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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Loss of a friend

July 10, 2014

Walter Dean Myers

I've been away for a while. The family vacation was without Internet access or even phone service. When I was reconnected, I was deeply saddened by news that one of the true giants of contemporary children's and young adult literature had died.

Walter Dean Myers was a prolific, award-winning and highly regarded author and through his work was a passionate advocate for children and youth.

Walter added short, jaunty poems to images from his collection of old photographs of African American children in Brown Angels. In doing so, unnamed children were celebrated and could be celebrated by others of any background.

Fallen Angels, the story of a young soldier fighting in Vietnam, is for a very different audience. This timeless novel for adults and young adults explores themes of comradery and what survival really means.

There are too many titles — over 100 — to name each individually. Fallen Angels and Brown Angels were two of my son's favorites at different times. Nick got to meet Mr. Myers on several occasions; most recently when he was inaugurated as National Ambassador.

Walter has written about inner-city kids and teens having fun, sharing good and tenuous times; some are tough topics such as war and felony murder, others much lighter. He's written an unforgettable memoir, biographies about well and little known people, poetry for different age readers, and picture books for all ages. Each book written by Walter demonstrates a deep understanding and abiding respect for readers.

Above all, Walter was a compelling advocate for the importance of reading and for diversity in literature though the appeal is universal. His platform as the third National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was straightforward: "Reading is not optional." He believed it because he lived it. He affected the young people who he came in contact with — in libraries, bookstores or in prisons, in person or through his books.

A friend of mine said that there are some people, like Walter, who can't be thought of in the past tense. I agree that Walter Dean Myers is one of them. He'll continue to live in the present through his books — and in the lives he touched.

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"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark." — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables