Arts, Culture & Media

Five book picks from the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

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Cover image for "Boxers and Saints" by Gene Luen Yang.

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First Second Books

Back in 2008, the Library of Congress created the post of "National Ambassador for Young People's Literature." It's a two-year position, tasked with traveling around the country and showing kids that reading can be a vital part of their lives.

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This year, the honor went to Gene Luen Yang. He's the author of award-winning titles like "Boxers and Saints" and "American Born Chinese."

Yang is the very first graphic novelist to be named to the post. "I think it's kind of a crazy thing," he says. "When I was a kid, the comic book industry and the traditional book industry were really two separate entities."

That's changed in the last two decades. Here are five books that Yang just loves, with reviews from our favorite independent bookstore, Powell's, in Portland. 

1. "Smile" by Raina Telgemeier

Cover image for the book "Smile" by Raina Telgemeier.

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Raina Telgemeier

Powell's Bookstore community review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier is a great graphic novel that represents a girl living in San Francisco that has major mouth problems. Raina, the main character, has a very interesting life. Her friends tease her, theirs two boys she likes, and she wants to get her ears pierced but her mom never lets her. Raina just wants to be a normal kid, no "geeky" mouth piece. This book is interesting because Raina is the author and this is a true novel based on her.

2. "Amulet" by  Kazu Kibuishi

Cover image for "Amulet" by  Kazu Kibuishi. 

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Kazu Kibuishi

Powell's Bookstore community review: This graphic novel is an excellent example of my belief that children's books are not just for children. The story is simple enough for kids to understand, but with enough depth to interest adults, and to keep us guessing, as well as anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. The characters are an interesting mix of human-looking humans and cartoon-y animal and robot sidekicks/supporting characters, and the artwork is something to be savored. A quick reader will be able to finish any one installment of this series in an hour or less, but you could easily spend hours looking at the detail on each page, particularly when visiting any of towns in the universe(s) featured there. This series makes me wish I had kids to share it with, and I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys graphic novels, adult or kids!

3. "Meanwhile" by Jason Shiga

Cover image for "Meanwhile" by Jason Shiga.

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Jason Shiga

 Powell's Bookstore community review: Holy cow! The most amazing book ever made. Seriously. It's a choose your own adventure graphic novel with time travel, death machines, and mind reading devices. And if you make some wrong choices, you can just use the tie machine to go back and try again. You also collect clues along the way to complete some crazy puzzles....it's incredible. Do yourself a favor and buy this book. I can't way it enough.....BUY THIS BOOK!

4. "Last of the Sandwalkers" by Jay Hosler

Cover image for "Last of the Sandwalkers" by Jay Hosler.

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Jay Hosler

Powell's Bookstore Staff Pick: Lucy is a scientist who is also a beetle. She leads a team of researchers out into the desert to discover the greater world. This is a suspenseful adventure story that combines great storytelling with real science. I love this book. I learned so much about bugs while being engrossed in a great adventure graphic novel.

5. "Zita the Spacegirl" by Ben Hatke

Cover image for the book "Zita the Spacegirl" by Ben Hatke.

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Ben Hatke

Yang says, "It's a really fun story about a really courageous girl going out into outer space."