Kate Schatz: American Women in History

May 27, 2016

Kate Schatz wrote about women activists, women musicians, female educators and many more in the nonfiction ABC text Rad American Women A-Z.  This book was written to celebrate American women who impacted history. Schatz also wanted to recognize women who have been underrepresented in the history books. In Rad American Women A-Z, there was a wide array of women in order for children to be reflected in this story.

The collaboration of Schatz and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl shapes a historical book into a contemporary and modern day collection is appealing value to young readers. This is because Rad American Woman A-Z is inclusive of women from a wide range of cultures. For example, Jovita Idar was an editor, teacher, journalist, and political activist. She began to teach Mexican children when she was 17 years old. She saw that Mexican American students were not treated equally in their Texas education system. Knowing about this injustice made Jovita furious, and it also inspired her to take action.

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Joviat Idar said that “Mexican children in Texas need an education.” “There is no other means to do it but ourselves!” Idar organized a group of women called La Liga Femenil Mexicanista (Mexican Feminist League). They taught poor children and adults how to read and write, and created bilingual lessons to be used in schools.

Stories like Jovita’s and others resonates with children who might live through these same circumstances as these children. Jovita’s story is a mirror, reflecting a young person’s life who might be living in Texas as a Mexican youth.

Kate Schatz took her time to find the best fitted women within her book. She used modern day activities to discover women that needed be represented. So she decided to crowd source her ideas. “I crowd sourced the ideas from other people and my friends. Then I combined their ideas with my own ideas. For a few years, I did a lot of research to match the right women into the book. During my research, I had a criteria for writing the book. The number one criteria was that I wanted to focus on stories that were inspiring and that were great to tell. I wanted to focus on the stories of women of color and women who have not been appearing in the history books. Then I wanted to have a wide range of abilities that they did. So in Rad American Women A-Z.  I wrote about rock stars, athletes, politicians, and activists. I wanted to show a wide range of time periods also. So with all of that criteria and that I had to find someone from each letter. It felt like I was moving these women around in a puzzle like Jenga, but it worked out just right. I wanted to include the heavy-hitters of women’s history. I wanted a mix of people who are recognizable to readers and more who are obscure.”

Kate decided that an ABC book was a simple format that almost every reader can follow. This is because most children learn how to read by learning their ABCs. “I got the idea when my daughter was two. She loved to read books and I had so many ABC books all over the house. These ABC books were about fruit, animals, or New York City. It seemed that so many books were written as an ABC book. I thought wow why don’t I write an ABC book about American women. I also like the framework of an ABC, this book is familiar since we have been exposed to so many variations. So I was taking a familiar format and turning it on its head; where I made the content different.”

The art was also highly different than most ABC books. You will find bold colors, pop art and more in this story. Kate and Miriam chose this format because they knew that the content would be strong and somewhat controversial to some readers, and the illustrations reflected that. “I chose the artist because she is committed to social justice. I like how strong and bold the work was and I felt like that her work reflected the content. I wanted the images to be eye catching for anyone, even young children. So even if a child cannot read and process the content, they can process the images. It is simple and graphic.”

Not only was Rad American Women A-Z written in a familiar format. It displayed women from a range of cultures. It was important to Kate to display a multitude of women who came from different places. Kate is not only a writer, but she is also and educator. Since she works with an audience of a many backgrounds, and she explained that writing about multicultural characters needs to be a part of her practice. “If I want to be living in a world, working on issues of visibility and representation needs to be in the work that I do. I think my project as a writer in general is about feminists’ histories. I think that for young people of color and for white children, I think that it is important that they see a wide representation of women of all colors, abilities, backgrounds, and orientations. I heard Jacqueline Woodson talk about “Mirrors and Windows.” I thought about that a lot, and I’ve seen the effect on that with young people that I have presented to.

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When I was reading this book to a group of 5th graders, a little girl lit up when I went to Wilma Mankiller. The little said, “Is she native American?” I said, “Yes, she was a Native American female Chief.” And the little girl said, “I’m Native American too.” She was excited at this moment because part of her narrative was reflected in this story.”

She said that in terms of diversity, that she did not have to deal with not to deal with this growing up.

“When I was a kid, white children were always reflected in books that I was reading. So I know what it feels like to have myself reflected in literature. Students that I have worked with have not had that, and that is important to me. With my book, it shows many strong women who have been underrepresented, and I see the impact that it has on young people.”

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In the alphabet there are some letters and the letter X does not have a women featured.  Profoundly enough Schatz wanted a page to recognize women from multiple backgrounds. So X was the page that represented all women. She wrote that X is for the women whose voices that weren’t heard. The page with letter X is a tribute to the women who’s names that we don’t know, and women who can still be remembered or discussed by the reader.

Schatz and has toured the country in order to talk about her book, and there is a wide range of audiences who loves her story. “I came to realize that it’s for everyone. When it appears in places such as a review it said that it is for ages 8-11. When my story was on the NY Times bestseller list. The journalist wrote that it was good for ages 8-14. I think that 8-14 is a big range. It’s not a shy book but it is bold in its content. However in terms of how kids are able to process information depends on the reader, their experiences, and also what they’ve seen.  For a lot of kids, it could be their first introduction to someone who is from slavery or an activist. But if a kid sees topics from my book on a daily basis then it might not be as shocking to them. So it depends on their experiences. I wrote my story to be accessible to young people and to not be condescending.”

Visit http://radamericanwomen.com/ to learn more about Kate, Miriam, and what makes her book so cool.

 

 

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Publishing Words You Need to KnowAction-Adventure-Diversity Christina Diaz Gonzalez

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