NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 9/22/2020), edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley; Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley is a beautiful, inspiring book of poetry about fourteen young activists who have stepped up to make change in their community and the United States.
I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Jeanette Bradley, Keila V. Dawson, and Lindsay H. Metcalf about this important book.
Supriya: How did you come up with the idea for this book?
Keila: The three of us had similar ideas about a picture book about contemporary young people, and had a conversation about our ideas on social media. The book evolved out of that first Facebook group conversation!
Jeanette: My youngest was six at the time, and was devouring picture book biography collections like SHE PERSISTED and LITTLE LEADERS. One day she said “I wish I lived in the past, so that I could change things.” I realized that the unintentioned impact of these biographies of people who have done great things in history was that my daughter thought history was only made by famous dead people. I wanted to create something to spotlight contemporary kids who were making change. I wanted to not just inspire but empower kids to speak out and act when they see a wrong.
Supriya: Was it difficult figuring out which fourteen activists to include?
Jeanette: There are so many young activists who are doing amazing work! It was hard to choose. We tried to create balance in the focus and type of activism. Not everyone feels comfortable on stage with a bullhorn. We wanted to show there are many ways to be an activist, and that there are young people working toward many different areas of change.
Keila: I echo Jeanette. We read story after story about young people taking action to improve their lives and the lives of others in their communities. Our list kept growing! We were thrilled Charlebridge allowed us 40 pages so we could include everyone we wanted to and the back matter.
Lindsay: We wanted to show people who began their activism in their youth, and also who began advocating for their causes before they became famous. It’s important for young readers to see that anyone can speak out and make an impact.
Supriya: I loved how the book featured a variety of poetry forms and included a glossary explaining them further. Did you ask the fourteen poets to write in a certain form to cover those styles or did they just end up writing different forms of poetry?
Jeanette: Each poet chose their own poetry form, and they all ended up choosing something different. We thought that brought another layer to the book.
Keila: The variety of poetry forms are good examples for kids to understand voice and point of view. And I created activities in the educator’s guide so students can use poems from the book as mentor texts and apply the structures to their own writing.
Lindsay: I love playing with poetry forms. Working within a set of rules gives me just enough constraints to unlock creativity without overwhelming me with the possibilities. It was fun to see which form each poet chose. I think the poems came out beautifully and really showcase each activist’s — and poet’s — unique strengths.
Supriya: The art is really gorgeous and the illustration on the last page of poetry is so inspiring and empowering. Jeanette, would you please tell us a little about your process for the art and the symbolism of the microphone on the first page?
Jeanette: All the art in this book was done digitally, but it is based on drawing with charcoal & chalk on midtone paper. Because this book has so many elements in each spread — a poem, a short bio, plus a callout and of course the titles — the book design was done first & then it was my job to design my art around the text. This was a new way of working for me!
When I got the layouts in the mail, Art Director Diane Earley had used a font that made me think of a protest sign painted on a piece of cardboard. It inspired me to use a brown kraft paper background and to create drawings that look like chalk and charcoal.
The microphone on the title page is lying, unused, but angled toward the reader. It is waiting for the reader to pick it up and speak. On the last spread, there is a microphone standing in an empty spotlight, waiting for the reader to leap onstage and use their voice!
Keila: Art has such a powerful place in activism. Protest art historically unites, and convinces others to join and support causes. Jeanette’s art helps us imagine what the ongoing fight for justice, equality, and human rights looks like. And that’s another layer kids can take away from the book. And for that reason, there are art activities included in the activity guide, too.
Supriya: The format was so accessible and empowering, the way the poetry was followed by a brief bio of a young activist and concluded with a tip that tells readers how they, too, can inspire change in their community. What do you want young readers to take away from this book?
Jeanette: I want kids who read this to be able to quote Mari Copeny and say: “My voice matters, and I can use it to fix some wrongs in the world.” I want kids to understand that they do have power, even if they are small.
Keila: I’d like kids to realize that activism is action and there are many ways to take action. To be an activist takes courage. I hope the young activists featured in NO VOICE TOO SMALL will inspire other young people and show there’s a community out there that may be committed to working on an issue they care deeply about.
Lindsay: I want kids to come away with the tools and inspiration to start the process of advocating for their chosen causes and for themselves. Some readers may never have thought of themselves as activists, or have even articulated their need for change. I hope that the stories of the featured young activists’ will help propel the next generation of leaders into action and empowerment.
Supriya: Thank you!
NO VOICE TOO SMALL is available for pre-order now and includes poems by
S. Bear Bergman
Andrea J. Loney
Guadalupe García McCall
Lindsay H. Metcalf
Carole Boston Weatherford
NO VOICE TOO SMALL Flipgrid Book Club, where readers can watch and respond to poetry reading and writing workshop videos with their own recordings and writings.
NO VOICE TOO SMALL Distance Learning Links includes distance learning videos and worksheets.