Author Hopes to Rally Publishers to Help Promote Children’s Literacy: A Q&A with Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
Jon Scieszka is on a mission—a mission to get more kids reading.
In January, Scieszka, a veteran author of several best-selling children’s titles, including “The Stinky Cheese Man” and “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” was named the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. Committed to a two-year term in his new role, Scieszka will travel the country and speak as an advocate of youth readership.
The Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) and the CBC Foundation created the new Ambassador position. The initiative is financially supported by a number of major publishers, including Penguin Young Readers Group, Scholastic, HarperCollins Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic Children’s Books, Candlewick Press and Marshall Cavendish Publishers, among others.
Book Business Extra caught up with Scieszka, 53, as he hit the road on a tour to promote his new series of children’s books called “Trucktown.” He spoke about his plans to reach out to publishers, parents and children during his term as the new laureate of children’s literacy.
Book Business Extra: Will you rally publishers to get involved in this initiative?
Scieszka: Absolutely, the publishers are key. I’d like them to play a really huge role. My advantage is that I’ve been writing for the last 20 years, [so] I know all the different people in the industry. … I have to see what I can do to get the word out. It’s my mission to really excite them, and to help parents and children find really cool books. … I’m going to contact the publishers, and [stay] in contact with them on a regular basis to find out what [books are] out there.
Extra: Are publishers doing enough to promote all of their books to parents and children?
Scieszka: That’s one area I think they could do more in. Everyone’s chasing the giant blockbuster. They’re trying to figure out what the next “Harry Potter” is going to be. It does a disservice to a lot of books. You don’t have to have a gigantic hit. You can find a real niche audience. If somebody likes a book about raising purple rabbits, it might not sell in the millions, but kids will love it. I don’t think we have to chase that next “Harry Potter” to be successful.
Extra: Are books able to compete with the other forms of entertainment children have access to?
Scieszka: We’ve got the books that excite the kids. We just have to get them out there to the public. We’re fighting with the strong promotion that the other mediums have—we’re competing with TV, the Internet, computer games. [But] books can bring something that none of those other things can.
Extra: Do you see technology as the enemy?
Scieszka: I’m a real fan of technology. … I don’t want to demonize technology. … Kids have grown up with TV and computers. It’s part of their lives. We need … books to serve a better role in their lives. We have to be there with the great book stories. I think we can [help] kids understand that you can do all of those things together. You can read a book, and then go online.
Extra: Could it be that the [type of] reading that is being done by kids today is not the traditional form we associate with reading? In other words, is the definition of reading changing?
Scieszka: I think that’s directly to the heart of it. I’ve started a literacy group for boys called Guys Read (www.GuysRead.com). The more research I looked into, [the more data I found that] showed that boys are reading. It’s just not how schools define it. It’s not all novels. There are other kinds of reading. We should let kids read what they enjoy. There are graphic novels, and a lot of what kids want to read is nonfiction. …
Extra: At the end of your term, when you look back, what do you hope your impact will have been?
Scieszka: I hope more kids will be readers. …