During her seven years of working in Harlem with children and teenagers, Laura Fernandez heard and saw a lot of their pain and struggles. She did what she could to assist those children until she was inspired to help on a much larger scale.
She was taking a writing class in 2018 when “God put in my heart a desire to write a children’s book,” she said by phone from isolation in her Manhattan apartment. “The story of Leko came to me and I went from there.”
Leko is the lovable little boy Fernandez brought to life in The Boy That Could, which is illustrated by Katharine Ward. It’s the story of a sweet-natured child who is bullied. Looking for a way to become more popular, he trains for a 2K race to beat the bullies at their own game. But a terrible accident puts him in a coma, sending him on a spiritual journey that changes his life.
Fernandez chose to make her main character a boy in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. Studies show that girls will read books about boys but boys are unlikely to read books about girls. And while she knows from experience what’s it’s like to be a little girl, she had plenty of opportunities to observe the boys’ side. She has four brothers, one of whom is her twin. She’s the only girl in the family.
“They used to bother me all the time,” she says. “Nothing serious. Just sibling stuff."
Boys also are more often the harsher bullies. Interestingly, Fernandez made Matilda Leko’s cruelest tormentor and Willa his new friend and spiritual guide.
Although the name Leko sounds foreign, Fernandez intentionally kept the story free of any identification with place or culture so it would be universal. She chose Leko from a book of names because it means lion/one chosen for his strength and Willa means valiant protector.
Through the trauma of his accident and his struggle to come through the dreamlike world of his coma, Leko realizes his own strength.
“It’s like that with all of us,” Fernandez says. “It takes us awhile to see our true value and the difference we can make.”
Fernandez is currently making a difference as the Lifestyle/Activities Director at EastView Independent Senior Living Residence. This new venture is own and operated by The Salvation Army, which makes it a good fit for Fernandez, the daughter of two Salvation Army officers who set the example of service for her and her siblings. She was born in Argentina and lived there for 10 years before moving around as her parents were reassigned. Stops included a year in Columbia and one in Puerto Rico. She came to the United States in 1994.
Before deciding on becoming a children’s book author, Fernandez had been working on a devotional book. She had written 65 entries before she dropped her computer and the material was lost. Now she posts twice a week to her Late Bloomers Blog and is mulling a couple of ideas for another book, one possibly for adults.
Fernandez hopes young readers of The Boy That Could will see that struggles can be an opportunity to show them who they are and to discern their worth.
“Leko learns what his purpose is through his pain. Children need to recognize their creator watches over them and sees their pain and struggle. They will find themselves with God on their side.”