With his sonorous voice and stately stature, wrestler, actor, and rapper John Cena has long been a commanding presence in multiple entertainment venues. He takes to a new stage this afternoon as the headliner of “John Cena Presents,” moderated by BuzzFeed’s Isaac Fitzgerald.
Cena will talk about his role as a picture book author, most recently of Elbow Grease vs. Motozilla (Random House, Oct.), a follow-up to his 2018 debut, Elbow Grease, both illus. by Howard McWilliam. In his first book, Cena introduced a small monster truck with four bigger brothers who is determined to prove his guts and grit. It zoomed onto bestsellers lists and paved the way for Cena’s new story, in which Elbow Grease’s supportive siblings roar to his side as he faces off against Motozilla, a ferocious monster machine.
When a publisher approached him several years ago about writing his autobiography, Cena says that he didn’t want to write a story that is still unfolding. But he eventually found a book idea that he did want to roll with. “I decided to write something for the demographic audience I reach through WWF, which is families and children,” he says. “I wanted to create a story that would take the qualities and values I stand for and put them in a whimsical universe.”
Cena’s memories of reading in childhood helped shape that story. “I loved Richard Scarry’s books as a kid. And they were definitely an inspiration for the character of Elbow Grease,” he says. “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go was a particular favorite. With his brilliant illustrations of vehicles, from small cars to big machinery, Scarry was able to create such an intimate and fun universe.”
For Cena, the character Elbow Grease embodies what he wants young readers and their parents to take away from his books. “In many ways,” he says, “I’m stealing a page from my childhood and my adult life when I emphasize, in these stories, the importance of believing in yourself, teamwork, and never giving up.”
As for BookExpo, where he is appearing for the first time, Cena says, “I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t mean something to me, but it really does. I am passionate about these characters’ stories and their message. I hope people realize that my voice is authentic—and that I really care.”
Today, 12:50–1:30 p.m. John Cena will appear in “John Cena Presents,” on the Downtown Stage.
Today, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Cena will sign at Table 3 in a ticketed event.