Laurie Calkhoven has always been one of my favorite writers of historical fiction. When I heard about her new book, WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD, I had to ask her about it. Here’s Laurie:
WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD grew out of my desire for a woman president! I had written a book called I GREW UP TO BE PRESIDENT. On my school visits, kids loved hearing about the presidents’ childhoods. I made a point of telling them that presidents had all started out as ordinary boys who grew up to be extraordinary, and that they had the same opportunity. Every time I talked about the book, I mentioned that it was one day going to include a girl.
I got tired of waiting. Why not write a book about ordinary girls who grew up to be extraordinary? I put together a proposal and sent it to my editor at Scholastic, and happily she and her colleagues liked the idea as much as I did. Beginning with Pocahontas and taking us all the way through Misty Copeland, WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD is about 50 influential and inspiring American girls who grew up to change the world.
The research was both interesting and a challenge, especially for women like Pocahontas and Sacagawea. What’s real and what’s myth? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Even modern women can be a challenge. Every biography, encyclopedia entry, and magazine article I read about Julia Child listed a slightly different height!
Thank goodness for the New York Public Library and its extensive databases. I couldn’t tell you how many books, magazine and newspaper articles, and database entries I read in total. There were at least 10 and sometimes 20-30 for each woman. But along the way I learned wonderful, sometimes maddening, and always inspiring things.
Nellie Bly, for instance, got her start as a journalist after reading a newspaper article that called working women a “monstrosity.” She wrote an angry letter to the editor, who promptly hired her.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the greatest female athlete of the twentieth century, earned her nickname because she hit five homeruns in one neighborhood baseball game—just like Babe Ruth.
Patsy Mink, the first congresswoman of color and the driving force behind Title Nine, became a lawyer because she couldn’t find a medical school that would admit a woman. Then she discovered that law firms wouldn’t hire her for the same reason. So, she started her own.
The first woman to reach both the North and South Poles, Ann Bancroft, said her dyslexia was the perfect training for joining a polar expedition. On an expedition you have to focus on putting one foot in front of the other—just like you have to do every single day with a learning disability.
Nobel-prize winning geneticist Barbara McClintock’s favorite microscope is on view at the Smithsonian. Don’t you just love that she had a favorite microscope?
I could go on and on. Harriet Tubman was forced to turn back on her first attempt to escape slavery. At 15, Lucille Ball traveled to New York City to study acting. Her teacher sent her back home with the news that she didn’t have any talent. Julia Child was a disaster in her first cooking class.
Those stories especially, about women who looked failure in the face and kept going, are my favorites. Those are the stories I most want kids to read. I want them to know that when someone tries to diminish them or their dreams, they can go on—and succeed.
Laurie Calkhoven spent 20 years working in book publishing helping other people bring their books into the world and planning to be a writer “one day.” Finally, with 40 looming, she realized she had to make one day happen. Since then she’s written a broad range of fiction and nonfiction for young readers including six novels for American Girl and a series of historical action/adventure novels called Boys of Wartime. She lives in New York City.
One lucky reader of this post will have an opportunity to win a signed copy of Laurie’s amazing book: WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD. To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post. For a second entry, tweet about it or share it on your FB page. You have until April 6, 2016, when the winner will be announced on this blog.