Meg Medina, author of the award-winning Merci Suárez series, was named the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature on Wednesday.
Medina’s home did not have a lot of books, she said, but her mom, aunts and grandmother often told stories about Cuba, a country they fled in the early 1960s.
“They just filled my mind with stories that had the double benefit of just helping them remember their stories and their lives and helping me understand my culture,” Medina, 59, told KidsPost from her home in Richmond, Virginia.
Medina’s theme for her ambassadorship is “Cuéntame: Let’s Talk Books.” The Spanish expression “Cuéntame” is something you might say when greeting a friend you have not seen in a long time, Medina said. It is like saying “What’s going on?” but it translates literally to “story me.”
“It reminded me about how kids think about books and the stories they tell each other,” Medina said. She wants to help kids think about reading not as a school subject but “as a way that they connect with each other and a way that they find their passion.” She wants to help them choose books and talk more about books.
“Up the book love,” she said. “That is the goal.”
School visits will be part of the plan, but there will also be ways to connect online. One idea she has is for one-minute reading tips. Some activities may be bilingual. “I think you can look forward to me speaking to kids whose primarily language is Spanish,” said Medina, who grew up speaking Spanish and English.
The first event is a kickoff January 24 at the Library of Congress in Washington, which will stream the event on its YouTube channel. Medina will continue writing during her ambassadorship. She is working on a middle-grade fantasy, a change of pace from her three Merci Suárez books. (The first in that series won the 2019 Newbery Medal, the highest honor in children’s literature.) She also has a nonfiction book about librarian and storyteller Pura Belpré publishing in the fall.
Balancing her writing and the new job will not be easy, she admits. Medina said she has spoken with Jason Reynolds, the most recent of seven former ambassadors, including Jacqueline Woodson, Gene Luen Yang and Kate DiCamillo. She and Reynolds talked about the responsibility that goes along with the honor.
“It is about how to be useful to the community,” Medina said. “I am part of this gigantic reading community. You can take things from a community, but you have to give back.”