Review: The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything

Today is National Astronomy Day, and I can’t think of a better title to celebrate with than The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell by Laura Alary and Ellen Rooney. This lovely picture book biography chronicles the life of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in the United States.

Title: The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell
Author: Laura Alary
Illustrator: Ellen Rooney
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Published: May 3, 2022 Format: Picture Book

Starting in her childhood in Nantucket, The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything really highlights Maria’s curiosity and determination. As a young child, she learned to use her astronomer father’s tools and begins scanning the night sky for herself. When the King of Denmark offers a prize to the first person to find a comet, Maria was determined to win it, and she did! I don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all of her accomplishments, so I will just say this discovery opened lots of doors for Maria that were not open to women in the early 18oo’s.

The illustrations by Ellen Rooney are absolutely delightful. I love the way she captures the starry night skies, and the texture on every page is amazing.

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything is another great picture book biography of a trailblazing woman in STEM, making it a great selection for school and classroom libraries. I love that it encourages children to wonder, and specifically to ask questions. It’s such an important part of learning and growing at any age, and I feel like we don’t encourage questions enough, especially outside of the classroom.

You can pick up your own copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Kids Can Press for sharing this inspiring picture book biography with me!

About The Author:

Laura Alary believes in writing stories that make us bigger on the inside. She is constantly reading and wondering and learning so that she can keep up with all the questions her children ask — especially about science and life on Earth. She grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and currently lives in Toronto with her three children.

About The Illustrator:

Ellen Rooney is an illustrator, designer and artist. She’s originally from Massachusetts, but now lives in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. She loves graphic shapes, textured color, printmaking, drawing outdoors, painting — and her hidden art powers are released when cutting up paper!

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Flashback Friday: Anna Strong: A Spy During the American Revolution

Continuing of celebration of Women’s History Month, I want to share another picture book biography with you all for Flashback Friday. Published back in 2020, Anna Strong: A Spy During The American Revolution by Sarah Glenn Marsh and Sarah Green tells the fascinating tale of Anna Strong, a woman who is strongly believed to have been one of Washington’s spies during the American Revolution.

Title: Anna Strong: A Spy During The American Revolution
Author: Sarah Glenn Marsh
Illustrator: Sarah Green
Publisher: Abrams Books For Young Readers
Published: March 3, 2020
Format: Picture Book

This slice of life picture book biography begins when George Washington and Major Benjamin Tallmadge begin recruiting a new group of spies called the Culper Ring. Being married to an American soldier, but surrounded by Loyalist relatives, Anna was perfectly positioned to be a spy for America. She and her husband, Selah, both learned Tallmadge’s secret code and began passing information to Washington. Anna continued to inform Washington after her husband was arrested and imprisoned on a ship, eventually devising her own code using clothes hanging on the clothesline.

Though Anna Strong’s identity was so well protected there is no documentation of her participation in the Culper Ring, there are many hints and nods to Anna’s true identity, which is further detailed in the back matter.

The illustrations by Sarah Green are absolutely lovely. I love the juxtaposition of the almost whimsical style of illustration paired with the drama and tension of Anna’s story.

Anna Strong: A Spy During the American Revolution would be a great selection for classrooms and school libraries, proving especially effective in highlighting the undertold stories of women creating change during a time period when they held little to no authority.

You can purchase Anna Strong: A Spy During The American Revolution wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you to Abrams Books for sending me a review copy of this fascinating book. I had never heard of Anna before this book, and I’m so grateful to have learned her story.

About The Author:

Sarah Glenn Marsh obtained her master’s degree in early childhood education with a focus on literacy. She lives near Richmond, Virginia.

About The Illustrator:

Sarah Green is an illustrator and designer based in San Francisco. She illustrated Abrams’s Elizabeth Warren, among other picture books.

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Review: The Faith Of Elijah Cummings (PLUS GIVEAWAY!)

For the last day of Black History Month, I want to share another picture book biography celebrating the life of an icon of Black History. The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice by Carole Boston Weatherford and Laura Freeman shares the inspiring life story of Elijah Cummings.

Title: The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice
Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrator: Laura Freeman
Publisher: Random House Kids
Published: January 11, 2022
Format: Picture Book

Beginning with his childhood in South Carolina as a child of sharecroppers, young readers follow Elijah’s journey all the way to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Congressional Black Caucus. Growing up in America in the 50’s, Elijah Cummings was no stranger to discrimination, segregation, or racism, and this picture book does not shy away from those subjects. Instead, Carole Boston Weatherford beautifully highlights Elijah Cumming’s faith and the way it allowed him to persevere and become a warrior for equality and change.

Laura Freeman’s illustrations pair perfectly with Weatherford’s text and bring Elijah’s story to life with every page turn. Fans of Standing on Her Shoulders and The Highest Tribute will be happy to see the familiar way she captures emotion in the faces of her subjects.

As Carole Boston Weatherford’s titles always do, The Faith of Elijah Cummings includes a wonderful backmatter. The timeline and excerpt from the Congressional Black Caucus would make a great addition to history lessons. The Faith of Elijah Cummings is a must have for school and classroom libraries!

You can purchase your copy of The Faith of Elijah Cummings today, wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Blue Slip Media and Random House Kids for sending me a review copy of this powerful book. I am honored to share Elijah Cummings’ story with readers today.

About The Author:

Carole Boston Weatherford, a two-time NAACP Image Award winner, is the author of the Newbery Honor Book Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, as well as three Caldecott Honor Books, including Freedom in Congo Square and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. She also wrote Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins. Born in Baltimore, she first encountered Elijah Cummings when he was president of the Monumental City Bar Association, an affiliate of the National Bar Association, for which she was publicist. Weatherford teaches at Fayetteville State University, in North Carolina.

About The Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work has been recognized with an NAACP Image Award, reached the New York Times bestseller List, and been honored by the Society of Illustrators, the Georgia Center for the Book, and in the annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration. In addition to illustrating books, Laura’s art can be found on a wide range of products, from dishes and textiles to greeting cards, and her editorial images are frequently seen in the New York Times and other periodicals. She invites you to visit her website, LFreemanArt.com, to discover more about her.


I am excited to announce that I am giving away a copy of The Faith of Elijah Cummings, along with a copy of Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free by Alice Faye Duncan and Keturah A. Bobo and My First Heroes: Black History by Silver Dolphin Books to help you bring Black history into your reading year round! You can find all the entry details on the Rafflecopter giveaway.

This giveaway is open to US residents only. One lucky winner will be notified via email on March 8, 2022. Good luck and happy reading!

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Review: Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas

Today I want to share another picture book biography with you all, because you know they’re my favorites. Following the life of Alma Thomas, the first Black woman to have her work added to the White House Collection, Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Loveis Wise is a wonderful selection for both Black History Month and Women’s History Month.

Title: Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas
Author: Jeanne Walker Harvey
Illustrator: Loveis Wise
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Published: February 22, 2022
Format: Picture Book

Beginning with Alma’s childhood in Georgia, where her family filled their home with creativity despite the racism they faced, Ablaze With Color follows her story through her successful career as an educator, all the way to the day her art was hung in the Old Family Dining Room of The White House. This stunning picture book biography is a celebration of Alma Thomas’ art, and the beauty and joy she brought to the world.

The illustrations by Loveis Wise perfectly capture that beauty and joy. The vibrant colors on every page mirror Alma’s signature style and bring her remarkable story to life.

With substantial backmatter, including an Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, and timeline, Ablaze With Color is a must-have for the shelves of classrooms and school libraries.

Ablaze With Color officially released yesterday (February 22, 2022), so you can pick up your copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Many thanks to Blue Slip Media and Harper Collins Children’s for sharing a review copy of Ablaze With Color with me. I am so honored to learn about Alma Thomas and share her story today.

About The Author:

Jeanne Walker Harvey has been a longtime docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Just like Alma Thomas, Jeanne believes that art brings us joy. Her other picture books include Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines and My Hands Sing the BluesRomare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Jeanne studied literature and psychology at Stanford University. She lives in Northern California. Visit her online at www.jeanneharvey.com.

About The Illustrator:

Loveis Wise is a nonbinary illustrator and designer from Washington, DC, now based in Los Angeles. They have collaborated and imagined with clients such as the New Yorkerthe New York Times, HarperCollins, Google, Disney Hyperion, and Adobe, to name a few. Their work often speaks to themes of joy, mindfulness, and liberation. 

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Review: Opal Lee and What It Means To Be Free

If you’re looking for a picture book biography to celebrate Black History Month, I have a great selection for you today. Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan and Keturah A. Bobo is a beautiful picture book celebrating Opal Lee, a teacher and civil rights activist who led a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Title: Opal Lee and What it Means To Be Free
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: Keturah A. Bobo
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published: January 11, 2022
Format: Picture Book

In Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free, young readers follow along as Miss Opal Lee shares a Juneteenth story. Beginning with the history of Juneteenth, she recounts the stories passed down to her about June 19, 1865, when the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas were finally informed of their freedom two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was passed. Miss Opal Lee shares stories of Juneteenths from her childhood during the Jim Crow era, including the Juneteenth when her family’s Texas home was burned down by angry, racist neighbors.

Even through the discussion of the struggles faced by Black people throughout history, Alice Faye Duncan does a beautiful job of highlighting the joys in Opal Lee’s life and the celebration of freedom that Juneteenth is. As Miss Opal Lee says, “Good and bad work together like the sun and rain.”, and that balance is found throughout the entire book.

The illustrations by New York Times bestselling illustrator Keturah A. Bobo do not disappoint. She brings Opal Lee’s story to life on every page with her familiar style.

The backmatter contains a recipe for Juneteenth Red Punch, a timeline detailing the journey to Juneteenth being signed into law as a federal holiday by Joe Biden (With a 94 year old Opal Lee by his side), and detailed information about Opal Lee’s life, making it a great selection for classrooms, school libraries, and homeschoolers.

You can find your copy of Opal Lee and What it Means to Be Free where books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Thomas Nelson for sharing this inspiring book with me. I am honored to be able to share Miss Opal Lee’s story with everyone today!

Abouth The Author:

Alice Faye Duncan is a National Board Certified Teacher, who writes for young learners. Memory is her motivation. She writes to help children remember important moments from African American history. Her books are celebrated for vivid imagery and lyrical texts that sound like music. Alice’s most popular titles include A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks; Just Like a Mama; Honey Baby Sugar Child; and Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, which received a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Medal. Alice lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where at a young age, her mother nurtured her writing talent with prayer, poetry books, and praise. Her website is http://www.alicefayeduncan.com.

About The Illustrator:

Keturah A. Bobo is an artist and New York Times bestselling illustrator known for creating vibrant images that are relatable and distinguishable. She is passionate about creating art that inspires, uplifts, and advocates for her community. Keturah has received notable praises for her colorful illustrative style that brings the story to life and resonates with the viewer. She graduated with a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family of entrepreneurs. Visit Keturah online at http://www.keturahariel.com.

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Flashback Friday: Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved The Violin

For Flashback Friday I want to look back at a fantastic picture book biography published back in May of 2020. Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin by Tracy Newman and Abigail Halpin tells the story of world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Title: Itzhak : A Boy Who Loved the Violin
Author: Tracy Newman
Illustrator: Abigail Halpin
Published: May 12, 2020
Publisher: Abrams
Format: Picture Book

Beginning with his childhood in Tel Aviv and ending with Itzhak Perlman’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1958, this stunning book perfectly captures the beauty of Itzhak’s music. Young readers will learn of Itzhak’s fight for his life when he was hospitalized for polio at the age of four, and how he was paralyzed by the disease. They will also learn of how Itzhak never let his paralysis hold him back from his dreams.

Readers will also learn that, like many other musicians, Itzhak Perlman has synesthesia. This neurological condition allows him to see music as color. I absolutely love the way Abigail Halpin captures the colors of music on every page of Itzhak.

Itzhak is a beautiful story of perseverance and the love of music. I would highly recommend it! You can pick up your own copy wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Abrams for providing me with a review copy of Itzhak. I can always count on Abrams to deliver fantastic picture book biographies, and I can never get enough.

About The Author:

Tracy Newman is the author of many books for young readers, including the . . . Is Coming series. She lives in coastal New England. 

About The Illustrator:

Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including Finding Wild and Mama’s Belly. She lives in Maine.

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Review: All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball

We all know that Jackie Robinson was the first Black major league baseball player, but how much do you know about the second? All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball by Audrey Vernick and Cannaday Chapman introduces young readers to the man who joined the major leagues just eleven weeks after Jackie Robinson.

Title: All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball
Author: Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Cannaday Chapman
Publisher: Clarion Books
Published: January 4, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Beginning with his childhood in Camden, South Carolina, All Star follows Larry Doby all the way to the day he helped his team win the World Series with a game-winning home run in 1948. Highlighting the changes we’ve seen since Larry Doby’s career as well as the changes we fight for today, All Star doesn’t shy away from the racism found in America and it’s favorite pastime. From detailing Larry’s first day in the dugout to pointing out the racism of Cleveland’s team name and logo in the author’s note, All Star eloquently addresses progress with young readers, inspiring them to continue changing things for the better.

Cannaday Chapman’s powerful artwork pairs perfectly with Audrey Vernick’s text. The illustrations are filled with emotion and brings Larry Doby’s story to life on every single page.

The back matter contains an author’s note with more detail about Larry’s life, a bibliography, and the iconic photo of Larry Doby and pitcher Steve Gromek embracing after their World Series victory, making this a fantastic educational resource for classroom and school libraries.

All Star officially releases tomorrow (January 4, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you.)

Thank you so much to Clarion Books for providing me with a review copy of All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball. I am honored to share Larry’s story on Mutually Inclusive.

About The Author:

Audrey Vernick is author of several novels and many picture books, including Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team. She lives with her family near the ocean in New Jersey. Visit her online at audreyvernick.com and on Twitter @yourbuffalo.

About The Illustrator:

Cannaday Chapman is the illustrator of the picture book biographies All-Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball and Feed Your Mind: The Story of August Wilson, and his work has been featured in the New York Times and on the cover of The New Yorker. He was born in upstate New York and studied illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and he currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

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Three Lines In A Circle

Did you know that the peace symbol was developed in 1958 by an activist in London protesting nuclear weapons? Well, I didn’t until I read Three Lines in a Circle by Michael G. Long. This wonderful picture book provides young readers with a history behind the peace symbol and the man who created it.

Title: Three Lines in a Circle
Author: Michael G. Long
Illustrator: Carlos Vélez
Publisher: Flyaway Books
Published: August 31, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Three Lines in a Circle introduces young readers to Gerald Holtom, the man who designed the popular symbol, and the many peace movements that the sign has been a part of. Beginning with the London to Aldermaston March against nuclear weapons, all the way to nationwide protests for racial justice in 2020, readers will follow along as the world embraces Gerald’s symbol and demand peace, justice, and equality.

The illustrations by Carlos Vélez are so wonderful! I love the way the peace sign is sprinkled throughout the illustrations, creating a perfect opportunity to engage readers by finding them throughout the story.

The back-matter contains an informative author’s note, along with a timeline of peaceful protests across the world. Opening the door to further history lessons, Three Lines in a Circle would make a great addition to classroom and school libraries.

Three Lines in a Circle officially releases next week (August 31, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today at Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Flyaway Books for generously providing an advance copy of Three Lines in a Circle for me to review!

About the Author:

Michael G. Long has written books for all ages on civil rights and peacemaking in mid-century America, including the stories of Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Jackie Robinson, and Mister Rogers. He lives in Pennsylvania.

About The Illustrator:

Carlos Vélez has illustrated more than twenty books for children and has been recognized with illustration awards from the Catalog of Illustrators of Children’s and Youth Publications and the National Fund for Culture and the Arts. He lives in Mexico City.

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Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent

If you’re looking for a picture book biography about a lesser known artist with a unique story, I have the perfect pick for you today. Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess and Kara Kramer shares the remarkable life story of Corita Kent, an artist, educator, nun, and activist who unapologetically spread a powerful message of love and justice.

Title: Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent
Author: Matthew Burgess
Illustrator: Kara Kramer
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
Published: August 24, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Make Meatballs Sing introduces readers to Corita Kent when she was known as Frances Elizabeth Kent, a young girl who loved to read, draw, and daydream throughout her childhood in Hollywood, California. As a teenager, young Frances shocked those closest to her by following her religious calling and joining the Order of The Immaculate Heart, becoming Sister Mary Corita. Through her duties as a nun, Corita continued to follow her passion for art and creativity, teaching young children and eventually joining the art department of the Immaculate Heart College, where she studied art history and printmaking. Corita became an accomplished teacher, sharing the art of serigraphy, or silkscreen.

Corita’s religious beliefs had a great influence on her work, but she was also inspired by the Civil Right Movement. She often spoke out against poverty, war, and injustice in her work, which didn’t always go over well with the leaders of the Church, but did make her a recognized and celebrated public figure who left a mark on the world.

The illustrations in Make Meatballs Sing are fantastic! Kara Kramer perfectly captures the spirit of Corita Kent’s work. The range of bright colors, textures, fonts and patterns on every page mirror Corita’s prints, providing the perfect backdrop for her fascinating story.

The extensive back matter featuring a timeline and informative author’s and illustrator’s notes also make this a fantastic selection for classroom and school libraries.

Make Meatballs Sing will officially be released next week (August 24, 2021), but you can preorder your copy today. Preorders are available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Thank you so much to Enchanted Lion Books for sharing a review copy of Make Meatballs Sing with me. I am so honored to share this loving tribute to Corita on Mutually Inclusive today!

About The Author:

Matthew Burgess is a full-time professor at Brooklyn College and a part-time teaching artist in New York City public schools. He was fascinated by the lives of saints as a child, and now he loves sharing the stories of his artistic heroes with young readers. Matthew is also the author of Enormous Smallness: A Story of E. E. Cummings and Drawing on Walls: A Story of Keith Haring. He lives with his husband in Brooklyn and Berlin.

You can find Matthew online at matthewjohnburgess.com, on Twitter @MatthewBurgessJ, and Instagram @MatthewBurgessJ.

About The Illustrator:

Kara Kramer is a mixed media artist, and illustrator who loves to PLORK with all mediums. She has taught creative art workshops for both children and adults. Ever since she was little, her happiest hours are spent moving her hands to make something new. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

You can find Kara online at karakramerillustration.com and on Instagram @beinginthemaking.

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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.

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