Proving her Medal 

Local author reflects on her inauguration as a literary National Ambassador, her days at Style and reacquainting kids with joy.

click to enlarge Richmond author Meg Medina stands with her new medal after being named the National Ambassador For Children's Literature at the Library of Congress on Jan. 24.

Shawn Miller

Richmond author Meg Medina stands with her new medal after being named the National Ambassador For Children's Literature at the Library of Congress on Jan. 24.

Meg Medina spent part of the day after her high-profile inauguration ceremony at the Library of Congress on Jan. 24, where she was ensconced as the new National Ambassador for Children’s Literature, reading notes that children wrote to her during the event.

“They were so great,” says Medina, speaking from her Henrico county home. “One said, ‘I want the ambassador to know that I have trouble reading big words like ‘ambassador.’ What a cutie!”

This appointment is the latest in a long string of honors the local author has earned and comes with a 2-year charge to engage and encourage young readers across the country. As she has done throughout her literary career, she is embracing this challenge with creative enthusiasm.

The cornerstone of her tenure will be an initiative called “Cuéntame: Let’s Talk Books,” a new platform for engaging communities. A Cuban-American, Medina says the word cuéntame translates to “story me,” and is something you say when you’re catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. A key component of the platform is celebrating libraries.

“I’m interested in reconnecting people with public libraries,” she says. “They can offer families so much and can be the underpinning of literary life. We don’t just want to see books at school, right? We want books in the home and, if economics are an obstacle, the library is just indispensable.”

Children can also find community at libraries, Medina asserts: “I feel like we're still emerging from a very protracted period of isolation, and we need to help kids find their way back to joy.”

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Medina started as a children’s literature author in the mid 2000s after over a decade of teaching and then freelance writing. Her first book, “Milagros: Girl from Away,” was published in 2008. In 2011, she started what would become a long-standing relationship with Candlewick Press and the awards started coming. “Tia Isa Wants a Car” would win the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award and “Merci Suárez Changes Gears” earned her the 2019 Newbery Medal, sometimes cited as the Nobel Prize of children’s lit.

She was a regular contributor to Style Weekly from 1999 to 2004 and says her tenure as a freelancer was a key part of her trajectory.

“Being a journalist was a wonderful experience, mostly because it taught me not to be precious about my words,” she explains. “It gave me a more practical sense of things. It also introduced me to really interesting people in Richmond.”

One of those people was pivotal in the transition from journalism to writing her first book.

“I did a cover story for ‘Style’ on romance writers and invited several of them to my house for breakfast,” she remembers. “I mentioned that I was thinking of writing for children and one of them put me in touch with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It pointed me in the right direction. I was getting advice from somebody who was already writing and that felt important.”

Though she has ambitious plans, Medina also realizes that her commitment to serving young readers will evolve over her tenure.

“I've promised to listen to children for two years. I have promised to help them reconnect meaningfully with reading. So now I really want to make good on that,” she says. “Part of doing this work is being humble enough to listen and make course corrections along the way.”

Even with the substantial responsibilities of a National Ambassador, Medina says she’ll continue writing and is in the midst of tackling a new genre for her as she prepares a middle-grade fantasy novel.

“It may take me longer to produce work but I don’t see a scenario where I won’t be writing,” she says. “Anyone who is a writer knows this basic truth, which is that you have to do it or you don't feel well. You have to express yourself or you're going to feel like you're not breathing.”




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