On September 17, the Children’s Book Council held its annual meeting over Zoom; in a departure from previous meetings, which saw member publishers assembled in Manhattan, this year attendees from all over the country gathered digitally to share updates amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

Shaina Birkhead, associate executive director of the CBC, offered opening remarks and served as the technological coordinator throughout the meeting.

CBC board chairperson Yolanda Scott (Charlesbridge) then called the meeting to order and relayed the publishers that have left the CBC, followed by those that have joined. “I am very happy to report that CBC membership remains at over 100 publishers for the second year in a row,” Scott said, before launching into membership changes on the board level.

Since the last meeting, Allison Verost (Macmillan) took the seat vacated by Angus Killick, and Shimul Tolia (Little Bee) joined. Verost and Tolia were up for reelection, along with the current slate of board members, and were reaffirmed after voting procedures.

Treasurer Terry Borzumato-Greenberg (Holiday House) then gave the financial report before CBC executive director Carl Lennertz delivered a prerecorded message, sans his usual PowerPoint, in order to allow the guest speakers as much time as possible. “We need words and images of how the world can and should be now more than ever,” Lennertz pronounced, before giving thanks to publishing professionals, book creators, teachers, librarians, and booksellers, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jason Reynolds (“a light of empathy and hope during these times”), and his CBC colleagues. Lennertz also shared that a CBC podcast will launch soon, as will a major CBC backlist initiative and more online resources. The CBC has recently been reviewing submissions for the Goddard Riverside CBC Young People’s Book Prize for Social Justice and looks forward to producing videos of the nominees with KidLit.TV for the upcoming 13th annual Children’s and Teen Choice Awards.

Next, Ryan Mita, CBC membership and marketing manager, announced the winners of the third annual CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Awards, given in honor of children’s publishing professionals who have helped create and promote diverse titles for young readers and who foster more inclusive employment practices. A virtual awards ceremony and conversation amongst the winners, moderated by 2019 winner Andrea Davis Pinkney, v-p and executive editor at Scholastic, will be held in mid-November, with invitations emailed in October.

Fostering Resilience in Unprecedented Times

After the business portion of the meeting adjourned, Birkhead introduced the keynote speakers, co-authors Renee Jain, who has a master’s degree in applied positive psychology, and bestselling author Dr. Shefali Tsabary.

Jain began by providing the context for why the duo thought their book, Superpowered: Transform Anxiety into Courage, Confidence, and Resilience (Random House, Sept.), was necessary. She explained the road map she was given as she was growing up: good grades and a good college would lead to a great job, and a husband and kids would follow; after that—voila!—happiness. “But, as we all know,” Jain said, “life is not linear.” Severe panic attacks set in during her 20s, until Jain began cognitive behavioral therapy and learned to process her feelings. She decided to leave her career in finance and technology in order to devote her life to teaching kids resilience. Meanwhile, she said, Tsabary experienced a parallel process, raising a strong-willed child, and deciding to devote her career to helping parents.

“When it comes to long-term cultivation of resilience, we need to look at what lies beneath,” Jain said, sharing common concerns and the possible underlying faulty beliefs before passing the proverbial mic to Tsabary.

Tsabary shared that, as a therapist working for two decades, she has seen that the pandemic has—understandably—caused a spike in anxiety among kids and parents alike. One in three children before the pandemic was diagnosed with an anxiety condition, Tsabary shared, but now, the numbers are even higher. Working in a constant, somewhat predictable paradigm pre-pandemic, she said, means that no one was prepared to come up with unprecedented solutions once we entered this new mode of existence. Thus, we are now required to come up with innovative ways of adaptation, which involves new skills.

The first thing to do, Tsabary instructed, is to frame where you are in the present: acknowledge that clinging to old ways of life and expecting the previous world to return is a faulty response. Grieving and mourning the old way is a healthier way to deal with our present. The second step is to consider how many thoughts we are devoting to the future, recognizing that dedicating too much of our brain space to potentialities will also cause suffering.

“If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that all our ideas about the future were just that: ideas. The future is a time zone that is entirely fabricated in our minds,” Tsabary emphasized. “We need to live in the time zone of the present.”

Learning and employing mindfulness strategies, including practicing gratitude, surrender, and a release of control, will help us align ourselves with the “what is,” instead of the “what should bes” or “what ifs.”

Jain then explained what makes the co-authors’ book different from similar anxiety resources, in particular their emphasis on transforming anxiety instead of getting rid of it. She outlined five common concerns and behaviors among children, described in the book as being Zapped: 1) What-Iffing: Ruminating on uncertainty, 2) Camouflaged: Desperate need for belonging, 3) Cocooned: Fear of failure leads to inauthenticity, 4) Fried: Overwhelmed and depleted, and 5) Iced: Not participating in life.

But the duo believes that everyone is born with “POWER,” and they want to help kids (and their adults) reclaim the ability to be: Present, or being aware and mindful; Original, or owning one’s voice; Whole, or recognizing one’s strengths; Energized, finding curiosity and joy in new things; and Resilient, wanting to overcome challenges and master one’s skills.

“Many of us have lived our lives enslaved by these fears that culture has placed on us, by our parents’ inner lack, by their inner worries,” Tsabary added, concluding by reiterating the co-authors’ goal: to assist children and adults in discovering and preserving their inner authenticity, groundedness, and empowerment.

The meeting ended with an audience q&a, wherein Jain and Tsabary offered a visualization of the POWER acronym, informed that the worst response to kids with anxiety is invalidation, and surveyed differences between younger children and high schoolers. The duo also discussed the difficulty in merging education, engagement, and entertainment in children’s media and fiction, as well as relayed the importance of allowing time and space to process and permission to feel. Finally, Jain and Tsabary highlighted the significance of helping teenagers feel empowered while having honest dialogues, acknowledging boundaries and laws, putting the burden on them to reason through their requests, and setting loving limits.