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Speaking Up for Courageous Women Who Spoke Up and Changed the World, a guest post by Nancy Churnin

When we think of women who spoke up and changed the world, the same few names come to mind, particularly the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. While Justice Ginsburg is a wonderful and worthy subject, why are there multiple books about her and none about others including Henrietta Szold, whom Justice Ginsburg credits for inspiration? 

Did you know that Henrietta Szold showed Justice Ginsburg that women could defy the expectations society had for women by founding the first night school in America to give immigrants the education they needed to succeed in their new country, creating Hadassah, the first charity created and run by women, and saving 11,000 children during the Holocaust?

In fact, Justice Ginsburg wrote of Szold: “Szold’s plea for celebration of our common heritage while tolerating, indeed appreciating, the differences among us concerning religious practice is captivating. I recall her words even to this day when a colleague’s position betrays a certain lack of understanding.”

Then there are the women that somehow slip through the cracks of history, their impact only seen through the work of others. Did you know that a Jewish woman named Eliza Davis wrote to Charles Dickens, protesting his use of harmful Jewish stereotypes in his book, Oliver Twist? She changed his heart, which changed the way he wrote about Jewish people. Her influence on him influenced England into becoming a more compassionate and inclusive.

I’ve written two new picture book biographies about these remarkable women – the first for each – because they deserve to be better known. I hope that their stories will encourage students to search for more hidden heroines.

Henrietta Szold, photo courtesy of Jewish Theological Seminary

A Queen to the Rescue, the Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah is the story of an incredible woman who saw suffering and devoted her life to creating organizations that would solve the problems she identified. Working with others, she addressed the need for adult education, medical care, food security, and, ultimately, rescue from dangerous situations.

Why hadn’t there been a picture book biography of Henrietta before? One reason is that Henrietta never drew attention to herself. She wasn’t motivated by fame or fortune. In fact, she never wrote an autobiography. The challenge in writing Henrietta’s story was to piece together the details of what she had done from a variety of sources and then figure out why she did what she did. This is the difficult, but also fun part research can play. In looking and looking for an accessible youth-friendly way to share her adult accomplishments, I was aided by a couple of happy discoveries. Hadassah, the charity that Henrietta founded, is the Hebrew name for Esther, the Jewish Queen that is celebrated on Purim for her courage in speaking up to save her people.

A Queen to the Rescue by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, Creston Books/Lerner Books

Not only is Hadassah the Hebrew name for Esther, but Henrietta founded Hadassah on Purim! Finally, I learned that when Henrietta traveled to Jerusalem for the first time, she returned in 1909 with an olive wood Purim scroll. She had this cherished item in her possession three years before she founded Hadassah in 1912.

Purim is usually celebrated in a playful way. Kids dress in colorful costumes, eat delicious cookies called hamentashen, and shake noisemakers called groggers. But Henrietta, a student of the Bible and Jewish history, knew that the heart of this celebration is honoring this brave queen who asked her powerful husband, the king, to save her people. To appreciate what a risk Queen Esther took in speaking up to him, this was the same king who had his previous wife killed for disobeying his request to dance for his guests.

A Queen to the Rescue by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, Creston Books/Lerner Books

I called the book A Queen to the Rescue, because I knew Henrietta was channeling that courageous queen when she boarded a ship that went to the heart of Nazi Germany, to plead with powerful men to give her visas for Jewish children so she could bring them to safety.

Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe,  Albert Whitman & Company

In Dear Mr. Dickens, I don’t make a reference to Queen Esther, but I had her in mind when I thought of Eliza’s courage in speaking up to Charles Dickens, one of the most famous authors of their time.

Dickens may not have been a king, but he was one of the most influential people in England. Everyone read him, from the chimney sweeps to the queen. His books changed social policy, with Oliver’s struggles in Oliver Twist leading to changes in child labor laws.

Eliza needed persistence to succeed in her goal of getting Dickens to listen to her. He rebuffed her first letter. She could have been intimidated and given up. But she dug deep and thought hard of how she could word her request in a way that would make him listen.

As with A Queen to the Rescue, it took detective work to discover and bring my heroine to life. Like Henrietta, Eliza never wrote an autobiography. But I did have the benefit of the letters she exchanged with Dickens – once I was able, with the help of Dickens scholar Professor Don Vann of the University of Texas in Denton, to locate them. I also studied the period she lived in, the prejudice against the Jewish community at that time, and my own heart.

Dear Mr. Dickens by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe,  Albert Whitman & Company

I knew how much it hurt her to read Dickens referring to Fagin as “the Jew, the Jew, the Jew,” because it hurt me, growing up, to read those words as if being Jewish meant being selfish, dishonest, and unkind. I found myself in Eliza, wanting to let Dickens know how painful his ugly stereotype was for her and what damage it could do in stoking prejudice against a community made up of people like Eliza and Henrietta that wanted to do good and help others.

I also found myself in Henrietta. Henrietta devoted herself to helping those in need. Her tools were her skills at organization. My goals are the same as Henrietta’s – to help those in need—but my tools are words. I have tried to use my tools in writing books that show how all of us can make a positive difference in the world. I hope these books will make readers think of how we all have different talents and gifts that can be used to make the world a better place.

Henrietta and Eliza may be lesser-known figures, but there are many more like them, waiting to be discovered. They are among the many women who lit the way to roads that others walked on. They are part of a great relay that passes the baton to the next generation so we can all make our way further down the field to a better and more just world. If there had not been a Henrietta Szold, would there have been a Justice Ginsburg? If there had not been an Eliza Davis, would Jewish people still be struggling for equal rights in England and elsewhere?

When Justice Ginsburg wrote a note to congratulate a young girl on her bat mitzvah, she wrote: “I am enclosing a souvenir for you about two people I admire, Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, and Anne Frank.” Then she directed the young women to further reading on both.

In the spirit of Justice Ginsburg, I am offering these two books as souvenirs of courageous women to whom we owe much. I hope these books encourage further reading and reflection on both. It is long past time to thank them and to consider how the world can change when people dare to stand up for what they believe and speak truth to power.

We can count the number of children Henrietta Szold saved from the Holocaust – 11,000 – but we will never know how many more she saved through a lifetime of work helping immigrants succeed in America and helping residents of Jerusalem survive poverty, get education, and be healed by proper medical care.

A Queen to the Rescue by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, Creston Books/Lerner Books

We may not be able to put a number on how many Eliza Davis saved through changing the heart of Charles Dickens. But his words, advocating for Jewish people in his magazines and then later in his creation of the kindly Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend, ushered in a very different attitude toward the Jewish community. Would the England that believed Jewish people were like Fagin have supported the Kindertransport, the effort that saved thousands of Jewish children from the Holocaust? I believe it is no coincidence that the English people who read Lizzie Hexam’s words about Jewish people in Our Mutual Friend, that “there cannot be kinder people in the world,” stepped up to save these children starting in 1938.

Dear Mr. Dickens on display at The Charles Dickens Museum in London as part of their Oliver Twist exhibit. A panel was created to honor Eliza Davis at the exhibit.

Representation matters. At a time when women’s rights are increasingly under attack, we need stories about courageous women who refused to accept the limitations that society tried to force on them. At a time when minorities are increasingly marginalized, we need to have stories about characters that give us the representation that brings pride in those who see mirrors of themselves and empathy in those who see others through mirrors that books can provide.

Just as Queen Esther inspired Henrietta and Eliza, I hope Henrietta and Eliza will inspire teens who read these books to channel their spirits to help change the world for the better. To encourage readers to become the heroines and heroes of their own lives, I’ve created a project for both books. For A Queen to the Rescue, the project is Heal the World. With parental and educator permission, I would like to post photos of ways in which teens have helped others on the dedicated Heal the World page on my website nancychurnin.com

For Dear Mr. Dickens, the project is Dear… With parental and educator permission, I would like to post photos of letters teens write to people in positions of influence, asking them to right wrongs or do better on the dedicated Dear… page on my website.

A Queen to the Rescue by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, Creston Books/Lerner Books

The best way to honor those who are no longer with us is to carry on their work and take it further down the road of justice. That’s what Justice Ginsburg did with Henrietta Szold’s example. That’s what I hope Henrietta’s and Eliza’s stories will do for a new generation.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Kim Leeson

Nancy Churnin is the award-winning author of ten picture books about people who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. Among her awards: a Junior Library Guild selection, School Library Journal and Kirkus Starred Reviews, multiple Kids’ Choice Book Awards finalists, multiple Bank Street Books Best Children Books honorees, multiple National Council for the Social Studies Notables, multiple Silver Eureka Awards, multiple inclusions on A Mighty Girl list, Sydney Taylor Notable, Towner Award nominee, Sakura Medal finalist, Notable Book for a Global Society, Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award and the South Asia Book Award. DEAR MR. DICKENS, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe (Albert Whitman) and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF Henrietta Szold, FOUNDER OF HADASSAH, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg (Creston Books/Lerner Books) debuted in October 2021. A native New Yorker, Nancy lives in North Texas with her family, which includes a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats.

On Facebook: Nancy Churnin Children’s Books

On Facebook: Nancy Churnin

On Twitter: @nchurninOn

Instagram: @nchurnin

About A Queen to the Rescue: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah

Henrietta Szold took Queen Esther as a model and worked hard to save the Jewish people. In 1912, she founded the Jewish women’s social justice organization, Hadassah. Henrietta started Hadassah determined to offer emergency medical care to mothers and children in Palestine. When WWII broke out, she rescued Jewish children from the Holocaust, and broadened Hadassah’s mission to include education, youth development, and women’s rights. Hadassah offers free help to all who need it and continues its mission to this day.

ISBN-13: 9781939547958
Publisher: Creston Books
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 10 Years +

About Dear Mr. Dickens

In Eliza Davis’s day, Charles Dickens was the most celebrated living writer in England. But some of his books reflected a prejudice that was all too common at the time: prejudice against Jewish people. Eliza was Jewish, and her heart hurt to see a Jewish character in Oliver Twist portrayed as ugly and selfish. She wanted to speak out about how unfair that was, even if it meant speaking out against the great man himself. So she wrote a letter to Charles Dickens. What happened next is history.

ISBN-13: 9780807515303
Publisher: Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date: 10/01/2021
Age Range: 4 – 8 Years

Book Review: Finding Refuge: Real-Life Immigration Stories from Young People by Victorya Rouse

Publisher’s description

When you read about war in your history book or hear about it in the news, do you ever wonder what happens to the families and children in the places experiencing war? Many families in these situations decide that they must leave their homes to stay alive. What happens to them?

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 70.8 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes because of war or persecution as of 2019. Over fifty percent of these people are under the age of eighteen. 

English teacher Victorya Rouse has assembled a collection of real-world experiences of teen refugees from around the world. Learn where these young people came from, why they left, and how they arrived in the United States. Read about their struggles to adapt to a new language, culture, and high school experiences, along with updates about how they are doing now and what they hope their futures will look like. 

As immigration has catapulted into the current discourse, this poignant collection emphasizes the United States’ rich tradition of welcoming people from all over the world.

Amanda’s thoughts

This wide-ranging collection of the stories of young people who immigrated to the United States is as informational as it is moving. Rouse put this anthology together using students from her own school. Most of the stories look at refugees in the past 5-10ish years, but some go back as far as the 1970s. The format makes it easy to know what to expect and to be able to jump around and read stories in any order you’d like. An introduction covers what a refugee is, why people become refugees, and what happens both when they leave their homes and when they arrive in the US.

The stories are grouped together by continent/region, and then all follow the same format: an initial introduction with information about the country, history, and a look at why people left this place. Then, we get the stories from the refugees themselves. Each person talks about their life, what things were like where they lived, and what changed or finally pushed their family to leave. Most talk about their complicated feelings and the process of leaving, as well as what it was like getting settled in the US. Little epilogues give a short summary of where they are now in life—families, college, work, goals, dreams, hopes, etc.

Because the people included here are all writing to the same general prompts (and the essays seem heavily edited for continuity of content and voice) and because the editor of this collection sometimes sat down with students who told her about their experiences, the only downfall of this collection is that the voices of most of the essays sound the same. I don’t think, however, that criticism is big enough to take anything away from the anthology other than some personality/personal connection. This would be a very useful book to have in collections especially for students to dip into to select stories to read that speak to them for whatever reason. Though each essay is only a few pages (generally 4-6), they create very thorough pictures of just why people choose to or have to leave their homes. A great resource to help create personal connections and understanding. Readers who have their own immigration story will likely see their experience and feelings reflected in these pages.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541581609
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 12+

Book Review: Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora edited by Saraciea J. Fennell

Publisher’s description

Edited by The Bronx Is Reading founder Saraciea J. Fennell and featuring an all-star cast of Latinx contributors, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is a ground-breaking anthology that will spark dialogue and inspire hope.

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora. These fifteen original pieces delve into everything from ghost stories and superheroes, to memories in the kitchen and travels around the world, to addiction and grief, to identity and anti-Blackness, to finding love and speaking your truth. Full of both sorrow and joy, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is an essential celebration of this rich and diverse community. 

The bestselling and award-winning contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Cristina Arreola, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Naima Coster, Natasha Diaz, Saraciea J. Fennell, Kahlil Haywood, Zakiya Jamal, Janel Martinez, Jasminne Mendez, Meg Medina, Mark Oshiro, Julian Randall, Lilliam Rivera, and Ibi Zoboi.

Amanda’s thoughts

This anthology of personal essays has appeal far beyond just a teen audience, especially as many of the essay delve into the years beyond their teens. While I love anthologies, I don’t always read everything in them. I’ll skim some that are less appealing, skip others entirely after just a few sentences, etc. But here, I read all of them. This is a powerful and well put together collection.

The pieces included here cover a lot of ground. They speak of experiences from childhood through adulthood. They include authors from a bunch of places and backgrounds, writing about a wide variety of experiences, showing that, as Julian Randall writes, “There are as many ways to be Latinx as there are Latinx people” (81). Their essays cover things like culture, assimilation, community, belonging, language, religion, wholeness, resilience, and pride. They have complicated relationships to friends, family, places, history, and the idea of respectability. They struggle with being outsiders, with being immigrants, with the weight of expectations, with the presence and absence of people in their lives. They write about being invisible and being seen, about colorism, anti-Blackness, ancestry, power, whiteness, food, travel, acceptance, camaraderie, isolation, mental health, goals, dreams, love, survival, agency, and existence.

This wonderful and deeply personal look into 15 experiences from the Latinx diaspora will give readers plenty to think about and will surely make many readers feel seen and understood as they encounter authors whose lives, feelings, and experiences echo their own. A great collection.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250763426
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Why Girls’ Social Struggles Intensify During Adolescence and The Inspiration Behind BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends), a guest post by Jessica Speer

Friendships can be challenging, especially during adolescence. When you ask women to recall their preteen and teen social lives, a consistent pattern emerges. There are stories of enduring friendships but also uncomfortable social memories. Women share stories of exclusion, drama, loneliness, fitting in, and friendships lost.

And this rings true for girls today.  A UCLA study of 6,000 sixth-graders found that two-thirds changed friendships during their first middle school year. The majority of adolescents report feeling lonely at some point.

When my daughters entered their tween years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my struggles and the experiences of so many. As a social scientist, this piqued my curiosity. What is it about adolescence that intensifies social struggles, especially for girls?

I dove into books and research on the subject. I talked to experts. What I found was a confluence of events that create an environment primed for social struggles. Tweens learn how to navigate complex social groups alongside the physical, emotional, and intellectual changes that go along with puberty. And all of this happens as peer acceptance grows in importance and confidence levels drop.

Confidence drops

Puberty is a turbulent time for confidence in all genders, but girls experience a more significant dramatic drop. Claire Shipman, Katty Kay, and JillEllyn Riley, authors of The Confidence Code for Girls, found that girls’ confidence levels drop by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. The authors contribute much of this drop to newly formed habits such as overthinking, people-pleasing, and perfectionism. This lack of confidence ripples through girls’ relationships and increases the likelihood of self-doubt, social anxiety, and risk avoidance.

Increased reliance on peers

While confidence is dipping, adolescents are also in the midst of the developmental phase that shifts their reliance on family to a reliance on peers. During this period, friendships begin to replace family as tweens’ primary source of identity and support. Social conformity becomes a typical response to the urgent need to fit in and be accepted into a new replacement “family.”

This process of finding a new group, as psychologist Lisa Damour shares in her book, Untangled, is nothing less than a strategy for survival. Cliques and social drama are often anxiety-fueled behaviors to manage the transition from family as the primary social support to finding a sense of belonging in peers.

Seeking identity

As kids look more to peers to find support and belonging, they need to figure out where they fit in the sea of students, groups, and activities. During adolescence, kids begin to explore their social world, including who their friends are, what they wear, and what activities they do. They start to question, experiment with, and shape their identity.

In early elementary school, friendships often form based on proximity, such as being in the same class or the same neighborhood. Starting in late elementary school and middle school, friendships begin to form based on shared interests and deeper feelings of acceptance. The pursuit of identity ripples into friendships and prompts changes.

“At a time when identity is so very insecure, kids need everything in their lives – shoes, friends, Instagram posts- to project the image of self they’re working so hard to construct. Any deviation is far too dangerous to tolerate. It’s also why old elementary school friendships so commonly and brutally come to an end in sixth or seventh grade – an event that can feel completely mysterious to the person who’s left behind,” explains author Judith Werner in her book, And Then They Stopped Talking to Me.

Physiological Changes

Bubbling beneath the surface of all of this, the physiological changes in adolescence amplify the intensity of teens’ emotions and experiences. The limbic system, or the emotional brain, ramps up quickly in puberty, while the executive functioning part of the brain responsible for self-regulation and self-control lags. During adolescence, we feel our feelings most deeply, which creates enduring memories. As described by psychologist Laurence Steinberg in Age of Opportunity, “the hormones released in puberty affect our “sensitivity thresholds,” how reactive we are to things that happen to us and what we feel.”

Inspiration for BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships

To say a lot is going on developmentally during adolescence is an understatement. It is a period of tremendous change and growth. An enduring pandemic adds another level of change to this already complex phase.

During my research, I uncovered insights about friendship that I thought would help tweens. To make sure these ideas resonated with girls, I started Project Friendships, an after-school program focused on social-emotional skills and awareness. The honest feedback, stories, and voices from program participants shaped BFF or NRF from start to finish.

Friendship requires a variety of skills that take time and practice to develop. It’s a messy process filled with change, mistakes, and misunderstandings. My hope is that BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) serves as a warm and compassionate guide as girls journey through their social worlds.

Meet the author

Jessica Speer is the author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, which grew out of her friendship program that strengthens social awareness and helps kids learn to navigate common struggles. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and focuses her research and writing on social-emotional topics for kids and families. To learn more, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com or @jessica_speer_author on Instagram, @speerauthor on Twitter, or @JessicaSpeerAuthor on Facebook.

About BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships by Jessica Speer

Friendships are tough to navigate, even for adults. The preteen years can be particularly sticky, but we’ve got your back! Packed with fun quizzes, colorful illustrations, and stories about girls just like you, BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) is the ultimate interactive guidebook to help you learn the ins and outs of friendship. Explore the topics of gossip, bullying, and feeling left out, along with ways to strengthen the friendships that mean the most to you.

ISBN-13: 9781641701952
Publisher: Familius
Publication date: 08/17/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” (the term originated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Bringing a New Wartime Diary to Light, a guest post by Ann Bausum

Welcome to the Ensnared Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Ensnared by Ann Bausum on January 12th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive articles from Ann, plus 5 chances to win a hardcover copy!

Mention the topic of World War II diarists, and Anne Frank will probably be top of mind. When I was a schoolgirl I became so inspired by her account that I started my own diary (a decidedly short-lived endeavor). Frank’s record has become so synonymous with childhood diaries that, decades later, I caught my breath when I learned about another German-born girl who had kept a wartime diary.

One of Frank’s last entries was about the subject that introduced the writings of Christa von Hofacker. Both girls were gripped by news of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. “I’m finally getting optimistic,” Frank wrote the next day. If German military officers were trying to kill Hitler, she surmised, then surely Hitler’s demise was imminent. 

Christa von Hofacker, at age 12, had a more immediate concern. She began her diary after her father was arrested for his involvement in the July 20 plot to topple the Nazi regime. Cäsar von Hofacker, who had played a leading role in Paris during the coup, was among hundreds imprisoned afterwards in consequence. Later on, he and more than 150 others were murdered by the regime.

When Christa began to write, she had no idea of the fate that would befall her father. But her worries didn’t stop there. In early August Gestapo agents had appeared unexpectedly at her family home and arrested her mother, older brother, and older sister. Then, weeks later, the agents returned. 

The last photo ever taken of Cäsar von Hofacker with his children (from left), Liselotte, Christa, Eberhard, Alfred, and Anna-Luise, April 1944

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children,” the man declared. Christa recorded these words in her diary. In the pages that follow she documented how she and her two younger siblings were taken without explanation on an extended rail journey. Their travels landed them at a remote hideaway in central Germany where they were held with other children under indefinite detention. Her text is riveting, visceral, and astounding. It stands as the definitive eyewitness account of the experiences she and 45 other young children shared as part of Hitler’s revenge for the actions of their fathers.

© Ann Bausum, all rights reserved


I gained access to Christa’s diary thanks to the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin. An offshoot of this museum maintains outreach to families tied to Hitler’s post-coup revenge. Staff there helped me approach several of these eyewitnesses as part of my research. My book was immeasurably improved by interactions with Christa and these other now-octogenarians. (Hint: Check out the next post in this blog tour to learn more.) 

In a series of interviews, conversations, and emails, Christa and I picked up where her diary left off. She filled in gaps, ruminated about what she had witnessed, and added further context to the words she had recorded more than 75 years earlier. Christa’s diary has gained a measure of recognition in Germany during recent decades, but few knew of it beyond. I am honored to be able to share excerpts from her account and to be able to introduce American readers to this history through Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair

Would you help spread the word? #AnnBausumEnsnared

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Meet the author

ANN BAUSUM is an award-winning children’s book author who brings history alive by connecting readers to personal stories from the past that echo in the present day. Ensnared is her 11th book for National Geographic Kids and her fourth look at international history. While researching the book, she traveled twice to Europe to get to know the people and places that became intertwined in 1944 after the failed effort to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair. Previously Bausum has explored international history with such works as Stubby the War Dog; Denied, Detained, Deported; and Unraveling Freedom. Many of her books highlight themes of social justice, including her National Geographic title The March Against Fear. In 2017, her body of work was honored by the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC. Individual titles have won numerous starred reviews and been recognized with a Sibert Honor Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Carter G. Woodson Award, and the SCBWI Golden Kite Award, among other distinctions.

Blog Tour Schedule:

February 8th – Teen Librarian Toolbox

February 9th – Christy’s Cozy Corners

February 10th – Bookhounds

February 11th – From the Mixed-Up Files

February 12th – Ms. Yingling Reads

Buy: Amazon | Indiebound | Bookshop

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Follow Ann Bausum: Website | Twitter | Facebook

About Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair

“I’ve come on orders from Berlin to fetch the three children.” –Gestapo agent, August 24, 1944

With those chilling words Christa von Hofacker and her younger siblings found themselves ensnared in a web of family punishment designed to please one man—Adolf Hitler. The furious dictator sought merciless revenge against not only Christa’s father and the other Germans who had just tried to overthrow his government. He wanted to torment their relatives, too, regardless of age or stature. All of them. Including every last child.

During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But their plot to attack the dictator at his Wolf’s Lair compound failed, and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge. The result was a systematic rampage of punishment that ensnared not only those who had tried to topple the regime but their far-flung family members too. Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating adults and children.

Using rare photographs and personal interviews with survivors, award-winning author Ann Bausum presents the spine-chilling little-known story of the failed Operation Valkyrie plot, the revenge it triggered, and the families caught in the fray.

Why I Wrote Strongman. Facts Matter. So Does History, a guest post by Kenneth C. Davis

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How does an entire nation follow an authoritarian leader –a Strongman—down a dangerous and deadly path? How does democracy die?

These are difficult questions in ordinary times. But in recent years, as the United States has confronted serious threats to its democratic institutions, these questions have become more pressing. It is no longer an interesting academic exercise to worry about democracy. It is a grave concern that involves the very existence of our most precious rights and freedoms.

Since I was a small boy, I have always loved questions, history, and books. No surprise then that I made a career out of writing books that ask questions about history. In the past, for instance, I asked the question: “How did the men who conceived and fought for the Declaration of Independence go back to lives utterly dependent upon enslaved labor?” That question became the basis for my book In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives (2016).

Kenneth C. Davis in the studio, recording a part of the audio edition of More Deadly Than War (2018 Photo courtesy of PenguinRandomHouse Audio)

Later I asked: “How did a deadly war early in the twentieth century contribute to the worst pandemic in modern history?” The answer was explored in my book More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War (2018).

But raising questions about dictators and the fate of democracy that form the core of my latest work, Strongman, may be the most difficult and important questions I have ever posed.

The book Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy profiles Benito Mussolini of Italy, Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. My intent was to demonstrate exactly how these men were able to seize power. The book lays out the tactics and techniques they used to secure complete control over a nation – with murderous results.

For many people, these are merely names in history books. Certainly, they are notorious names. Yet who these men were and what they did is a vague memory. Today, some people make pilgrimages to the tombs of Mao, Mussolini, and Stalin – misguidedly believing them to be heroic leaders and honoring the memory of despots who caused such misery and death in their own countries and around the world. In writing Strongman, I wanted to raise awareness of what these ruthless men did. And I wanted to explore their lives and times to understand how they were able to bring millions of followers down such destructive paths.

Throughout my career, I have always contended that history is more than dates, battles, and speeches. It is the story of real people doing real things in real places. When we learn history as a human story it becomes less abstract and dry and far more meaningful. Not only does it help us to understand how the past shaped the present. But I also believe that the lessons of the past can guide us to make good choices in our own times.

Kenneth C. Davis in his New York City office during a recent webinar with school teachers.

Having written about history for some thirty years, I certainly was aware of the role these Strongmen played in shaping the modern world. But as I began to research their lives, I was surprised by how ordinary they were in many respects as young men. As a boy, Adolf Hitler loved stories of the American West and then dreamed of becoming a painter. Joseph Stalin was in a seminary school and worked for a time keeping weather statistics. Mao Zedong defied his father who had arranged a marriage for him at age fourteen and he later applied for work in a soap factory before becoming a librarian’s assistant. They were in many respects typical, rebellious teenagers who gave no clue of their vicious destinies.

My research took me down many dark roads filled with cruelty, torture, secret police, deliberate starvation, concentrations camps, and mass murder. The degradation and death that each of these men was responsible for became clearer in the horrific toll of destruction they left in their wakes. It is not an easy story to tell. But we cannot look away.

My research also revealed the way these men — and their legions of followers– were able to seize power using a playbook of tactics that many autocrats and tyrants rely on– propaganda, purges of enemies, elimination of the free press and other safeguards to basic rights, and ultimately stamping out dissent. In the process, they destroy any glimmer of hope for democracy.

For much of the thirty years since my book Don’t Know Much About® History was first published in 1990, I remained fairly optimistic about the future of democracy – both in the United States and around the world. At the time the book appeared, the Soviet Union was crumbling, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, and South Africa’s apartheid system would be vanquished. As budding democracies took root around the globe, the world appeared to enter an exciting moment in history. U.S. President George H.W. Bush even pronounced a “New World Order.” Prospects for greater freedom and more human rights seemed brighter as dictatorships fell away, replaced in many nations by “People Power.”

Finalists for the 2017 YALSA Awards ALA Midwinter, Atlanta, GA.
Left to right: Linda Barrett Osborne, the late Karen Blumenthal, Kenneth C. Davis, the late John Lewis, Gareth Hinds, Pamela S. Turner.
(Photo courtesy of Macmillan School and Library Marketing)
 

Despite the acts of terror and financial crises that followed in the early years of a new century, that optimism appeared secure when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Like many Americans, I was surprised and gratified that the United States had made the great leap of choosing a Black man for the nation’s highest office. Whether one agreed with Obama’s political policies or not, many conceded that Barack Obama’s victory seemed to signal a new stage in American democracy.

But something changed. The steady progress toward widening freedom, especially in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European Communist-bloc, halted somewhat abruptly. The movement towards global democracy slowed and then went into reverse. Authoritarian leaders, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, stepped into the breach.

That movement has only accelerated over the past two decades. Populist, nationalist leaders have secured power in several former Communist countries that had emerged as free market democracies and joined the European Union.  Authoritarian leaders also took power in nations in Asia and South America.

These growing global threats to human rights, basic freedoms, and democratic principles were the reason I considered it a crucial moment to focus on how an authoritarian dictator –- a Strongman – could take control of a country and quickly dismantle democracy. How does such a leader take power? How do they win millions of willing believers? What are the tactics and techniques they use to destroy the freedoms and rights that come with democracy? And could it happen here?

Meet the author

Author Photo Credit Nina Subin

Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times–bestselling author of Don’t Know Much About® History, which gave rise to the “Don’t Know Much About®” series of books and audios.  He is also the author of the critically acclaimed In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four President, and Five Black Lives, a Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award and a Notable Book of the American Library Association in 2017. His book More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of The Spanish Flu and the First World War wasnamed a Notable Trade Book for Young People by the Children’s Book Council and National Council for the Social Studies.

His latest book, Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy, was published on October 6, 2020. It was named a “Best Children’s Book of 2020” by the Washington Post and among the “Best Young Adults Books of 2020” by Kirkus Reviews,

Davis has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Smithsonian magazine, among other publications. A frequent media guest, he has appeared on CBS This Morning, Today, CNN, and NPR. He was recently featured in the CNN documentary “Pandemic: How a Virus Changed the World in 1918.”

Davis enjoys both in-person and virtual visits with readers, teachers, students, librarians, and members of the general public. He lives in New York City.

Twitter: @kennethcdavis

Website: dontknowmuch.com 

Davis recommends buying books at Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine.

© Copyright 2021 Kenneth C. Davis All rights reserved

About Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy by Kenneth C. Davis

From the bestselling author of the Don’t Know Much About® books comes a dramatic account of the origins of democracy, the history of authoritarianism, and the reigns of five of history’s deadliest dictators. 

Washington Post Best Book of the Year!

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. 

Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril.

ISBN-13: 9781250205643
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: #MeToo and You: Everything You Need To Know About Consent, Boundaries, and More by Halley Bondy

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

Lerner/Zest. Feb. 2021. 200p. Tr $37.32. ISBN 9781541581555; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781541581593.

Gr 6-8–Tweens and young teens learn about healthy relationships, consent, boundaries, red flags, and more in this thorough, age-appropriate book on breaking the silence around sexual abuse and harassment. Chapters cover power dynamics, definitions, myths, asking for help, being an ally, and taking action to raise awareness. The text, which is inclusive of all sexualities and genders, describes how to recognize abusive behaviors and how to avoid committing them. It also examines why people may have difficulty asking for help and why some may not pursue support. Subsequent chapters break down how to seek out help, what to expect and what you may be asked, how court proceedings may work, restraining orders, counseling, why some adults don’t offer support, and the consequences of failed justice. Sidebars of scenarios, both real and fictitious, and stories from people who experienced abuse are incorporated throughout. The discussion of relationships and consent isn’t limited to a romantic context. Examples range from not sexual or violent to extremely graphic and deeply unsettling. In “Kaye’s Story,” featured in chapter two, readers are warned that the story is not only “true” but “very disturbing.” The color illustrations of generic posed mannequins (like wooden artist’s models) detract from the personal tone and approach. This dense, intense read never sugarcoats any of the information. Repeated content warnings remind readers to only read what they can handle. Resources such as hotlines and nonprofits are listed throughout; many more are detailed in the back matter.

VERDICT A recommended resource to jump-start difficult conversations.

Take 5: 5 of the Best Books I’ve Read in 2020, Nonfiction Edition

I personally tend to read far more fiction than I do nonfiction, though that it something that I am personally working on changing. And as you may have heard, TLT has decided to make the intentional effort to highlight and review more nonfiction in 2021 as part of our #FactsMatter project.

You Too? 25 Voices Shares Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler

Publisher’s Book Description:

A timely and heartfelt collection of essays inspired by the #MeToo movement, edited by acclaimed young adult and middle-grade author Janet Gurtler. Featuring Beth Revis, Mackenzi Lee, Ellen Hopkins, Saundra Mitchell, Jennifer Brown, Cheryl Rainfield and many more.

When #MeToo went viral, Janet Gurtler was among the millions of people who began to reflect on her past experiences. Things she had reluctantly accepted—male classmates groping her at recess, harassment at work—came back to her in startling clarity. She needed teens to know what she had not: that no young person should be subject to sexual assault, or made to feel unsafe, less than or degraded.

You Too? was born out of that need. By turns thoughtful and explosive, these personal stories encompass a wide range of experiences and will resonate with every reader who has wondered, “Why is this happening to me?” or secretly felt that their own mistreatment or abuse is somehow their fault—it’s not. Candid and empowering, You Too? is written for teens, but also an essential resource for the adults in their lives—an urgent, compassionate call to listen and create change.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is a difficult but important read for teens and anyone else who lives in this world. Here 25 people, including teens authors like Beth Revis and Cheryl Rainfield share their personal experiences with sexual harassment, abuse and assault. As each person shares their personal stories, we learn more about the truth of this issue in our world and how to navigate these painful conversations to help change the world for future generations.

Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

Publisher’s Book Description:

Stamped traces the history of racism and the many political, literary, and philosophical narratives that have been used to justify slavery, oppression, and genocide. Framed through the ideologies and thoughts of segregationists, assimilationists, and antiracists throughout history, the book demonstrates that the “construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, whether financially or politically,” and that this power has been used to systemically and systematically oppress Black people in the United States for more than four hundred years.

Karen’s Thoughts: I remember learning about racism and the Civil Rights movement more than 30 years ago when I was in high school, and this year we have seen both a rise in violent hate crimes that are racially motivated and in a new growing movement that boldly proclaims that Black Lives Matter and we need to keep doing the work of breaking down systemic racism in all areas of our world. Here Ibram X. Kendi taps prolific YA author Jason Reynolds to make his more scholarly work on racism in America accessible to a younger audience. Each section of the book is divided into historical time periods and takes a deep look at issues that kids today may not know about. It’s another uneasy but necessary read, and in the more than capable hands of Jason Reynolds it’s an amazing nonfiction work for our times.

Super Sleuths: Solve This! Forensics by Kate Messner

Publisher’s Book Description:

C.S.I. meets National Geographic in this forensics-filled adventure. Examine the evidence and consider the suspects to put your crime-solving skills to the test.

Calling all budding sleuths! Solve your way through each entertaining, imaginary G-rated mystery to explore the forensic science of investigating and analyzing evidence. You’ll study smudges on a computer keyboard, dust for fingerprints, examine bite marks on a discarded snack, analyze toxicology tests on blood samples, and much, much more. Piece together the clues to see if you can solve each case.

Fans of true crime dramas, escape rooms, mysteries, and preeminent author Kate Messner will love this introduction to forensic science.

Karen’s Thoughts: Regular readers know that my teenage daughter is in the process of applying to college to major in forensic science, which means that my house if full of books about murder, serial killers, poisons and more. This is a fun little look at forensic science that helps us share the older kids passion with the younger sibling with less . . . graphic details. It explains the science and has fun puzzles to solve. Plus, it’s Kate Messner, who can always be trusted to do her due diligence when it comes to researching and writing juvenile nonfiction.

True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy Otis

Publisher’s Book Description:

“If I could pick one book to hand to every teen—and adult—on earth, this is the one. True or False is accessible, thorough, and searingly honest, and we desperately needed it.” —Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

A former CIA analyst unveils the true history of fake news and gives readers tips on how to avoid falling victim to it in this highly designed informative YA nonfiction title.

“Fake news” is a term you’ve probably heard a lot in the last few years, but it’s not a new phenomenon. From the ancient Egyptians to the French Revolution to Jack the Ripper and the founding fathers, fake news has been around as long as human civilization. But that doesn’t mean that we should just give up on the idea of finding the truth.

In True or False, former CIA analyst Cindy Otis will take readers through the history and impact of misinformation over the centuries, sharing stories from the past and insights that readers today can gain from them. Then, she shares lessons learned in over a decade working for the CIA, including actionable tips on how to spot fake news, how to make sense of the information we receive each day, and, perhaps most importantly, how to understand and see past our own information biases, so that we can think critically about important issues and put events happening around us into context.

True or False includes a wealth of photo illustrations, informative inserts, and sidebars containing interesting facts and trivia sure to engage readers in critical thinking and analysis.

Karen’s Thoughts: This book chilled me to the bones. Cindy Otis takes a deep dive into the history of fake news and propaganda, both past and current. There are lots of important tips for how to analyze your news sources included. One of the chilling facts you will learn is that Americans and outside agitators purposefully create and use fake news websites to destabilize our country, but in the case of some of the American websites it’s really just college kids with lots of student debt creating websites to make lots of money quick and easy. I also learned that fake news websites were shared far more than real new websites in the 2016 election and that although both parties engage in the creation of fake news and propaganda, the conservative party tends to do so at a much higher rate than more liberal parties. Like You Too? and Stamped, this is a profoundly important and vital work of nonfiction designed to help us navigate one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Pocket Change Collectives: Various topics and authors

These are a collection of short, compact books on a wide variety of topics. I am including them together because it’s hard to emphasize one when part of their appeal is the format and size. You can read Amanda MacGregor’s review on these books here.

So these are my favorite nonfiction books for the year, which means I have now shared 10 of my top 20 reads of 2020. You can read my first Top 5 list for 2020 here. Join us next Monday for my next batch of 5. And tell me in the comments, what’s your favorite nonfiction of 2020?

The Original Activists, a conversation between authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb

Today, authors Rebecca Roberts and Lucinda Robb join us. Their new book, The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World, looks back at the leaders and lessons they taught us while also looking forward to today’s your activists who are changing our present and our future.

The authors both have personal connections to activism and the women’s movement – Roberts is the daughter of journalist Cokie Roberts and granddaughter of Lindy Boggs and Robb is the daughter of Lynda Robb and the granddaughter of Lady Bird Johnson.

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Lucinda:  In the past few years we’ve seen a massive groundswell of people, many of them students, becoming active in Black Lives Matter, Climate Change, Me Too, Gun Control and other social causes.  Having spent the last few years writing about the tactics of the women’s suffrage movement over 100 years ago, at what point do you watch the news and think, to quote Yogi Berra, that it’s Déjà vu all over again?

Rebecca: Every day!  Especially here in Washington. Every time someone organizes a march down Pennsylvania Avenue, or protests in front of the White House, or holds the President accountable for his own quotations, or even takes an event that unfolds in unexpected ways and then milks the resulting press coverage for all it’s worth – all I can think is that the suffragists did it first. And the opposite is also true. I see contemporary activists using tools like Twitter or Instagram and just imagine what the suffragists would have been able to accomplish if they had the same access.

Lucinda:  Can’t you just picture Susan B. Anthony tweeting about getting arrested for voting in 1872? Even without social media, she still managed to get plenty of publicity at her trial. The judge told her six times to sit down and be quiet, but she wasn’t having it. You could even say she persisted. Later she wrote a book about the proceedings and for the rest of her long life, constantly reminded people she was a convicted criminal. The suffragists have so many great stories, and having spent so much time reading their speeches, petitions, letters and even their diaries, after a while you feel as if you know them personally. Almost like they are old friends you haven’t seen recently but still care about.

Rebecca: I agree – you do feel like you get to know the subjects of your research. And there are some women you come to admire, but whose literal presence you might not actually enjoy. I’m thinking of Alice Paul, who was incredibly impressive, but so single minded and evidently humorless that her company was probably a heavy lift. Whereas Doris Stevens, who wrote Jailed for Freedom, and Maude Younger, who complied the National Woman’s Party’s infamous card file, were both hilarious. What about you, is there a suffragist that you wish you could do a zoom call with?

Lucinda:  As a mom struggling with school being at home, Elizabeth Cady Stanton immediately jumps to mind. She had to juggle being one of the great writers and leaders of the suffrage movement with raising seven rowdy children. One time the older kids tied corks to the baby and threw him into the river to see if he would float – true story! There’s a letter where she complains about how difficult it is to find them good tutors and shoes that fit, and how they have to be taken to the dentist (who knew they had dentists back then?), so clearly some things never change. But in the end six of her children went to college, including both of her daughters. One of them, Harriot Stanton Blatch, followed in her mom’s footsteps and came up with the idea for suffragists to picket in front of the White House. The very first time anyone tried it! Speaking of which, have you ever done any picketing?

Becca: I have participated inprotests on behalf of women’s issues: Take Back the Night marches, the Women’s March of 2017, things like that. And I’ve been a part of many political rallies. I have never picketed literally, with a sign and everything. But I love seeing generations of women at those events, marching arm in arm, backing a cause together, even if they have differing perspectives.  What about your daughter, is she ready to take to the streets?

Lucinda: She’s 14 and mostly stuck at home for now, so she hasn’t progressed much beyond making posters, but she’s primed for when things loosen up.  She read some of our early drafts and wrote lots of useful comments in the margins with her orange sparkly gel pen (teenagers are brutally honest). Her favorite suffrage tactic, which resonates in our smartphone age, was about paying attention to how things look.  You wrote our chapter on this, do you have a favorite example?

Rebecca: Oh, there are so many. The suffragists were masters at crafting viral images. Think about Inez Milholland in the 1913 Suffrage parade, wearing a flowing white dress and starry crown as she rode a very noble looking horse. She struck such a heroic figure that her crown was the inspiration for Wonder Women years later. She looked fantastic. And that was no accident – Inez Milholland was a labor lawyer, an educated, ambitious, accomplished professional woman, at a time when that was pretty rare. But the newspaper men (and they were almost entirely men) of the time could never see past her looks. They inevitably wrote about her as “the most beautiful suffragist.” So Alice Paul, who organized that parade, figured if she put Inez in a gorgeous dress on a gorgeous horse, maybe the sexist reporters would actually take her picture and give some press attention to the suffrage cause. It totally worked – that image is still striking over 100 years later. It’s been such a joy to learn this history, but it isn’t all heroes and horses.

Lucinda: There are some ugly parts too. There was a lot of blatant racism in the suffrage movement, and a lot of voices that were ignored. Back in the late 19th century, Stanton and Anthony helped write a massive six volume history of the movement – which they donated to libraries everywhere – that almost completely left out Black suffragists. But Ida B. Wells was not someone you could dismiss. She called out white suffragists for using dangerous stereotypes about Black men and shamed the largest women’s club in America into condemning lynching.  Long before Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat on a segregated public train. And when white suffragists tried to push her to the back of the 1913 parade, she jumped right into the middle and marched proudly along.  She didn’t wait for permission, she did what she thought was right, just like a lot of activists do now.   

In the end, we tried not to put anyone up on a pedestal, but instead emphasized what the suffragists did that was successful, the ways they struggled, and how they managed to make big changes that still matter today.  And we hope that is what our readers learn – you don’t have to be uniquely special or even perfect to change the world, you just have to be willing to try.

Meet the authors

Rebecca Boggs Robertsis the author of Suffragists in Washington, DC: The 1913 Parade and the Fight for the Vote and Historic Congressional Cemetery. She has been many things, including a journalist, producer, tour guide, forensic anthropologist, event planner, political consultant, jazz singer, and radio talk show host. Currently she is the curator of programming at Planet Word, a museum, which opened on October 22, 2020. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, three sons, and a big fat dog.

Lucinda Robb was project director for Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789–1920 at the Center for Legislative Archives. The project rediscovered thousands of overlooked original documents and produced a traveling exhibit and education program highlighting the role of women in American democracy. She also helped organize the National Archives’ celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1995. She lives in Virginia with her husband, three children, one dog, and more than five hundred PEZ dispensers.

About The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

The Suffragist Playbook: Your Guide to Changing the World

Do you have a cause you’re passionate about? Take a few tips from the suffragists, who led one of the largest and longest movements in American history.

The women’s suffrage movement was decades in the making and came with many harsh setbacks. But it resulted in a permanent victory: women’s right to vote. How did the suffragists do it? One hundred years later, an eye-opening look at their playbook shows that some of their strategies seem oddly familiar. Women’s marches at inauguration time? Check. Publicity stunts, optics, and influencers? They practically invented them. Petitions, lobbying, speeches, raising money, and writing articles? All of that, too. 

From moments of inspiration to some of the movement’s darker aspects—including the racism of some suffragist leaders, violence against picketers, and hunger strikes in jail—this clear-eyed view takes in the role of key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Willard, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, and many more. Engagingly narrated by Lucinda Robb and Rebecca Boggs Roberts, whose friendship goes back generations (to their grandmothers, Lady Bird Johnson and Lindy Boggs, and their mothers, Lynda Robb and Cokie Roberts), this unique melding of seminal history and smart tactics is sure to capture the attention of  activists-in-the-making today.

ISBN-13: 9781536210330
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years