The New National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature: Who’s It Gonna Be?
There must be a psychological disorder associated with an extreme preference for speculation over cold hard facts. Or, at the very least, a layman’s term for it. But until I research this fully, let us indulge my proclivities and talk a little about the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and all that it entails. Which is to say, who’s the next one gonna be?
As you may know, the position originated with Jon Scieszka who wore his bedazzled sash like a veritable king (and earned great and very silly acclaim in situations like this one). Sciezka, after serving his two-year term, was succeeded by Katherine Paterson who, in turn, was succeeded by Walter Dean Myers.
Two years ago, on September 15, 2011, I wrote a post called Who Should Be the Next National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature in which I proceeded to nail it. Oh, the nailing of it that was done! I so rarely score well with my predictions that the appointment of Myers quite went to my head. I am giddy, nay drunk, with success. Which brings us to today.
Within the next week or two, a mysterious cabal of children’s literature enthusiasts will gather to determine our next Ambassador. And though the requirements are as free and breezy as the wind, there are certain attributes that will make one person preferable over another. These would include (and they have not changed much since the last time I discussed this position):
– The Ambassador must be a household name to people who are not necessarily children’s librarians, booksellers, etc. I’ve added this requirement and I think it sticks. When they choose an Ambassador they like it when they can tell NPR or The New York Times or what have you that the person wrote [enter famous book here]. This is not a hard and fast requirement and I’m sure they could bend it for an overqualified candidate, but I suspect that in the back of the nominating committee’s mind, the idea is there.
– The Ambassador must have grown children if they have any children at all. An Ambassador zips around the country/world doing good work. If they have kids that need them at home they’re not going to be able to fulfill their Ambassadorial duties to the full.
– The Ambassador must be personable. An Ambassador who doesn’t know how to speak to a large group and, on some level, enthrall, is not going to qualify for this job. You need someone who can command a room.
– The Ambassador should have a cause that he/she promotes that is not him/her own self. Not that they won’t be able to promote their own stuff. In fact, it helps if they’re still writing. The Ambassador is able to promote their latest works essentially for free when they have this gig. That’s no small potatoes, but they also need to have something they believe in. Hence, Scieszka getting boys to continue reading, Paterson as the vice president of the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance, and Myers has basically been an advocate for innumerable causes for the last few decades of his life (great PBS bit on him here).
So. With all these in mind, who’s it gonna be?
Looking at the pattern we’ve had a boy, a girl, and a boy. That means the odds are good that the choice is going to swing to the “girl” side again. Even more so when you consider that potential female Ambassadors are easier to find than male (insofar as I can tell it’s Richard Peck or nothing). Look at the sheer range of women and two names spring immediately to mind. Therefore my top two choices are:
Judy Blume – You can just tick off the requirements one by one with Judy. Is she a household name? As I figure it, if Saturday Night Live does a skit based on your novels and starring John Malkovich, you are officially the biggest American name in children’s literature. That’s where the bar falls. Does she have grown children? Yes and she makes movies with them. Is she personable? Baby, you haven’t been charmed till you’ve been charmed by the Blume. She’s dangerously close to garnering enough love that folks create a religion in her name (Blumeism . . . oh, you know it’s gonna happen). As for the cause, can you think of anyone else who is as close to a poster child for anti-censorship as Ms. Blume? And we haven’t had an anti-censorship ambassador yet. It’s perfect! The only thing that keeps her from being my #1 choice is the fact that the woman is terribly busy. She doesn’t slow down. As such, while they might ask her to be Ambassador (and, indeed, I suspect they may have already done so in the past) I don’t know that she’d necessarily take it. That leaves . . .
Lois Lowry – The timing, in this case, is perfect. Why? Because not only does she continue to write and talk in public to an amazing degree, but some time in the next two years we’ll see the release of the movie version of The Giver (starring Alexander Skarsgård, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bridges with a 24-year-old Jonas but that’s neither here nor there). It’s a little too perfect. Once the movie is released, Lowry will be asked to speak all the time anyway, and that in turn will shine a bright light on the Ambassadorship and whatever causes she’d most like to promote. The stars align perfectly for Ms. Lowry. She’s a great age, lots of personality and stamina, blue eyes that can pierce you to your soul, and if she wasn’t a household name before she certainly will be soon. So with much consideration I’m putting my money on Ms. Lowry. Could well be that I’m wrong and we end up with a Jacqueline Woodson or Linda Sue Park (which I would love). We shall see what we shall see. Exciting!
So who’s your top pick?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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