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The New National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature: Who’s It Gonna Be?

NationalAmbassador The New National Ambassador of Young Peoples Literature: Whos It Gonna Be?There must be a psychological disorder associated with an extreme preference for speculation over cold hard facts.  Or, at the very least, a layman’s term for it.  But until I research this fully, let us indulge my proclivities and talk a little about the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and all that it entails.  Which is to say, who’s the next one gonna be?

As you may know, the position originated with Jon Scieszka who wore his bedazzled sash like a veritable king (and earned great and very silly acclaim in situations like this one).  Sciezka, after serving his two-year term, was succeeded by Katherine Paterson who, in turn, was succeeded by Walter Dean Myers.

Two years ago, on September 15, 2011, I wrote a post called Who Should Be the Next National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature in which I proceeded to nail it.  Oh, the nailing of it that was done!  I so rarely score well with my predictions that the appointment of Myers quite went to my head.  I am giddy, nay drunk, with success.  Which brings us to today.

Within the next week or two, a mysterious cabal of children’s literature enthusiasts will gather to determine our next Ambassador.  And though the requirements are as free and breezy as the wind, there are certain attributes that will make one person preferable over another.  These would include (and they have not changed much since the last time I discussed this position):

- The Ambassador must be a household name to people who are not necessarily children’s librarians, booksellers, etc.  I’ve added this requirement and I think it sticks.  When they choose an Ambassador they like it when they can tell NPR or The New York Times or what have you that the person wrote [enter famous book here].  This is not a hard and fast requirement and I’m sure they could bend it for an overqualified candidate, but I suspect that in the back of the nominating committee’s mind, the idea is there.

- The Ambassador must have grown children if they have any children at all.  An Ambassador zips around the country/world doing good work.  If they have kids that need them at home they’re not going to be able to fulfill their Ambassadorial duties to the full.

- The Ambassador must be personable.  An Ambassador who doesn’t know how to speak to a large group and, on some level, enthrall, is not going to qualify for this job.  You need someone who can command a room.

- The Ambassador should have a cause that he/she promotes that is not him/her own self.  Not that they won’t be able to promote their own stuff.  In fact, it helps if they’re still writing.  The Ambassador is able to promote their latest works essentially for free when they have this gig.  That’s no small potatoes, but they also need to have something they believe in.  Hence, Scieszka getting boys to continue reading, Paterson as the vice president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, and Myers has basically been an advocate for innumerable causes for the last few decades of his life (great PBS bit on him here).

So.  With all these in mind, who’s it gonna be?

Looking at the pattern we’ve had a boy, a girl, and a boy.  That means the odds are good that the choice is going to swing to the “girl” side again.  Even more so when you consider that potential female Ambassadors are easier to find than male (insofar as I can tell it’s Richard Peck or nothing).  Look at the sheer range of women and two names spring immediately to mind.  Therefore my top two choices are:

judyblume 150x150 The New National Ambassador of Young Peoples Literature: Whos It Gonna Be?Judy Blume – You can just tick off the requirements one by one with Judy.  Is she a household name?  As I figure it, if Saturday Night Live does a skit based on your novels and starring John Malkovich, you are officially the biggest American name in children’s literature.  That’s where the bar falls.  Does she have grown children?  Yes and she makes movies with them.  Is she personable?  Baby, you haven’t been charmed till you’ve been charmed by the Blume.  She’s dangerously close to garnering enough love that folks create a religion in her name (Blumeism . . . oh, you know it’s gonna happen).  As for the cause, can you think of anyone else who is as close to a poster child for anti-censorship as Ms. Blume?  And we haven’t had an anti-censorship ambassador yet.  It’s perfect!  The only thing that keeps her from being my #1 choice is the fact that the woman is terribly busy.  She doesn’t slow down.  As such, while they might ask her to be Ambassador (and, indeed, I suspect they may have already done so in the past) I don’t know that she’d necessarily take it.  That leaves . . .

LoisLowry 150x150 The New National Ambassador of Young Peoples Literature: Whos It Gonna Be?Lois Lowry – The timing, in this case, is perfect.  Why?  Because not only does she continue to write and talk in public to an amazing degree, but some time in the next two years we’ll see the release of the movie version of The Giver (starring  Alexander Skarsgård, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bridges with a 24-year-old Jonas but that’s neither here nor there).  It’s a little too perfect.  Once the movie is released, Lowry will be asked to speak all the time anyway, and that in turn will shine a bright light on the Ambassadorship and whatever causes she’d most like to promote.  The stars align perfectly for Ms. Lowry.  She’s a great age, lots of personality and stamina, blue eyes that can pierce you to your soul, and if she wasn’t a household name before she certainly will be soon.  So with much consideration I’m putting my money on Ms. Lowry.  Could well be that I’m wrong and we end up with a Jacqueline Woodson or Linda Sue Park (which I would love).  We shall see what we shall see.  Exciting!

So who’s your top pick?

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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Anna says:

    Another apparent requirement? Being a recipient of the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion. Scieszka (2013), Paterson (1983), and Myers (2006) have all won it, and Blume (2009) and Lowry (2003) have as well, so your predictions seem on target!

  2. Scope Notes says:

    I’d like to throw Kate DiCamillo into the mix here. She scores high in all the attributes you list. She hasn’t quite been around as long as Blume or Lowry, but it seems like she’s entered that “living legend” place. Personable? Check. Still writing? Check. A solid candidate.

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Zut!! You’re 100% correct. I feel silly for not thinking of her before. A very solid candidate indeed.

  3. How about a nonfiction author such as Jim Arnosky, Doreen Rappaport, Russell Freedman or Hudson Talbott? Nonfiction is, as usual, always the “player to be named later.”

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      Boy, that’d be nice. Of course if they went the nonfiction route then I think they’d probably hanker for David Macaulay, no? He’s got a name outside of the children’s sphere, which can be key. And with the rise in interest in nonfiction these days, I think you’re on to something . . .

    • OOPS, spelling! David Macaulay.

  4. Laura Wadley says:

    My first thought was Rosemary Wells; but I really like the nonfiction idea–especially Russell Freedman.

  5. Kate says:

    “The Ambassador must have grown children if they have any children at all. An Ambassador zips around the country/world doing good work. If they have kids that need them at home they’re not going to be able to fulfill their Ambassadorial duties to the full.”

    Perhaps you could frame this a bit differently–something like “Must be able to travel frequently and devote a lot of time to interviews, speeches, and other publicity duties.” Plenty of people with small children handle demanding jobs that include frequent travel, and it does a disservice to this (or any) position to automatically rule out those with young children.

    Anyway, these authors would all be terrific choices, and I can’t wait to find out who the new ambassador will be!

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      I have no doubt that there are folks that have the chops to balance travel and family. Absolutely! These restrictions, I should clarify, are entirely my own and do not represent the standards of the nominating committee. That said, this isn’t exactly a high paying position or anything. If you’re going to do all that travel on top of your normal writing AND have young children to boot . . . well, it seems to me it would just make sense to offer the position to folks who don’t have that extra added consideration. Plus, anyone with small children will someday be someone with grown children. Then they can Ambassador it up as much as they like.

  6. Linda Urban says:

    Also? Linda Sue Park.
    She’d be terrific.

  7. Laura Hamor says:

    Jane Yolen :)
    She is incredibly prolific. She is amazingly generous and she is a champion of books, writing, creativity in young and old. Her work crosses genres and age levels. I think this year it should be Jane.

  8. sarah says:

    And Judy tweets!

  9. How about Paul O. Zelinsky?

  10. Melissa Posten says:

    Laurie Halse Anderson?

  11. Bonny Becker says:

    Pick one? Sheesh. Can’t you make it harder! :)

  12. :paula says:

    Dark horse: Meg Cabot. Very media-friendly! And sooo funny!

  13. steve says:

    I LOVE the non-fictiion idea, but that would look like an endorsement of the Common Core which I have a serious love/hate (actually more hate) relationship with. How about Patricia Polacco?

  14. I’d love to see it be Ashley Bryan. Yes, a guy, but so awesome in presentations. He epitomizes for me ambassador for children’s literature and literature in general.

  15. marjorie says:

    I like all these choices of folks known for being funny and charismatic in real life! That’s a big part of the gig. But I wonder if Judy Blume doesn’t already have her hands full with the National Coalition Against Censorship, and I’ve heard Lowry and Wells can be prickly.

    Two more to throw into the mix: Chris Van Allsburg and Kadir Nelson. And I’d be delighted with Linda Sue Park, Zelinsky, Yolen, Bryan or DiCamillo. But I am fantasizing about Doreen Cronin, talking about unionizing farm animals and thus terrifying Republicans.

  16. Mike Lewis says:

    Gantos.

    I was so sure of my pick until I saw Monica’s suggestion.

  17. Kevin Henkes would be superb!

  18. Perhaps a Poet? The genre needs more attention than ever before.

  19. Julie Cummins says:

    My vote goes to Rosemary Wells or Lee Bennett Hopkins himself!

  20. YOU!

    • Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

      You be sweet. But I have a kiddo and no name power to speak of. But talk about a dream of a dream of a dream.

  21. Maureen Peifer says:

    How about Alma Flor Ada ? I love your suggestions, but honoring a Latina would be huge and she is also prolific.

    • Thanks, so much, Maureen, for adding my name to this list of extraordinary authors.
      Promoting the “magical encounter” between children and books has been my life-long devotion. My gratitude to all who understand and facilitate the access of children to good literature.

      • Maureen Peifer says:

        Hola, Alma,
        I heard you speak twice at ALA in Chicago last June and was once again awed by your work and focus on bringing Latino literature forward.

        You are my featured author this month here at the Near North Montessori School Library in Chicago.

        Miuchas gracias para vos tarbajos.

        Maureen

  22. Ed Spicer says:

    Cynthia Rylant?

  23. Kathi Appelt says:

    In addition to all of the other mentionees, I think Marion Dane Bauer would be fabuloso!
    And since Lee brought up poets, I’d love to see Naomi Shihab Nye take the spot. And Lee too, of course!

    xoK