Thursday, March 11, 2010

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Did you know that we have a National Ambassador for Young People's Literature? You might not have known this since this venerable position was just created in 2008 by the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council and the Library of Congress's Center for the Book. What exactly does an ambassador do? According to their website: "The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."

The first ambassador was Jon Scieszka. He did an admirable (and often hilarious) job traveling the country and talking about something near and dear to many of us--children's books. If you are familiar with Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Knights of the Kitchen Table (Time Warp Trio)and Robot Zot!) you know, that he is a funny guy. I had the opportunity to see him twice during his tenure, and he brought just the right amount of hilarity and gravitas to the position. His mission was (and still is) to get boys to love reading, and in fact, he created a whole website called Guys Read. Check it out. It's got some really wonderful book recommendations that are geared towards boys. This isn't to say that girls aren't going to love these books too, but research tells us that it's often harder to get boys to pick up books. Scieszka has done a good job compiling a list of books that are geared towards making life-long readers out of boys.

Scieszka's term was up at the end of 2009 and there was a lot of discussion about who the next ambassador would be. In January, Katherine Paterson was appointed as the second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and she is bringing her own style to the position. Her slogan for the program is "read for your life." She recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, which I think is worth reading. She talks about the role of technology, and gives us hope that books (especially children's books) will prevail. Here's the article.

Katherine Paterson is the author of Bridge to Terabithia (one of my favorites, which I will blog about soon), The Great Gilly Hopkins (a wonderful, difficult book about a child in the foster care system), Jacob Have I Loved and many, many others. Her newest book is called The Day of the Pelican and deals with a Muslim immigrant family in the aftermath of 9/11. Paterson's books don't shy away from difficult subjects, and are often read over and over again. I'm very excited to see what she brings to the most venerable position of children's lit ambassador. Here's a calendar of her speaking engagements in the coming year.

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