Think about the books from your childhood for a moment. How well do you remember them? Do you remember the adventures they held? Can you picture your favorite characters? One more question—how many of those protagonists were female?
Even if you’re former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, the odds are not many. “Even some of the animal books that we giggled over had male frogs or chickens as the main characters,” she says. So, in 2017, Clinton set out to rectify that gaping literary gap, penning the New York Times-bestselling children’s book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World.
Now, the author and activist is back with her third book in the She Persisted series, She Persisted in Sports, which she will be sharing as part of a virtual reading hosted by Brazos Bookstore on September 30.
Of course, Bayou City book fans (and politicos, depending on your tastes) will know this isn’t Clinton’s first visit to Houston. The bestselling author and her mother, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, dropped by last year to talk about The Book of Gusty Women, their first joint release. Unlike Gutsy Women, which was written with adult readers in mind, Clinton’s new children’s book highlights American Olympians who made their mark through athletics, including golfer Margaret Ives Abbott, ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi, and Clutch City’s own Simone Biles.
Before her virtual visit, Clinton talked with us about the book edits she gets from her kids, her love of the Olympics, and the meaning of persistence.
You’ve had two bestselling children’s books. What’s your secret?
I spend a lot of my time as a mom reading books with my kids, to my kids, and I think that helped me kind of be in a mindset of a children's book writer. Now I'm really thankful that my kids are willing to be my first audience, to tell me what they think when I'm working through drafts.
Kids can be harsh critics, though. How tough are yours on your writing?
Sometimes they tell me where they think I could use different words. Often though, it's more about what I haven't included. So, Don’t Let Them Disappear, which introduced kids to endangered animals: my son, especially, had a very long list of animals that he thought I should have included. Or, for She Persisted in Sports, my daughter is obsessed with Simone Biles, so I knew I had to include her.
Speaking of She Persisted, why focus on athletes for the third book?
I love the Olympics. Watching the Olympics growing up was just so powerful for me. It was a lot of fun. It was very much a family event; I watched it with my parents, my grandparents—and it was the time I got to watch unlimited television, which was not generally the rule in my house.
I just was always so inspired by our incredible women athletes for what they were achieving, and how hard they were working. I felt connected to them, even through the screen, and drew real inspiration in my own much smaller athletic pursuits, but even more, for life.
Which athlete do you remember looking up to the most?
Oh, my God, Flo-Jo. Unquestionably, Florence Griffith Joyner, who I write about in the first She Persisted book. I remember so vividly watching her compete, watching her just smash the 200-meter world record in the 1988 Olympics, setting the world record that still stands. Just seeing how strong she was, and how fierce she was, and how stylish she was, and how much joy she drew from her wins was really powerful for me as a kid. It didn’t feel like there was only one way to be a woman, or only one way to be an athlete. Now, watching Simone Biles continue to not just prove, but almost create what is possible as a gymnast, I’m cheering for her with my kids now the same kind of way I would cheer for Flo-Jo with my grandmother.
The expression “nevertheless, she persisted,” has become synonymous with the feminist movement here in the U.S. What does that expression, and the idea of persistence, mean to you personally?
I think that persistence is a core quality of life. Whether we persist in being the best mothers that we can be, or the best friends that we can be, the best citizens we can be, when I think about any identity—whether it's part of me or part of women who I look up to and admire—persistence is the necessary ingredient for helping to sustain what we think of as good, and right, and just.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Sept 30. From $5. Online. More info and tickets at brazosbookstore.com.