Walter Dean Myers, award-winning author of “Hoops”, “Monster”, Fallen Angels,” “Sunrise Over Fallujah”, and many other young adult novels, has been named the nation’s third Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. As the new (and first African American) National Ambassador, Myers will tour the country for two years, speaking at schools and libraries about reading and literacy. Myers, 74, will formally accept the position in a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 10.
As noted in an article in today’s New York Times, found here, many of Myers’ 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.”
Myers balances these tough issues with messages of hope and the importance in believing in oneself. Robin Adelson, the executive director of the Children’s Book Council, which along with the Library of Congress designates the Ambassador, 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.”
Myers is looking forward to using his new position to focus on the importance of reading. He is determined to tell young people that reading is “not optional”. He told the New York Times, “It’s exciting. It’s a chance to stand up and say publicly what I’ve been saying privately. There is a crisis involving reading in certain communities.” He continued, “I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life”, 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.”
Have your children read any of Myers’ books? What are their favorites? Let’s support his appointment by making sure his books are on our children’s shelves. As noted above, he has written children’s picture books (several illustrated by his son, award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers) and biographies of African American heroes in addition to the hard-hitting young adult fiction, so there are books available for all ages. We look forward to Myers’ tenure as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.