2016 Rio Olympics

A Perfect Ten

Author Karlin Gray talks to TFK about her new picture book, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still

May 20, 2016
COURTESY KARLIN GRAY

Author Karlin Gray has long admired Olympian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Now, Karlin’s written a picture book about the 1976 gold-medal winner. 

Is there an athlete or entertainer whom you admire? For author Karlin Gray, this person was Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Comaneci was the first gymnast to receive a perfect score of ten in an Olympic gymnastics event. Growing up in the 1970’s, Gray watched Nadia on television and read about her in the newspaper. “I along with millions of other little girls admired Comaneci,” Gray told TFK.

Now you can learn more about Comaneci’s journey to Olympic gold in the 1976 Summer Games. Gray’s new picture book, Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, will be available on June 7 — just in time for the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.

This is Karlin’s first children’s book. She spoke with TFK about researching and writing the book, Nadia’s inspiring story, and more.

TFK:

Could you tell us a little bit about the book?

KARLIN GRAY:

This book is about a rambunctious toddler who gets into trouble and drives her parents a little crazy. It’s about finding a place where she can put all of that energy. She turns that energy into fuel to become a champion and to make history at the Olympics.

TFK:

How did you get you interested in this topic?

GRAY:

I just thought about who I admired as a little girl, and who I would have wanted to read a book about. Nadia Comaneci was the first name that popped into my head.

TFK:

Could you tell us more about Nadia? What about her is the most interesting thing to you?

GRAY:

I remember watching her on television, and seeing her on the beam. She was moving so gracefully, as if it were nothing. It was just so beautiful. Later on, as I was researching this book, I read a quote from a sportscaster named Jim McKay. He said that watching her was like swimming in an ocean of air. And I thought, that’s exactly what she looks like. I think the illustrator of this book, Christine Davenier, picked up on that [idea] beautifully.

TFK:

What kind of research did you do for this book?

GRAY:

Nadia Comaneci, the first Olympic gymnast to ever receive a perfect score of ten, performs on a balance beam.

GETTY IMAGES
Nadia Comaneci, the first Olympic gymnast to ever receive a perfect score of ten, performs on a balance beam.

My resources were two autobiographies from Nadia Comaneci, and an autobiography of her coach, Bela Karolyi. I watched old news coverage and Olympic footage. I took the story from all of those sources and pieced it together. Then I translated it for a picture-book audience.

TFK:

What was it like to work with the illustrator, Christine Davenier?

GRAY:

The editor and I would work on the text, and then she would send the text to Davenier, who lives in Paris. I sent her a lot of photographs, and she immersed herself in video footage as well.

TFK:

What does it mean to earn a perfect ten?

GRAY:

In gymnastics at the time, that was the rating system. It was from one to ten. And people who perform in the Olympics at that high level are usually getting 8’s to 9.5’s. So it was really interesting for me to learn that the people who made the scoreboard never made enough room for a ten. They never considered that somebody would actually get a perfect score. So when she did, it had to be shown as a 1.0, which caused confusion because it was obviously a wonderful routine. And so that’s how the perfect score was shown – as a 1 – which is actually not perfect.

TFK:

What’s special about Nadia, and why should kids know her story?

GRAY:

It was really interesting for me to learn that she was not a perfect kid. She really had all of this energy, and she was driving her parents crazy and getting into trouble. So perfection doesn’t come out of nowhere. She took that energy and she put it into something that she loved. She was disciplined and determined. So I would say that it’s important for kids to see where champions come from.

TFK:

What else do you hope that kids take away from the book?

GRAY:

I hope kids see that if they have a lot of energy, sports is a great place to put it. And also that no one is perfect, and that’s ok.

TFK:

What’s next for you?

GRAY:

I’m working on some nonfiction picture books about other athletes. I’m doing some rhyming fiction picture books, too.

TFK:

Do you have any advice for kids who want to write?

GRAY:

My advice for kids who want to write is that you have to read a lot of books before you can write the stories you want to tell. Once you do get to the place where you want to write, it’s important to pick a story that you love – whether it’s fiction or nonfiction – to pick a story that you can’t stop thinking about. Writing is a way to get down that story that’s just banging around in your head. So pick a subject that you love.


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