You Should Meet: Shirley Chisholm by Laurie Calkhoven, illustrated by Shea O'Connor, 48 pp, RL 3

 

You Should Meet: Shirley Chisholm 
by Laurie Calkhoven
illustrated by Shea O'Connor
Review Copy from Simon & Schuster

This entry in the You Should Meet series introduces readers to this amazing Black woman and the many accomplishments and first she achieved. Bearing in mind the longstanding systemic racism in America that we are just beginning to reckon with as a nation, as well as our patriarchal political system, I came to this book cautiously, wondering how these enormous challenges Chisholm fought against could/would be addressed when condensing the life of a great woman into a short biography for kids.

An introduction sets the stage, if somewhat sparsely, framing Chisholm as someone who dared to dream when "people said you shouldn't even try," and as someone who fought for what she believed in. It then goes on to say that Chisholm was the first African American woman ever elected to Congress and the first African American, male or female, from either party, to run for president of the United States. The first two chapters cover the Brooklyn native's childhood and college years as well as her entry into local politics and election to the New York State Assembly in 1964 at the age of forty. When she decides to run for the United States Congress, the chapter titled, "Unbought and Unbossed," an early campaign slogan of Chisholm's, tells readers that she, "never had as much money as the men she ran against, but she ran a new kind of campaign," speaking to the women voters in her district - something "the other candidates never did." While the biography never specifically speaks to the male domination of American politics, readers to learn that the "men in Congress expected Shirley to take a back seat. They expected her to be quiet and not voice her opinions," then goes on to show how she challenged this sexism. Covering Chisholm's historic 1972 run for president, readers learn that, again, she had a lot less money that then men she was running against, with many "treating her campaign like a joke."

Covering her loss for the Democratic nomination, readers are told that Chisholm believed her "campaign would make it possible for more women and more African Americans to run for president, and be taken seriously," while missing the opportunity to tell readers that it took another three-plus decades before a Black man would win the Democratic nomination and then presidency and another four-plus decades before a Black woman would become Vice President, a first for both Black Americans and women. While I wish that America's institutionalized racism was incorporated into this biography, I am glad that, especially for young readers, Calkhoven was able to note, more than once, the sexism Chisholm faced. For more about the racism and sexism Chisholm faced, from white and Black men, there is a great piece about the history of her "Unbought and Unbossed" campaign poster at The Undefeated.

And, while the pandemic has pushed back its completion, I was happy to see that this biography ends with, among Chisholm's other post-Congressional accomplishments, the fact that she is the first woman to have a public statue dedicated to her in Brooklyn. Designed by She Built NYC, a public-arts campaign that "honors pioneering women by installing monuments that celebrate their extraordinary contributions to the city and beyond," it will incorporate an image of the Capitol Building with seats around the statue bearing the names of women who have followed in Chisholm's footsteps and been elected to the US Congress.

Back matter includes information on how the three branches of the US federal government and voting work.

More Shirley Chisholm biographies for kids available now & coming this year


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