Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, She Persisted by Susan Wood, pictures by Sarah Green
Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, She Persisted
text by Susan Wood
pictures by Sarah Green
Review Copy from Abrams Books
Elizabeth Warren: Nevertheless, She Persisted is a picture book biography, published in 2018, the summer before Warren announced her run for president in February of 2019. I've had this book for a year and, while I share Warren's passion for social justice and equity, I can't really explain why I didn't review it sooner. Maybe I was waiting to see how she fared in the race to become the Democratic nominee, but I think it's really because it's hard to feel hopeful, especially as things have increasingly devolved over the last year. The worse things get, it somehow seems less likely power dynamics will shift enough to allow a woman, especially one with Warren's platform, to win. My gloomy attitude aside, hers is a story that kids, girls especially, need to know (after all, they are, hopefully, now very familiar with the phrase that is the subtitle of this book and need to know where it came from and how it as been appropriated for good) and her fight is one that will become increasingly crucial as the massive income inequality in the United States continues to grow.
Woods begins her book letting readers know that, "Elizabeth's been fighting all her life," giving readers an overview of what she is fighting for. A "fighter for families. A fighter for those struggling to be heard. A fighter for those who need help," Elizabeth grew up to be a woman who is a "tireless fighter for what's fair. She insisted. She resisted. She persisted."
Woods begins with Elizabeth's parents scarping together money to buy a fixer-upper in a neighborhood that was close to the best schools in Oklahoma City, knowing how important a good education would be for their children. When Elizabeth was twelve, she saw her family's life change as her father, suffering a heart attack, was unable to work. Woods makes this very understandable for young readers, detailing changes that ranged from losing their new car, relying only on their old beater, and her mother finding a job outside the home for the first time, Elizabeth wondering to herself, "Other kids' moms don't work. Why should my mother?"
In high school, Elizabeth discovers her talent for debate, learning to use her words to be seen and heard and to fight for herself. Earning a scholarship, Elizabeth became the first person in her family to graduate from college, going on to become a teacher for children with special needs. However, after having her first child, she was not invited to return to her job. Now a mother of two living in New Jersey, Elizabeth returned to school and earned a law degree. Again, she faced discrimination. Unable to find a job with a law firm, she started her own and, eventually was hired to teach law with a specialty in laws that affected fair banking. Several pages are dedicated to Warren's decision to run for office, becoming the first female senator from Massachusetts in 2012, and the research she did and platform she ran on - the promise to fight to make sure everyone had an equal chance to get ahead.
The final pages of the book close with the 2017 senate debate during which Warren was silenced for reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King to the senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 in which she said that Jeff Sessions, nominee for the position of Attorney General and subject of a confirmation debate, had used, "his awesome power of office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as federal judge." Senate Rule XIX, which prohibits ascribing "to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator," was invoked, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claiming Warren had "impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama." He called for a vote that went along party lines and silenced Warren, saying, she was "giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
Woods does an acceptable job explaining this for young readers, but the explanation feels a bit toothless and sent me to researching that moment in 2017 that I had forgotten about. And, as with so much that happens in politics today, it sent me into a controlled rage. (Here is where I wrote many "how dare..." type sentences that I then deleted. What's the point? We all know how far we have gotten, as a nation, from showing respect and possessing civility.) I suppose, ultimately, the long history of men silencing women is too huge a topic for a non-fiction picture book, as are the double standards and discriminations that continue to run rampant in our country. I am grateful for Woods and Green's book, grateful for Elizabeth Warren and all that she fights for in a country where the wealth gap is getting bigger every year. Yet, I struggle, knowing that what she fights for threatens those in power, causing them to tighten their grip.