Meg Medina and the Power of Reading
The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Medina is the first Latinx ambassador for young people’s literature, named by the Library of Congress.
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The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Meg Medina, grew up in Queens, New York, and started writing books for young people after she turned 40. However, the seed of that identity began in childhood, specifically in third grade, thanks to a teacher, Mrs. Zuckerman, who did a lot of creative writing with her students.
“It was something that I was good at, and she was kind enough to notice and tell me. You can never underestimate the power of helping young people see their own talents, even if it takes a long while for the idea to bloom into a decision or life path. As I got older, I moved the idea of being a writer into a longing, a dream, but eventually, I decided it wasn’t something I wanted to forego,” Medina told PEN America in 2017. She was interviewed to discuss her latest book, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, winner of a 2014 Pura Belpré Author Award, which had long been the target of bans, mainly due to the book title. The novel tells the story of a Latina teen who is targeted by a bully at her new school, so she must discover resources she never knew she had.
“I’m drawn to stories by and about strong women, and I’m drawn to stories from a range of cultural perspectives. They feel comforting and affirming to me. They feel illuminating. So, when I turn to my own work, I’m consciously continuing that celebration through the American Latino lens,” she insisted.
Six years after the interview, Medina was named the new U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of the Congress, becoming the first Latinx ambassador in the program’s history.
“It’s a huge honor, but it also comes balanced with this enormous responsibility,” Medina told NPR. “My job is to help America’s children develop a life as readers.”
Meg Medina’s work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls, like Yaqui Delgado or sixth-grader Merci Suárez, the main character in her Suárez family series Merci Suárez Changes Gears, winner of a Newberry Medal and a 2018 Kirkus Prize finalist, and followed by Merci Suárez Can’t Dance and Merci Suárez Plays It Cool.
The sense of books
As National Ambassador, Medina will be touring schools around the country for two years with her platform, Cuéntame: Let’s Talk Books, which encourages book discussions beyond the classroom. Some activities will be available in both English and Spanish.
For Medina, it is important to create a habit of reading, and she is grateful for the role her mother played in this, since she was a Cuban immigrant who, “without much money to buy books,” showed her “that sense that the world could be found in a book,” just as the pages could become a “refuge in difficult times,” as she told EFE.
The new ambassador’s goal is to “connect with children” and “help them open up to all the power that reading has to offer,” so she wants to “bring families together” in local libraries, so they can form a “fun” reading routine and have “a special time of connection with the family."
Medina’s young adult novels include Burn Baby Burn, which was long-listed for the National Book Award, and The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. She is also the author of picture books Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, Jumpstart’s 2020 Read for the Record selection; Mango, Abuela, and Me, illustrated by Angela Dominguez, which was a Pura Belpré Author Award Honor Book; and Tía Isa Wants a Car, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award; and the biography for young readers, She Persisted: Sonia Sotomayor.
When she is not writing, Medina works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth, and literacy. She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.