Tuesday, December 15, 2009

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Two years ago, the Library of Congress and the Children's Book Council appointed John Scieszka as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Since then, the author-ambassador has traveled to 33 states, visited hundreds of schools/libraries/bookstores/festivals/conferences, and met many young children.

His official term as National Ambassador is ending, but once-an-ambassador, always an ambassador for reading. He says he will continue to serve as Ambassador Emeritus. He wrote an end-of-term article in the Huffington Post.

Here is the advice he has given throughout his ambassadorship:
  • Let each child choose what she or he wants to read. I'll never forget my own son's reaction reading Little House on the Prairie (a favorite of many readers): "Are they really going to spend this whole chapter making a door?"
  • Expand the definition of "reading" to include non-fiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure, and, yes, even websites. It's the pleasure of reading that counts; the focus will naturally broaden. A boy won't read shark books forever.
  • If a kid doesn't like one book, don't worry about finishing it. Start another. The key is helping children find what they like.
  • Be a good reading role model. Show kids what you like to read, what you don't like to read, how you choose what you read. Let them see you reading.
  • Avoid demonizing television, computer games, and new technologies. Electronic media may compete for kids' attention, but we're not going to get kids reading by badmouthing other entertainment. Admit that TV and games can do things books can't. Talk about how reading can make a world in ways that movies and games can't.
Reading champion Stephen Krashen posted this praise on the California School Library listserv: "Jon Scieszka has been giving young people a lot of advice on reading, in his role as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. What audacity! A mere author giving advice on reading! This is the job of professional educators and reading researchers like myself, academics who have spent years painfully and carefully doing studies, examining the research of others, and performing arcane statistical analysis. But Mr. Scieszka got it exactly right. Everything he says is backed up by our research. And being a fine writer, he said it more succinctly and convincingly that any of us ever did."

Scieszka is the founder of Guys Read, a nonprofit literacy organization. He is also a children's author of books including The Stinky Cheese Man.

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