“Rad American Women A-Z” is more than just an average kids’ alphabet book: A is for Angela Davis, P is for Patti Smith and S is for Sonia Sotomayor. The groundbreaking children’s book contains stories of history’s most radical women – stories that are not often taught to young children. Metro spoke with author Kate Schatz about the book, which has become an overnight success; the book is sold out of its first two print runs, and a third run is on its way.
Why is it important for young girls and boys to read “Rad American Women” and books like it?
It is not just for girls to be inspired by cool women from history. These stories are interesting stories about interesting people. It’s obviously super important for girls to have strong role models, but it’s totally important for boys to have strong female role models as well. If they don’t grow up respecting women, admiring women and seeing women in strong positions of power and success, then that doesn’t change our misogynistic culture at all.
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What do you say to people who think the book is only for girls?
When people have been skeptical about whether boys can relate to the book, my response is, “Why would we expect young boys to relate more to George Washington than to Sonia Sotomayor?” I think kids can relate to [these women] way more than they can to these abstract, ancient heroes that we just assume all kids will be interested in.
Have you read the book with your kids?
Yes. I’ve definitely been reading it with my daughter, who’s almost six, and she loves it. One thing that’s really cool – her elementary school is called Maya Lin School, and it’s named after the artist Maya Lin, who’s in the book. I actually had decided to include Maya Lin before my daughter started kindergarten there, so to my daughter, Maya Lin is like George Washington.
If you had to pick a woman to be on the $20 bill, who would it be?
I voted for Wilma Mankiller. I’m really happy with the finalists, but I would pick Wilma Mankiller, because I think the significance of having a Native American replace Andrew Jackson after his genocide of Native people would be particularly sweet revenge.
Do you have a favorite “Rad American Woman” from the book?
That’s like having me pick which of my kids I like the best. I keep rediscovering how excited I am about all these women as I read them. I read the Nellie Bly one the other night, and I hadn’t read that for a while, and I even said out loud after reading it, “Oh my god, she was awesome! Wow!” But yeah, I love them all.
Do you have any “Rad American Women” in your personal life? Was there anyone that was inspiring to you who isn’t famous?
Yes, so many! The truth of the book, and what I tried to get out with the entry for “X” is that 99.9 percent of “Rad Women” are not famous. I had a great mom who was totally supportive. Yeah, my mom was my “Rad American Woman.”
Were there any women you wanted to include in the book but didn’t have room for?
Yes, thousands and thousands of them. These are really just a jumping off point, these 26. For a lot of the letters we had just a huge list that we were deciding on, and we kind of had to whittle it down over time.
Your book includes women from many different groups and backgrounds. Are there any trans women included in the book?
Yeah! K is for Kate Bornstein, who is a really wonderful trans activist and playwright, and writer. She wrote “My Gender Workbook,” and some really great texts that are used in a lot of women’s studies classes.
I don’t make a huge deal about it. I don’t say, “This is really controversial.” I just say, “She was born with a boy’s body but she always felt like a girl, and now she lives as a woman, and that’s that.” And it’s fun. And kids are just like, “Okay, cool!”
Are there any plans for future books or projects?
There definitely are. We plan to do more similar books. I am also working on a novel for grown-ups, and a young adult novel, which are not necessarily about rad women but are definitely kind of feminist in tone.
Rad American Women A-Z is written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.