Saturday, 1 October 2016

Walter Dean MYERS - Darius & Twig, Hoops, Monster

Walter Dean MYERS (1937-2014)
I've been catching up on this influential author who I've heard a lot about over the years, but had never quite got around to reading his books. He won the Coretta Scott King Award for African-American authors five times and was the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature in the U.S.A. in 2012/13 (equivalent to the Children's Laureate role in other countries).

You can get the full deal on his website or hear him tell his own story in this excellent Youtube video:

"I want to make poor people human beings in my books, so they can look at my books and say "That could be me, and this guy understands who I am as a full person."

First I read Hoops, which focuses on 17-year-old basketball player Lonnie Jackson, who's training with his team for the city-wide Tournament of Champions.

Coach Cal is thought to be a bit of a down-and-outer but proves to have been a pro basketballer when he was young, and made a lot of bad choices which still affect his life today. 

Cal sees Lonnie's potential and wants him to do his best, but warns against giving in to pressure, which comes from so many different sides - his girlfriend, team-mates, family, school, basketball, school and college administration. Full of tension and realistic characters who so often make the wrong choices.

While looking for my cover image I discovered the work of artist Thomas Allen, who created some art works for The Johns Hopkins Hospital based on great children's books. You can see all the info about what he made, and how he did it here. Basically he's taken the books and done clever things with the covers, which he's then photographed. He included Hoops and created silhouettes of the main characters, with a quote from each written on them, then beautifully photographed.

Next to turn up from the library was Darius & Twig, about an African-American and a Dominican boy trying to work out their paths in life, whilst surrounded by violence, drugs, and many, many losers. 

They each have a talent - Twig is a great runner, Darius is a writer and they both have challenges to face, which they take the course of the book to work their way through, to find a mindset that lets them see that they can succeed, even though success often brings unwelcome attention.

Myers has won a slew of awards for many of his more than 100 books, as just a sample here's the list for Darius & Twig:

  • Named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year for 2013
  • Named a Booklist Top Ten Book for 2013 in the category of Black History Books for Youth
  • Named a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2013
  • Featured in the Chicago Tribune’s “Best Children’s Books to Give as Gifts” for 2013
  • Featured in BCCB’s 2013 Guide Book to Gift Books
  • Newsday Summer 2013 Reading List selection
  • Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor Book, 2014
  • Named a 2014 ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Named a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

For the full list of all his awards and nominations have a look here.
Now I've moved on to (but not finished yet) Monster. The version I'm reading is not the original Michael L Printz Award-winning novel, but a graphic novel adaptation (adapted by Guy Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile) of the diary of 16-year-old Steve Harmon who is under trial for murder, the title being what the state prosecutor refers to him, and the three others involved in the crime. I'll add to this once I get to the end.

What an incredible list of awards there are for Monster:
  • Michael L. Printz Award (First)
  • Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book
  • National Book Award Honor for Young People’s Literature
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
  • American Library Association Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • American Library Association Teen Best Books for Young Adults
  • Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book
  • Top Ten Teen Books
  • Book Sense 76 Pick
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice Selection
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Book
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee
  • Heartland Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Finalist
  • Horn Book Fanfare Honor List
  • International Board on Books for Young People Honor List
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Book Award Finalist
  • Los Angeles Times Book Award Finalist
  • Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award in High School Category Nominee
  • New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
  • New York Times Notable Children's Book
  • Ohio Buckeye Children’s Book Award Nominee
  • Parents’ Guide to Children's Media Outstanding Achievement in Books Honor
  • Publishers Weekly 100 Best Books of the Year
  • Riverbank Review Children’s Book of Distinction
  • Texas Tayshas Reading List
  • Wyoming Soaring Eagle Award Nominee

I'm going to be recommending this author to the many kids I know who have so much potential, but are so easily diverted from their path to success, and also the many able readers who want to see what life is like from the point of view of someone quite different to themselves.

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