Coauthor of six books for adults, Second Lady Lynne Cheney published her first children's book, America: A Patriotic Primer, also illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, in 2002. Their new title, A Is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women , follows that same alphabet-book format. Proceeds from both titles are donated to charity and help fund the James Madison Book Award, which Cheney established this year to acknowledge a children's book that "best represents excellence in bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to young people."
PW: What inspired you to start writing books for children?
Lynne Cheney: Years ago, when my own children were little, I wrote an article on Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor, which was anthologized in a textbook. I think it was the first time my children understood that I actually did something other than be a mother. Having my own children around me made me interested in communicating with children through writing. And now that I have my grandchildren around me, I am again interested in doing this.
PW: Did writing for children present different challenges than writing books for adults?
LC: I think it helps to be able to picture in my mind the children I know when I am thinking about the best way to explain things. When I write now, I imagine my granddaughters and try to decide what might interest them.
PW: What prompted you to embark on a second children's book after America: A Patriotic Primer?
LC: Robin Preiss Glasser and I found a lot of gratification creating the first book and wanted very much to collaborate on another. A celebration of American women seemed like a natural topic. I discovered how many wonderful quotes there were about and by American women. We thought this, like America, would both teach and also touch people's hearts.
PW: What were your criteria for including the women in your new book, and how did you decide to organize the material thematically?
LC: We wanted to include women who had achieved in all sorts of different ways and we wanted the perspective to be historical. Thus most of the women in the book were born before 1950. The women pretty much dictated the organization. It wasn't until I began gathering women writers that I realized that we'd need a page that honored poets and another that honored prose writers. Nor did I realize before I began the research what a strong history there is of women journalists.
PW: How and for what length of time did you conduct your research?
LC: Elisabeth Irwin, my research assistant, and I, as well as Robin and her research assistant, Jacqueline Preiss Glasser, worked hard to find information and quotations, beginning in August 2002. One of my favorite quotations in the book, by Susan B. Anthony, I discovered in a 19th-century biography. And one wonderful quote that we found for [the Trailblazers spread] had been attributed to other people, but we tracked it down in a book in the Library of Congress, written by a little-known author named Muriel Strode.
PW: Do you plan to write more historical alphabet books for children?
LC: Robin and I are batting around ideas for another book. At this point we think this will be at least a trilogy.