"Reading is not optional" is the mantra for Walter Dean Myers, the newly named National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. For those of you who already know this news or are learning this while reading my blog, you clearly know the vital importance of reading and are passing it on to your own children and/or children you work with. The exciting thing about Walter Dean Myers' two year appointment to the post is that he might just be the best person to get this message out to those who need it most. As Julie Bosman's article for New York Times notes, Mr Myers who, at 74 is a lifelong reader, is also a high school dropout who believes that his message as ambassador will be "etched by his own experiences." Myers says,
“I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life,” he said in an interview at his book-cluttered house here in Jersey City, adding that he hoped to speak directly to low-income minority parents. “You take a black man who doesn’t have a job, but you say to him, ‘Look, you can make a difference in your child’s life, just by reading to him for 30 minutes a day.’ That’s what I would like to do.”
Myers, author of almost 100 books, has won two Newbery Honor awards, five Coretta Scott King awards and one Michael L Printz, the Newbery for Young Adult books. Myers has also been a National Book Award finalist three times. Myers' books frequently follow the lives of urban teenagers, especially poor African-American teens. As Bosman says, "While many young adult authors shy away from such risky subject material, Mr Myers has used his books to confront the darkness and despair that fill so many children's lives." Robin Adelson, the executive director of the Children's Book Council, adds that, "while there is a hard edge to Mr Myers's writing, there was also a message of holding yourself up and beleiving in what you do." Jennifer Brown, a member of the ambassadorship selection committee goes on to say that "With Walter's work, he's very responsible about conveying enough to give you a sense of the grittiness, but there's not a lot of graphic violence. With Walter's books, it's much more about the emotional impact of the violence that these kids grow up around. It's not fantasy."
I look forward to Mr Myers's tenure as ambassador and this inspiration to read his books. I'll be honest, I usually shy away from gritty, urban fiction, but I also know that I need to read outside of my comfort zone and am glad to start with the books an author with such an impressive personal and literary history. Actually, I have read Mr Myers's work! His contribution to the superb The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, the all-star companion to Chris Van Allsburg's classic picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, is "Mr Linden's Library," (picture at left) which comes with the caption, "He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late." How perfect! Mr Linden, the book-loaning bibliophile of the title, sounds a bit like Mr Myers himself...