Members of the Children’s Book Council came together on September 22 for the group’s annual meeting and kickoff to what promises to be a busy autumn. The meeting was also a chance for members to greet the CBC’s new executive director, Carl Lennertz.
Lennertz thanked the CBC and his predecessors for giving him the opportunity to serve as executive director, saying: “You’ve invited me into your world and I want to be worthy of your invitation.” Lennertz went on to describe some of the projects the CBC has planned for future months, including new partnerships, a bigger than ever Children’s Book Week, new online materials available for educators, a new CBC “staff picks” feature, the launch of a graphic novel committee, and a “Sister City style” pairing of New York City authors and illustrators with international writers and authors.
Other plans include a newly designed website for Every Child a Reader and to “make ECAR fully self-funded,” while also, Lennertz joked, permanently abolishing the acronym “ECAR.” Lennertz also commented that, while he does have a vision (“I actually have double vision... cataracts”), he believes “it would be presumptuous of me to have a vision before I speak to you all first.” He added that he is “thrilled to have all of you to learn from” and promised to bring “passion and joy to work every day.”
Next up, Christopher Myers took the stage for a presentation called “What It Means to Matter.” Originally, the author-illustrator was to be joined in conversation with Jason Reynolds, but a death in Reynolds’s family prevented him from attending. In his talk, Myers addressed the “matter” at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement and how this notion of “mattering” extends to all aspects of our humanity. He opened the discussion by speaking about how he and Reynolds frequently meet over breakfast and talk. Their conversations often touch on topics of race, identity, and “what it means to matter.” Myers recently spent time working with refugee kids at the International Youth Library in Munich and would call Reynolds to talk about his days. Working with 10–15 kids each day, Myers had the opportunity to hear “brilliant, harrowing stories” from children who had walked across their native countries in search of safety and traveled for days at sea on rafts, witnessing family members washed overboard.
As difficult as it was for Myers to hear of the obvious trauma the children had experienced in making their way to Germany, this was not what stood out to Myers the most: “the moment of trauma is not where the story lies.” Instead, it was the little details and asides, the way that children from all backgrounds focus on the parts of their lives that matter the most to them – whether the cats in Greece, a love for Michael Jackson or Drake, or being in a boat for the first time, regardless of the circumstances that brought them there. Myers said he felt privileged to bear witness to both “the sadness and the joy that young people take in telling their stories.”
Lamenting how “we live in a Band-Aid society,” Myers spoke about the tendency for people to look for quick solutions to problems – for example, via a hashtag or a Facebook post. While these may be tools for bringing greater awareness to topics, the real work takes time. “We are not a hashtag industry,” he said.
Though a frequent frustration among authors might be the length of time it takes for a book to be published, Myers suggested that being a “slow industry” is powerful and good. Authors, editors, and publishers “take the time to tell a story well,” he stated, and this is deeply valuable. Looking for a quick fix to a very complicated problem is no real solution, he suggested. While protecting black lives is urgent, an injustice is done “if we only matter when the bullet hits us.... Our mattering has to extend into the past and future,” and this provides an opportunity for those people who are the keepers of the distilled voices and experiences that are our stories.
“We know something special about time in this industry,” Myers concluded, “and what it means to matter.”