Jonah Winter, Author of Lillian’s Right to Vote | Speed Interview
The Children’s Book Review | August 24, 2015
The Children’s Book Review: Which five words best describe Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
Jonah Winter: America’s racist history surrounds us.
If you had to take a vacation with one of the characters from Lillian’s Right to Vote, who would it be? Why?
There is too much work for us to do for anyone to be taking vacations.
What has been the best reaction from a reader, so far?
“Your books have such a clear-eyed, straightforward way of presenting these complicated histories, speaking honestly and unflinchingly, the way children do and the way they want us to, without overwhelming and without oversimplifying. I think your rendering of Lillian’s story and the story of racial injustice and the ongoing struggle against it is not only a way for children to learn and be engaged by this particular history, but is a model of storytelling for us grownups in learning how to talk about difficult things to our children and to feel and convey our connection to these difficult things.”
What’s on your nightstand? Any books?
The Holy Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, “Walden,” “The League of Frightened Men,” by Rex Stout, “The Nature of Things” by Quentin, and the Collected Stories of James Thurber.
For your writing energy: sugar or salt, tea or coffee?
Maker’s Mark. I mean, water.
Writing tools: computer, pen and paper, or all of the above?
I prefer a stone tablet & chisel.
I think everyone should open their windows at once and throw out their computers, smart phones, etc. (assuming no one’s standing beneath the windows).
Can you tell us one more thing we may not know about Lillian’s Right to Vote, your writing style, or yourself?
The first thing that inspired me to try and write a book which deals with the difficult topic of institutionalized racism in America was a visit to The Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama. A former “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights Movement, Annie Pearl-Avery, provided a personal and very informative, profound tour through this important museum. The thing which inspired the structure for the book – a split screen presenting the present uphill walk to the voting booth side by side with the historical uphill battle for racial justice in America – was the constant onslaught of comments one hears by clueless white Americans who seem to believe that racism is simply some part of our distant past that African Americans should simply “get over” and move on from. Even if it were true that racism is a thing of the past, and it’s clearly not, this sort of thinking belies a deep ignorance of how history works. Suddenly, I envisioned a picture book in which history is ever-present on a split screen with the present, something contained within us, and something which is ever-present, informing every single moment of every single day. It is time for all of us, especially those of us who are white, to stop averting our eyes from those aspects of American history which are shameful or difficult.
Written by Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Shaun W. Evans
Publisher’s Synopsis: An elderly African American woman, en route to vote, remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book publishing in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.
Ages 5-9 | Publisher: Schwartz & Wade | August 24, 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-0385390286
About the Author
Jonah Winter has written many highly acclaimed books for children, including You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!, which was named an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book and a Booklist Top of the List, and You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!, which received four starred reviews and was named a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book. His other books include Here Comes the Garbage Barge!, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book; Barack, a New York Times bestseller; and Dizzy, recipient of Best Book of the Year citations from Booklist, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine, The Bulletin, and Kirkus Reviews. Jonah divides his time between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a small town in Pennsylvania. Visit him online at jonahwinter.com.
About the Illustrator
Shane W. Evans is the author and illustrator of numerous books for children, including We March and Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom, which received the Coretta Scott King Illustration Award. He has illustrated more than thirty picture books, including Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper’s Daughter by Alan Govenar, winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Nonfiction. Shane lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he runs Dream Studio, a community art space. Visit him online at shaneevans.com.
This interview with Jonah Winter about Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was conducted by Bianca Schulze. Follow along with our content tagged with 1960s, African American, African American History Month, Civil Rights, Jonah Winter, Women’s History, and Speed Interview to discover more great books.