This month—in time for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month—author, activist, and former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton is embarking on a national tour in honor of her new picture book, She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History.
The book, which was released on March 6 by Penguin’s Philomel imprint, is a companion to Clinton’s bestselling 2017 picture book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. The new book comes less than 10 months after last May’s publication of She Persisted. Alexandra Boiger, who illustrated the first book in the series, provided the artwork.
The title and refrain of both books reference Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s censure of Senator Elizabeth Warren—“She was warned. Nevertheless, she persisted”—when she tried to read Coretta Scott King’s words on the floor of the Senate, during the 2017 confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The critique has become a feminist rallying cry, and the inspiration for Clinton’s collective biographies.
In She Persisted Around the World, the author commemorates 13 women, some well-known and others less widely recognized, who overcame adversity and whose work has had a global impact: Marie Curie, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Viola Desmond, Sissi Lima do Amor, Leymah Gbowee, Caroline Herschel, Wangari Maathai, Aisha Rateb, J.K. Rowling, Kate Sheppard, Yuan Yuan Tan, Mary Verghese, and Malala Yousafzai. Each of the subjects is featured in a single spread, presenting her biography and achievements, a watercolor and ink portrait, and an accompanying quotation from the spotlighted woman.
During a sold-out appearance at New York’s Brooklyn Public Library on March 11, where Clinton was joined by illustrator Boiger and the book’s editor, Jill Santopolo, Clinton gave a reading and discussed the collaborative process. She explained that the 13 women profiled in the first book included “all women I feel a direct connection to. I remember when they first inspired me.” She cited personal heroes such as Ruby Bridges and Claudette Colvin. While putting together the roster of women for the second book, however, Clinton said, “I also knew there were so many stories I didn’t know.” Clinton stated that she and Santopolo “actively solicited” suggestions from their peers of trailblazing females. “Thankfully we were inundated with stories. We learned so much,” she said. While making their selections for the book, she said, “We wanted a real diversity across time, geography, and field of achievement.”
In an interview with PW prior to the event, Clinton described the positive reactions, from both children and parents, to the previous book, and the impetus for creating the sequel. “I was so struck by the number of young readers, and also not so young readers, who came up to me at events, or on the subway… telling me how much they appreciated learning stories that they hadn’t heard before or known before—and how inspired they were by these women,” she said. “That was so affirming to me, and I thought, ‘We need to tell even more stories of remarkable women, and really women from around the world, who have positively changed the course of history.’ ”
Clinton recalled an especially memorable meeting with a young fan during her current tour, for She Persisted Around the World. “We were in Charlotte yesterday and in Chicago the day before that, where I met a girl who proudly told me she was going to be the next Nellie Bly. She was seven, but she was already writing investigative pieces.” When Clinton asked her about the subject of her current investigation, the girl invoked her rights as a journalist, “It’s a secret until I’m done!”
Boiger told PW that while researching the figures represented in the books to create her illustrations, “I developed very strong feelings for some of these women that I hadn’t known.” She said of her artwork, “I try to show as much as I can visually what the character looked like… but more than anything I try to capture the essence of the person.” She later told the attendees at the Brooklyn Public Library event, which drew approximately 450 fans, that as she distilled each woman’s career into a single image, “I thought of it as creating a poster.” For research, whenever possible, she watched and listened to interviews with the subjects. “I dove deep into their psychology, into their life. Then I let go of the intellectual part and [focused on] the emotions that came up.”
In response to Santopolo’s question about what she hopes readers will take away from the book, Clinton said, “Persistence is important—arguably it’s necessary—to be the people we want to be, particularly at this moment in time. None of the women in these books achieved what they did through talent alone.”
Clinton and Boiger then took questions from the young readers in the crowd, the first of which revealed the level of excitement in the room: “How many books can you sign?” (Clinton assured the audience, “We will sign every book that’s here.”) The qa portion also included more provocative inquiries, such as, “Why didn’t women have the rights that men had?” In response Clinton asked, “How much time do you have?” and explained that there is an ongoing struggle for equality around the world. But while some men regard women as innately inferior, she said, “I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think that biology should be destiny.”
When asked by a seven-year-old girl named Isabella, “Are you going to be president someday?,” Clinton replied that, as the child of politician parents, “I’ve been really lucky to have been asked that question since I was young. And we should be asking [girls like] you if you imagine yourself doing those things.” At the moment, Clinton said she is focusing on her work as an author.
Regarding the possibility of future books in the She Persisted series, Clinton told PW, “Let’s see how this one goes. I’m looking forward to hearing more from young readers about how they resonated with She Persisted Around the World. And I hope it continues to inspire people just as, thankfully, She Persisted has.”
Clinton’s upcoming tour stops include Philadelphia, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Nashville, and Toronto, with appearances in a total of 12 cities. Boiger joined the author for her New York events and will also be present for her San Francisco appearance.
She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History by Chelsea Clinton, illus. by Alexandra Boiger. Philomel, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-525-51699-6