Members of the Children’s Book Council gathered for an annual meeting on September 27 to discuss recent accomplishments and future endeavors. The CBC also welcomed keynote speaker Laurie Hernandez, Olympic gold medalist and author of She’s Got This (HarperCollins, Oct.), illustrated by Nina Mata.
Calling the year filled with “friends and partnerships,” Carl Lennertz, executive director of the CBC and Every Child a Reader, offered a visual “Z to A” roundup of CBC highlights for 2018 (“Z to A” because Lennertz said he’s a “non-linear” thinker). Celebrated authors included (for G) Gene Luen Yang, Dan Santat (D), and Jacqueline Woodson (for W). Other entries recognized partner organizations, such as First Book, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the ABA, and American Booksellers for Free Expression. Significant events included BookExpo and BookCon (for B), while S stood for “silent auction” (held at last year’s BookExpo). Looking ahead, Lennertz spoke about plans to expand the CBC’s presence at BookExpo, to increase outreach and to continue to advocate for diversity in books and publishing through the CBC’s Diversity Outstanding Achievement Awards program, which was launched earlier this year. Speaking of which, the six inaugural winners of the CBC Diversity Awards have just been announced.
Lennertz also shared a new venture for the CBC—the Get Caught Reading campaign, which was launched initially by the Association of American Publishers in 1999. Every Child a Reader—the charitable arm of the CBC—has taken over the program, which advocates for reading and literacy through posters featuring authors, celebrities, and other figures, reading. The newest face of Get Caught Reading is CBC guest speaker Laurie Hernandez. Lennertz unveiled the poster image, which features Hernandez reading while performing a split.
Next up was Hernandez, who described her upbringing, how she came to pursue gymnastics, and the many trials and setbacks she faced on the way to becoming a gold medalist. Even before Hernandez, as a young child, was inspired by a gymnast she saw perform on television, books were a part of her life. Her mother, a social worker, believed that every household should have books and lamented that there were children who did not have access to them. Throughout Hernandez’s development as an athlete, her mother emphasized that “gymnastics is a passion; education is a necessity.” Hernandez kept up with her homeschooling as she trained, often finding refuge through reading.
Hernandez said she pursued her passion with determination—even when it wasn’t easy. She suffered multiple injuries and, as a result, questioned whether she wanted to continue. She counts the encouragement of her parents—and a few books—as being influential in her decision to keep on working toward the goal of joining an Olympic team. Certain books and characters continue to influence her: when Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones overcomes her fear of taking tests, Hernandez felt motivated to tackle her own performance anxiety. Later, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars inspired Hernandez to rise above what often seemed like insurmountable challenges. In 2016, Hernandez faced the Olympic trials and made the team, becoming the first Latina competitor to do so in more than 10 years.
Hernandez decided to write She’s Got This because she hoped to encourage readers who similarly aspire to become athletes, or to accomplish other feats. She also wanted to convey that her success came with years of hard work as well as physical and emotional struggle. Fans she met “didn’t realize that, since I was a little child, I had been working on this.” The title of her picture book is based on her personal mantra that she uses before her performances—particularly when she needs a boost of confidence.
Competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team—and winning silver on the balance beam and gold in the team event—was a pivotal moment in Hernandez’s life. But she had an equally powerful experience at one of her recent book signing events. When Hernandez was approached by a father and his Hispanic daughter, the girl’s father told Hernandez that “my daughter didn’t think she could do any sports because no [athletes] looked like her.” Reading She’s Got This and seeing another child who resembled her, made the girl decide to do gymnastics herself. “I’m speechless over that moment. It defines my career,” Hernandez said.