As publishers anticipate the 2020 women’s suffrage centennial, they remain mindful of how history is presented to children. And just as words matter, so too do pictures, says Susan Van Metre, executive editorial director at Walker Books.
“We talk a lot about women’s contributions being left out of historical texts,” Van Metre says, “but we talk less about their being left out of our images of history: the portraits, busts, murals, photos, and even currency that say, ‘These are the people who matter.’ This is why we’re so hungry now for the illustrated histories and picture book biographies that show that women and girls, too, were doing things that mattered.”
In October, Walker will publish Suffragette (ages 7–10), an information-packed timeline of the women’s suffrage movements in the U.K. and U.S., written and illustrated by David Roberts, the artist for Andrea Beaty’s popular STEAM titles Rosie Revere, Engineer; Ada Twist, Scientist, and others. PW’s starred review (see p. 71) called Suffragette a “handsomely illustrated history” that doesn’t shy from “depicting the harsh realities of a struggle that also involved racism, classism, vandalism, and violence.” Roberts has a second politically themed book on the horizon, with Beaty: Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, which Abrams will release in November.
Other children’s authors, too, are delving into voting rights activism and political engagement.
Deborah Diesen (The Pout-Pout Fish) has teamed up with first-time children’s book illustrator Magdalena Mora for Equality’s Call (Beach Lane, Jan. 2020; ages 3–8), a picture book history of voting rights in the U.S. (“The states set the rules/ About who got to vote;/ And your gender, your race/ and your wealth were of note”).
In August, Gibbs Smith published the picture book Champions for Change: 25 Women Who Made History by Naomi Watkins and Katherine Kitterman, illustrated by Brooke Smart (ages 6–9), which includes a profile of Anthony, as well as one of her friend Emmeline B. Wells, who lobbied for the vote in Utah and on the national stage.
Anthony, unsurprisingly, appears in several new books on the suffrage movement. Portable Press, for instance, will offer a new installment of its Show Me History series, on Susan B. Anthony (Apr. 2020; ages 8–12).
In 1892, Anthony asked Carrie Chapman Catt to address Congress on suffrage. Unlike Anthony, Catt, who succeeded her as the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, lived to see the 19th Amendment’s ratification and went on to found the League of Women Voters. She’s the subject of We Demand an Equal Vote by Jasmine Stirling, illustrated by Kelly Malka (Sterling, June 2020; ages 10–up).
Stating a Case
Tennesee, the crucial 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment—which made women’s suffrage national law—figures into a number of commemorations. When The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss pubbed in 2018, PW’s starred review called it “a page-turning reconstruction of the last push to ratify the 19th Amendment in Tennessee in 1920.” Random House is releasing a middle grade version in June 2020, and Steven Spielberg’s production company is adapting Weiss’s narrative for TV, with Hillary Clinton executive producing.
Another take on Tennessee’s role is found in The Voice That Won the Vote by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger (Sleeping Bear, Mar. 2020; ages 7–10). It zeroes in on Phoebe Burn, whose letter to her son Harry, a member of the state legislature, tipped the scales in favor of ratification. “The book features themes of courage, women’s rights, and standing up for what you believe in,” Boxer says. “It also highlights the fact that just one voice—and one vote—can make a monumental difference.”
Calkins Creek, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, challenges the idea that American history is staid with Fight of the Century by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Sarah Green (Mar. 2020; ages 7–10). The narrative is structured as a four-round boxing match between a key suffragist and the 28th president of the U.S., whom she eventually won over to her cause.
“No kid is going to say, ‘Ooh, a book about Alice Paul and Woodrow Wilson,’ but once they get into it, they’ll identify with both,” says senior editor Carolyn Yoder. “Kids are becoming more active, and no matter what they’re involved in, they want to feel like they can have a voice.”
Other new children’s books offer more contemporary stories of voting rights activists. Lift as You Climb (S&S/McElderry, June 2020; ages 4–8), written by Sibert Honor author Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist R. Gregory Christie, celebrates the life and work of civil rights activist Ella Baker, whose causes included voter registration and the fight against voter suppression. One refrain in the book is a question: “What do you hope to accomplish?”
Elizabeth Rusch, a magazine writer and former U.S. Senate committee staffer, poses a more pointed question with You Call This Democracy? (HMH, Mar. 2020; ages 12–up). She examines issues of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and money in politics, among others, illuminating flaws in the system while encouraging young readers to take action to fix them.