In Cynthia Levinson’s biography for middle-grade readers, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can, the private political figure we see in the media is introduced simply as “Hillary.” At the start of the book, Levinson writes that “I refer to her as Hillary because that’s how she identifies herself.” In order to make politics relatable for kids, specifically the 8-12 age range that HarperCollins requested, Levinson says that “above all, I wanted to make the issues personal and emotional, rather than abstract or didactic.” And so Levinson dives into former first lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and current presidential candidate Clinton’s—pardon me, Hillary’s—life from her childhood in Illinois, describing a moment in which Hillary asks her mother to buy a communion dress for a migrant worker classmate who can’t afford her own.
It’s through these personal examples that Levinson shows how a normal girl begins to shape her political views and, eventually, career: “I introduce questions about the role of the federal government through arguments she overheard between her parents when she was a little girl....Their disagreements occurred in a context that is familiar to children; yet they are emblematic of disputes in Congress today.”
Levinson understands that most kids love reading about other kids, “even if that subject is a grownup,” and that making Hillary known to readers as a child first is a natural way to show how Hillary became the person she is today. “As with all of us, the issues she deals with in adulthood hearken back to her youth,” Levinson notes. So, when readers learn about her activism for children’s healthcare while she was first lady, for instance, they can recall what they learned about Hillary as a child, buying that dress for her friend in need.
“Following the trajectory of those threads helps readers see her as a complex but consistent person,” Levinson says. Complex is one way to describe such an eventful life.
While the book champions Hillary’s dedication to service, the narrative never shies away from the controversial aspects of her career. “Children need to know that they can make mistakes and still thrive,” Levinson says. In writing about Hillary’s decision to vote in favor of the Iraq War, she says that this time, “Hillary didn’t do her homework.” This relatable situation will stand out for young readers, and Levinson makes a conscious effort to relay information in ways that will resonate with her intended age group. “I begin by observing and listening to kids,” she says.
But one aspect of Hillary’s life is definitely hardest to write about. “In regard to [Former President Bill Clinton’s] relationship with Monica Lewinski, I knew I had to include it somehow because his lying about it under oath triggered his impeachment, which directly affected Hillary,” Levinson says. Before setting down to write about this major event in Hillary’s life, though, she “conducted an informal survey of parents, teachers, and librarians who have or work with 8- to 12-year-olds. They all agreed that children this age need to know about shameful behavior; they also agreed on how to write about it deftly.”
Throughout, Hillary is portrayed as a complex and vibrant personality, which readers might not see on TV. “The self-protectiveness that she exhibits now was not apparent 50 years ago,” Levinson, who knew Hillary when she was a freshman at Wellesley, admits. However, Hillary’s strength as a leader was always present: “Several women at school in the late 1960s predicted that she could be president.”
As for what Levinson hopes young readers take away from the book, she wants Hillary’s own words to be what convinces readers to become involved in their communities and to do all the good they can. “I will let her convey the message, she says. “[Hillary] said to young people, ‘My advice is always become active in politics.’ To leaders, she added, ‘We have to do more to build relationships.’ ”
Looking to the future, we’ll wait and see if the predictions of Hillary’s Wellesley classmates were right.
Chelsea Langford is the assistant editor.