Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Myers Selected as 2012 National Kid Lit Ambassador

If this year's choice for national ambassador for young people’s literature is any indication, 2012 is going to be viscerally gritty, darkly honest, and powerfully inspiring.

Walter Dean Myers is a bestselling author of a variety of children's genres (nonfiction, picture books, etc.), but he's most well known for his young adult works. Tackling topics such as drugs, gangs, war, and more in their relation to teens, Myers isn't afraid to explore the truth about the world we live in. A shocking but awesome choice for our national ambassador, in my humble opinion. The New York Times reports:
On the rough-edged streets of Harlem in the 1940s, the young Walter Dean Myers knew better than to carry his library books where other children could see them.

“I was teased if I brought my books home,” said Mr. Myers, now a prolific and award-winning children’s book author. “I would take a paper bag to the library and put the books in the bag and bring them home. Not that I was that concerned about them teasing me — because I would hit them in a heartbeat. But I felt a little ashamed, having books.”

On Tuesday Mr. Myers, 74, will be named the national ambassador for young people’s literature, a sort of poet laureate of the children’s book world who tours the country for two years, speaking at schools and libraries about reading and literacy.

As an African-American man who dropped out of high school but built a successful writing career — largely because of his lifelong devotion to books — Mr. Myers said his message would be etched by his own experiences.

“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.”

Mr. Myers is the third person to be appointed to the post, which was created in 2008 and is chosen by a committee formed by two groups: the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and Every Child a Reader, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Children’s Book Council, a trade association for children’s book publishers. He succeeds Katherine Paterson, the novelist best known for her “Bridge to Terabithia,” and the first appointee, Jon Scieszka, author of books including “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.”

The choice of Mr. Myers represents a departure from his predecessors and is likely to be seen as a bold statement. His books chronicle the lives of many urban teenagers, especially young, poor African-Americans. While his body of work includes poetry, nonfiction and the occasional cheerful picture book for children, its standout books offer themes aimed at young-adult readers: stories of teenagers in violent gangs, soldiers headed to Iraq and juvenile offenders imprisoned for their crimes.

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.

But he does so, critics say, with a sense of possibility. Writing in The New York Times Book Review in 2008, Leonard S. Marcus praised Mr. Myers’s body of work. “Drugs, drive-by shootings, gang warfare, wasted lives — Myers has written about all these subjects with nuanced understanding and a hard-won, qualified sense of hope,” Mr. Marcus wrote.

Robin Adelson, the executive director of the Children’s Book Council, said that while there was a hard edge to Mr. Myers’s writing, there was also the message of holding yourself up and believing in what you can do.

“I think part of what makes him such a great choice for this post is that his writing is a little bit of everything,” she said. “There’s this interest in history and this deep knowledge of history in Walter’s writing. Then there’s this definite hard-core, hard-edged realism.”

His appointment could be viewed as another volley in a debate that intensified last year about young adult literature and whether it is too grim, too dark and too violent for the age group. An essay in The Wall Street Journal in June by Meghan Cox Gurdon questioned contemporary teenage fiction that “can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”

Read the rest of the NYT article HERE

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