Q and A With Ambassador Gene Yang

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I was so excited earlier this week when Gene Yang was announced as the new Ambassador For Young People’s Literature. He seems like the absolute perfect pick. I cannot wait to see all of the amazing work he does over the course of his term.

What was your first reaction when you heard you were the new Ambassador of Young Peoples’ Literature?

I was in a car on my way to visit a middle school.  My editor called and told me about the appointment.  He also said I couldn’t tell another soul until the official announcement had been made.

Because there was someone else in the car with me, I had to hold in my reaction.  It was like holding in a sneeze, and not just an ordinary sneeze, but a sneeze of utter exuberance.  Even in the forced silence, though, it felt pretty awesome.

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Do you have an official hat or medal now?

That’s a thing?  You get an official hat?  Like a George Washington hat or something?  I can’t wait!

Did you always love reading your whole life? 

My mom used to take my brother and me to the library all the time, partly because she wanted us to love reading and partly because she didn’t want us to watch so much TV.  We grew up reading.  My brother preferred nonfiction.  I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Lloyd Alexander, and Clifford Hicks.  You remember Clifford Hicks?  He’s kind of fallen of the radar now, but he wrote these middle grade books about a genius kid named Alvin Fernald who came up with all these genius solutions to difficult problems.

Later, I got into comic books and graphic novels.  Much of my reading in high school was in panels.  Will Eisner’s Eye of the Storm was a game-changer for me.  He mixes pictures and words, memoir and fiction into a heartrending story.

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Gene Yang Self Portrait

What do you read with your own kids?

My wife and I have four kids, ages 3 to 12, one boy and three girls.

Last night, I read Richard Simon, Tanya Simon, and Mark Siegel’s Oskar and the Eight Blessingsto my two younger ones.  It’s a beautiful, evocative book set in 1940s New York.  New York is exotic enough to my kids because they’re native Californians.  New York in the 1940s?  It’s like another world.

Our second oldest and I are reading Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw together.  She loves the big, fluffy imaginary cat.  We’re about halfway through the book, and she’s already announced that the book deserves a Newbery.

Our oldest reads on his own, but I try to read some of the same books.  He just read the first issue of Totally Awesome Hulk, staring Marvel Comics’ brand-new Korean American Hulk, written and drawn by a Korean American creative team.  Totally awesome.

What’s your favorite part of a book?

When I’m reading, it’s the second-to-last chapter.  I know I’m about to get to the best part.

When I’m writing, it’s the very end.  I love being done, mostly because it means I get to start on my next book.

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