February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Gene Luen Yang Is Next Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

(c) ALBERT LAW    porkbellystudio

(c) ALBERT LAW porkbellystudio

It was announced today that Printz Award winner and two time National Book Award finalist Gene Luen Yang will be the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

The announcement was made by the Children’s Book Council (CBC), Every Child a Reader (ECAR) and the national Center for the Book in the Library of Congress (CFB).  The three organizations jointly administer the program that was created in 2008 to promote how young people’s literature promotes life long learning.

Yang, on a school visit at the time, was surprised by the call from his publisher telling him of his selection. Yang’s platform for his ambassadorship will be “Reading Without Walls.” He hopes to incorporate technology as a way to better connect with both readers and non-readers.

He selected that theme because he feels that young people naturally tend to socialize with those most like themselves. But “by reading, we get to know people outside our own communities. We gain knowledge that others don’t expect us to have,” says Yang, who is also involved with the We Need Diverse Books organization.

At 42, Yang is the youngest ambassador to serve. He is also the first to come from graphic literature background. A former computer science teacher, he began his career in the world of comics, where, he notes, “there are no such honors.”  But since his book American Born Chinese (First Second) was published in 2006, he’s become more familiar with formal praise. In 2007, the book was the first graphic novel to receive the Printz Award given by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award.  His 2013 two-volume graphic novel,  Boxers and Saints (First Second), about the Boxer Rebellion was also a National Book Award finalist, as well as the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize.

“Gene Yang continues to prove himself as a pathfinder for publishing, for comics, and for literature in our changing times,” said Mark Siegel, editorial director of First Second, to School Library Journal.  “This is another great honor.…for graphic novels as a form….a vital, timely, flourishing form of human expression.”

A self portrait by Gene Yang

A self portrait by Gene Yang

Yang will begin his term on January 7, when he will be inaugurated at a ceremony at the Library of Congress. At that time, the current ambassador, Kate DiCamillo, will pass the torch. “Gene Yang is a talented writer. He is a brilliant artist,” said DiCamillo about his appointment. “His stories are thought-provoking, genre-bending, utterly original examinations of the human heart.” According to Yang, she’s already given some hard-won advice to her successor. In a telephone conversation, she recommended that he set his own schedule and take advantage of the opportunities that the ambassadorship affords.

During his two-year term, Yang will be traveling around the country speaking to children, teens, parents, teachers, and librarians about how reading is a vital part of our lives. He doesn’t anticipate that those duties will impact his writing and drawing. He is used to traveling for school visits and has learned to use downtime to his advantage.

In addition to Dicamillo, previous ambassadors include Walter Dean Myers (2012–2013), Katherine Paterson (2010– 2011), and Jon Scieszka (2008–2009). A committee comprised of educators, librarians, booksellers, and children’s literature experts select the ambassador based upon their contributions to young people’s literature, their ability to relate to kids and teens, and their dedication to fostering children’s literacy as a whole. The members of this year’s committee were Betsy Bird, Collection Development Manager of Evanston (IL) Public Library; Shelley M. Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews at School Library Journal;  Kate DiCamillo, Newbery Medal–winning author, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, 2014-15; Jonathan Hunt, Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education;  Kimberly L. Jones, Store Manager at Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA; Deborah Taylor, Coordinator of School and Student Services at Enoch Pratt Free Library; Lisa Von Drasek, Curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collections at University of Minnesota Libraries.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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