On July 2nd, 2014, Walter Dean Myers, one of the most revered authors of young adult literature passed away. In my 11years as a teacher I have not witnessed another author grab the attention of so many reluctant readers the way Myers did. His vivid description of urban settings, inclusion of common “previously seen” characters, and their too-close-to-home circumstances are instantly appreciated by students going through similar experiences, who see their surrounding and living conditions in the pages.
I remember reading Monster during my first year as a teacher with 9th graders and couldn’t help feeling like a high school student again, reflecting on some of my friends who got into similar trouble with the law. I found myself wondering, “Would I also choose to not reveal my role in the incident in order to protective of my reputation like Steve Harmon, the book’s main character?” A few years later I remember previewing some stories from Myers’ 145th Street: Short Stories, with a 16-year old reluctant reader, who I taught and claimed to have never read an entire book. I found myself reading most of the stories for myself. The student read 2 of the 3 stories I had recommended and enjoyed them…to me that was two stories under his belt that he didn’t have two days prior.
According to his biography, Myers took great care of his writing in the sense that he wrote with the purpose of reaching those who grew up in a setting similar to his and he drew inspiration from others in all facets of life. His novels hold equal rank to the classics amongst my students and colleagues.
Sometimes teachers will ask themselves before recommending a book, “What will students read?” Walter Dean Myers’ work should always be considered.