Bats at the Ballgame: Brian Lies
Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: June 8

An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka: A Booklights Reissue

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 4, 2010. Although it's a bit dated, as far as references to timing go, the essence, an appreciation for Jon Scieszka's work, remains relevant.

An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka

On January 5th [2010], the second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was announced by the Library of Congress. [Katherine Paterson] The official National Ambassador site explains: "The position of National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people's literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people... The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children's Book Council (CBC), and Every Child a Reader, the CBC foundation, are the administrators of the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature initiative." As you might imagine, I was thrilled when this position was first announced two years ago.

JenwithJonScieszka.jpgThat day, Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading hosted a virtual celebration of our outgoing (first) National Ambassador Jon Scieszka. They asked for blog posts honoring Scieszka, saying: "The "Thank You Jon Scieszka" post can be a review of one of his books, your reflections on his work as ambassador, a personal story around one of his books or author visits, something connected to Guys Read...anything Jon Scieszka."

I have previously reviewed one of Scieszka's books (Smash! Crash! (Trucktown)) on my blog, and recapped one of his bookstore events during his term as Ambassador (see a photo of me with Jon Scieszka above). I just mentioned one of Scieszka's articles, written as Ambassador, in my most recent Literacy 'Lights from the Kidlitosphere post, among many other mentions over the past two years.

knucklehead.jpgI also loved Scieszka's memoir, Knucklehead (though I didn't review it, because I listened to it on audiobook, but you can read a great review at A Fuse #8 Production). I think that his Trucktown series cries out "make reading FUN" with every new book. All in all, I'm a huge fan not only of Scieszka's books, but of his tireless efforts to promote reading, especially among boys and reluctant readers.

Before he was appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Scieszka founded Guys Read, a website dedicated to helping boys learn to enjoy reading. Here's his brief statement on boys and reading (much of which he carried over to his work as Ambassador), edited slightly for formatting:

"Boys often have to read books they don't really like. They don't get to choose what they want to read. And what they do like to read, people often tell them is not really reading. We can help boys read by:

  • Letting them choose what they read.
  • Expanding our definition of "reading" to include: nonfiction; graphic novels, comics, comic strips; humor; and magazines, newspapers, online text (edited for formatting)
  • Getting boys to recommend reading they do like to other boys.
  • Providing boys with male role models for reading in school and at home.

Great ideas, all! A big part of what Guys Read provides is lists of boy-friendly books and audiobooks, broken up into entertaining categories like "Outer space, but without aliens" and "At least one explosion". But there are also recommended resources, options for starting a Guys Read field office, downloadable bookmarks and bookplates, and more.

Guys Read is a great resource, and I'm glad that it will be continuing. But I personally think that Jon Scieszka has done even more for kids (especially boys) and reading during his tenure as Ambassador. You can read his platform here. He visited 33 states and 274 schools, libraries, bookstores, conferences, and festivals in the past two years (per the Huffington Post article). He engaged thousands and thousands of children, and their parents, during that time. He spent the past two years encouraging people to let kids choose what they want to read, provide adult reading role models, expand our definition of what constitutes "real" reading, stop vilifying other types of media like television, and take ACTION to prmote literacy. The amount of energy this must have taken is truly breathtaking.

The committee members who chose Jon Scieszka to be our first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature chose well. They picked someone dynamic and talented, with a kid-friendly sense of humor and an unquenchable enthusiasm for connecting kids with books. I was eager to hear who the 2010-2011 selection committee would choose for our second National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. She had big shoes to fill. Thanks, Mr. Scieszka. You did a great job!

Updated to add: you can find links to many more posts in honor of Mr. Scieszka in this post at A Year of Reading.

This post was originally published at Booklights on January 4, 2010. Since Booklights has ended, I am republishing selected posts here, at Jen Robinson's Book Page, with permission from PBS Parents. Booklights was funded by the PBS Kids Raising Readers initiative. All rights reserved.