Gene Luen Yang recently became the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, succeeding Kate DiCamillo. As the first graphic novelist in this prestigious role, he brings a keen awareness to the interplay of words and art in the creation of engaging stories. In a recent interview for the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, Yang talked about his passion for reading and creating comics as a kid, and the way that books can connect people and help them to explore new worlds.
The following writing prompts and discussion points connect to Yang’s platform “Reading Without Walls” for the two years of his ambassadorship.
Classroom Discussion: Yang suggests that young people explore new worlds in two ways: (1) read a book on a topic completely new to them, and (2) pick up a book about a character who is different (by race, gender, culture, etc.) from them. Have each student brainstorm topics, coming up with a list of at least five new subjects to explore. Or have them visit the library and check out a book with a completely new type of character.
Writing: Ask students to read their books and then write a short response paper. What did they learn by reading this? What, exactly, was boring? What was surprising? Would they want to learn more? Why or why not?
Classroom Discussion: In his graphic novel, American Born Chinese, Yang draws on some of his own experiences as one of the few Asian-American kids in his middle school. He was sometimes teased and excluded. Writing: Ask students to write about a time when they felt teased or excluded. Was it because of appearance, socioeconomic status, race? How do they feel about the incident now? (These should remain private unless the writer wants to share aloud.)
Additional Resources: The Library of Congress website includes information on past and current National Ambassadors of Young People's Literature.
Check Yang’s website for details about his work as a writer for DC Comics and his graphic novels, including Boxers & Saints and the playful, tech-savvy Secret Coders middle-grade series.