• Happy birthday Ruth Stiles Gannett (My Father’s Dragon), Mary Ann Hoberman (You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You; The Seven Silly Eaters), Frederick McKissack (Christmas in the Big House: Christmas in the Quarters), Tim Wynne-Jones (Rex Zero Series, The Maestro) and Ann M. Martin (Baby-Sitters Club series).
  • It’s the birth date of Katherine Lee Bates (1859-1929), America the Beautiful; Edith Hamilton (1867-1963), Mythology, The Roman Way; Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), Tish; Zerna Sharp (1889-1981), Dick and Jane; and Deborah Howe (1946-1978), Bunnicula series.
  • Happy birthday Chicago, founded in 1833. Read The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek and A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck.

Today marks the birthday of a man who calls his autobiography Bad Boy. But for the past forty years the children’s book field has considered Walter Dean Myers a “Good and Great Man.” Possibly that should be the title for the second volume of his autobiography.

Myers initially made his mark when he entered the field in the 1970s, as part of a group of authors who brought an African-American conscience to the All-White World of Children’s Books. Many of that group—Jerry Pinkney, Tom Feelings, Julius Lester, Ashley Bryan, and Mildred Taylor have already been celebrated on the Almanac. But of that talented pool, Walter Dean Myers would prove the most versatile in terms of the number of genres he excels in: cutting-edge young adult novels such as Monster; inspired nonfiction, Malcolm X, The Greatest: Muhammad Ali; poetry, Brown Angels; and short stories, 145th Street.

Anyone who wants to gain a greater appreciation of Walter Dean Myers will want to read Bad Boy, his account of Harlem during the forties and fifties. Gifted in both athletics and school, Myers struggled with a quick and violent temper that caused a lot of trouble. In the memoir he examines being black in America and his realization that his best friend, who was white, had opportunities that he did not have. Walter also dealt with a serious speech impediment and learned that he could write what he could not say. In the end, he took the prescient advice of a teacher, “Whatever happens, don’t stop writing.”

In Children’s Books and Their Creators, published in 1995, Myers wrote about his creative journey: “When my son comes home from college, he finds it amusing to walk into a room to discover me in conversation with imaginary companions, or to see in my face the reflection of some inner dialogue, some adventure of the mind.” That son, Christopher, became a distinguished children’s book creator himself.

Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog contains a fan letter from a young boy to Walter Dean Myers that describes him quite well:

And when you laughed

you had the

best best BEST

laugh I’ve ever heard in my life

like it was coming from way down deep

and bubbling up and

rolling and tumbling

out into the air.

Happy birthday, Walter. Thank you for all the wonderful books—and “whatever happens, don’t stop writing!”

Here’s a passage from Bad Boy:

Harlem is the first place called “home” that I can remember. It was a magical place, alive with music that spilled onto the busy streets from tenement windows and full of colors and smells that filled my senses and made my heart beat faster. The earliest memory I have is of a woman who picked me up on Sunday school. She would have five to ten children with her when she rang our bell on 126th Street, and we would go through the streets holding hands and singing “Jesus Loves Me” on our way to Abyssinian Baptist. I remember being comforted by the fact that Jesus, whom I didn’t even know, thought so much of me. After church we would be brought home, again holding hands and singing our way through the streets of Harlem.



Originally posted August 12, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: African American, Family, History, Multicultural, New York
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Bad Boy


  1. Helen Frost says:

    Happy Birthday, Walter Dean Myers! I wonder if others who have been in the same room with Walter have had the same experience I have, the sense that the love for him spills over to include everyone else in his presence. I know that young readers of his books have a similar experience, finding the kind of comfort Walter describes in this passage: the feeling that someone they don’t even know thinks enough of them to write these books.

  2. Rea Berg says:

    Happy Birthday, Walter, and thank you Anita, for letting us know! I especially want to thank you, Walter for writing Monster. I cannot tell you how deeply moved I was reading that work as a graduate student at Simmons. Thank you for opening up a world I could not have otherwise known with compassion, empathy and insight.

  3. Thank you Anita for highlighting this book. I can’t say enough good things about it. There is always the one student whose life I know it will change.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.