You might think you know your A, B, C’s, but you’ve never learned them like this.
Now in its second printing inside of two months, Rad American Women A – Z brings kids and parents the stories of some of America’s greatest unsung heroines. Starting with “A is for Angela Davis,” and ending with “Z is for Zora Neal Hurston,” writer Kate Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein fearlessly applaud the accomplishments of women from every nook and cranny of America’s diverse culture.
Some names you’ll probably know – like civil rights advocate, Ella Baker and Olympic track star Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith-Joyner. More important, however, are all of the names you won’t. From activists and artists to authors and schoolteachers, this book shines a spotlight on women who changed the course of U.S. history but weren’t given the right to sign their names to their work. In fact, to highlight the historical anonymity of radical women, Kate and Miriam make the letter X a tribute to “the Women Whose Names We Don’t Know.”
Rad American Women A – Z has obviously filled a void in contemporary children’s literature as booksellers can’t keep it on the shelves. To find out more about the book’s overnight success, we caught up with Kate and Miriam on their book tour of the west coast.
Tell me about how this project got started.
Kate: I was looking for books to read to [my two-year-old daughter] that would be inspiring, educational, fun and empowering, and I wasn’t really finding much out there. So I had the idea, what if I did an A to Z book on rad American women? I started sharing the idea with friends and they all got really excited, which made me realize that it wasn’t just me that wanted something like that; there was a need!
How did you narrow down the list?
Kate: I was a Women’s Studies major in college, so it’s always been a real passion of mine. Once I made my list, I sent Facebook messages to about 80 friends and I got wonderful feedback and all kinds of great ideas. I wanted to make the book as diverse as possible, both in terms of race and ethnicity as well as time period and what the women were doing – I wanted a really broad range. Once I partnered with Miriam, we collaborated as well.
Miriam, what drew you to the project?
Miriam: I have an almost 8 year old daughter, and when Kate told me about the book I thought it was a really great idea. Kate showed me the initial list of the women she was thinking about and I had already done portraits on around five of them! So we both thought, this could be really great!
What’s been the hardest part of the process?
Miriam: I think making the list of women was the biggest challenge, because obviously there were some letters where we really loved all our choices.
Kate: There are 26 women in the book, but there could easily be 26,000. I think for me as the writer, the other challenge was finding a voice. I wanted the book to be accessible for young readers, but I didn’t want to dumb it down. I’m also dealing with really sensitive, sometimes controversial subject
matters in the book. It directly addresses race, class, gender and sexuality, and I wanted to do that in a way that was really straightforward and direct, but that was also respectful and age appropriate.
There’s obviously a high demand, and you’ve said yourself that a lot of women were still left out. Is there a spinoff in the future?
Kate: Oh definitely, this is going to be a series, although we don’t know exactly what that’ll look like yet. We have a few ideas we’re batting around.
How do you feel about the fact that this is an unusual, never-been-done-before-seen, “radical” book, even in 2015?
Kate: You know, no one’s asked that yet but I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot. Although I’m obviously thrilled that people are so excited about it, this shouldn’t be that exciting! People shouldn’t be so blown away that there’s a diverse book about women that aren’t familiar. It shouldn’t be that stunning and shocking that a transgender woman is included, and that we’re honest about race.Hopefully, this is a part of a movement towards more books like this.