Walter Dean Myers Named New National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012, proved to be a groundbreaking day in the children’s and young adult publishing world. Walter Dean Myers was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a prestigious honor bestowed upon an author by the Librarian of Congress for a two-year term (past winners include Jon Scieszka of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales  fame in 2008, and Bridge to Terabithia’s Katherine Paterson in 2010). The position was created four years ago to boost national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and personal development.

When I heard the news, I literally jumped up and whooped. For years, I have been an avid fan of Myers’s books, not only because they are so well written but because they succeed where so many other books fall short. Simply put: They tell it like it is.

The sad fact is that a huge portion of today’s kids—America’s urban poor—have been left out in the cold when it comes to finding books they can relate to—those with subject matters that reflect their day-to-day experiences, and those that are written in the style they are used to, using language that draws them in instead of alienating them. What’s worse, this shortcoming exists across the board—in picture books, middle-grade books, all the way up to the SAT’s and most standardized tests. Administrators and members of national education boards demand over and over again: “Reading is vitally important at every stage of a child’s development. Get those kids to read!” True. A valiant goal. But the path to achieving it lies not in forcing Shakespeare down kids’ throats at an early age (no offense to the very worthy Shakespeare), but in finding books that speak to their hearts and minds in a way that makes them grab on and want more. Sharon Draper’s books fall under that category (Copper SunTears of a TigerThe Battle of Jericho). Angela Johnson’s (The First Part Last;Heaven) and Christopher Paul Curtis’s (Bud, Not BuddyThe Mighty Miss Malone) do as well. And Walter Dean Myers? With only a few exceptions, his books are a genuine hit with teachers and kids every time.

To read the rest of the post, please visit  Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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