On November 4, 2013 the Library of Congress welcomed bestselling adult and children’s author James Patterson as the first Champion of the Young Readers Center. The five-year-old Center is the only reading room in the Library of Congress with an “Open to the Public” sign in front of its door. (Others require a reader’s card and require that researchers be 16 or older.) In his keynote speech as part of the 2013 Library of Congress Literacy Awards, Patterson said, “I’m here today to help save some lives. The lives of children all across our country.” He encouraged the audience in the Coolidge Auditorium of the library’s Thomas Jefferson building to become reading missionaries. “Better readers become better thinkers. If kids are not good readers then their chances of getting through high school are slim to none.”

Patterson outlined some of his hopes for his new role, which is still evolving. “In the Library of Congress, in this wonderful building with this much firepower behind it, we should really be able to make something happen in the lives of children and families.” Patterson believes that one key step toward improved literacy is for parents, grandparents, and other guardians to see encouraging reading as an integral part of their job, as important as getting kids to the dinner table. As part of his outreach to independent booksellers, Patterson created a bumper sticker that says “We Read in Our House.” He encourages every family to adopt that philosophy. “Parents would never knowingly give their children a handicap,” he said. “But not encouraging them to read does just that.”

And he thinks an essential challenge is getting the right books to children. “Growing competent readers can only happen with the right stimuli. We need to pay attention to what [kids] want to read. It’s important not to turn them off.” In his own work he focuses on storytelling and humor. “I love the idea of reaching kids with humor,” he said. “There should be more humor in life, and certainly in books.”

Patterson came to the Library of Congress after a visit to Stuart Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C., where Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilman Jack Evans named November 4th James Patterson Day. Gray and Evans thanked Patterson for making a donation of his books to every public middle school in D.C., a gift of more than 4,000 titles. Patterson cited Hobson as a success story in education, and recounted how some of the students he met told him his books made them like to read. “Too many kids never find a book they like. We need to reach kids and give them books they will gobble up. It takes one good book to create a lifelong reader.”

The mission of the Young Readers Center – to connect readers with the best children’s literature – is in step with Patterson’s beliefs: “I want to do more. Children have a right to libraries in schools and a right to access to books that will interest them,” he said. In his new role at the Young Readers Center, Patterson said, “I want to expand on what’s been working in the past and make it better.”