And here he is, this grandpa from the World Before Television, writing world-class books for kids too young to have seen Michael Jordan play basketball.
“I don’t really don’t think I do” keep up with them, he says, his voice still rounded on the edges from a childhood speech impediment. “I don’t put that much slang in the stories. The reading level is rather low in most of them. I’m very straightforward, very simple. Kids get the feel of it, and they think it’s good.”
He’s a tall, lanky man, bespectacled, with salt and pepper hair. His life story and career is too farfetched to be anything but nonfiction, but he doesn’t go on about it. You almost have to lean forward to hear him. He lives in Jersey City with his wife of 45 years, Connie. He has two sons, Michael and Christopher, the latter is an artist who illustrates some of his books. A daughter, Karen, died of AIDS three years ago. It’s a brutal thing, still.
He was in town this month, to be named the nation’s third youth-lit ambassador at the Library of Congress. It’s an unpaid but prestigious post akin to being the poet laureate for the middle-school set. His predecessors are Jon Scieszka, author of merry pratfalls such as “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” and Katherine Paterson, the grand dame of the genre, best known for “Bridge to Terabithia.”
The Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the Children’s Book Council and its foundation, Every Child a Reader, sponsor the position. The gig is to heavily promote children’s literacy. Myers, who appeals most directly to young black readers in urban settings, is already a hit.
“We’re already flooded with requests for him,” says John Y. Cole, director for the Center for the Book.
This is no surprise. He’s a three-time finalist for the National Book Award (for Young People’s Literature category), a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, a two-time Newberry Honor recipient and has a shelf of awards for children’s books.
His métier is neither the world of boy wizards nor that of love-struck teenage vampires. Some of his work is nice picture books, and some of it is poetry, but a lot of the novels might worry parents who see them tucked in their kid’s backpack. “Monster” is about a young man charged with murder. “Dope Sick” is about a kid with a heroin habit. “Autobiography of My Dead Brother” is self-described as being about a neighborhood “plagued by drive-bys, vicious gangs and abusive cops.”