Saturday, June 15, 2024

Meg Medina is the First Latina Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

The Library of Congress named Meg Medina the national ambassador for young people’s literature for 2023-24. Medina is the first Latina named to the position, which will have her flying around the country to libraries and classrooms to encourage reading.

Medina, 59, said she hopes she can spread to parents, families, children, and their caretakers her mother’s wisdom in finding ways to connect children with books and libraries and encourage them to keep reading.

Medina will be an initiative of the Library of Congress in partnership with Every Child a reader, a children’s literacy charity with funding from the Library of Congress’ James Madison Council, the Capital Group Companies Charitable Foundation, and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

Medina is taking on the job amidst a political uproar over literature aimed at young people, primarily with LGBTQ themes and characters. Medina herself faced censorship over her book “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” a book about bullying, which won the Pura Belpré Award in 2014.

“We want thoughtful people. We want to try to grow people with empathy, who know about the world to come, who can form opinions,” Medina said, “and that usually happens by engaging them in a lot of conversations that aren’t easy, that are layered and that requires a lot of deep thinking.”

She has chosen “Cuéntame! Let’s talk books” as her stamp for her two-year ambassadorship. Spanish speakers commonly greet another with “Cuéntame,” which means “tell me,” but to Medina’s daughter, whose first language is English, the word means “story me.”

“That is what we want for kids. Story me — we want to bathe them in our family stories. We want to bathe them in books. We want to story them up as much as we can,” Medina said.

Medina was raised in Queens, New York, by her mother, Lidia Regla Meauten. Her mother valued education and was the first in her family to get a college education in Cuba. She brought Medina the World Book Encyclopedia and took her to the library.

Her mother had been a teacher for elementary-level students in Cuba, but in the U.S., she worked in a factory making transistors. The factory was a “sea of Latina ladies,” Medina recalled. She said it was a community of “simmering trauma to it because the immigrant story is a story of hope but also loss.” Still, it was also a place to share information about who had chicken on sale or where to call to get financial papers, becoming its support system.

“That, I think, is at the root of the community work I do. I just feel, whether as an author or member of my community here, you are not by yourself. You take from a community, but you give, as well,” she said.

Her Tía Isa bought the first family car, and even though Medina recalled her aunt, whose full name is Ysaira Metauten, being a “horrendous driver,” she drove Medina and her family all over the place safely.

Her aunt is the inspiration for her book “Tía Isa Wants a Car,” which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. Other books by Medina include “Mango, Abuela, and Me,” a Pura Belpré Award honor book in 2016, and “She Persisted: Sonia Sotomayor,” a biography for young readers about the country’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

NBC News