Author Spotlight: Rochelle Melander

It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited that today’s Author Spotlight is also a Book Tour Stop for Rochelle Melander’s newest release Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing.

Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com

Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you today, but I was hoping you might start us out by introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about your latest release Mightier Than The Sword: Rebels, Reformers& Revolutionaries Who Changed The World Through Writing.

Thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog! I’m excited to be here.

Let’s start with the important things: I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan with two dogs, two kids, and my husband, who is also a writer. My family keeps me grounded. 

I own the business, Write Now! Coach and coach writers and students who struggle to overcome procrastination and distractions to get their work done. I also edit and do freelance writing. Mightier Than the Sword is my 12th book, and my first book for young people. I’ve wanted to write for young people for a long time, and I am delighted to finally have that chance!

Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. The stories are accompanied by writing and creative exercises to help readers discover how they can use writing to explore ideas and ask for change.

Title: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing
Author: Rochelle Melander
Illustrator: Melina Ontiveros
Publisher: Beaming Books
Published: July 27, 2021
Recommended Ages: 8-13 Years
Format: Hardcover

What inspired you to write Mightier Than the Sword?

I’ve been teaching writing to young people for many years. I often use mentor texts as writing prompts—maybe the poems of Richard Wright or Langston Hughes. I tell them stories about the writers, too. Young people liked hearing stories of people like Maria Merian, who at 13 designed an experiment to study the life cycle of silkworms. I also found stories online about young people who wrote to change the world—people that wouldn’t normally be included in a book. After using these stories for years, I felt like it was time to create a resource so that I could share these stories and writing exercises with young people.

Mightier Than the Sword is such a unique book in that it’s both a biography collection and a collection of writing prompts. How did the idea for such a unique format come to you?

I love books that are interactive, that invite the reader to participate in some way. My last book, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity invites readers to take on quests to understand and improve their work habits. I wanted Mightier Than the Sword to share the stories about mentors and then encourage young people to write. The writing prompts enabled me to do that.

You cover so many wonderful writers in Mightier Than the Sword, (I think I counted 140 including the mini-biographies peppered throughout) spanning from 978 to present day. There are so many people throughout history who have changed the world with writing. I know it must have been hard to narrow down your selection. How did you select the writers you included? What was the research process like? It must have been quite an undertaking!

I have been collecting names and stories for years. To develop the list, I read many anthologies, searched online, and talked to history and English professors. Then I chose an array of people based on three criteria:

  • Representation. I wanted children to find a diverse cast of people from a wide range of cultures, life experiences, and writing styles. 
  • Diverse disciplines. I wanted young people to see the unique ways people use writing in their work. 
  • Recognizability. I wanted young people to open the book and recognize some of the writers.

Once the book was accepted by the publisher, we worked together to finalize the list.

Then, I started reading and writing. For each person or document, I read an article on Wikipedia or a history website (https://besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/). If possible, I read primary sources. Next, I turned to biographies and other history books. After I wrote the chapter, I would often go back through these resources to check my facts.

I wrote the book during the pandemic. I was very lucky. When I had a sense that the libraries were going to close, I spent a wild weekend running around to various libraries in town, checking out books. I think I had over 100 books checked out during that time. And during the research process, I purchased a few books as well. 

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it was—but I really enjoyed digging into the lives of these writers!

Not to ask you to play favorites, but were there any standout subjects that were more fun to research or write about?

I found Charles Darwin’s story to be helpful and inspiring. He goofed off in grade school, skipping out to wander the woods or do chemistry experiments with his brother. (Don’t think he was being studious—he made laughing gas!). He went to college to study medicine but didn’t like it. Then he tried divinity studies (Rev. Darwin?). All along he was chasing after beetles, which was a popular pastime in his day. His father thought he was a failure. A trip around the world launched his career as a naturalist. He spent the rest of his life doing experiments and writing books—while working about 3 hours a day. He was a great dad, keeping detailed journals about their development (they may have been a science experiment to him). And when On the Origin of the Species was published, he spent much of his time promoting his book: by writing letters! I was inspired that Darwin wasn’t the typical overachiever and yet, when he followed his passion, he achieved so much. 

The portrait illustrations by Melina Ontiveros are so great, and I love that we get a face to put with the names and stories of each writer featured. I believe Mightier Than The Sword is your first illustrated title? How was your experience working with an illustrator?

Melina is wonderful! I didn’t actually work with her—all the briefings went through my editors. But we’ve gotten to know each other on Instagram and email. She’s going to be a guest on my blog next week (writenowcoach.com/blog). And I hired her to make a Mightier-like portrait of me!

You’ve been writing since you were young, and now assist young writers through your writing workshop Dream Keepers. What books or authors inspired you to write the most as a child?

Hands down, Madeleine L’Engle. In second grade, I fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time. When I was in my first job, I learned she was going to be presenting at a conference in a town nearby. I was lucky enough to meet her. 
I was also inspired by poets and playwrights. When I was 6, a friend gave me the book, I See a Poem. I read that book so many times. As a teen, I read the play, The Belle of Amherst by William Luce, and fell in love with Emily Dickinson and her poetry. (My favorite was, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”) I kept a commonplace book, where I copied down quotes and poems I liked. And, I had notebooks where I wrote bad poetry!

Mightier than The Sword is a perfect selection for classrooms with so many writing prompts to choose from. If teachers and young readers only take one thing away from Mightier Than the Sword, what would you want it to be?

I want young readers to see that there are many different kinds of writers and many ways to write. I want Mightier Than the Sword to be an invitation to them, letting them know that the world needs their ideas and stories and activism. 

I hope teachers will be inspired by the many types of writing—and use the book as a supplement to their curriculum. 

Those are all of my questions. Thank you again for taking the time to answer them all! Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Thanks so much for having me. I have a blog where writers talk about how to use their books in the classroom. Feel free to stop by: themightywriters.com.

You can find Rochelle online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com, and on social media at Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Don’t Miss The Rest of The Tour!

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