About the Holiday
In so many ways children and young adults are not only our future but they lead the world forward now. In recognition of this, the United Nations established International Youth Day to work toward ensuring that all children have access to resources to make positive and progressive choices. The theme for this year’s International Youth Day revolves around sustainable consumption, an important topic for the world our young people are inheriting.
It’s fitting that today’s holiday comes during the Olympic Games, a showcase of the best determination, hope, and spirit of today’s youth and tomorrow’s promise. A “perfect” reminder of that is the subject of today’s book!
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still
Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Christine Davenier
“In the village of Oneşti, Romania, a country rich with forests and mountains” Nadia Comaneci could often be seen swinging from tree branch to tree branch. She was a little girl who loved to play. She was “feisty and fearless,” attempting new things on a whim and always with a sense of adventure. Once she tried on a pair of roller skates and skated right out of the store! Another time she was so impatient to ride her new bike that she pedaled off before her father could even tighten the screws. The bike “fell apart as she rode away.” And one year her love of climbing trees extended to the family Christmas tree, which toppled over on her, pinning her to the ground.
To channel all that energy, Nadia’s mother enrolled her in gymnastics lessons. Nadia’s eyes lit up when she saw the room full of ropes, ladders, bars, mats, and trampolines to discover, but she didn’t leave her new skills at the gym. Nadia and a friend cartwheeled around the school playground, capturing the attention of Bela and Marta Karolyi, who owned a gymnastics school. They invited the girls to join.
Nadia was only 6 when she began studying with Bela and Marta. Immediately, she discovered that she liked gymnastics better than her school subjects. She progressed quickly from performing “a straight cartwheel on a line painted on the floor” to doing it on a low balance beam and finally on the high balance beam. She began learning harder and harder moves, “flying from bar to bar, from floor to vault, and high above the beam.”
At 9 years old, Nadia competed in her first National Junior Championship. Despite her skill and hard work, she fell from the high beam during a leap not once but three times. Nadia finished the competition in 13th place. Her disappointment only strengthened her resolve. She went back to the gym and continued to practice many hours every day. Her determination paid off, “and at the next National Junior Championship games, she won first place.”
The ultimate recognition of her skill came when she was chosen to be part of the 1976 Romanian Olympic team. The games were held in Montreal, Canada, and all eyes were on the returning gold medalists from Russia, Olga Korbut and Lyudmila Turischeva. But excitement soon filled the venue as Nadia performed on the beam, the floor, and the vault where she scored 9.9, 9.75, and 9.7 on a scale of 1 (the lowest score) to 10 (a perfect score). The next event was the uneven parallel bars on which Olga Korbut had just scored a 9.9. “Nadia mounted the bars. Now fourteen years old, she was a long way from the forests in Romania. But she swung around as easily as she had jumped from branch to branch as a little girl. The audience gasped as she twirled and whipped and flipped.”
Nadia dismounted and landed perfectly on the mat below as the audience “exploded with applause.” Nadia returned to her team to wait for her score. And wait…and wait. Finally, the score appeared on the board—1.00. The worst score. How could that be? “‘What is Nadia’s score?’” Bela asked the judges. “One of the officials held up ten fingers as a voice announced over the loudspeaker: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, for the very first time in Olympic history, Nadia Comaneci has received the score of a perfect ten!’”
Because no one had ever achieved a 10 before, the scoreboards were programmed only for a high of 9.9. Nadia couldn’t bask in her accomplishment for long, however. She moved on to her next event—and her next perfect 10! “When the competition ended, she had earned seven perfect 10s.” At the medal ceremony both Olga and Lyudmila congratulated their competitor as the new Olympic champion. In all Nadia won five medals and became the youngest ever Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics.
Nadia became a darling of the press. They surrounded her, asking “how it felt to have the world’s attention, if she had been confident she would win, and when she would retire.” She answered each reporter with enthusiasm and confidence, and promising that she was a long way from retiring. When she returned home, it seemed that all of Romania had come out to welcome her and her teammates—even the country’s president.
Now Nadia was famous all over the world. She returned to practicing and inventing new routines, preparing for other competitions and the 1980 Olympic Games. She had come far from swinging branch to branch in the trees of Oneşti, but she would always be that little girl who couldn’t sit still.
Karlin Gray’s compelling biography captures all the spunk and spirit of Nadia Comaneci that made the world fall in love with her at the 1976 Olympic Games. Adults of a certain age well remember watching her in astonishment as she seemed to effortlessly swirl, twirl, and flip through her routines, flashing her sweet smile as she waved to fans. In the first pages Gray reveals anecdotes of Nadia’s adventurous nature that will captivate readers even as they giggle at her predicaments.
The straightforward narration of Nadia’s trajectory from playground cartwheeler to Olympic champion enhances both the gritty determination of her studies with her coaches as well as the suspense of her competitions. All children—no matter what their talent—will draw inspiration from Nadia’s story, which includes disappointments as well as unbounded accomplishments. Gray’s lyrical language flows as smoothly as Nadia flew through the air and will land in readers’ hearts as a perfect 10.
From the cover, which sports Nadia in her iconic floor exercise pose, to the last page, Christine Davenier depicts the world of gymnastics with beauty and the kind of realistic details that create a classic. The two-page spread of the gym where 6-year-old Nadia learns to love gymnastics portrays the enormity of the space and the equipment for a small girl—as well as the enormity of her achievement.
Kids will love the almost “play-by-play” illustrations of how Nadia learned to perform her feats, from starting with a line on the floor to perfecting the high beam and more. Nadia is shown leaping, somersaulting, doing handstands, and even wavering and falling as she practices and competes. The thrill of the Olympic Games, from the opening ceremonies, to the rapt and cheering audiences to the awards ceremony are drawn with stirring action, color, and attention to the specifics of that very special 1976 summer in Montreal.
An Afterword expands on Nadia Comaneci’s courageous life choices and career post-gymnastics and includes a timeline, notes, a selected bibliography, and websites for further study.
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still will fascinate kids and would be a very welcome addition to school classroom—as well as home—libraries.
Ages 5 – 10
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 | ISBN 978-0544319608
Visit Karlin Gray‘s website to learn more about her and to download fun activities!
View a gallery of artwork by Christine Davenier on her website!
Discover more about Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still on the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website!
International Youth Day Activity
Rhythmic Gymnastics Ribbon
You can recreate the grace of rhythmic gymnastics with this easy craft! The swirling beauty of the ribbon makes any movement fun!
- 12-inch dowel
- 6-foot length of ribbon
- Paint the same color as the ribbon
- Hot glue gun or strong glue
- Paint brush
- Paint the dowel and let dry
- Glue the edge of the ribbon to one end of the dowel. Wrap the ribbon about ½ inch around the dowel and secure with glue. Let glue dry.
Picture Book Review