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US Children's Literature Gets National Ambassador


Surveys show a decline in children's reading - particularly for pleasure - in the United States and this has publishers, educators, librarians and even the U.S. government concerned. In an effort to motivate kids and get them excited about reading, a first-ever National Ambassador for Young People's Literature was appointed Thursday. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

Jon Scieszka, previously an elementary school teacher and now a bestselling children's book author with over 25 titles, has been given a title of his own. For the next two years, he will be the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. The U.S. Library of Congress and the Children's Book Council, a nonprofit trade association for children's book publishers, recently created the position to help promote literacy and the joy of reading in young people.

John Cole of the Library of Congress was in New York, the center of the U.S. publishing industry, to announce the appointment of the first ambassador. He said that as different forms of entertainment compete for their attention, children are reading less and he is concerned with the falling numbers.

"It gets severely worse as kids hit about the fourth grade and fifth grade, and that's where we're really talking about this as an ambassador for young people's literature because part of this is to take that initial enthusiasm and to continue it," he noted.

Cole says promoting reading among young people is pertinent to the health and creativity of a democratic society and he wants to give kids more options and motivate them to become life-long readers. He says literacy advocate Scieszka, whose bestsellers include The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, has a gift for inspiring children.

Cole says Scieszka is not only committed to children's literacy through his writing and outreach programs, but that the author is funny, charismatic and really does get the kids to listen to him.

Scieszka himself says that young people have to be reminded that reading is fun and can be an interactive, enjoyable experience, not a chore.

"What I'm going to try and do is bring back that real excitement about reading to counteract all this testing stuff that is going on because I see that everywhere and it's just sucking the life out of reading," he added. "Kids see books as an assignment."

Scieszka will travel the nation speaking to parents, teachers, and the media, as well as attend events at book fairs, publishing houses, libraries and nonprofit centers. But his main job as ambassador will be to engage the children - something he did rather well at the New York City library where his appointment was announced.

"So the moral of the story is: Just because you have a lot of stuff, don't think you're so special. All right, that's pretty much what I'm going to do for the next two years," he said.

Judging from the reaction of these New York schoolchildren, and adults, he's off to a good start.

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