Award-winning Cuban-American author Meg Medina has today been announced as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Notable for her Merci Suárez series, Medina has accepted the two-year position which involves traveling around the country with aims to encourage young people to read, speak to their peers about books, and share their own stories.
Growing up in Queens, New York, Medina credits her Cuban mother, aunts, and grandmother with her early exposure to storytelling. Speaking to KidsPost, she reflects how her childhood home did not have a lot of books, but her family would share stories via spoken word, “They just filled my mind with stories that had the double benefit of just helping them remember their stories and their lives and helping me understand my culture.”
The role of Ambassador for Young People’s Literature comes with a theme, and Medina has chosen ‘Cuéntame: Let’s Talk Books.’ The Spanish word Cuéntame conceptually refers to the practice of reciting a story to another person. Medina explains that is something you might say when greeting a friend, as an invitation to catch up. “It is like saying ‘What’s going on?’ but it translates literally to ‘story me.’ “
Medina has expressed that her goal is to encourage children to perceive books and reading holistically: “as a way that they connect with each other and a way that they find their passion” rather than just a regulated subject or activity within the school day. She emphasized encouraging children to make their own reading choices and forming an open dialogue as they go. “Up the book love—that’s the goal,” she said.
The announcement of Medina’s new title comes at a new peak of literary censorship in schools across the US, particularly targeting works with LGBTQ+ themes or characters. Medina’s own 2013 novel “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” won the Pura Belpré Award in 2014 and has repeatedly been met with bans. “The power of reading is in its ability to help people sort of see themselves in the pages, understand themselves and how they act and feel,” Medina expresses. “It’s in helping build empathy for other people.”
She has acknowledged her ambassadorship as a role of great responsibility and has discussed a community-based approach with her most recent predecessor Jason Reynolds. School visits remain a large part of the Ambassador’s duties, but community resources, tips, and activities will be available online in the coming 2023-2024 period. “I think you can look forward to me speaking to kids whose primary language is Spanish,” she confirmed.
The Library of Congress in Washington will host the first event of Medina’s term on January 24th and it will also be streamed live on its YouTube channel. For those wondering how she will balance her other endeavors, Medina has confirmed that she will continue writing during her ambassadorship and is working on a fantasy project.