On July 2, the world lost a visionary, revolutionary, and influential member of the YA community: Walter Dean Myers (1994 Edwards Award). His death at 76 has affected the whole field, but more importantly, his body of work impacted all who read his books.
Some Hub bloggers have fond memories of reading or teaching his books:
I really liked Lockdown (2011 YALSA Quick Pick) by Walter Dean Myers. It’s a good book for a guy reluctant reader (the language and tone are simple and straightforward), especially one who romanticizes a life of crime. The book’s greatest strength is its unblinking look at how hard it can be to get back on the right track once you have a record and not much hope of a better life on the outside…even if you’re only in juvie. I really liked this quote: “Every time [the other inmates] see somebody who looks like he might break the cycle and do something with his life, they want to pull him back in. Especially if you look like them, if you come from the same environment they come from. If you turn your life around, you’re putting the blame on them for not turning theirs around.”
I remember reading The Glory Field and Fallen Angels (1989 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 1998 Popular Paperbacks, Quick Picks) when I was younger. I was so inspired by the complexity of the stories and being surprised that they were written for my age group. These two titles awakened my need to read books that make you think long after you close the cover. Thank you, Mr. Myers.
When I read (actually, listened to) Monster (2000 Printz Award, 2000 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000 YALSA Quick Pick) during library school, it was an eye-opening experience. I’ve since thought back to that book when a good friend was charged with a crime. People are so multi-faceted that any crime committed is going to have many angles–but the media (and people with a particular agenda) often don’t want us to examine all the angles. I think showing us different angles of the human experience was one of Mr. Myers’ gifts.
While I can appreciate many of Myers’ books, the one that spoke to me most when I was young was Brown Angels (ALSC Notable Book), his collection of poems set to accompany vintage photographs. It was a simple idea, but what made it fresh and validating was that all the children were black or brown, and instead of being posed-for, retouched, shopping mall photo studio portraits, the children in them look real, messy, diverse, and alive. And the poems are just beautiful. I also loved At Her Majesty’s Request, which shone a light on an unknown African princess who was received at Queen Victoria’s court.
Walter Dean Myers’ novel Scorpions transformed my understanding of what it means to grow up in a poor, urban neighborhood. The story focuses on twelve-year-old Jamal, who lives in Harlem with his mother and younger sister. His older brother, Randy, is in prison, but still trying mastermind his gang, the Scorpions. Jamal wants nothing to do with the Scorpions, but he gets thrust forward as the possible leader in Randy’s absence. He starts to carry a gun. From the outside, Jamal appears to be headed for violence, crime, and a prison stay of his own.
But this story is not about a gang-banger. It’s about a confused boy who wants to do the right thing. His dreams have nothing to do with gang life. He and his best friend, Tito, like to walk down to the boat basin and imagine owning one of the boats. Even as Jamal is on his way to confront one of the scariest Scorpion members, Tito asks if they are going to let girls come on their boat. â€œOnly movie stars,â€ Jamal replies.
I love the way that Jamal was a twelve-year-old boy FIRST. However frightening his life becomes, he still thinks like a twelve-year-old. This opened my heart in a place that I hadn’t even realized was closed. Kids are kids are kids. That was the gift I received from Scorpions.
What are your favorite Walter Dean Myers books?
–Hannah GÃ³mez, currently reading Blessing’s Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson