National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

I wrote this post back in early December and had planned to run it this week after my posts on 826 National (a non-profit tutoring organization that Jon Scieszka is on the board of) and Mac Barnett (new author of picture and chapter books and part of the Guys With Books tour group that Scieszka is in.) However, I caught on to a tribute organized by the folks over at A Year in Reading for today and decided to jump on board. If you are a Scieszka fan, hope you'll check out all the other posts by kidlit bloggers! Tomorrow, January 5 2010, the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

If you are a parent or plan to be one some day, then Jon Scieszka deserves a big round of applause from you/us for the tireless work he has joyfully been doing in the name of inspiring kids to read. Here is my print version of a round of applause and yet another attempt to call attention to a true national treasure!

As some of you may know from reading my posts on The Time Warp Trio or Guys Write for Guys Read, Jon Scieszka, besides being a prolific and hilarious writer of picture and chapter books, is also finishing up his two year term as the first ever National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I can't think of a better luminary from the world of kid's books to hold this post first. Scieszka, in addition to being extremely personable and outgoing, has been working to draw reluctant readers into the wonderful world of reading for years now. In 2005 he published Guys Write for Guys Read, a collection of stories and pictures by guys from the world of kid's literature and beyond. Matt Groening, Neil Gaiman, Brian Jacques, Jerry Spinelli, Chris Van Allsburg and Mo Willems along with columists from The Onion, Sports Illustrated and Esquire Magazine provided short stories that were meant to engage and entertain boys, reluctant readers especially, and hopefully spur them on to seek out other works by the contributors. The website Guys Read has evolved into a really great resource over the years, including a FABULOUS and easy to navigate list of books that boys will like including categories like, "outer space, but without aliens, " and "outer space, but with aliens."

Scieszka's note from the author in Guys Write for Guys Read is worth repeating:

Too many boys struggle with reading.

I grew up with five brothers, taught elementary school for ten years, and have been writing books for kids for the last fifteen years. I started writing books like The Stinky Cheese Man and the Time Warp Trio series in part to inspire my second-grade boys to want to read.

Now I'd like to do more. So I've started a nonprofit literacy initiative called GUYS READ. The basic idea is to help boys read by connecting them with books that will motivate them to want to read.

Recommendations to the original GUYS READ website provided hundreds of titles boys like to read. I asked one hundred of these authors and illustrators to write about being a guy, and their contributions made the anthology, Guys Write for Guys Read. Now the money from the anthology has built a new interactive website at www.guysread.com.

Check it out. Let's look into what's going on with boys and reading. And let's help our guys read.

Besides his ambassadorial duties, Scieszka has also been keeping busy as a member of Guys With Books, a touring group that includes author Mac Barnett and artists David Shannon and Adam Rex. These fellas recently spent a few weeks touring the country, visiting schools and bookstores and thoroughly entertaining the kids, and adults, based on video clips on the site, in attendance. And, as if this weren't enough, Jon is also on the Board of Directors at 826NYC, the New York City branch of the amazing volunteer organization that is dedicated to providing a writing lab and tutoring center to help children improve and grow their reading and writing skills. 826NYC is one of seven centers all over the United States. To learn more about this incredible organization, founder Dave Eggers and how you can volunteer your time and/or donate money, please see my post on 826 National.

Finally, here is the text of an article Jon wrote that appeared on the Huffington Post on 12/14/09. You can read it here, free of advertisements, or click on the link above to read it at the site of origin.

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Must Go!

by Jon Scieszka

How is it possible? This is my last month as the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature - appointed by the Library of Congress and the Children's Book Council. But I've only been to about 33 states and 274 schools, libraries, bookstores, conferences, and festivals in the past two years. And now it's time to pick a new Ambassador? I still don't have my Ambassador Attack helicopter. It has been an incredible run. One of my favorite moments took place in a California school shortly after I was appointed. The kindergarteners made me a beautiful red sash with blue tape letters that spelled A-M-B-A-S-S-A-D-O-R. And then, as I walked into the presentation hall, a group of 5th-graders played an original Ambassador Fanfare, which they had composed, on kettle drum, trumpet, trombone, and xylophone. I put the Fanfare on my iPhone and played it everywhere I went after that. At an incredibly poor school in Arizona, I got to speak to a very intense group of 3rd-grade writers and illustrators who had never seen any kind of author . . . let alone an Ambassador author. I read some books, talked about the process of writing, explained my job as Ambassador, showed them my official medal, and asked if there were any questions. The first question, from a little girl, was: "Can I try on the medal?" I loved it. She posed, and I took her picture as Ambassador. Then everyone decided they wanted to try on the medal and be Ambassador for a moment. It was incredibly heart-warming. And you never know what dreams were created that day. It was great, because the teachers and kids instantly "got" the whole idea of the Ambassador. And they made it even better. I was the same author, but people listened with new interest. I used my two-year term to work on reaching the reluctant reader: that's the kid who might be a reader, who could be one, but just isn't that interested in reading. The new Ambassador will have his or her own program, and ideas on connecting kids with reading. Here is the advice that I have been giving throughout my tenure:

  • Let each child choose what she or he wants to read. I'll never forget my own son's reaction reading Little House on the Prairie (a favorite of many readers): "Are they really going to spend this whole chapter making a door?"
  • Expand the definition of "reading" to include non-fiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure, and, yes, even websites. It's the pleasure of reading that counts; the focus will naturally broaden. A boy won't read shark books forever.
  • If a kid doesn't like one book, don't worry about finishing it. Start another. The key is helping children find what they like.
  • Be a good reading role model. Show kids what you like to read, what you don't like to read, how you choose what you read. Let them see you reading.
  • Avoid demonizing television, computer games, and new technologies. Electronic media may compete for kids' attention, but we're not going to get kids reading by badmouthing other entertainment. Admit that TV and games can do things books can't. Talk about how reading can make a world in ways that movies and games can't.

I am honored to have served as our great nation's first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I will continue to serve as Ambassador Emeritus. And I will make good on my Ambassadorial promise to my wife to stop playing the Fanfare every time I walk into or out of a room. Now, if someone could just get word to the New York City traffic department that I do have complete Diplomatic Immunity.

Scieszka is the author of acclaimed children's books including The Stinky Cheese Man and founder of the nonprofit literacy organization, Guys Read.


Jon Scieszka said...

Thanks for the digital round of applause Tanya.

I'm working on a new Guys Read Library of 5 books, each a different genre, that might get your son to expand his reading choices to include at least a little fiction

Tanya said...

Well deserved - I am still in awe of all that you have done over the past two years alone and I'm sure I don't know the half of it! Sorry I missed you, David Shannon, Mac Barnett and Adam Rex on tour! That's kinda like the Beatles and the Stones of the realm of picture books on tour! Also, thanks for all you do with 826NYC! I look forward to your new series!

Mary Lee said...

Cool tip on the new Guys Read Library he's working on! We'll watch for that!