A chat with the creators of the inspiring NO VOICE TOO SMALL!

A new picture book — out now! — recently caught my eye and my heart. It’s NO VOICE TOO SMALL – Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, who also illustrated the book (Charlesbridge). It’s an uplifting, affecting armful of poetry by some heavy hitters–Nikki Grimes, Joseph Bruchac, Traci Sorrell, Janet Wong, and Carole Boston Weatherford, to name only a few.

What I love about this book is that the overall package is so COMPLETE. This is the book teachers will hand to kiddos who are stirred up about some injustice/unfairness/problem/challenge and unsure which way to turn or what they can do to affect change. Wonder no more, kiddo. Here’s your how-to.

Each spread includes a poem (tailored to a specific kid activist), a short biography, and a snippet of advice. Examples:

“You can break down stereotypes when you speak out — and when you listen.”

“The truth is powerful. Revealing it can change attitudes.”

“Leaders don’t work alone. Join a group or start one to take action.”

“Break big problems into small steps. Ask others to help you take the first step.”

Backmatter includes definitions of the various types of poems used: ballad, chinquapin, reverse, tanka, etc., as well as brief bios of each poet. I can see 3rd-5th graders (especially) grabbing onto this one and not wanting to let go. This powerful collection came about in such a unique way that I invited its creators here to fill us in.

Lindsay: So, Jill has passed the mic to us to talk amongst ourselves. Thanks, Jill! Where should we start, friends? Maybe how we came to work together and sell the book on proposal?

Jeanette: I remember we were in the Kidlit Women Facebook group on a discussion about books we wished someone would write, and I posted about wishing there was a picture book biography anthology about contemporary kids doing things. A bunch of people contacted me saying “I want to do that!”

Lindsay: And I pounced and messaged you right away. I had been noodling with the very same idea, and I knew we shared an agent.

Jeanette: As does Traci, who was involved in planning at the very beginning of the project, but was too busy editing INDIAN NO MORE. She ended up being one of our poets, though!

Lindsay: It’s funny that Traci messaged you at the same time, because we are longtime critique partners and often find ourselves in sync without even realizing it.

Keila: Traci introduced me to Lindsay. Lindsay introduced me to Jeanette. I responded to Jeanette’s post on KidLit Women asking about activists who inspired us. The group kept posting links to inspirational stories about people who could be included. A few weeks later, Lindsay emailed me about joining her and Jeanette in completing a proposal they were working on for a picture book pitched as SHE PERSISTED meets LITTLE LEADERS, told through poetry with prose sidebars, and #ownvoices contributors. I jumped at the chance! This was in April and we needed to show in the proposal that we had permissions from a few activists, well-known poets, and sample illustrations by May.

Jasilyn Charger, art © Jeanette Bradley 2020

Lindsay: We talked about a lot of contemporary activists, from Colin Kaepernik to Elaine Welteroth, the Teen Vogue editor who was doing amazing things. But the thread that we thought would get kids excited was other people their age being vocal about seeking change. Gen Z was taking the mic in a big way–this was around the time of Parkland–and no one had focused a book on it.

Jeanette: Lindsay had the idea to make this a poetry anthology.

Lindsay: We wanted to bring in a variety of own-voices creators to tell the stories of these kids, and poetry seemed like the perfect way to convey the emotion that drives their activism. But none of us were published poets, so the whole project was a leap of faith. One by one, the poets we approached gave enthusiastic yeses. We knew the project had legs because everyone was so excited by the premise.

Something else we did differently was make sure we received permission from each young activist, even though some were famous and technically we might not have needed it. We had to write a ton of pitch letters before we even got to the proposal stage.

Ziad Ahmed, art © Jeanette Bradley 2020

Keila: There was on activist who backed out because he got a book deal with Oprah. Our Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss commented, “We ain’t Oprah!”

Jeanette: You two did the heavy lifting in all of that. At the time I was trying to make an art deadline and juggle life stuff, and I almost dropped out of the project. So glad I stayed!

Lindsay: I’m glad you stayed, too! It was a lot of work in a short amount of time. I think we first started talking at the end of March and had the proposal ready for submission in mid-May. Youth activism was a trending topic and we wanted to be first.

Jeanette: And we managed to get three poems with sample art pulled together to package with the proposal in that time!

Keila: No way this project would have turned out the way it did without Jeanette’s vision. It’s so helpful to collaborate with creatives with such amazing talent and skills different from your own. And Lindsay knows I refer to her as a word whisperer.

Lindsay: Jeanette, how did you land on the art style you chose? It’s so loose and expressive and beautiful.

Nza Ari Khepra, art © Jeanette Bradley 2020

Jeanette: Thank you! It’s digital, but based on one of my favorite ways of drawing–with charcoal and chalk on midtone paper. The inspiration for doing it this way on a kraft paper background came from Diane Earley’s book design.

Because this book has so may elements in each spread–a poem, a short bio, plus a callout and of course the titles–the book design was done first and then it was my job to design my art around the text. This was a new way of working for me!

When I got Diane’s designs in the mail, she had used a font that looks like hand painted letters. It made me think of a quickly lettered sign done on a piece of cardboard. I’d been playing around with drawing on brown backgrounds and using the background as skin tone and adding just black and white pencil to define the modeling of a face.

This was completely different from the sketches that I had submitted so I had to ask the Charlesbridge team if they would be OK with the change. Luckily they approved my sample spread.

Keila: Looking back at the month we spent reaching out to activists and the poets we thought that would be inspired to write about them took a lot of research and coordination–we were so excited by every “yes” and “very interested in your project.” But Jeanette’s sample art made us more confident that our proposal was going to draw interest.

Jeanette: I think one of the things that is really cool about our collaboration is that it in itself is contemporary. We met on social media and have created this book together from a distance. Lindsay and I met in person once, but I still haven’t met you in person, Keila, which is hard to believe!

Keila: This just proves how powerful networking can be.

Jeanette: So much of my time as an illustrator is spent holed up in my art cave. Don’t get me wrong. As an introvert, I love that. But it has been really wonderful to work collaboratively with the two of you. Kind of like having coworkers–super smart, creative, and funny coworkers!

Lindsay: You two are more intellectually stimulating than my other coworkers–two cats and my sweet Cavalier King Charles, who interrupts our Skype calls with jackhammer snores.

Thanks for having us, Jill!

Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith and the forthcoming OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, Jan 2021). She is a New Orleans native, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Dawson is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith and the forthcoming OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN AND HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, Jan 2021). She is a New Orleans native, has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Website: www.keiladawson.com Twitter: @keila_dawson Instagram: @keilavdawson Pinterest: pinterest.com/keiladawson/

Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book LOVE, MAMA was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2018. It contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love. She is also co-editor and illustrator of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 2020) and illustrator or WHEN THE BABIES CAME TO STAY (Viking, 2020). Jeanette lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. Find out more at jeanettebradley.com

Jeanette is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt. Click here to download a pdf of art samples.

Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books: BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020); FARMERS UNITE! PLANTING A PROTEST FOR FAIR PRICES (Calkins Creek, 2020); and NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY, a poetry anthology co-edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, 2020). Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets. You can reach her at lindsayhmetcalf.com or @lindsayhmetcalf on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for stopping in, ladies!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of nearly 50 children's books. Recent picture books include HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She has also authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF HOW and GO WILD: Sea Turtles. New in 2021 is a full-color graphic early reader series starring two goofy dino pals, THUNDER & CLUCK (Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). Next up (March 2022) is JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT, a historical nonfiction picture book set in 1921, featuring a gutsy bi-plane pilot whose bumpy flight through a raging blizzard saved the U.S. Air Mail Service. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at www.jillesbaum.com

21 Comments:

  1. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Wow! Can’t wait to read this!

  2. Wonderful collaboration! Thanks for sharing with us! Best wishes!

  3. I remember how this book got started, but it was fun to revisit it here. I agree with Jill that the book is “so COMPLETE.” You three have done a wonderful job giving our children concrete examples of how to take action based on the work others did at their age.

  4. I love the brown paper technique. It speaks for itself. So glad you chose to do this about child activism. Bravo!

  5. This book looks amazing

  6. Love the kid-activist focus!

  7. This book looks absolutely beautiful and inspiring! Cannot wait to read!

  8. It’s always enlightening to get a look at a book’s journey beginning to end. Thanks for sharing!

  9. What a beautiful book and I love how you all put it together! Congratulations!!!

  10. What an inspiring collaboration. I’m excited to check it out.

  11. Gorgeous artwork!

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