Rachel Dougherty: Acceptance Speech Text
It’s such an honor to have Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge selected as a 2020 Cook Prize honor book! It’s been almost five years since I scratched out the first draft that would eventually become this book, and I can’t believe all that I’ve learned, all the places it’s taken me, and all the wonderful readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers I’ve met along the way.
I was drawn to this story for two main reasons. The first being that I felt a little cheated that I’d never heard it before. I know I’d learned the name Roebling at some point in school, and the Brooklyn Bridge is a famous enough landmark to be a household name even when you’re from Philadelphia. But I’d never even heard a whisper about Emily. The more I read about her, the more I wanted to tell everyone about her courage and contributions when a challenge as big as the Brooklyn Bridge was dropped in her lap.
The other main reason I wanted to tell the world this story was to satisfy a sense of curiosity that I had as a kid. I think to some extent we all write and illustrate for the readers we once were, and I’m no exception. As an elementary schooler, I was so hungry to learn how things worked, and finding digestible, interesting books that met that need wasn’t always the easiest. I loved that Secret Engineer gave me the chance to dig in to how bridges work, and let the readers learn that along with Emily. As Emily’s knowledge grew, so did her confidence–which is exactly how I want my readers to feel.
Thank you to Laurie Abkemeier and Emily Feinberg, who helped me build this book. Thank you to my wife Alyssa for all your support, always. Thank you to Bank Street College, the Cook award committee, and all the curious kids out there who loved Emily’s story–I couldn’t be more thrilled that Secret Engineer made a mark on you.