Libraries are peaceful places, but that's because they have to be: "In every book there's a fight," said Chris Myers at the Library of Congress on Friday, March 18, so "all around us are fights." He spoke to a roomful of advocates for diversity in books for kids, there to celebrate the first annual Walter Awards, presented by We Need Diverse Books. They were named for Myers' father, the multiaward-winning Walter Dean Myers, who spent his life writing books for and about children too rarely depicted in books. He died in 2014, shortly after completing his term as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a program of the Library of Congress. As fellow ambassador Jon Scieszka said, the event was "Walter, still living."
And it was. Pictures of Myers played on screens, and members of the audience traded their Walter stories. The We Need Diverse Books organization was inspired in part by one of the last things he wrote, an op-ed for the New York Times entitled "Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?" It was a characteristically impassioned piece, and he closed it by reminding us, "There is work to be done."
It was glorious, then, to celebrate the new generation of authors doing the work and fighting the fight: Walter Award honorees Margarita Engle for Enchanted Air and Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon for X; and winners Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds for their novel in two voices, All-American Boys, about the aftermath of a police shooting told by its black victim and its white witness.
Chris Myers reflected after the ceremony that it's time to "rethink our canon"—that in addition to "pilfering from the past, there's a contemporary canon that is part of the work my father was doing in addition to his books. This would make him very proud." And what better place to celebrate this new, diverse canon than the Library of Congress, that citadel of American literature—and, in the bemused words of John Cole, founding director of its Center for the Book, "prizefighting arena." Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.