It Takes a Village – Hillary Rodman Clinton and Marla Frazee, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017
Hillary Rodman Clinton: Some Girls Are Born to Lead – Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham, Balzer + Bray of HarperCollins, 2016
A year ago last November, it appeared that it would take a woman, a brilliant, committed one, to continue to elevate our country, following President Obama’s progress in eight years in office. Now it seems that way more than ever. Instead of progress, we now have destructive and reactionary moves backward, towards the worst elements of America’s past. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia, contempt for the poor and attacks on labor, science, and education. On one level, I find it sad even to look at these two wonderful books, but on another, it gives me hope for the future, as they showcase the accomplishments and dreams of four talented women: authors and illustrators, and almost-President Clinton herself.
It Takes a Village is an expression of Hillary Clinton’s philosophy, based on her previous manifesto of the same name, but distilled for children. The pictures are by Caldecott Honor winner Marla Frazee in her inimitable style, perfect for capturing a multicultural present rooted in the finest values of America’s past.
Her people are lively, busy, outlines with soft features and telling details: an off-center ponytail on a girl, comfortable looking wheelchairs seating productive people with disabilities, a strong and determined African-American family bringing a cooler and cartons of food to people. Clinton’s simple text informs children that “We all have a place in the village, a job to do,/and a lot to learn.” She encourages them by reminding them, as well as those in power, that “Children are/born believers./And citizens, too.
The endpapers of the book concretize Clinton’s message in Frazee’s uplifting image of the American flag, each stripe the foundation for a tiny village with homes, factories, bridges, and trees. Americans have built and tended these in the past and can do so again in the future.
That future has seemed more distant since last November. Michelle Markel and LeUyen Pham’s glorious tribute to Hillary Clinton seems to have been developed while it appeared that the former senator and secretary of state would be our first woman president. Michelle Markel has already shown her commitment to teaching readers about activist women in her Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909. Her Hillary Rodham Clinton is heroic and indomitable, focused from an early age on bettering the lives of girls and women:
“In villages with dirt roads she heard heartbreaking stories of how baby girls were
abandoned and young women were abused. She couldn’t bear to be silent about
No one gets to stop a girl from being the greatest person she can be….The cruelest
words and wrongest barriers have not been strong enough to hold her back.”
This is a strongly worded message for readers of picture books; note how the seemingly naïve wrongest makes the message more accessible. Pham’s bold exaggerated images, calling to mind Madison Avenue, kid’s cartoons, and classic movies, are perfect for transforming Clinton the icon into Clinton the regular person.
She is a the smartest little girl in the class, raising her hand yet again, to the chagrin of the boys seated on either side of her, and the “superwoman” in a red suit and big glasses, leaving the men in her courtroom stunned as she chooses to “rush out…to call the babysitter about her sick child.” One of the best parts of the book is the perfect partnership of author and illustrator in creating their inspiring figure. Pham’s other books are broad in range, including the proto-feminist Grace for President, written by Kelly DiPucchio as well as Real Friends, Sharon Hale’s graphic novel for young readers, which also encourages strength and independence. (link to book)
The child on whose behalf Hillary Clinton ran out of the courtroom is, of course, Chelsea Clinton, who has her own wonderful children’s book, She Persisted, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, which I reviewed elsewhere (I also earlier reviewed Boiger’s Tallulah’s Nutcracker elsewhere on this blog). Whether American citizens or citizens of the global village, we can be grateful for Clinton’s persistence. We can only hope that the “cruelest words and wrongest barriers” will not stop her, or of those joining her in resistance.