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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.

A tradition worth keeping

January 13, 2014

How long does it take for tradition to take hold? I'm not sure there's an easy answer but a fairly recent program seems to have caught on and I hope becomes a tradition that lasts for generations.

The fourth National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was announced and celebrated last week. Kate DiCamillo followed Walter Dean Myers, who succeeded Katherine Paterson, who was installed after the first-ever ambassador, Jon Scieszka.

Each ambassador has a lot in common: each is an award-winning author whose work resonates with readers of all ages. Equally important, each is a passionate spokesperson for the power of reading, story and books.

Kate DiCamillo's ambassadorship will focus on how "stories connect us," a brilliant follow-up to Walter Dean Myers' platform that declared "reading is not optional."

Reading truly is not optional and stories do indeed connect us. Why must we be reminded so often then? Learning to read takes time — years in fact; becoming a lifelong learner doesn't happen as quickly as a daily news cycle. Unfortunately, we as a nation have a short attention span.

But that's the beauty of this program. It allows us to continue our focus. After all, a new ambassador every two years brings a unique way to articulate the message, a fresh style and a batch of different stories (almost like a new generation of kids). Add to that a shared passion for the power, importance and pleasure of reading and a wonderful tradition is born.

Kate DiCamillo writes books that are sometimes fanciful, sometimes humorous, often with animal characters (including a heroic mouse named Despereaux; a squirrel with superpowers called Ulysses; and Winn Dixie, a regular dog with a supermarket name who brings a community together). Each of DiCamillo's books has a core emotional truth revealed memorably.

She is becoming part of a tradition now: that of National Ambassadors who travel the country to inspire young readers and focus on the importance of reading and literature. The tradition and our new Ambassador rock. It's going to be a terrific term!

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