Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Who Should Be the Next National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature?

Had a conversation with someone the other day about the next potential National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature.  A position created in 2008 by its sponsors The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and Every Child a Reader, from 2008-2009 the job went to Jon Scieszka.  In 2010, lasting until 2011, Katherine Paterson has the honor.  And on the distant horizon you can see it now.  In 2012 we shall have a new ambassador.

So give it to me straight, folks.  Who’s it gonna be?  The criteria for the job (and the illustrious selection committee) are visible here, but I have my own personal set of standards for this most desirable of jobs.  See if you agree with me or not:

– The Ambassador must have grown children if they have any children at all.  Why?  Because when you’re the Ambassador you get to zip about the country willy-nilly.  And frequent flyer miles, while all well and good, are not so hot when you’ve small fry desirous of your love and attention.

– The Ambassador must be personable.  Kids should dig the Ambassador.  Now you can be diggable (diggable?) any number of ways.  Jon Scieszka actually sweats charisma.  That’s his thing.  And Katherine Paterson is a big bold name of celebrity-like status.  So whoever comes next should either be infinitely likable on a stage in front of loads of schoolchildren, or you should see stars when you hear their name.

– The Ambassador should have a cause that he/she promotes that is not him/her own self.  Causes are super.  They allow The Ambassador to use his or her power for good instead of evil.  Scieszka’s baby is getting boys to continue reading.  Paterson’s (according to the slightly out-of-date Ambassador page) ties into the fact that she is “vice president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance , a nonprofit organization that informs, promotes, educates and inspires the American public to pursue literacy for young people and support libraries.”  See?  Easy peasy.

Now a couple names leap immediately to mind, but I’ve my own personal selection requirement in addition to those listed about.  For 2012 the Ambassador shouldn’t be another white guy or gal.  It’s the Ambassador for all kids, after all.  Let’s shake things up a bit.  With that in mind here are my two potential contenders:

Linda Sue Park – I’ve been hoping Linda would get this job for years, if I’m gonna be honest with you.  Let’s see.  Grown kids?  I think so (if not then they’re pretty darn close).  Cause?  Well she did some spectacular work with the books Click and A Long Walk to Water.  So yeah, I’d say she has a variety of causes she can promote.  Dynamic speaker?  And how!  The only possible point against her is that she isn’t exactly a household name.  A Newbery winner, you betcha.  Household name?  Well, not quite.  So maybe we should hold her back another year or so and then let her loose.

Walter Dean Myers – To be honest with you, someone else mentioned him to me as a possibility and boy were they spot on.  He’s probably a superior pick at this time.  I mean, the man has it all.  Grown kids?  Check.  Famous name?  Check.  Cause?  Well, Myers has always been particularly good at speaking to kids in juvenile detention facilities.  That’s something we could really use an Ambassador to speak upon.  So when all is said and done, Myers has got to be the man.

Mind you, there’s a whole host of other folks who could potentially fill this gap.  Judy Blume.  Richard Peck.  Any other favorites come to mind?

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. Ashley Bryan. (Suggested to me by someone else, but boy oh boy do I agree.)

  2. Jennifer in GA says:

    Oh please NO, not Judy Blume!! I know I’m in the minority, but she has always rubbed me the wrong way.

    On the other hand, Lois Lowry would be an awesome ambassador.

  3. Sharon Creech

  4. Judy Blume would be the best! Linda Sue Park is another wonderful choice. How about Jack Gantos?

  5. I love the idea of Walter Dean Myers! In addition to the reasons you mention, there’s also the fact that Scieszka’s written mainly picture books and chapter books, Paterson’s written mainly middle grade, and Myers is mainly a YA guy, so that would add some literary diversity as well as highly desirable ethnic diversity.

    An illustrator or poet would also be a nice, but I can’t think of names at the moment.

  6. I’d love to see a poet–Lee Bennett Hopkins or Janet Wong. Both charismatic. In addition to his charm, Hopkins is in the living legend category. Wong is a dynamo, enormously likable and a terrific speaker.

  7. How about Nikki Grimes? She’s written beginning chapter books, poetry, middle grade fiction, and YA.

  8. Walter Dean Myers would be an inspired choice, though. I would be really happy if he were chosen.

  9. I would also love to see Walter Dean Myers as ambassador. Tomie dePaola and Richard Peck would both be terrific in this role as well.

  10. I have a real problem with you demanding that the person not be white. I don’t think race should come into this selection at all. If that isn’t just racism in another form, I don’t know what is.
    But maybe I just don’t “get it”.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I demand nothing (note the mention of Judy Blume at the end of the piece). All I’m saying is that if you’re representing all children with an Ambassador then it’s pretty silly to keep nominating the same race over and over. I’d say the same thing about gender if the first two Ambassadors had been male.

  11. ASHLEY BRYAN! I second the motion!

  12. Inspired choices, both. If Linda Sue Park is chosen, the folks participating in SCBWI-WWAs Retreat on the Water 2011 will feel *especially* privileged. Walter Dean Myers is another excellent choice.

    How about Jacqueline Woodson? She has causes – and awards – galore. And talk about someone who sweats charisma, although in a very different way from JS. I heard her speak at SCBWI national conference in New York, with over 1000 people in the room, and there was *only her voice*. (Crap – just checked – her kids are little. Later, maybe?)

  13. Betsy, so I guess if you say the Ambassador should have grown children, you’re giving up on the dream for another about 18 years? 🙂 (I agree with you, though — and that will give you time to build your body of published work, right?)

  14. Camen Agra Deedy. 14 Cows for America; The Library Dragon; The Yellow Star; Martina the Beautuful Cockroach. Maybe not a household name, but a name close to the hearts of teachers and librarians. She’s a storyteller so she is about as personable as she can be. I’ve seen her put big crowds and the squirreliest kiddoes into the palm of her hand. She does a mini Reading-Rainbow-like program for our school district you can check out if you want to see her in action:

    And of course, here’s her site:

  15. Judy Blume would be a perfect pick! How many generations of kids now have grown up with and loved her books? Another author who comes to mind is Louis Sachar, though I don’t know about his causes, his popularity spans a couple of generations of kids.

  16. Illustrators are eligible–how about Jerry Pinkney?

  17. How about Debbie Dadey?

  18. Sarah Wilsman says:

    Mo Willems, Jennifer Holm, Kadir Nelson…

  19. I think Linda Sue Park and Walter Dean Myers would be excellent. I would add David Diaz, Jerry Pinkney, and Ashley Bryan.

  20. I don’t think it’s right to rule out those with young children. If a candidate can’t fulfill the travel requirement (because of childcare responsibilities or any other reason), they can decide not to take the appointment. I don’t think that’s for anyone else to decide.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Well it’s probably a moot point since most of the eligible candidates would have worked in the business long enough to have grown children anyway.

  21. Christopher Paul Curtis, definitely.

    @ Jennifer in GA: You’re not alone. I’ve never been a fan of Blume’s work, though I recognise its importance in the history of children’s literature. But Blume as Ambassador, no.

  22. Sharon Draper would be another good choice. She’s a popular author, a wonderful speaker-does lots of school visits already, and her books span a variety of ages.

  23. Marilyn Nelson for sheer awesomeness of her poetry and personality.

  24. I too am loving the Walter Dean Myers idea!! Mo Willems would be awesome, but with him we’ve got the little-kid travel constraints. (If we actually had any POWER in this decision-making process I’d agree with Katie that of course we shouldn’t count kid-age and/or breeder potential as a factor, especially what with it being illegal and all, but we’re just spitballin’ here). I wouldn’t want to ask Judy Blume to cut back on her excellent work with the National Coalition Against Censorship, so she’s out. To me the most important factor for our candidate is charisma — yes, we want someone who’s a great writer, but the job here is really being a salesperson for reading.

  25. Another vote for WDM here for sure–he’s written it all and I love his chosen audience/speaking engagements. (And good point about the YA connection–let’s get those teens reading!) I like LSP’s work, too, but you’re right–not as well known. I second the suggestions of others for Jerry Pinkney, Jack Gantos. Could we do a couple? The Dillons might be kind of cool and they certainly have a history in the field.

  26. I love Richard Peck’s books and he’s an excellent speaker. His body of work covers a lot of ground too: fantasy/time slip (the Blossom Culp books, Voices After Midnight), historic fiction (Long Way From Chicago, Fair Weather, etc), rape (Are You In the House Alone), racial issues (River Between Us)

    Not sure if Susan Cooper ever decided to obtain US citizenship, but she’d be a great choice. Pity about the citizenship requirement, as Neil Gaiman would do nicely as well…a great speaker, author of both picture books and middle-grade fiction, and a double Newbery/Carnagie winner. E.L. Konigsburg would be an obvious choice, if she wanted to tackle all those duties “on the road”.

    A less obvious choice (nobody have hysterics, please) would be Rick Riordan. The events would be mob scenes, but wouldn’t that be great? Making reading THE IN THING to do?

    Re Judy Blume, have to admit she wasn’t my cup of tea (my Mom died when I was 9, so all her heroines seemed, to me, to be making mountains out of molehills), but have tremendous respect for her outspoken views on censorship .

  27. One other thought….if you’re plumping for a non-white author, how about one of the original US non-white people: a Native American. Sherman Alexie or Joseph Bruchec would fit the bill. I know Alexie has done just the one book for kids, but honestly I don’t think quantity is an acurate measure of contribution to literature (how many books did Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell write?).

  28. I think Jane Yolen should be in the mix here. She’s written across the board, for all ages, and that ability strikes me as important. She’s also written in every genre imaginable–poetry, picture books, folk tales, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, non-fiction. The list goes one. She’d be a great representative.

  29. The list goes “on.” Sheesh!

  30. Linda Urban says:

    After hearing Kevin Henkes speak so beautifully at BEA this year, I hope he’s on the short list.

  31. Has anybody suggested Brian Selznick???

  32. I will second the suggestion of Carmen Agra Deedy! She’s a wonderful speaker and has a passion for libraries. She’s also a native of Havana, Cuba, which fulfills the desire to diversify. Her children are grown, and she travels nationwide already to speak at schools, libraries, and conferences. A perfect fit!