Introducing . . . Girls with Grit!

Alice Coachman Credit: Tuskegee University Archives

Alice Coachman
Credit: Tuskegee University Archives

If there’s one thing I've built as a kid lit writer—other than a stack of ideas, a heap of rough drafts, and large rejection piles—it’s perseverance! Without perseverance, it’s tough to make it in this business. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t born with a gritty, indomitable spirit, and I'm far from mastering it. In fact after years of rejections, I was discouraged and almost gave up on becoming a children’s book author. Then one day, while I waited to hear back from editors on my latest submission, I thought, why not try my hand at some nonfiction?

It didn’t take me long to find my first subject: Olympic high-jump champion Alice Coachman. I was drawn to her spirit immediately. She loved running and jumping, and nothing could stop her from doing what she loved. No shoes? She ran barefoot. No facilities? She tied together sticks and rags to make her own high jumps. Alice overcame poverty, segregation, racism, and gender discrimination. The more I researched Alice Coachman the smaller my pile of rejections looked. Alice inspired me. She motivated me to keep writing and revising and submitting. Whenever a new rejection arrived in my mailbox, I replayed a favorite Alice quote in my head:  “When the going gets tough and you feel like throwing your hands in air, listen to that voice that tells you to ‘keep going. Hang in there.’ Guts and determination will pull you through.”

Visiting Alice in 2012

Visiting Alice in 2012

Alice Coachman and many of the women I research have that special combination of passion, determination, perseverance, and resiliency which all add up to “grit.” Children's books are an ideal place for kids of all different circumstances to find their own role models with grit. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, these women show girls and boys what’s possible. They teach them how to dream and fight and fail and succeed. So my plan is to share stories, images, articles, classroom activities, author interviews, and books with strong female characters. Together, we can use children's books to inspire and teach our kids (and ourselves) to be brave!