A new anthology offers a rousing call for children and parents to stand up for their beliefs
For many children’s booksellers, their first introduction to We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices (Crown, Sept. 4), an anthology that offers positive ways for children to respond to the hateful words and actions surrounding race, gender, immigration, and disability, was at Children’s Institute in June. There the editors, the husband-and-wife team of Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, who founded the multicultural press Just Us Books, appeared on stage with their editor, Phoebe Yeh, v-p and publisher at Crown, and with friend and contributor Kwame Alexander at a special session about the making of the book—and how the country’s largest children’s publisher came to partner with a small press to make this project happen.
Wade opened and closed the session by using the book’s title as a literal call for action and urged everyone in the audience to stand and to repeat the words “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices” with him. That in and of itself was particularly moving given the news that was just then breaking about immigrants being separated from their children at the U.S. border, children being forced into detention camps, and the launch of the Kid Lit Says No Kids in Cages campaign just days earlier.
But as Wade and Cheryl explained, the impetus for the book dates back to the ugliness surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign. When their niece posted a comment online about how distraught her seven-year-old daughter was when she learned that Donald Trump had won, the Hudsons knew that they wanted to do something to reassure her, and millions of young children like her: “We’ve come through different challenges in the past, and we will get through this.”
For the Hudsons, that meant creating a book and they reached out to friends, both authors and illustrators, to contribute to an anthology that they were originally calling, What Shall We Tell Them? It was also the name of the opening poem that Wade wrote and then renamed to be more directed at the kids themselves, “What Shall We Tell You?” The question is part of a refrain throughout the poem, beginning with the very first line: “What shall we tell you when our world sometimes seems dark and uninviting?”
By the time of BookExpo in 2017, the Hudsons had art and/or writing from nearly half of the contributors who they needed for the anthology. Originally they planned to publish through Just Us Books in time for the press’s 30th anniversary in 2018.
But that changed when Wade ran into Yeh at the show, who asked him what he was working on. After telling her about the book, Yeh, who is a first-generation Chinese-American with a biracial son, told him that she’d be interested in taking a look.
“I loved the idea and the Own Voices aspect of the writing and the art,” Yeh told PW. “I thought we could magnify everything. The next week they were in the office. A couple weeks after that, I was in a cab with Barbara Marcus [president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books] getting her up to speed. She said, ‘Buy it.’ So I did.”
Although many of the book’s 50 contributors had worked with the Hudsons over the years and eagerly signed on, Yeh helped bring some of her own authors, like Alexander and Ellen Oh. And she worked closely with Cheryl to match authors and illustrators. “Everything was very deliberate,” said Yeh, who points to the intergenerational pairing of Carol Boston Weatherford’s poem “The Golden Rule” with an illustration by her son, and to the story-quilt “Get on Board” that Cheryl created for the book, as well as Lesa Cline-Ransome’s poem “Next,” illustrated by her husband, James E. Ransome. Yeh, Cheryl, and Wade were also deliberate in choosing a 7.8 x 9.8” trim size for the unjacketed hardcover that would be small enough that an 11-year-old not be embarrassed to put in their backpack. The intended age for We Rise is 8–12 years old, although Yeh would like to reach parents and envisions them reading it with younger children.
“We love what this book can do,” said Yeh, adding that “it’s personal.” Yeh and Crown have made good on magnifying what the Hudsons could have done on their own, not just in putting together the book, which has an announced first printing of 75,000 copies, but in publicity and promotion. In addition to their appearance at Children’s Institute, the Hudsons were also at BookExpo, BookCon, and ALA. Crown created sneak peek booklets, pre-publication ARCs, and promotional pins. The book launch will take place next month at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, and there will be select national appearances throughout the fall. In addition, Crown is planning on consumer advertising and targeted advertising for teachers and an educators guide. The anthology will be promoted on Random House Children’s Books’s social platforms and educator social media channels, as well as cross-promoted with authors and contributors.
Random House’s Listening Library is publishing an audiobook edition of We Rise. Click below to hear an excerpt.
It includes a track of Paul Robeson singing and music and lyrics for “What Songs Will Our Children Sing?,” which was written by Wade’s brother, Curtis Hudson, whose credits include Madonna’s first hit, “Holiday.”
“What we really want to bring to kids is the message that you can lift your voice, that you can change the world,” said Cheryl at Children’s Institute.