On January 7th, 2016, I went to the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., to watch the appointment of Gene Luen Yang as the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. According to the Library of Congress, the Ambassador’s job is 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.” I was excited to be at the ceremony!
“Read without walls, read something you haven’t tried before,” Yang said in his remarks. He is the first-ever Ambassador to write and draw comics and graphic novels. His first book, “American Born Chinese,” won the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award.
After his amazing speech, I went into a huge room filled with books, some of which belonged to former U.S. presidents, to talk with Yang about his career and what he hopes to achieve as Ambassador.
A Life in Books
Yang’s love of drawing began early. He was two years old when he began scribbling pictures. By fifth grade, he was drawing and writing graphic novels, which he printed and sold. Inspired by superhero comics, Yang dreamed of one day being an animator for Disney. In college, he majored in computer programing. This skill came in handy when writing his latest book, the graphic novel “Secret Coders.” He says it will help him write future books, too.
“Computers are a way of drawing,” he explained.
As Ambassador, Yang has three things he wants kids to do: Read a book with a different kind of person in the book or on the cover; read about a new topic; and read a book in a format that’s different from what they are used to. His new program, “Reading Without Walls,” will encourage kids to expand their reading horizons.
Becoming the Ambassador
The Librarian of Congress chooses the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. A committee recommends authors. The selection criteria include a person’s contribution to young people’s literature and his or her ability to relate to children. The ambassador serves a two-year term and is able to travel all around the world helping kids read.
After interviewing Yang, I got to talk to two former ambassadors. The first was Jon Scieszka. He’s the author of many books, including “The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales.” He told me he has loved writing since the third grade. His favorite author is Dr. Seuss.
I also spoke with Kate DiCamillo, author of “Flora & Ulysses.” She told me she has always loved to read. That is a great trait to have in a literature ambassador!
As I left the Library of Congress I gave Mr. Yang a huge congratulations and wished him good luck. It will be fun to watch what he does in the years ahead.