"Mightier than the Sword" Book Review and Interview with author Rochelle Melander
When I first heard about Rochelle Melander’s new book, I was so excited about the overall theme and concept. THEN I received the advance reader copy and was blown away by the design, content, and – well – everything this book has to offer. Here’s my official review:
Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing is a delightfully informative book that will allow readers of all ages to learn more about inspiring writers throughout history. Written for the middle-grade audience, this book will have a broad appeal well beyond this age group. The book’s gorgeous design, organization, and illustration combined with succinct biographies will keep the reader engaged. Particularly intriguing are the way the author presents how famous writers’ lives are intertwined through historic moments. Writing exercises are included in each chapter to encourage the young writer to tell their own story. This will be a wonderful addition to any classroom and extremely useful to illustrate how writing has shaped the world we live in for centuries. A smartly written book with an intriguing structure and premise to motivate the young writer.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Throughout history, people have picked up their pens and wielded their words--transforming their lives, their communities, and beyond. Now it's your turn! Representing a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, Mightier Than the Sword connects over forty inspiring biographies with life-changing writing activities and tips, showing readers just how much their own words can make a difference. Readers will explore nature with Rachel Carson, experience the beginning of the Reformation with Martin Luther, champion women's rights with Sojourner Truth, and many more. These richly illustrated stories of inspiring speechmakers, scientists, explorers, authors, poets, activists, and even other kids and young adults will engage and encourage young people to pay attention to their world, to honor their own ideas and dreams, and to embrace the transformative power of words to bring good to the world.
I’m so pleased to share an interview with Rochelle Melander, the author of Mightier Than the Sword. Rochelle and I have known each other for a number of years through our membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, so I’m extremely happy to celebrate the publication of her debut book for the children’s market. Congratulations!!
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing adventure so far?
A. Thank you for inviting me to be on your blog, Valerie! It’s been so inspiring to watch your career unfold!
I was a bookish child who loved collecting rocks and performing in plays. I wanted to be an actor/singer/dancer when I grew up. Like most writers, I kept a diary as a kid and wrote stories.
But as I grew, my confidence faltered. I didn’t get chosen for college prep English. I worried that I didn’t have good enough ideas to become a writer. I was happy to perform other people’s work—but didn’t want to share my own.
In graduate school, I began writing for publication. That was the beginning of my freelance writing career. My first pieces were for academic or professional publications. It took time to find my voice, and to tell my own stories.
At that time, I wrote with my husband—and we wrote several books together. We dreamed of writing for children and wrote many picture book manuscripts that received kind rejections. In the meantime, we had great success writing for adults.
I’ve written 12 books for adults, on everything from self-care to writing a book fast. I also love teaching writing and have taught writing to adults and children.
Q. I’m sure writing books for adults was quite different from writing this book for the children’s market. Tell us about your inspiration for this beautiful and informative book.
A. In 2006, I started Dream Keepers, my writing program for young people. From the beginning, I brought in the stories and poems of established writers and young people to inspire the students. They would read them, talk about what they meant to them, and then write a response poem.
After a few years I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book of stories like this?” I included the idea for Mightier Than the Sword in my book proposal for Write-A-Thon, my National Novel Writing Month guide. And I started collecting stories for the book.
That idea never went away—and in late 2017, I finally started writing the book proposal for Mightier Than the Sword. I can’t wait to use it with the young people I teach.
Q. There were so many historical people that I learned about as I read the book. How did you decide who to include? I’m sure the task was daunting as you did your research.
A. I got the idea for this book back in 2008, and I’ve been keeping a list of potential people since then. When I started to get serious about the book, I read anthologies, reviewed biographies, and talked to historians about who to include. I took lots of notes and made many lists.
I created a list of fifty people and documents and several more people for sidebars. Once the book was accepted for publication, I worked with my editorial team to finalize the list. As we shaped the list, we had three criteria:
Representation. I wanted children to discover role models in the book—people that looked like them or shared some experiences. For that reason, I included a diverse cast of people from a wider range of disciplines, cultures, life experiences, and writing styles.
Diverse disciplines. I’ve been teaching writing to young people since 2006, and I’ve met children who don’t think they’re writers. It was important to me that the writers in the book reflect many disciplines and writing styles so that young people could see that there are many ways to use writing to change the world.
Recognizability. It’s fun to page through a book and read about a favorite writer. That’s why I included some familiar people in the book, like Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai.
Choosing who to feature was the hardest part of creating the book. I still worry we left out someone. But I’m hoping that we got it right enough that many young readers will feel seen and heard.
Q. Obviously, illustrations of the writers included in your book make each person’s story come alive, would you tell us about your illustrator and how you worked together?
A. My publisher chose the illustrator. One day, I received an email with some of her images and the question, “What do you think of this illustrator?” I was delighted—her work perfectly matched the spirit of the book.
When the book was in ARC form, I had a chance to read the book and review the illustrations and layout. Since this is my first illustrated book, I learned a whole new skill. Seeing it all laid out like that, I could see places where the illustration didn’t match the words on the page. One keen reader noticed that the text talked about Ibn Battuta riding a donkey, but the illustration had him on a camel! I’m glad she caught that.
Q. Can you tell us about your publisher?
A. Beaming Books is a small traditional publisher in Minneapolis who produces beautiful books for children. Here’s what their website says:
“Beaming Books publishes high-quality children’s books that help kids thrive in every part of who they are–emotionally, socially, and spiritually. With topics ranging from self-esteem to kindness, ethics, and faith, our books are designed to spark the imagination and equip kids and families to live full and flourishing lives, together.”
Q. Would you be willing to share with readers the different types of jobs you’ve had? I always like to ask authors this, mainly because authors always seem to have had interesting job histories.
A. As a teenager and college student, I babysat, packed meals at KFC, waitressed, sold men’s clothes at JC Penney, cleaned houses and hotel rooms, taught pre-school, and nannied. At some point during that time, I launched a storytelling business, and told stories to preschool children in Philadelphia (where I attended graduate school).
After graduate school, where I earned two master’s degrees, I worked as a Lutheran pastor. I had two churches in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, and I wrote a sermon every week. That discipline helped me develop a writing practice. During that time, I began teaching at a local college and doing freelance writing. When we moved to Milwaukee, I went back to school to become a life coach.
Since then, I’ve had my own freelance writing and coaching business. As part of that, I’ve written everything from offering envelope copy to monthly event calendars, edited a periodical and many books. I’ve been a certified coach for several years, and I’m in the process of getting my ADHD coaching certification. I’ve coached on writing, wellness, and leadership. I also work as an artist educator, teaching in schools and libraries.
Q. If there’s anything that you wish you could go back and tell your “unpublished” self, what would that be?
A. Try stuff. Even if you think it’s dumb at first, play with new ideas and formats and stories.
Be persistent. It can be hard to get published, but it’s not impossible—so keep trying.
Be bold. It’s easy to be afraid that you’ll make the wrong move. Don’t be. Just put yourself and your work out there!
Q. What sort of books do you like to read as an adult and what were some of your favorites as a child?
A. If I’m having a bad day or need to relax, I pick up a mystery—and often one from a favorite series. I like spunky female characters who solve crimes—like Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway, Catriona McPherson’s Lexy Campbell, and Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell. Because I write for middle grade readers, I read a lot of middle grade mysteries, too. (One of my favorites this year was From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks).
As a child, I fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. That hooked me on fantasy—I enjoyed books that pushed my ideas of what was possible! I also loved more realistic stories like Harriet the Spy. As a teenager, I read a lot of artist profiles and memoirs. I also discovered my parent’s stash of thick sagas, like Leon Uris’s Exodus. To this day, I like a good epic historical novel. Especially in the winter.
Q. Can we look forward to more books from you in the coming months?
A. Oh, I hope so! I am working on a mystery for middle grade readers. And picture books, so many picture books!
Q. Before we move on to the Super Six list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your book(s)?
A. I wrote this book for young people who need to know that their words and ideas matter.
I think young writers will be especially drawn to this book. It provides them with so many mentors and paths for pursuing their writing goals.
But I also wrote this book for reluctant readers and writers. The book is designed to be highly browsable, so that readers can page through it and read the parts that interest them. I created exercises that were accessible for writers of all levels, not just the kids who love writing.
Finally, I hope that teachers, homeschooling parents, and librarians will use this book to supplement their curriculum. It’s great for writing classes, but it will also be a wonderful tool for celebrations like Black History Month or Women’s History Month.
Super Six List:
Fav Pizza Topping: I only do white pizza, and love having chicken on it with fresh arugula.
Book You’re Reading Now: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Coffee, Tea, or Both: Morning coffee, afternoon tea.
Fav Activity as a Child: Making up shows with my friends
Most Interesting Place You’ve Lived: Western Pennsylvania
Best Place You’ve Vacationed: Anywhere by the ocean
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs.
Thanks so much, Rochelle!!