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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.

The Walter Dean Myers Award: talent and diversity recognized

January 22, 2019

Walter Dean Myers was so much more than an award-winning author.  He was a mentor, spokesperson, and friend to many and a trendsetter in children’s and young adult literature.

In his role as the country’s third National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Walter traveled around the country with an ambassadorial theme: “Reading is not optional.” Not in a democracy, not in the diverse world, not if we want thinking people.

Walter passed away in 2014, leaving behind not only over 100 books — many of which have become modern classics. In a 2014 New York Times opinion piece Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?, Myers talks about discovering a short story by James: “I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me periossion that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write my own Landscape, my own map.”

Soon after Walter’s death, the potent grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) started the Walter Dean Myers Award — also known as The Walter. The mission of the award echoes the organization’s mission. The Walter defines diversity as "including (but not limited to) a person of color, Native American, LGTBQIA, a person with disability, and/or a member of a marginalized religious or cultural minority in the United States.”

And while statistics regarding these underrepresented people, publishing has improved since Myers's article was published in 2014.

This year’s winning and honor books represent a range of topics, styles, genre, and themes — all by diverse authors about diverse subjects. Equally important, each title is well-written and sure to touch readers of all backgrounds.

2019 Walter Award, Teen (for readers 13-18)

The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo
(HarperTeen/HarperCollins)

 

2019 Walter Honors, Teen (for readers 13-18)

Monday’s Not Coming

by Tiffany Jackson
(Katherine Tegen/Harper)


The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X.R. Pan
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette)

 

 

2019 Walter Award, Younger Readers (for readers 9-13)

Ghost Boys

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette)

 

 

2019 Walter Honors, Younger Readers (for readers 9-13)

They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems

by David Bowles
(Cinco Puntos Press)


The Night Diary

by Veera Hiranandani
(Kokila/Penguin Random House)

 

 

 

 

Each of these titles is sure to expand readers’ views, develop empathy, and introduce readers to differences as well as similarities.

I think Walter Dean Myers would be proud. He was an amazing author and a friend. He is deeply missed, but his name will live on in his words and his books.

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"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader." — Margaret Fuller