Reading Is Not Optional

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Walter Dean Myers is the newest and the third literary great to serve as the Library Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

A great honor for a man who dropped out of high school, but never lost his passion for the written word and continued to pursue and succeed at this interest for over four decades.

In his new position, Myers will work over the next two years to “raise 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.”

I had the pleasure of reading Monster (1999), Myers’ New York Times Bestseller, many years ago, but very loosely recall why the book is such a stirring reminder of the hard-scrabble tales I heard daily growing up in New York City. Nevertheless, I know the importance of sharing books like this with young readers.

One of the Christmas presents I recently gave to my SOHO mentee, Makaylah, was a copy of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Makaylah is twelve years old and at the time, I thought mature enough to objectively absorb the story’s controversial themes of racism and sexual abuse.

But upon hearing that her mother was reading the book before Makaylah, I instantly imagined a scenario where I and Morrison’s book would be banned from ever seeing or speaking to Makaylah again.

Three of Myers’ books have been banned in the libraries and school districts of two states due to their profane language and adult content. Similar attempts have been made against The Bluest Eye. Thankfully,all these attempts have failed, and Makaylah’s mother enjoyed and endorsed the book.

Myers has deemed “reading is not optional” as the theme for his two-year term. I look forward to seeing him at the 2012 Library of Congress National Book Festival and using his campaign as a springboard to making reading a new book a constant part of Makaylah’s life.

If you’re unfamiliar with his work, two of Myers’ most recent books – Game (2008) and Sunrise Over Fallujah (2008) – were eloquently reviewed in The New York Times


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