Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators
Congratulations to Deborah Diesen on the release of her new book, Equality's Call!
Equality's Call, released on February 18th, follows the history of voting rights and voting rights activists in America
Congratulations on the release of Equality’s Call! How did the inspiration for this book come about?
Thank you! And thank you for hosting me here on the SCBWI-Michigan blog!
Equality’s Call came about after a conversation that I had with my younger son a few years ago, as we were noting that the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment was coming up. We talked about how it hadn’t really been that long since women gained the right to vote. Our conversation got me to thinking about perhaps writing a picture book about a few of the well-known figures of the women’s suffrage movement, showing how their commitment and efforts led to the passage of the 19th Amendment.
As I began to work on the book, though, my manuscript evolved. As I learned more about the women’s suffrage movement, I realized that my understanding of the movement was very incomplete. For instance, I discovered that the women I was most familiar with, while important and significant, did not represent the full depth or breadth of the women who spoke up about the right to vote. I also discovered that many white suffragists excluded women of color from their activities. And I learned that the passage of the 19th Amendment didn’t mean that all women could vote as of 1920. Barriers to citizenship as well as racially-motivated voter suppression profoundly limited the right to vote. This changed my perspective on the story I had thought I was going to tell.
Another component of my manuscript evolving was that I realized that looking at only one aspect of enfranchisement (in this case, of women gaining the right to vote) without looking at the whole of our country’s voting rights history is not possible. We cannot understand changes in voting rights without examining the interconnectedness of who has and hasn’t been allowed to vote at various points in our country’s development, and of how voting rights connect to larger themes of our country’s history.
What emerged from this process was a picture book that takes readers from our nation’s founding, when only white men with property were allowed to vote, to the present. It highlights milestones of progress as well as issues that remain. The main story is written in an accessible style – it’s a brief 400 words, in rhyme, with a recurring refrain – in order to allow even very young children to hear it and learn from it; there are also several pages of backmatter to provide a deeper dive for older readers. The book is honest – it doesn’t mythologize the past or minimize the concerns of the present – but in a way that I hope will uplift and encourage kids. Voting rights are a critical component of our civil rights, and it’s never too soon for young people to start learning about the importance and power of standing up for and using those rights.
Magdalena Mora’s wonderful art for Equality’s Call brings the book alive. It’s her first picture book, but I know you’ll be seeing many more from her. She’s an amazing artist who is passionate about visual storytelling as a tool for social change.
|Illustrations for Equality's Call were created by Magdalena Mora|
Equality’s Call is my 15th picture book, but my first ever nonfiction picture book, and nonfiction research is quite a bit different than writing dialogue for talking fish! In fact, not long after starting the story, and again when working on the backmatter, I nearly threw in the towel. I’m not a historian or a voting rights expert, and I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the history and the issues. I felt profoundly unqualified to be writing on the topic of voting rights.
But even as I struggled, I realized that the struggle could and should be a part of the process. Putting myself in the position of being a learner, and going on a learning journey, is what allowed me to create a book that I hope will take kids on that journey, too. Equality’s Call is not a comprehensive reference work, but it’s a synthesis of what I learned and is meant to serve as an engaging entry point for kids to begin to learn more.
|Deborah's previous books include titles like Picture Day Perfection, Bloom, and the New York Times Bestseller, The Pout-Pout Fish! Find more of her books here.|
You’re well known for that poetic, rhyming style of writing that’s featured in many of your books, including your latest one! How did you develop that voice?
I’ve always loved the way words sound, and I’ve been fond of writing in rhyme since elementary school. My earliest creative efforts were rhyming poems, and my interest in rhyme has been lifelong. Not everything I write lends itself to rhyme, but I love to work with it when I can, because I think rhythm and rhyme in writing can help a story cohere in a uniquely layered way. It’s also a fun challenge to write in rhyme. It’s frustrating when it isn’t working, but very satisfying when it finally comes together.
In addition to talking about the history of voting rights, you’ve also used Equality’s Call and its teacher and student handouts to encourage voting participation in local communities! Was this message and call to action something you saw happening with your book from the beginning?
In writing Equality’s Call, the learning journey that I took into the past heightened my awareness of present-day voting rights issues. It also impressed upon me the importance of sharing that knowledge with kids so that they will know what their rights are, how those rights came to be, and what we need to do to ensure those rights remain in place. I didn’t anticipate taking on an advocacy role when I began, but I’m glad it’s where I ended up!
What’s one thing you hope your readers will take away from Equality’s Call?
There are actually three main ideas I hope young readers will take away from Equality’s Call.
The first is a recognition of the importance of voting.
The second is a clear understanding that barriers to the right to vote are wrong. We can and should expect our government officials to make voting easy, accessible, convenient, accurate, and fair.
The third is an expectation of all of us to speak up for voting rights and civil rights. There’s a question posed on the last page of the book, after the mini-biographies of voting rights activists: “How will you answer equality’s call?”
Answering that question is on all of us.
What’s next for you? Do you have any events coming up or new books in the works? Where can people connect with you and learn more about your work?
My web site (www.deborahdiesen.com) is the best place for finding updates about my upcoming books and events. Also on my web site are some handouts for teachers and parents to use with Equality’s Call.
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk about Equality’s Call. I’ve enjoyed your questions, and I really appreciate you hosting me here today!
A little bit about the book:
The founders of the United States declared that consent of the governed was a key part of their plan for the new nation. But for many years, only white men of means were allowed to vote. Equality's Call looks back at the activists who worked to secure the right for all to vote, and it also looks forward to the future and the work that still needs to be done.
A little bit about the author:
Deborah Diesen is the author of many children’s picture books, including The Pout-Pout Fish and Equality’s Call. She loves playing with words and rhymes and rhythms, and she believes everyone should own at least one rhyming dictionary.