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Children's Literature Gets First Ambassador

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Children's Literature Gets First Ambassador


Children's Literature Gets First Ambassador

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Children's book writer Jon Scieszka is known for his charmingly twisted best-sellers, "The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales" and "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs."

This week, he gained a new title, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He is the first author to get this honor from the Library of Congress.

Mr. Scieszka, Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. JON SCIESZKA (Author; National Ambassador for Young People's Literature): Oh, my pleasure.

SEABROOK: So the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature sounds like a pretty grown up job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: That's a very easy title too. It's just rolls the (unintelligible)…

SEABROOK: What exactly do you do, sir?

Mr. SCIESZKA: I'm just starting. You know what is the best part, I'm the first guy to ever do this, so I got to kind of make it up and like go along.

SEABROOK: Well, you know what's interesting about that is that the Library of Congress could have picked somebody, shall we say, not quite as edgy or maybe weird is the word.

Mr. SCIESZKA: What are you implying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: Like - you're not even implying. You just said it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: No, you know what, In fact, that's part of what really stun me when they called me. I think you've dialed the wrong number. Were you trying to get Katherine Paterson or someone? I'm the guy who wrote "The Stinky Cheese Man" not "The Bridge to Terabithia."

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Are kids reading less? Why do we need an ambassador for young people's literature?

Mr. SCIESZKA: Yeah. In fact, people are realizing kids are reading less. Like all those recent studies, like the NEA study that just came out found without a doubt kids are reading less and getting worse at it. So I've got a chance to connect kids with some really exciting books that might sign of spark them, get them reading again.

SEABROOK: I thought with all the "Harry Potter" stuff, all that hype about the "Harry Potter" books, kids were reading more.

Mr. SCIESZKA: The "Harry Potter" stuff certainly has got a lot of kids reconnected with reading. But I think we struggle from like a bigger overall problem where we're not communicating to kids that you can read for pleasure, you can read for fun. I mean, reading has become this thing that kids have to do in school.


Mr. SCIESZKA: And then answer a bunch of questions.

SEABROOK: So what do you do? How do you fix it?

Mr. SCIESZKA: For one, maybe make a broader definition of what reading really is and let kids read what they enjoy. And I was a teacher for 10 years here in New York, an elementary teacher. And I understand like we really promote fiction. But a lot of kids like nonfiction. Kids like humor. Kids like science fiction. Kids like a lot of motorcycle magazines. Graphic novel is another great area that's just booming. But it's not really seen as reading.

But I think kids actually, in my class, then realized, like, oh, all right. You can like different kinds of books. Miss Alberty(ph) in first grade, she likes different kind of books. Mr. Scieszka, he likes these weird books there.

SEABROOK: That's Ambassador Scieszka to you.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oh, yes. Now, it's Ambassador Scieszka. I can tell them what they'll like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I understand that you don't want to demonize television actually.

Mr. SCIESZKA: I think we've tried that and it didn't work. I even had an experience with my son when he was growing up. I had to go and then beg off and turn off TV week because it was hockey play-offs. He's a hockey player. And I couldn't tell him like we can't watch the play-offs. We can read about it in the newspaper. That's no good. You got to see it. Some things are better on TV.

SEABROOK: Now, all this talking about reading makes me want to actually…

Mr. SCIESZKA: See, it worked, my whole ambassador plan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oh, my God. It's perfect.

SEABROOK: I have in front of me this beautiful book titled "Cowboy and Octopus."

Mr. SCIESZKA: Ah, that's my most recent.

SEABROOK: I read it, very scary, which is the story of Halloween.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oh, it's almost too frightening to read.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: Do you like my scary Halloween costume, says Octopus. What are you, says Cowboy. Octopus says, I am a shark. Oh, yes, says Cowboy, now I see your little shark thingy. Oh, it's not very scary, is it, says Octopus. Cowboy says, nope. I'm going back to my first scary idea, says Octopus. Then you turn the page and you look and you see he's in a very nice little tiara and little dress with a wand. Whoa. What the heck are you, says Cowboy. Octopus says, I am the tooth fairy. Now, that's scary, says Cowboy, very scary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Jon Scieszka, you have a new book coming out this week called "Trucktown." I understand…

Mr. SCIESZKA: Oh, yeah.

SEABROOK: …your motto is move over Thomas the Tank Engine.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Somebody coined that motto, but I love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCIESZKA: It's actually more than a book or a book series. It's going to be 50 books in the next three years.

SEABROOK: What do you mean?

Mr. SCIESZKA: It's crazy. I know. But I'm the ambassador so I can do whatever I want now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Jon Scieszka, I mean, Ambassador Scieszka, thank you so much…


SEABROOK: …for speaking with us.

Mr. SCIESZKA: Yes. It's my pleasure, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Jon Scieszka is the author of "Trucktown," a children's book series to be published next week. He'll be touring the country as the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature of the Library of Congress.

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