National Ambassador for Young
People’s Literature Takes Center Stage
News from the Center for the Book
By JOHN Y. COLE
On Jan. 3, 2008, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed noted children’s author Jon Scieszka (pronounced SHEH-ska) as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The announcement, which was made before two classes of elementary school students seated on the floor at New York Public Library’s Mulberry Street branch, generated instant excitement that has not subsided: The author of “The Stinky Cheese Man” is a huge hit.
“The Library of Congress has long provided free, primary-source educational material for K-12 on the Internet,” Billington noted. “This new position is a natural extension of that role. Jon Scieszka will be an articulate emissary, promoting reading and literature among young people.”
“The position was created by the Center for the Book and the Children’s Book Council to promote books and reading for young people nationally and in new and innovative ways,” said Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children’s Book Council. “Jon’s platform during his two-year term spotlights the diversity and breadth of books available to young people today and the need for kids themselves to choose what they want to read.”
Scieszka introduced himself in a Jan. 27 op-ed piece in the New York Daily News.
“Kids are reading less and getting worse at it. So the Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council have created a new position and named our first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. That’s me—the guy with the impossible-to-pronounce last name … And my new job is to get our kids jazzed about reading.”
In the editorial and subsequent talks, he presented four tips “learned from 20 years of teaching, writing and listening to kids who weren’t too crazy about reading.”
- Let the readers choose what they like and want to read.
- Expand the definition of “reading” to include nonfiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure and Web sites.
- Be a good reading role model.
- Avoid demonizing television, computer games and new technologies.
Born in Flint, Mich., Scieszka earned a bachelor’s degree in writing from Albion College and a master of fine arts degree from Columbia University. He held a number of teaching positions in the first through eighth grades before taking a year off to develop ideas for children’s books. He is the author of several bestselling children’s titles, including his Caldecott award-winning “The Stinky Cheese Man,” “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” and the Time Warp Trio, a chapter book series. He is the founder of Guys Read (www.guysread.com), a nonprofit literacy organization.
The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is named by the Librarian of Congress for a two-year term, based on recommendations from a selection committee representing many segments of the book community. The selection criteria emphasize the candidate’s contribution to young people’s literature, ability to relate to children, and experience and effectiveness in dealing with the media.
The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and the CBC Foundation are the administrators of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature initiative. The CBC, one of the Center for the Book’s national reading-promotion partners, proposed the basic idea to the center in the fall of 2006; it was approved by Billington in the spring of 2007.
As National Ambassador, Scieszka receives a $50,000 stipend for his two-year term. Financial support for the program is provided by leading sponsor Cheerios, and the following publishers: Penguin Young Readers Group; Scholastic, Inc.; HarperCollins Children's Books; Random House Children's Books; Houghton Mifflin Company; Macmillan Publishers; Harcourt Children's Books; Holiday House; Charlesbridge; National Geographic Children's Books; Candlewick Press, and Marshall Cavendish Publishers.
A drawing for a library visit from Scieszka took place on Jan. 12 in the Library's exhibit booth at the mid-winter meeting of the American Library Association in Philadelphia. Nearly 300 conference attendees entered the contest, submitting their names and requests for the new National Ambassador to visit their institutions.
The lucky winner was Janet Sarrett, a retired school media specialist from South Carolina who in her 35-year career served on several committees in all three of the American Library Association's youth divisions: the American Association for School Libraries (AASL), the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Sarrett selected Spartanburg County Public Libraries in Spartanburg, S.C., as the host institution for Scieszka's visit on March 5-7, 2009. He will be the featured speaker at the library's annual Jamboread celebration, an event held in cooperation with many other South Carolina library organizations, including the South Carolina Center for the Book.
Scieszka, who was a featured author at the first National Book Festival in 2001, will participate in the 2008 National Book Festival on Sept. 27. Other scheduled appearances in his role as the inaugural National Ambassador for Young People's Literature include National Children's Book Week in New York City in May and the Miami International Book Festival in November. For further information contact the Center for the Book.
John Y. Cole is director of the Center for the Book.