Reading Without Walls
Gene Luen Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 2006, his graphic novel, American Born Chinese — a memoir about growing up as an Asian American — became the first graphic novel to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. He is the author of the Secret Coders series and has written for the hit comics Avatar: The Last Airbender and Superman. In 2016, Yang was named the 5th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Visit Gene Yang's official website.
The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature raises awareness of the importance of young people's literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people. The initiative is sponsored by The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader.
Gene sits down with award-winning YA author Jason Reynolds. They talk about the unusual story structure in All American Boys, the inspiration for the book, and how writing it emerged from a deep friendship (full of “uncomfortable, healthy conversations”) with his co-author, Brendan Kiely. With his book Ghost, Reynolds wanted to explore the whole concept of “running” — and what it means to run toward, or run away, from something.
Reynolds didn’t read his first book (Richard Wright’s Black Boy) until he was 17 years old. But he soaked up words and their power and beauty through rap lyrics, inspiring him to begin writing poetry. Reynolds also talks about the books and authors he wished he had read as a young teenager. There's lots more to hear in this lively conversation between two writers — listen in!
Books by Jason Reynolds
American-born Chinese Gene Yang sits down with Chinese-born American Katherine Paterson to talk about the books that most influenced them as readers and writers. Paterson — the child of Christian missionaries — spent her early years in Huai'an and Shanghai. Her first language was Chinese, but the books that she remembers most vividly from her childhood were the works of British writers such as A.A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Paterson also talks about her beloved book, Bridge to Terabithia, and how writing that story helped her make sense of death — and it’s had the same impact on young readers. Her advice to young writers? Read, read, read.
To learn even more about Katherine Paterson, watch our video interview and browse a selected list of Paterson's books.
Gene sat down with the new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Dr. Hayden talks with Gene about her life in libraries, starting from when she was a young girl. She shares some of the surprises she's discovering at the Library of Congress. Did you know that the Library has more than 162 million (yep, million) items in its collection? Among those items: the world's largest collection of comic books!
Gene sits down with writer Patrick Ness — author of the award-winning middle grade book, A Monster Calls, the popular YA science fiction trilogy Chaos Walking, and the YA book The Rest of Us Just Live Here, a story about finding the extraordinary in your ordinary self. Ness says that "all writers are noticers" and that stories should reflect the diversity of the world around us. He advises kids to "reach up" and read books that are difficult or filled with ideas that may be beyond your understanding, because storytelling helps us make sense of the world. Find out why Richard Scarry's Storybook Dictionary, The Westing Game, and The Color Purple made such a deep impression on him as a young reader, how writing a book is different from collaborating on a book-to-movie, and much more. Listen in!
I had the absolute lifetime honor of speaking with the legendary Lois Lowry for this episode of Reading Without Walls. The Newbery Award-winning author of The Giver tells us how her quiet childhood helped her become a writer, about her career as a professional photographer, and how she feels about the movie adaptations of her books. And she has advice for aspiring young writers. I hope you'll make time to watch!
Gene and his good friend and creative collaborator, Thien Pham (Level Up), just started a book club, inspired by their newfound love of YA romance novels. In their first book club get-together, they talk about Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, a love story of two young people from different worlds. Are Eleanor and Park are too young for "true love"? Would their relationship be different today (the book is set in the 80's)? What are the three words Eleanor writes on the postcard to Park at the very end of the book?
Gene and Thien also share their secrets for getting into a new book if you are a slow reader. Thien, for example, says he likes to cast a story's characters for the movie version. They both debate the merits of audiobooks.
Bonus for all book club listeners: enter a chance to win a copy of Eleanor and Park with fan art from Gene and Thien (entry deadline: October 7, 2016). See the video for details.
So grab your snacks, take a seat, and listen in!
In this episode, Gene talks to authors and comic book characters about their favorite children's books. See if any of your childhood favorites are mentioned!
Featured interviews include:
- Jenny and Matt Holm (Sunny Side Up)
- Avatar Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
- Hank Green (Vlogger, SciShow)
- Green Arrow and Arsenal (DC Comics)
- Sherri Smith (Flygirl, Orleans)
- Jubilee (X-Men, Marvel Comics)
- Noelle Stevenson (Nimona)
- The Juggernaut (X-Men, Marvel Comics)
- G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel)
Welcome Raina Telgemeier, author and illustrator of the graphic novels Smile, Sisters, and Drama (all New York Times bestsellers). In this episode, Raina discusses discovering her reading super power, keeping a comic diary, the surealism of being the "Real Raina," and how her graphic novels created a whole new book genre.
Raina's next graphic novel, Ghosts, will be released in the fall of 2016.
The amazing cartoonist Hope Larson joins me for this episode of Reading Without Walls. She tells us about writing the next run of Batgirl, when Batgirl goes backpacking through Asia. And she talks about her love of adventure comics, like The Adventures of Tintin. Hope you'll take a look!
In my third podcast, I'm sitting down with author Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Kavalier and Clay, a novel for adults. Chabon has also written books for kids — including The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man (a picture book) and the middle-grade novel Summerland. In our conversation, he talks about his lifelong love of epic fantasy books and more. Grab a seat and listen in!
In my second podcast, I'm here with my good friend and collaborator, Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories). Together we created The Eternal Smile, three short stories that explore the theme of fantasy vs. reality.
Derek is a writer, artist, and filmmaker — and the lead character designer on Adventure Time, an animated television series broadcast on the Cartoon Network. Listen in to our chat!
The post of National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature was created in 2008, and the whole point is to get more kids reading and kids reading more. Every ambassador has a platform! My platform is Reading Without Walls. I want kids to explore the world through books, to read outside of their comfort zones. Specifically, I want them — and you — to do one of three things:
1. Read a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Books are a great way to get to know people who are different from us. By reading other people’s stories, we can develop insight and compassion.
2. Read a book about a topic that you find intimidating. My pet project in this area is promoting books about science, technology, engineering, and math. Often, people think of stories and science as completely separate, but they’re not. Stories are a great way to learn science.
3. Read a book in a format that you’ve never tried before. If you only read books with words, give a graphic novel a try. If you only read graphic novels, try a prose novel, a novel in verse, or a hybrid (half graphic, half prose) novel.
Join me for my Reading Without Walls video podcast series where I get the chance to share awesome interviews with children’s book authors and other interesting people that I meet during my travels as ambassador. In my first podcast, I'm sitting down with the former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Kate DiCamillo. Listen in!
Chatting with Kate DiCamillo