Friday, January 6, 2012

In which I attack the attack on Walter Dean Meyers

I love a good polemic, and this one is delightfully hair-curling, so I hope everyone will pop over and read Alexander Nazaryan explain why Walter Dean Myers will FAIL as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

Of course, I'm a librarian, so maybe my reaction to this opinion piece just shows that it's a good thing I'm not a literature teacher, but I completely disagree with Nazaryan. I mean, I hardly know where to start.

I also don't know much about what the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature is supposed to do exactly, but the title suggests to me that they are supposed to promote young people's literature. And Homer is not young's people's literature.

Also, you can't read Homer all day long. I want my students to become readers, which means to me that reading will be part of their lives in many ways. I want them to read for pleasure as well as enlightenment, and I want them to be able to read the millions of forms and news stories and emails that will fill their lives. And I don't think you have to put down one kind of reading in order to promote another.

Finally, I doubt very much that Walter Dean Myer's mission, as ambassador, is to promote his own literature. I expect he will promote reading and literature in general to many children, and I would argue that he will succeed in an area that Nazaryan and I will undoubtedly fail: in convincing minority kids that reading isn't just for white people. Or old men. Or nerds. Or plucky suburban school girls with adorable quirks who like to read books about butter churns and sleigh rides.

Anyway, the article doesn't even offer an intelligent critique of Dean's writing. It's just an excuse for Nazaryan to talk about his own awesomeness. Way to go, dude. Seriously. He got kids to read and relate to the classics. But why put down other kinds of reading and writing? What I dread much more than the thought that kids will stop reading Homer is that they will assume that all the important books in the world were written hundreds of years ago by dead white men.

* Edited to add: I just went over to the article and posted a comment, and Sarah Flowers, the President of YALSA comments, too! Let the jousting begin!

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