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10 January 2012

Hail to the New Ambassador for Youth Reading

Walter Dean Myers is best known for his harsh, urban grit writing for young adults, touching on the pressure of gangs, the plight of broken families, the grimness of poverty and lack of legitimate opportunity, the horror of prison, and the loneliness of being different.  He will be our next Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a position 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.  It was first held -- and thus defined and pioneered by Jon Scieszka, a young children's author best known for Trucktown and then, by Katherine Paterson, best known for Bridge to Terabithia.  He is championing early reading advocacy by parents and other family members, citing his mother's love of true romance magazines.  As a baby, he listened and watched his mother with finger on the page, slowly but surely reading aloud to him.  By four, says Myers, he could read to her as she ironed clothes.  Sigh!  What a story

Growing up in my household, my older sister and I were obsessed with reading, to the detriment of doing more useful tasks, like setting and clearing the dining table.  To be able to go to the Village of Babylon Public Library was a treat.  I loved visiting my maternal grandparents' apartment, because my three aunts (some fourteen to sixteen years younger than my mother and thus, only a decade or so older than I) had left books galore on the shelves, including Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, from which I learned at a tender age all about show business, pill popping, sex, mental retardation which does not preclude a singing career or need for sex and breast cancer, and Edith Hamilton's Mythology, from which I gained major knowledge about the Greek and Roman gods.  From the West Babylon High School library, I signed out anything and everything, discovering the OSS, Wendell Willkie and Phillip K Dick.  I also translated what I saw on screen to sought-after reading material.  Just like today's movie goer looking to read Harry Potter or Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games, I wanted to know where my favorite movie (which I saw on television) Guys and Dolls came from, which is how I discovered Damon Runyon. 

My world has narrowed somewhat as I am not as patient with writers or unhappy endings as I once was.  Anyone can take credit for my love of Georgette Heyer, especially my first -- Frederica, since I can't seem to remember when I first happened upon this great English Regency-era writer, from whom all of today's romance writers owe much.  All in all, I applaud the appointment of Myers (as I applaud the position of "Ambassador for Young Adult Literature") and wish him every good fortune in continuing the work of getting more people to read.

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