Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Telling Stories That Are Needed: An Interview with Christopher Myers

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Telling Stories That Are Needed: An Interview with Christopher Myers

Article excerpt

Myers discusses themes that weave throughout his writing and illustration, collaborations with other artists, and his participation in the communities of artists, storytellers, and readers.

CHRISTOPHER MYERS won acclaim at a young age as a vibrant illustrator of children's picturebooks. He began his career by collaborating with his father, Walter Dean Myers (1997), on Harlem, which was named a Caldecott Honor book and a Coretta Scott King Honor book. Christopher Myers's (1999) first solo effort, Black Cat, was also a Coretta Scott King Honor book. Since then, he has continued to garner many awards for his poetic texts and bold paintings, collages, and woodcuts. His books celebrate differences and what makes us unique and special, and they encourage young readers to be all they can be.

In 2015, Christopher Myers (2014) was the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Firebird, written by Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater. In all, he has received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor four times, for the books H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination (C. Myers, 2012), Jazz (W.D. Myers, 2008), Black Cat (C. Myers, 1999), and Harlem (W.D. Myers, 1997), as well as a Caldecott Honor for Harlem.

Christopher Myers's (2014) opinion piece in The New York Times, "The Apartheid of Children's Literature," generated much discussion about the continued paucity of diverse books being published in the United States. He wrote that if children of color are denied stories "of adventure, curiosity, imagination, or personal growth...they are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost" (paras. 6 and 10). The chair and cochairs of the CLA Author's Breakfast committee began their interview with Myers by asking him about this piece.

CLA You have been an advocate for diversity in children's literature, and the two op-ed pieces that you and your father, Walter Dean Myers, wrote for The New York Times (C. Myers, 2014; W.D. Myers, 2014) decried the lack of diversity in children's literature. Could you tell us a bit about what you wrote and what reactions you have received?

CM The strangest thing in the world is to have so many people agree with you about an issue and yet, at the same time, understand that there must be fundamental disagreements somewhere along the path. My father and I brought attention to an issue that other people have brought attention to: that the books that are being published in the United States don't reflect the children who live in the United States, don't reflect their lives, don't reflect the rich tapestry of cultures and the idea of how we address this issue in a real way, more than just stating our intentions and speaking of our goodwill. What are the concrete issues that are at hand, and how do we address those issues? So, I've been both heartened by the amount of agreement and then disheartened by the lack of real discussion around the issue.

CLA Where do you think the problems lie with diversity in children's literature since there are just as few books now published about African Americans or Asian Americans or Latinos, for example, as there were 20 years ago?

CM There are three major issues. The first issue is that we need to define diversity. By this, I mean it's not simply a demographic issue that we're talking about. What we're talking about is storytelling styles. In our educational and child development worlds, we are speaking to children in different languages, be they pictorial languages, metaphorical languages, myths and legends, or different kinds of storytelling styles; everything from video to myth to call-and-response, all of these things are storytelling styles. When we think about diversity, it's important to go beyond the demographic and think about the stories we are telling. What we've seen in the last year, especially, are a number of stories that are being told that may fill some checkbox in regards to diversity; for example, they have a Black main character, but at the same time, they are not the stories that reflect the needs of the children that are receiving these stories. …

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