Walter Dean Myers, the author of the best-selling young adult novel Monster and hundreds of other titles, is being sworn in today as the 3rd US ambassador for young people’s literature. In an interview this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, Myers said the theme of his 2-year ambassadorship will be “Reading Is Not Optional,” in an effort to get more youth interested in reading and prepared to have a career in the changing world-of-work, especially those from urban and oppressed areas such as Harlem where he was raised.
Why should reading be mandatory? Today, there aren’t as many industrial jobs as there once were that require low-level skill sets, and by the time today’s youth will be graduating from high school, there will be even less. As ambassador, Myers wants to show that reading isn’t only a form of escapism, but a mandatory skill for employment and a skill that can break the cycle of poverty. Unemployed parents, those without their GEDs or community college degrees, those who want a job or a better job can learn side by side with their child as they read together, improving their skills and brain capacity together. In housing projects around the country, parents and children can improve their learning skills while also applying a context for real world success through age old wisdom and perspective which can only come from reading books. The discipline it takes to read, discuss, interpret and extend book learning to the internet or to conversations with other people is also a necessary life skill in this digital age.
Growing up, Myers’ mother read to him 30 minutes every day from her magazine. At the age of four, he started reading to his mother as she did the chores. Myers had a great passion for reading as a young adult, but hid his books because he didn’t want his peers to know he read and eventually dropped out of high school.
Myers’ personal experience and work at adult and juvenile prisons has given him a unique perspective of why students lose, or hide, their interest in reading. He believes students need to feel connected to the story’s characters, plot, and setting. Many of his novels reflect this idea, and instead of creating a fantastical world, he recreates the “stark reality” of many teens. This realism makes reading more accessible to teens and gives them the affirmation they need that it is okay to read.
The goals of the new ambassador over the next two years include:
- Raising awareness of the benefits reading has on children as young as 3 months.
- Starting mentor groups in the community.
- Reaching kids who aren’t reached today.
Myers shares LifeBound’s mission to have readers who can learn about themselves through others so that they can persevere, make connections, follow through and develop personal persistence. His books provide the literary path to achieve this, while LifeBound’s books are like practical, academic coaches for students, helping them to learn about themselves, understand their interests, develop their abilities and embrace ways to improve on their weaknesses in school, college, career and life. Both perspectives are valuable for students to become increasingly comfortable with rigor, their own interests and their ability to develop their own true grit for follow through and life success.