and understand that the power of a podcast is not just as a new media form that is growing, but also that it provides the opportunity to reach listeners directly in their ears and to communicate with them in a meaningful way. We are also shopping around some ideas for an “interactive” book series that features  the original  stories that appeared on Season 1.

At my studio Literary Safari, we’ve been creating a collection of culturally responsive lessons to support teachers in literature instruction for McGraw Hill Education. That has been very gratifying and it’s good to be involved in a project that will have impact and give teachers a permission slip to talk about race, social justice, and inclusion in a meaningful way.


Many thanks to Sandhya Nankani for taking the time to chat with me! If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Story Seeds, Literary Safari, and Sandhya on twitter/instagram.

Until next time!