Having just returned from Raleigh, North Carolina, the home of Shaw University, the first historically black university in the Southern United States, and considering the cultural, political and social climate of 2020, Patrica Powell’s picture book is timely!
She is a member of our SCBWI-IL (Illinois Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) organization, and Read Local Illinois, a service for teachers and librarians that connects authors and their books with young readers.
I love the title of her latest book, Lift as You Climb. Good leaders help others on the way up — they never steal the power or limelight for themselves. They also look for non-violent ways to solve problems and make their voices heard.
Below are a few questions I asked Patrica Powell about her newest release. . .
Patricia, how did you come up with the idea for "Lift as You Climb"?
My activist friend, Shelley, suggested I write about Ella Baker. She’d named one of her twin daughters after Ella. I read about Ms. Baker and loved her. Not only was she an activist working to get the black vote, she was one of the few women working with strong men—black preachers—as an activist during the 60s and before. Ella Baker maneuvered her way through their male-dominated power structures and made her voice heard. They respected her, which was a feat in itself in those days.
In her later years she acted as a catalyst for the students who started Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—SNCC. She never told them what to do. Instead she asked, What do you hope to accomplish?
Ella Was a Life-long Activist for Social Justice
Good question to ponder! So, what do you admire most about Ella Baker, and what do you hope young readers will find in her story?
Ella was a life-long activist for social justice. She didn’t feel that the people needed strong leaders. She worked from the bottom up—grassroots. She felt there should be many grassroots leaders, rather than one charismatic leader at the top. I hope young readers will be inspired to become activists—whatever their passion. BLM, the Earth, nutrition, recycling, feeding others, whatever gets them excited. I want them to answer that question: What do you hope to accomplish?
An Enslaved Woman's Story
Lots of research goes into writing a book. Did you unearth a particularly interesting tidbit you just knew had to be included in "Lift as You Climb"?
I did. It’s actually her grandmother’s story, an enslaved woman, who tells the story to Ella and the other children. Grandmother says,
Back when we was slaves,
Master said, Bet, you marry light-skinned Carter.
I said, No how!
Master—also my daddy--
made me plow the swamp
to break me.
After turning the muck
I went and jumped the broom—married
proud dark Mitchell, your granddaddy--
and danced all night long.
Ella drank up that story
till it filled her bones.
Ella Baker Was a Strong Woman who Faced Social Injustice Head-on . . .
The fact that Ella Baker told this story, makes me feel this was important—formative to who she was—and I love this proud strong woman, Ella’s antecedent, who defied her “Master.” Just saying these words makes me cringe—“Master—also my daddy--” all that is involved in that brief description!
I worked hard to make my story succinct, but this story within the story, I made particularly succinct, because it’s not directly Ella’s story. I had to make it worthwhile. I didn’t want my editor to want to cut it. It worked, I’m happy to say.
Thanks for listening.
And thank YOU for bring Ella's story to light, Patricia! Unfortunately, injustices do occur all over the world, but I love to see how God used her unfair situation to work in her favor, making Ella the strong woman she was!
Patricia Hruby Powell was formerly a dancer, storyteller, and librarian. Her four latest books are Junior Library Guild Selections and have all won numerous awards: Josephine: Loving vs. Virginia; Struttin’ With Some Barbecue; Lift As You Climb. Forthcoming are Cave of the Heart: The Story of Martha Graham (Chronicle Books 2023) and a Women’s Suffrage project (Chronicle 202x). She has been a mentor for a WNDB and SCBWI-MI. She is married to Morgan Powell, composer and jazz trombonist. Together, they live with their Tree Walking Coonhound, Lil.
Lift as You Climb blurb: Learn about the civil rights activist Ella Baker in this informative, lyrical picture book from Sibert Honor winner Patricia Hruby Powell and Caldecott Honor winner R. Gregory Christie.
If you’d like a copy signed and personalized, purchase it HERE
For Illinois BIPOC writers apply for the Lift As You Climb scholarship during November 2020
What diverse books have you read recently? Let me know below! And, for more diverse author interviews, check out The Heart and Soul of an Author: Tessa Afshar
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.