“It Made My Heart Sing”: Gala Honoree David Cully Reads with Kids

David Cully shows an illustration of a flamingo to a small boy who has stood up to get a closer look, while other pre-schoolers sit on the floor gazing up at them
“I’ll be talking about this for a long time,” Cully said after reading with children at Lincoln Square

It’s been years since David Cully worked in a classroom, but when he sits down with four- and five-year-olds in our Early Learning program, it’s clear he feels right at home. As Cully reads the classic picture book Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, the children crowd around him, pointing at the illustrations, making animal noises, and taking turns reading aloud.

“It made my heart sing,” said the Baker & Taylor president—and 2017 Goddard Riverside Book Fair Gala honoree. “You can see the lights in their eyes and new discoveries every moment. They’re learning so much at that age.”

Early in his career, after graduating with a degree in philosophy, Cully taught high school and fifth grade. Later he spent thirteen years teaching weekly preschool classes at his church.

Meanwhile, his passion for books took him from the classroom to the corner office: Cully worked his way up at industry stalwarts like Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, Putnam Berkley Publishing Group and Waldenbooks before joining Baker and Taylor in 2008. He was named president in April of this year.

Connecting children with books is still a big part of his job: Baker & Taylor, a Follett company, is a leading distributer of books, digital content and entertainment products to libraries, schools and retailers worldwide.

“As a big reader I understand how books can change people’s lives,” said Cully. “I don’t think it’s ever too early to put a book in a child’s hands.”

Cully is especially excited about a Baker & Taylor and Follett School Solutions program called Community Share, which helps libraries share their digital book collections with their local public schools. This enables schools to get more books to children, while putting libraries in touch with new audiences.
“School systems and public libraries don’t often work together,” Cully explained. “So we’re connecting them.”

The book industry began partnering with Goddard Riverside more than 30 years ago, when publishing giants came together to launch the annual Book Fair in support of our anti-homelessness and anti-poverty work. (This year’s Book Fair is November 18-19, with the opening-night Book Bash on Nov. 17.) Over the years, publishing industry leaders have sat on our board and been deeply involved in all aspects of our work, including our education programs. We are deeply grateful to them for their commitment.

“I think it’s really a natural partnership, because of the importance of early childhood literacy,” said Cully. “It’s a very humbling thing to be part of a system that’s breaking the cycle of poverty.”