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National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang is a busy man. His third book in the series "Secret Coders, the Secrets and Sequences edition", hits the shelves on March 7. He will also be in Skokie, a suburb north of Chicago, on March 13 to discuss his work.

"Secret Coders" is a series of graphic novels designed to teach young people about computer programming. The books weave educational puzzles into a mysterious story line. Yang is fully qualified to write about the topic, since he taught computer science for 17 years before devoting his career entirely to graphic novels. The series is illustrated by Mike Holmes, a comic artist who’s work can be seen in Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors.

Yang is also well known for his first graphic novel, "American Born Chinese", which was the first graphic novel to be named a finalist for the National Book Award. It also won the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, an Eisner Award nominee for Best Coloring, a 2007 Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year, and is a New York Times bestseller.

All the accolades make sense. "American Born Chinese" is a coming-of-age story that tells the tale of Jin Wang, a student who is the only Chinese-American in the student body. It’s a few stories braided together -- Jin’s desire to be an all-American boy, Jin’s friendship with a boy from Taiwan and the fantastic story of the Monkey King, a mythological figure.

As much as we are pulled to give children only happy stories with happy endings, they are soon drawn to books like "American Born Chinese" with more complex ideas. Because, really, don’t you need an obstacle before happiness? Doesn’t life deal disappointments alongside triumphs? The explosion of interest in middle year graphic novel pairs this concept with hand drawn delights that appeal to kids and adults alike.

Gene Luen Yang will be speaking and doing a book signing as part of Coming Together, a celebration of diversity in a couple of suburbs north of Chicago. The MacArthur Foundation named Yang a fellow because his work “demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people.” He will discuss his books and his efforts to promote reading on March 13 in Skokie. Visit the Coming Together website for more information.

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