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An Appreciation for National Ambassador Jon Scieszka

Posted by Jen Robinson on January 4, 2010 at 6:00 AM in Authors and IllustratorsLiteracy News
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Tomorrow, January 5th, the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature will be announced by the Library of Congress. 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.jpgToday, Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading are hosting 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 can't wait to hear who the 2010-2011 selection committee chooses for our next National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He or she will have 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.


Stella writes...

I enjoyed reading this article. It portraits so clearly and beautifully all the amazing contributions by Jon Scieszka to our literacy world.
Thank you!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for the feedback, Stella! It's great to hear from another fan of Jon Scieszka's work.

Terry Doherty writes...

This is a great portrait of Jon and his passion for books, reading, fun, and mixing them all together. Thanks, Jen!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Terry! I look forward to checking out your thoughts, too.

Janelle writes...

Love the photo. I imagine he is a pretty animated guy to meet in person. My toddler son's favorite book right now is Smash! Crash! Oh yeah, and we read it anytime, even at bedtime (first not last)!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Yes, Janelle, Jon Scieszka is definitely animated in person. Pretty much exactly as you'd imagine. He's GREAT with the kids in the audience. My godson and his brother like Smash! Crash! quite a bit, too.

Ann writes...

And congratulations to the wonderful Katherine Paterson, who became the 2010 National Ambassador for Children's Literature. I love that she has chosen "Read for Your Life" as the theme for her platform. Katherine will be fabulous!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

She sure will, Ann. I love "Read for Your Life" as a theme. Can't wait to see what Katherine Paterson accomplishes.

Ms. Yingling writes...

Knucklehead is hysterical. Really, this man should start writing middle grade humorous novels for boys. He is a genius!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

That would be great, Ms. Yingling (if Scieszka wrote humorous middle grade novels for boys). He certainly wouldn't have trouble with the voice!

Jon Scieszka writes...

Thanks for all of that Ambassador Love Jen. Your support makes a lot of this fun possible.

And you and Ms. Yingling are psychic - I'm just now working on a humorous middle grade novel series . . . that also messes around with media literacy.

It's called Spaceheadz. The first book is coming out this summer.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for stopping by Booklights, Jon. I'm thrilled, and I know that Ms. Yingling will be, too, to know that you're working on a humorous middle grade novel series. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for that. I'm sure that you'll reach many dormant readers (not to mention already-avid fans).

You'll always be the first National Ambassador in our hearts.

Mary Lee writes...

Awesome tribute, Jen! I'm so glad he stopped by and saw the important work you do here!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thank you for inspiring the post, Mary Lee!

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