I just came back from the inauguration of Jacqueline Woodson as the sixth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress. The National Ambassador program — co-sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader — was created in 2008 to “raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to literacy, education and the betterment of the lives of young people.”
Ms. Woodson rightfully joins a veritable Who’s Who of children’s and young adult authors who have served in this capacity, each with their own genius and their own unique focus. Each ambassador builds on the work of those before them, striving to encourage reading widely in many formats.
Pictured, left to right: Jon Scieszka, Jacqueline Woodson, Gene Yang, and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
Woodson spoke about her platform, “READING = HOPE x CHANGE” further challenging readers (and potential writers) to consider “What’s Your Equation?” It seems a fitting follow-up to Yang’s call for Reading Without Walls . Yang was at the Library of Congress to place the ambassadorial medal on his successor, as was the inaugural ambassador, Jon Scieszka.
What Woodson reminded the audience of adults and young people is that we live in an era of tremendous possibility. Although it may sometimes feel that we’re divided, books and reading can open conversations that may be tough, that may be uncomfortable — but are oh-so-necessary! Reading offers hope as readers explore ideas, experience different times and places; they can find characters in which readers can see themselves, with whom they empathize.
When asked by a middle schooler what characters she most saw herself in, Woodson answered it was Cassie in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. She saw herself in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, not because she lived that long ago or had comparable experiences to Francie, but because Woodson also lives in Brooklyn. She also saw possibilities for herself in women writers of color like Mildred Taylor, Nikki Giovanni, and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Reading does amount to an exploration of hope. Hope changes attitude. Attitude translates to action. Action equals change.
READING = HOPE x CHANGE.; So, what’s your equation?
Woodson’s inauguration as the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
(Video produced by the Library of Congress)