Dec 2, 2021

Shirley Chisholm Dared: A Biography Worth the Wait

  Recent years have seen shifts on publishing for children, including picture books. There has been a steady (though not yet strong enough) shift to stories of people from non-dominant American culture (AKA, White, mainstream, traditional). Among those, many are shining lights on powerful but rarely told stories. They are both overdue and appreciated. Some, though, are offering accessible and inspiring profiles of folks who were quite prominent during their lives, although their stories seldom landed in picture books. Too often, the reasons given for that suggested that the "market" for the stories was too narrow and sales would be minimal.


Anne Schwartz Books, 2021

Many outstanding leaders from the past are getting new coverage. Better late than never, I say. 

In this case, this picture book biography of Shirley Chisholm is seriously overdue, but the eventual product is well worth the wait. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM DARED: The Story of the First Black Congresswoman is written by Alicia D. Williams and illustrated by April Harrison. This is not the first picture book about Chisholm, but it is delightfully  personal and powerful and  kid-friendly. 

Opening in her brief early days in New York City, we quickly follow little Shirely to an extended stay with her maternal grandmother in Barbados. The recurring  descriptors Williams uses become evident immediately:

Daring. Rebellious. Persistent. Troublemaker.

That should catch your attention, right? The selected examples of these traits, in text and images, allow readers to smile along, sit a bit taller, and develop their admiration for this  little-girl-eventual-congresswoman.She saw herself as having a voice and a place and a role in her community and in the world at large. The sideways glances to outright objections of others made no difference to her. It's not surprising (and is very well presented on the page) that her youthful peers, authority figures, adult peers, and competitors for office were sometimes stunned by her intentions and actions and expressed that opinion openly. 

I can't help but imagine her thinking that the surest way to get her to accomplish something was to tell her she shouldn't. Or couldn't.

Shirley was a champion for justice, using her voice and platform on behalf of everyday people and the country she loved. Her voice still rings in my memory. If it is unknown to you, click this YOU TUBE link to learn more about her story, and hear that amazing voice. It is an eighteen minute segment, but if you don't have enough time, scroll through to find her speaking. In fact, I hope you will watch it all. 

This is a very welcome picture book biography that will continue to share her legacy with young readers long into the future.

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