Remembering Walter Dean Myers
Yesterday I was driving home from ALA Annual when news broke out about Walter Dean Myers passing and I was surprised by how much it affected me as I began sobbing in the car.
I have been a YA librarian for 20 years now and Walter Dean Myers has always been a part of that.
Back in 2000, when I applied to be a reviewer for VOYA Magazine, the book I chose to review for my sample review was Monster. I remember turning in my application packet and then months later Monster was chosen as the first ever Michael L. Printz award recipient. I thought to myself, whoa – that’s probably not going to happen for me now because I knew there was no way I had turned in a review to reflect the magnitude of this now award winning book.
Since that time I have gone on to serve in a library now where a majority of my patrons are African American. At that same time Walter Dean Myers went on to become the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He spoke passionately about the need for young people to read, stating that reading is not optional. And it was such a glorious thing to be able to talk to my young patrons about this man and all that he had accomplished.
Serving in these last three years in a library where a majority of my patrons are African-American and Hispanic has really opened my eyes up to the challenges of finding literature where my patrons can see a reflection of themselves in the stories we ask them to read. Working to create and promote diverse collections is harder work than I ever would have imagined, and harder work than it should be given the world that we live in.
And yet there has always been Walter Dean Myers, a reliable constant in my life as a YA librarian. He could be depended on for quality and compassion. He told good stories; he told the stories that we all needed to hear. For me, he gave me a glimpse into lives that were so completely unlike mine and showed me how in the end, we really were all the same – just people looking for a place to call home and people to call family.
Monster was a revelation to me. It took the alternate storytelling that was gaining popularity at the time and showed me what a movie script could look like while simultaneously drawing me into this story of a young boy on trial. I suppose, too, that Monster is such an important book to me personally because it was the book that helped me to become a more active part of my profession and opened the door to reviewing for me.
We lost a great heart and mind in the world of YA literature this week. But the beauty of books is that his words will live on and continue to impact future generations.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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