When, on March 16, Philomel announced the May 30 publication of the picture book She Persisted, by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, I was skeptical. Don’t get me wrong—I love me a celebration of girl power as much as the next feminist. But I also love me an industry ethic that acknowledges the fact that good literature takes time to get it right. A book inspired by an event that happened just five weeks before its announcement and scheduled to come out just 10 weeks after is probably not taking that time.
The notion that a good picture book can be made in a matter of weeks is a patently ridiculous but tragically common one. Even such prolific veterans as Jane Yolen and Eve Bunting take some time to draft, and they both have more native writing skills than Clinton. There is no question that Clinton is smart and capable, but her prose style is no great shakes. Our review of her 2015 call to action, It’s Your World, found it “dry” and “not exactly electric.”
I really hoped I was wrong, but in the event, I was not. While Boiger’s illustrations are characteristically appealing, the text is both dry and almost irresponsibly brief, at just two to three sentences per figure profiled. Readers learn, for instance, that white journalist Nellie Bly posed as “a sweatshop worker” but not what a sweatshop is. And although the selection of figures profiled is refreshingly rich in women of color, many readers are likely to note gaps, such as the absence of Asian-American women. Did not Japanese-American U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, champion of Title IX, persist? And what about Tammy Duckworth, Thai-American disabled Iraq War vet and U.S. senator? Had a bit more time been taken in the creation of this book, this particular imbalance may have been noticed and addressed.
Too bad Clinton and her team did not persist a little bit longer. Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.