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Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Sure #WeNeedDiverseBooks but don’t forget #WeNeedMoreWalterDeanMyerses too

Like everyone I was shocked and saddened by the announcement that author Walter Dean Myers had recently passed away.  The first National Ambassador of Children’s Literature to leave us, there is little to say about his life that hasn’t been said by others far more eloquently than I in the last 24 hours.  However, I think it’s important to take into account the context in which the man lived.  Because we haven’t just lost a great author.  We’ve lost a man that filled a very great need in our children’s literary landscape.  A need that is being filled, albeit slowly.

Walter died in the same year that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks trend occurred.  That movement began, in large part, thanks to an article he’d written for The New York Times called Where Are the People of Color In Children’s Books? The lack of diversity in our children’s literature became a topic of conversation outside our little sphere thanks to him.

Now when I wrote my post 2013 Middle Grade Black Boys: Seriously, People? I took care to mention his Cruisers series, of course, but I also said, “it appears that unless you’re writing about history, you’re Walter Dean Myers, or you’re a basketball star / former basketball star, you simply cannot get a middle grade book about black boys out there.”  Happily 2014 is another case altogether.  I’ve seen a marked increase not just in books starring African-American kids but in titles written by authors of color as well.

Because that was one of my first thoughts when I heard of his death.  With Walter’s death there is a great gaping hole in our universe.  Who’s going to write about and visit the boys in juvenile detention?  Who’s going to tackle the tough subjects and not flinch when it may not be the most popular topic of all time?  Here in New York his Scorpions and Bad Boy: A Memoir are on loads of summer reading lists.  Why is he the only African-American man to be listed for older readers?

And yet, I have high hopes.  African-American men are writing more YA and children’s literature than before and, thankfully, publishers are publishing them.  So, on the male side of the equation, this year we’re seeing Varian Johnson, Jason Reynolds, Greg Neri, Kwame Alexander, Patrick Henry Bass, and hopefully others as well.  No one will ever be able to fill Walter’s shoes but maybe his legacy can be markedly increased representation.

I did not have many chances to speak with Walter.  I was horribly intimidated by him in general, so I never quite knew what to say in his presence.  Aside from the occasional interview we didn’t interact much.  Still, he was incredibly memorable as a person.  We’ll all remember Walter in our different ways.  For my part, I think I’ll go reread Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.  To my mind, no other book of children’s literature gives Walter his due better than that slim little title.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. 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 EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Kathy Ishizuka says:

    Thank you, Betsy. For me, too, the sadness of this loss is compounded by the unfinished business of Walter’s greater mission, the growing illiteracy in our nation, which he called out in his 2012 keynote (now added to SLJ’s obituary). Who will pick up the mantle?
    When my own parents passed, I thought, “We’re the adults now.” It is upon all of us to continue the work toward equity in our society and enhancing literacy among our children and young adults, especially those who don’t believe the dream is for them, as Walter said. I think of KT Horning and so many others who have been deeply engaged in this work and the renewed activism sparked by Walter’s remarkable editorial, but there is much to do.
    My deepest sympathies to Chris and his family, and to Walter’s greater family of readers. They include my youngest son, a struggling reader who enjoyed few books, but Walter’s work spoke to him. He was saddened to learn of his passing.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I love LOVE THAT DOG as much as the next person, but why not reread one of Myers’s many fine books instead?

    • Dina Sherman says:

      Oh, I get it though. One of my greatest memories of Walter is the Readers Theatre he did with Sharon Creech (and Avi an Sarah Weeks ). Hearing Sharon read about “Mr. Walter Dean Myers” with him standing right next to her sent chills up and down my spine. How Jack felt about “Mr. Walter Dean Myers” pretty much sums up how we all felt about him – awestruck. The loss is palpable.

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Yup. I figure I’ll be reading Walter’s books my entire life. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to read some confirmation about how awesome the person really was.

    • J Myers says:

      Luckily for all of us, it’s not an either/or proposition. Time spent reading a Walter Dean Myers book — or reading a book like LOVE THAT DOG that is, in many ways, a paean to Walter Dean Myers — is time well spent!

  3. I listened to the NYPL audiobook of LOVE THAT DOG last night–and to my great pleasure, and sadness, the book ends with Walter Dean Myers reading LOVE THAT BOY. The book is a great tribute to him and to poetry.