Monday, January 16, 2012

Walter Dean Myers: Reading Is Not Optional

Last week, Walter Dean Myers was sworn in as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I was so pleased with the previous two choices for this position. Jon Scieszka, the nation's first Ambassador for Young People's Literature is a comedic genius who is particularly good at capturing the imaginations (and funny bones) of boy readers, and Katherine Paterson has a depth and beauty to her prose that has been transporting readers for decades.

The choice of Walter Dean Myers as the 2012-13 ambassador is equally inspired. Myers does not shy away from tough material. His work is varied, but his young adult books often deal with the grittiest realities of urban life: gangs, prison, war, drugs. He's not overly graphic, but he deals honestly with the emotions and intensity that many kids live through each day, and he manages to infuse his work with a sense of hope and strength through the struggle. We need this type of honesty as much as we need laughter and beauty.

It's not surprising, then, that Myers plans to take a brutally honest, hard line in his approach to the ambassadorship. There's a short interview on NPR with Myers in which he says his motto as ambassador will be "Reading Is Not Optional." He explains that too often we think of book as "nice, but not necessary." But the world, he explains, has changed. The job options for non-readers are disappearing fast, and Myers believes you can no longer do well in life without reading well.

I'm certain that Myers will make an impact as ambassador, and I'm interested to follow the work he will do to reach children who are not being reached today.

NPR Interview with Ambassador Myers

New York Times article about Ambassador Myers

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