On January 10, noted YA author Walter Dean Myers will officially begin his two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and while these kinds of titles usually seem completely useless to me, I’m pretty excited by Myers for one simple reason:

His passion is making sure that EVERY kid — especially those living in the kinds of tough circumstances that he grew up in — embraces reading.

(download slide and view original image credit on Flickr)

Myers minces no words in this interview with Publisher’s Weekly. He writes:

“We all know we should eat right and we should exercise, but reading is treated as if it’s this wonderful adjunct…We’re still thinking in terms of enticing kids to read with a sports book or a book about war.

We’re suggesting that they’re missing something if they don’t read but, actually, we’re condemning kids to a lesser life.

If you had a sick patient, you would not try to entice them to take their medicine. You would tell them, ‘Take this or you’re going to die.’ We need to tell kids flat out: reading is not optional.”

Listen to those words, y’all.  Let them roll around in your mind for a few minutes.  Stew in them.  We ARE condemning kids to a lesser life when we turn the urgency of reading into an option.

But all too often — and especially for kids who grow up in families that don’t celebrate and model reading — that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing.

We’re convinced that simple incentive programs, or trendy genres like graphic novels, or finding just the right book, will EVENTUALLy hook reluctant readers, so we show foolish patience instead of attacking literacy struggles with a passion.

That kind of professional tap dancing around the truth is nothing but a waste of time — and I’m completely jazzed to see that we’ve finally got a spokesperson who is willing to say so.


Related Radical Reads:

Real Men Read

The Unintended Consequences of Incentive Programs

Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels



Original Image Credit: Syringe by Andres Rueda

Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on January 6, 2011

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