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Walter Dean Myers writes books troubled teens can relate to

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The author of 104 children's and young adult books, Myers doesn't write your average teen drama. Prom queen characters are replaced by high school dropouts or young soldiers, vampires by children growing up in single-parent homes.

"With my writing, what I want to do is humanize the young people I write about," Myers says. There are 2 million kids in the United States who live below the poverty line, and 5 million who have had someone in their family go to jail.

Kids and teens from troubled backgrounds look for characters like themselves in books, Myers says. They "want to read these stories, because they want to know they're going to be OK," he says.

Myers knows the audience he wants to reach: He was once a part of it. Growing up as a foster child in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, Myers dropped out of high school at age 17 and joined the Army. An uncle was killed when Myers was still a teen, which set off a series of heartbreaking events in his foster home, which included adults who dealt with alcoholism and depression. "My family disintegrated," Myers says.

But when he felt overwhelmed by problems at home or in his neighborhood, Myers says, "I could turn to books. I could move myself away."

He always liked to write, and teachers told him he was bright. Three years after joining the Army he started writing for magazines. It was "a small hobby," he says, writing after work and taking workshops. He got into writing for young people, in part, because it gave him an opportunity to explore what he had gone through as a teen.

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