On 8 January 2008, Jon Scieszka began his two-year term as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. In a mid-December 2009 article published in the Huffington Post, he talked about his tenure as Ambassador. In his inimitable style, Mr. Ambassador offered reflection and poignant humor … all the while getting out his message: let them read.
Tomorrow, the Librarian of Congress James Billington will announce the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Today – thanks to the initiative of Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading – we are celebrating all things Scieszka.
To be honest, before his ambassadorship, I wasn’t familiar with Jon Scieszka the author. I know, I know, it verges on communism. What I knew – and loved him for – was his Guys Read initiative. It wasn’t long after I started doing research for the Reading Tub in June 2002 that I discovered Guys Read. [This is a link to the September 2002 version of the website.]
I have a HUGE soft spot for dormant readers, especially boys, so when I discovered that someone famous (to everyone else) created such a robust effort, I was quite excited. The original Guys Read was great, but the new website offers dynamic, engaging content that is a virtual complement to its creator’s personality.
He doesn’t just spread a message, he connects with kids. Is it because he was an elementary school teacher? Maybe, but it’s more than that. He reads what they read and he shares their sense of humor. Watching him work is like watching Tom Hanks in The Polar Express … whether you want to or not, you’re coming along for the ride.
The first time I got to hear Ambassador Scieszka was when he was the emcee for the Children’s Book and Author Breakfast at Book Expo America 2008. At that point, Jon had only been ambassador for about five months, so he opened by telling us about the stuff – real and imagined – he was entitled to as ambassador. As the event continued, he talked about his own books; and it wasn’t until he mentioned The Stinky Cheese Man that the light bulb went on. [Yes, I can be slow … it’s my inner blonde.]
The first man Catherine fell in love with (after her father) was the Stinky Cheese Man. We have an anthology of children’s picture books, and Stinky Cheese Man is sandwiched among Bedtime for Frances; The Story of Babar; “In Which Pooh Goes Visiting and Gets Into a Tight Place,” from Winnie-the-Pooh; and the Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree. These others were all beloved characters, so it was only natural that Catherine would find the Stinky Cheese Man in the neighborhood. Three years later, we still read the story every couple weeks!
Having seen Mr. Ambassador in action, and seeing how he pours his heart into getting the message of reading to boys in person and on the web, I am in awe of everything he does to encourage new readers. Tonight, we’ll pull out The Stinky Cheese Man to raise a bookish toast.
Two years ago, Jon Scieszka was an obscure celebrity to me. Today, I count myself among his fans.
Thank you Mr. Ambassador! You’ve cobbled an incredibly huge pair of shoes to fill!
photo credits: Images from Jon Scieszka’s Fan Page on Facebook.
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