On Monday, January 4, the Library of Congress (along with the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader) announced a new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature—Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novelist and former high school computer science teacher.
Created in 2008 to highlight the importance of literature and literacy for young people, the position of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature has been held by such amazing authors as Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, the late Walter Dean Myers, and most recently double Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo.
I think this is a really inspired choice on the part of the Library of Congress. Mr. Yang’s work is both epic and intimate—if you haven’t read his Printz Award-winning (and National Book Award finalist) American Born Chinese, I highly recommend putting it on hold immediately. Weaving together three seemingly separate stories, Mr. Yang gives uses the graphic novel format to give readers visceral insights into the challenges and conflicting feelings of those who see themselves or are treated as “other.” Seriously, it’s so well done and so heartrending …
For younger readers, Mr. Yang (and his co-author Mike Holmes) has created a school mystery of puzzles and clues to be solved by students using coding and programming skills in Secret Coders. Fun, silly, and sneakily instructive, this graphic novel is a must read for all the 10 year olds in your life who are into Minecraft.
However, I think my favorite of Mr. Yang’s novels is the double graphic novel set Boxers & Saints. Telling the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China through the perspectives of two very different characters who meet up once as children and again as adults (with shocking consequences), these novels explained history to me in a way I didn’t think possible. A little on the violent side with epic battles between Chinese nationalists and a young girl who sees the ghost of Joan of Arc—but not gratuitously so; Boxers & Saints was a National Book Award Finalist for a reason. Although you could read the novels in any order, I recommend starting with Boxers—it makes the ending of Saints that much more... let’s say poignant.
Mr. Yang is the first graphic novelist to be honored with the ambassador position, and he’ll spend the next two years travelling the country promoting his “Reading Without Walls” platform. I for one cannot wait to reread so many of his excellent (and super fun) books!
Already read all of these and looking to catch up with the rest of Mr. Yang’s work? Search our online catalog for more fun, meaningful, and colorful titles.
For more information about the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, check out the Library of Congress press release.