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Jon Scieszka: Great Ambassador for Kid Lit…or Greatest?

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“Do you know why you’re here?” Children’s Book Council executive director Robin Adelson asked the kids gathered around the New York Public Library‘s Mulberry Street branch Thursday morning. “Nooo!” chimed the class from PS 124, while the students from the Solomon Schechter School of Manhttan shouted “Yes!” Adelson explained to the children that they were about to meet the first ever national ambassador for young people’s literature, someone who would talk about “how books can be an fun, amazing part of your life… who will encourage you to find the kind of books that are exciting for you.” But, first, John Cole from the Library of Congress‘s Center for the Book had a few more introductory remarks to make…and you should have seen the kids’ eyes light up when Cole started revealing who their special guest was; as soon as he mentioned The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, the room was abuzz with youthful excitement. (The adults knew what was coming, because we’d seen Motoko Rich‘s NYT story that mroning, along with Bob Thompson‘s WaPo version.)

And then Jon Scieszka made his appearance. “Don’t you love sitting on the floor while adults keep talking and talking?” he joked, before reading two of his short-short stories, “The Really Ugly Duckling” and “Duck-Billed Platypus Vs. Beef Snack Stick,” after which he declared, “Okay, that’s pretty much what I’m going to do for the next two years!” He also answered questions from the children about being a writer (“I get to work at home,” said the former schoolteacher, “and I don’t have to eat school lunches”) and how many books he’d written (“um, 432, but a lot of them I threw into the closet”).


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John Cole, Robin Adelson, and Jon Scieszka with Manhattan schoolkids

Afterwards, as the kids scrambled to get their pre-signed books and cookies, I caught up with Scieszka (“Do we have to call you Mister Ambassador now?” “Yes, and I get to wear a cape and a sash!”) and chatted briefly about his new position. “It’s a great chance to connect with people outside of our business,” he said, having explained earlier that “most people don’t know how many crazy, weird books there are for them.” He added that he would be focusing much of his attention on reaching out to “reluctant readers,” including the boys he’d been trying to engage through his Guys Read program. “I’m here to say to you, read what you like,” he emphasized. “And if you don’t like it, stop. Try something else.”

(How would all this advocacy affect his writing, I wondered, knowing that he was about to launch a 52-book series of “Trucktown” children’s books at Simon & Schuster? He felt comfortable integrating his new duties into his already heavy promotional schedule, including appearances for Children’s Book Week and the National Book Festival.)

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