Voice & Viewpoint
He made his first connection to reading at 17, with Richard Wright’s Black Boy. “What lit me up about it was that, …. right from page two, we were right in the midst of the drama.” Then, he said, it became an “obsession with completion.”
Those are the words of Jason Reynolds from a recent interview on the CBS This Morning show where he talked about his recent two-year appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2020-2021. In mid January, the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, along with the Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader appointed Reynolds as part of their efforts to promote youth reading awareness and literacy across the country.
The author of thirteen books, Reynolds has earned a host of impressive literary awards including a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and multiple Coretta Scott King Award honors. His popular platform, “GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story,” is one part of an engaging presence that is inspiring youth all across the U.S.
“I’m choosing to focus on rural and small town America, because I can’t claim to love children if I only love some of them,” he said. “Sometimes, we overlook the kids in Iowa, the kids in Nebraska and small town Alabama, and upstate New York. My job is to make sure that I go there and interact with them.”
In October 2019, The Department of Education released national reading assessments for the nation’s fourth and eight graders. The news wasn’t good. Nearly half of all states saw test scores decline, and two out of three students were reading below grade level proficiency.
But Reynolds is hopeful.
“Statistics don’t tell whole truths,” he said in the CBS interview. “I’m on the ground everyday all over this country and what I’m seeing is tons of young people getting more and more excited about reading.”
There is a “currency in ‘cool’,” he pointed out. “Right now, there are a lot of kids that really believe, depending upon the book, that reading is cool. We saw it happen with Harry Potter, we saw it with Angie Stone’s The Hate You Give. So, I believe that it’s all about making sure that we’re giving them the thing that they want and need and then showing up for them to make it real.”
Reading, he said, helped him navigate his internal and external world. “It showed me who I was. But more than all those things, it gave me soft skills that I used to manage my life. In order to read anything, we have to have discipline, patience, concentration, and listening skills to listen to yourself to then synthesize that information. Those are the same skills to manage a job, a relationship and to do well in school.” Reynolds appears well suited to his role as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2020-2021.