Chelsea Clinton grew up surrounded by inspirational women who never let their gender determine what they could accomplish. But after watching Senator Elizabeth Warren get silenced on the Senate floor in February, Clinton was moved to write about other women who wouldn't take no for an answer. "Senator Warren persisted this criticism and I, and so many others, recognized how often American women have also persisted to help make our country more healthy, beautiful, imaginative, and overall better educated," said the mom-of-two and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation.
Her new children's book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World was inspired by the phrase popularized after Senator Warren's powerful speech and shares the stories of feminists and activists whom Clinton has admired throughout her life, including Harriet Tubman, Nellie Bly, and Sonia Sotomayor. And if you're wondering whether the first woman presidential nominee of a major party (a.k.a. her mom) might get a cameo inside the pages, keep an eye out for a special dedication. Glass ceilings: Broken.
Parents: What inspired you to write this book specifically for kids?
Chelsea Clinton: I was thinking how to talk about what happened with Senator Warren to my own children, who are 2 years old and 11 months old. I read them headlines, because I want them to feel connected to what's happening in our country and world, but I kept thinking about these women who have long-inspired me. My editor gave me the idea of creating a picture book, so I started writing and was glad to know Alexandra Boiger, whose work I admire, was available to illustrate.
We can look up to so many inspirational females, past and present. How did you choose the 13 women featured in the book?
My editor and I talked about women who have inspired us, and I realized I wanted to focus on American women who I've looked up to throughout my life. I learned about some of these women as a young girl, like Ruby Bridges and Claudette Colvin, who were involved in the Civil Rights movement; Florence Griffith Joyner, who broke the world record in the 100- and 200-meter races at the 1988 Olympics; and Sally Ride, who was the first American woman in space. Then, I wanted to feature women I only learned about recently, like Virginia Apgar. I didn't hear of her story until I was pregnant and became familiar with the Apgar score. I was in awe that this method created decades ago by one of the first females in her field is still the standard of care for newborn babies around the world.
Ultimately, I wanted to highlight and share these stories to enable girls and boys to imagine themselves as scientists, journalists, doctors, Supreme Court justices, artists, and athletes. The quote I included from Sally Ride is one I've thought about for many years: "It's hard for us to imagine what we can't see." I'm trying to show young readers women who have done remarkable things for our country so that they are empowered to do their own remarkable things for their families, communities, and country.
How are you raising your daughter, 2-year-old Charlotte, to be a confident girl?
We read The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch every single night, which is about a young woman who takes control of her fate after a dragon burns down her castle and carries off her prince. She realizes she can write her own story. Right now, it's important to read to both our daughter and son [Aidan, almost 1] stories about kids, but particularly girls, who are their own agents and are determined, resilient, persisting, and persevering. We need boys to support their sisters and girls to support other girls.
How will you raise Aidan to be a feminist aware of women's issues?
Even though he is only 11 months old, throughout the process of working on this book I talked to him and Charlotte about these stories. We've read She Persisted many times, and thankfully, Charlotte wants to hear this story every day and Aidan wants to do whatever his big sister wants to. We know it's important to let our children see their mother and father involved in chores around the house and caring for them. We also talk about the choices we're making and what we fight for and work for in the world. It all matters in raising daughters and sons who believe they can do and be whatever they want to be.
Your own mom has been an inspiration to many people. What's the biggest thing you've learned from the women in your family that you want to pass down to your children?
My grandmother's mantra is 'Life's not about what happens to you, it's about what you do with what happens to you.' What she meant is it's always better to get caught trying, because you're not going to accomplish anything if you don't at least try. And to always keep going. There's always more work, and progress is not inevitable. It has to be protected, defended, and advanced at every moment. Particularly at this moment in time, we need as many people to believe that and be engaged so we can continue to move forward and protect the legacy of the 13 women who I'm so grateful to highlight in She Persisted.
You're a huge advocate of reading to young children. What's your favorite book to read with your kids?
We read to them together every night, because, thankfully, we all now have coordinated bedtimes. We like Waiting and Egg by Kevin Henkes, and we read something by Mo Willems every night, whether that's an Elephant & Piggie story or one of the Pigeon stories. I love seeing both my children giggle endlessly all the time, but particularly at bedtime. It's great to know they're going to bed with a smile on their faces.