Walter Dean Myers’ lesson to children: Read
BY LEEANN ZOURAS May 3, 2012 8:24PM
Walter Dean Myers (AP photo)
Updated: June 7, 2012 8:07AM
Walter Dean Myers, 74, was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January by the Library of Congress. Since then the award-winning author of more than 50 books, including the best-seller Monster (Amistad, 1999), has been traveling the country talking to children.
His message is simple: “Reading is not optional.”
“I talk about reading as a vital part of the lives of everyone and how a lack of reading competency will adversely affect [children’s] lives,” Myers said in an email.
He also shares his early school experiences.
“I was a good student, but a speech impediment was causing problems,” he said. “One of my teachers decided that I couldn’t pronounce certain words at all. She thought that if I wrote something, I would use words I could pronounce. I began writing little poems. I began to write short stories, too.”
Although Myers was smart and recognized as a good writer, he dropped out of high school and joined the Army at 17. Later, working construction, he started writing at night and eventually focused on the hardest time in his life — his teens.
“Audiences of every age find his personal history to be compelling and inspiring,” said Robin Adelson, executive director of the Children’s Book Council and its foundation, Every Child a Reader. “Walter enjoys visiting incarcerated teens and he emphatically points out that the difference between them and him is that he gets to leave the prison at the end of the visit, and the reason he gets to leave is because he was and is a reader. He credits reading with saving and enriching his life.”
The national ambassador program, established in 2008, is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the CBC and its foundation. Myers is the third children’s author to hold the two-year post. No Chicago appearances are scheduled. Requests may be made through the CBC.