I am so thrilled that Walter Dean Myers is our current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and that his focus is how reading will affect your life – telling parents that it is vital to sit down and read to their children every day. It will make a difference in their lives. What an obvious and yet necessary thing to convey to kids and parents. Reading is important.
I was a fairly new writer or at least new to accepting the label of “writer” to myself when I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak back in 2007. It was also the first time I had attended the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. I was a happy, glowing sponge, soaking up the atmosphere of so many people talking in a language that I understood – who understood me. I felt for the first time that I had found where I belonged. These were my people!
Mr. Myers’s Keynote address was called “A Passion for Details” and in his talk, he said the thing that made one writer more successful than another was the details.
“You need to recognize the details as the truth.”
You know you have accomplished this when the reader walks away from the story and can think about it further knowing what the character is doing beyond the story itself – how his life will progress beyond the ending. He also said that the internal landscape of the character is much more important than the physical attributes. You should understand the details that comprise your characters so readers can recreate them in their own minds.
He went on to say that every story is about a character with a problem. We have to know enough about that character to make his life interesting to us and we have to be able to create his problem in our minds. Why is that person’s life important? Give us the details.
In his one of his latest books, Lockdown, Myers does just that. He puts us right into the mind of Reese, a 14 year-old kid struggling in Progress juvenile detention after stealing prescription pads to help his family with money problems. Reese is trying to follow the rules to get an early release and get back home to take care of his younger siblings left at home with his drug-addicted mother. With guards that turn the other way when bad things happen and old men who think you’re going to steal from them just because of the color of your skin, Reese gets pushed to the brink every day. But Reese can’t just sit by when his friend Toon gets jumped. He risks his freedom and his future to do what he thinks is right.
Myers pulls you inside this dreary world and makes you feel what life is like, being misunderstood, being neglected, ignored, and having no one to count on but yourself. You care for Reese and want to scream at the people not helping him and not seeing what he’s going through and you hope that he can rise above his circumstances and somehow things will turn out all right. Any book that can illicit that much emotion from me is stupendous and well worth the read. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.
To learn more about Walter Dean Myers and his other books, visit his website.