Today, 11 a.m.–noon. Chelsea Clinton will sign at the Penguin
Random House booth (1921).
This is an incredibly quick turnaround. Had you
been thinking about a book like this for a while when
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered
his now-famous censure of Elizabeth Warren—“She
was warned. Nevertheless, she persisted”—in
A|;I was so affected, so many were, by what happened when Senator Warren tried to read Coretta Scott
King’s words on the floor of the Senate, was silenced by Senator McConnell, and then read the entire letter in the hallway on Facebook Live. Aren’t the words of Coretta Scott
King always relevant? Talk about remarkable persistence. I
was thinking about how to explain an event like that to my
children, who are very young. Aidan is just 11 months old
and Charlotte is two and a half, but I talk to them about the
world and about the things that inspire me all the time. I
had been thinking in terms of writing something about how
Senator Warren’s persistence turned an important moment
into something even larger. I talked it over with my wonderful editor, Jill Santopolo, who was also struck by Senator
Warren’s actions, and she suggested we could work on this
together as a picture book. Luckily, Alexandra Boiger, who
illustrates the Tallulah books [written by Marilyn Singer],
which I love, was free. So I wrote as quickly as I could.
I think you probably set a world record, especially
since I imagine one of the hardest jobs in writing this
book was culling the list of women to include. How
did you go about it?
A| The urgency with which we did this probably helped me come to terms with the challenge of having to not
only quickly make a list but work to distill each woman’s
remarkable story into a few sentences that would convey
what was so inspiring about their lives. I thought a lot
about the women—and the girls—who inspired me when I
was a little girl in Little Rock [Ark.]. Ruby Bridges and
Claudette Colvin were just girls when they made important
contributions to the civil rights movement. I remembered
watching Florence Joyner breaking world records at the
Seoul Olympics. And then there were women like Virginia
Apgar, whose contributions I didn’t know about until I got
pregnant myself and learned about the Apgar score, something she developed decades ago, which has become the
standard for assessing a [newborn] baby’s health.
I think many kids will be surprised to learn that
Claudette Colvin may have been the inspiration for
Rosa Parks’s more famous refusal to give up her seat.
A| I remember learning about Claudette Colvin when I was in school in Little Rock. I don’t know if it’s
because I went to Horace Mann Junior High [which was the
all-black high school where the Little Rock Nine had been
enrolled before integrating Central High School in 1957],
so perhaps an awareness that young people were integral to
the civil rights movement permeated what we learned there.
But I knew at an early age that young people had shaped the
course of American history.
And even for those who made their contributions as adults,
what I was interested in was the connection between what
they had to go through as children and who they became.
Helen Keller, for instance. Think about the sheer persistence
it took to overcome being blind and deaf to go on to graduate
from college. That achievement would never have been possible if she hadn’t already proved she could conquer the enormous obstacles she faced as a child. She was drawing on a
reservoir most of us couldn’t imagine. What happened when
she was young is a necessary part of her story.
It’s like the quote from Sally Ride that I included:
“Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers
they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing
those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.” It’s
hard for all of us to imagine what we can’t see. We have to
close the imagination gap.
Has your mother seen the book? Did she like her
A|She has seen the book and her first reaction was so typical—she wanted to know, “What did Charlotte
think?” I was happy to tell her that Charlotte loved it and
wants to read it all the time. She thought that was great.