Juvenile book author Walter Dean Myers writes stories troubled teens can identify with. He knows their world because he once was one of them.
Natural Expressions N.Y.
When Walter Dean Myers was researching "Monster," his book about a teenager in juvenile detention, he conducted interviews with everyone from teen inmates to prison guards. But it was his conversation with a defense lawyer that really resonated.
"He said the most difficult part of his job was to humanize his [teenage] client in the eyes of the jury," Mr. Myers says. "And I realized, it's the same for me."
Today Myers is traveling the country as the 2012 Library of Congress national ambassador for young people's literature, promoting literacy and starting candid conversations about what he describes as "a real crisis": More and more kids – especially those from poor and minority families – can't read.
He encourages adults to become mentors and parents and others to read to children. But his books exemplify another important idea: To get kids and teens reading, create characters they can identify with.
"These kids are looking for welcoming stories," Myers says. "But when they read a book, so often it's not about their lives. If what I read doesn't reflect my life – whether I'm gay or Latino or on welfare – doesn't that really mean that my life is not valuable?"
Tall and casually dressed in light jeans and an untucked, green-collared shirt, Myers sits in a large leather chair at his home in New Jersey. Three large, wooden bookshelves take over the office wall behind him. He frequently pushes himself out of his seat to walk across the room and pull one of his many books off the shelf.
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