“Books should be windows on the world but they should also be mirrors” — Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress
Books are beautiful things. They bring to life stories of what has been and what could be. They’ve constructed realities; tales we tell each other to connect and share lessons of what it means to be a human in this world, at this time, in this place. So, what happens when we struggle to find stories that connect to us like this? What if our experiences aren’t represented or taught in literature? A lot of the time, we’ll never give those pages a second chance. But this author is changing that.
Jason Reynolds was 17 years old when he finished reading his very first novel. And now, as a best-selling author and newly appointed National Ambassador for Young People’s Reading through the Library of Congress, he’s making sure other kids don’t have to wait that long to fall in love with reading and reap the benefits.
“I say anything I want to say. I write about whatever I write about, no matter how traumatic or how complicated it is, I write about that because that’s the lives of children in America today.” — Jason Reynolds
Today you can find Jason’s name on 13 books for young people. He’s an award-winning author and poet, and was recently named National Ambassador for Young People’s Reading for the Library of Congress through 2021!
As an ambassador, Jason Reynolds is traveling the United States to connect with young folks—particularly in communities that aren’t represented in most literature—to encourage more reading by writing about people and stories young people can see themselves in.
In a time in our lives where everything is moving so quickly; where emotions and hormones and relationships rule our young lives, a connection to a character in a story can be exactly what helps us through.
Unfortunately, the popular narrative happening right now is that young people aren’t reading as much. However, could that be because the stories some are being handed don’t emulate their own? Particularly in a moment of our lives when everything moves so fast—when we’re not quite a child yet not quite an adult. It’s a time where we need the most guidance, yet strive to do it on our own. Books can bridge that.
So before we go any further, let’s get acquainted with Jason ourselves. This first film, entitled Dear, Dreamer directed by Kristian Melom, gives us an intimate introduction to this lyrical thought leader and the crucial purpose behind his work.
“It was in the ownership of my own story that my life was sort of, expanded. It was in the honesty in my own experiences that made room for me.” — Jason Reynolds
Something happens to us when we connect deeply to a passage or character of a book. When you see your experiences reflected in someone else’s story, it can feel like you aren’t alone with them anymore. Whatever has happened to you becomes real, solid, printed onto pages. It’s not just your narrative anymore; the thoughts of the character echo your own. It’s validating. And as Jason states in the quote above, it allows us to have ownership of our stories.
That’s a powerful thing.
So here’s Jason with the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, on CBS This Morning, talking about his new position as National Ambassador, what he’s seeing happen with youth reading rates around the country, and what he plans to do to support them.
Every one of us has skills that the world needs. And if we keep our eyes open, we can find our niche: that little part that we fit right into; where we’re needed. Books let us see what’s possible and allow us to imagine ourselves in new ways. As Jason remarked in the above video when asked what reading did for him:
“What did reading do for me? It did a few things. Number one, it showed me who I was, it helped me to navigate the world that I lived in, it helped me to navigate my internal space, and who I was as a person. But more than all those things, it gave me soft skills that I use to manage my life. In order to read anything, you have to have discipline, patience, concentration, listening skills—to listen to yourself to then synthesize the information. Those are the same skills that you will need to manage a job, a relationship, and do well in school. It’s more than just a narrative.”
The benefits are endless. Yet in order to access them, we need that first book to draw us in.
At the risk of filling this article with mostly quotes from Jason (but let’s face it, everything he says is quotable), I’d like to share a bit from his about page that I think really shows his attitude towards tackling this problem:
“Here’s what I know: I know there are a lot — A LOT — of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don’t actually hate books, they hate boredom. If you are reading this, and you happen to be one of these boys, first of all, you’re reading this so my master plan is already working (muahahahahahaha) and second of all, know that I feel you. I REALLY do. Because even though I’m a writer, I hate reading boring books too.”
Check out this talk he gave for the TIME 100 Next event in 2019 to hear more about what he’s striving for with his work.
Thanks to people like Jason Reynolds, more and more kids are able to see themselves in literature. They’re able to feel like they belong with their nose in a book, soaking up the stories that show us what it means to be a human, right here, right now.
I know I for one am excited to see the impact of Jason’s words ripple throughout the world.
See his library of award-winning books by clicking here!
So, what are you reading?
Find out how to better your own relationship with reading with this next article:
Stay open to new possibilities!
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein
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