As my co-author Manuela Bernardi and I worked on our book, She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World (along with another project we hope to be able to share with you soon!), we learned about so many fierce and inspiring women whose stories have not been shared as often as they should be. So we are thrilled to bring you this interview with Jen Bryant, author of the very first picture book biography of Patsy Takemoto Mink.
About the Book:
Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX
text by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura
Quill Tree Books, an imprint of HarperCollins
January 25, 2022
ISBN 9780062957221, hardcover $17.99, 48 pages
ages 4 and up
At an early age, Patsy Takemoto Mink learned that working toward a goal could come with challenges. But she never gave up. As the Japanese proverb says, fall down seven times, stand up eight. That spirit helped Patsy throughout her life. She wanted to become a doctor, but medical schools refused to admit her because of her gender. So … Patsy carved her own path. She went to law school, ran for a seat in the United States Congress, and helped create Title IX, the law that requires federally funded schools to treat boys and girls equally. Although many people tried to knock her down, Patsy always got up again. She was a historic trailblazer who championed equal rights and helped create a better future for all Americans.
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Interview with Jen Bryant
What inspired you to write this book?
As someone who has enjoyed and participated in athletics from a young age, I am always on the lookout for topics related to that. I had such fun researching and writing ABOVE THE RIM: HOW ELGIN BAYLOR CHANGED BASKETBALL (Abrams, 2020, illus. by Frank Morrison), that I wanted to do more. My agent, Alyssa Henkin of Birch Path Literary, and I were discussing the fact that Title IX, the law that provided gender equity in education and athletics, would be fifty years old in 2022. There were already some wonderful books out about that very important piece of legislation—but none that focused on the life of Patsy T. Mink, who was a co-sponsor and driving force behind Title IX. As a high school athlete, I benefitted directly from the increased support for women’s athletics, so it was truly an honor to bring Mink’s story to life.
What lessons can readers take from Patsy Mink’s story?
To be honest I’m very careful not to think about “lessons” when I choose a topic or create a picture book text. Instead, I try to share the person’s life story as accurately and lyrically as I possibly can—and if lessons arise from that naturally, then that’s great. In this case, I think the idea of never giving up and of being persistent in one’s goals despite setbacks and failures, is what comes through. The title “FALL DOWN SEVEN TIMES, STAND UP EIGHT” is an old Japanese folk saying that reflects that concept. The daruma doll—which is a recurring symbol in the book—also embodies it. I love how illustrator Toshiki Nakamura carried that image right through the pages and made it come alive! In addition, I think Patsy’s own life was a model for women of her generation and beyond as they struggled to be seen as equals in professions such as higher education, law, and medicine.
What is your favorite detail or story about Patsy Mink that didn’t make it into the book?
There’s always so much great stuff that I read, watch, listen to, and makes notes about that never gets into the books I write. This one is no exception! I spent a week in Washington, D.C. poring over the Patsy T. Mink papers at the Library of Congress. I was enthralled by her family photos, her scrapbooks (she took hula lessons as a young girl), and her letters to family members. She was very close to her brother and to her whole extended family and made sure she got back to Hawaii for important events even when she was serving in Congress (and you have to remember that this was the 1960s and 70s when air travel wasn’t what it is today.)
I was also incredibly moved by the letters Mink received while in Congress from women who, just like her, were rejected from medical and law schools, or were passed over for promotions in higher education, simply because they were female. It was both heartbreaking and infuriating to read those letters and underscored why legislation like Title IX was so critical!
Who are some of the other women who inspire you?
Oh, my . . . there are too many to name! I’ve written young reader biographies about the painter Georgia O’Keeffe (Georgia’s Bones, Eerdmans, 2005, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen) and the poet Marianne Moore (Call Me Marianne, Eerdmans, 2006, illustrated by David Johnson)—both of whom were successful women in mostly male-dominated fields when they were creating art and poetry. In my own writing life, the poet/ essayist Annie Dillard inspired me through her writing and poetry, and prolific picture book author Eileen Spinelli has inspired me with her writing, her work ethic, and her immensely generous spirit!
How did you become a writer? Very slowly and quite accidentally. I majored in languages (French and German) in college (Gettysburg College in central PA) and for the first few years after graduating, I taught those languages in high school. I also worked in a bank, a clothing store, art gallery and had other jobs before I started thinking about writing. I left full-time teaching after our daughter was born and started doing some freelance work for a small gift-book company. I also started reading and writing more nonfiction and poetry—and in 1991, after a lot of rejections, I had my first nonfiction books published. Looking back, they were very different from what I do now, but I put my head down and tried to build on them in order to learn as much as I could about both the creative and the business side of writing.
What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m working on a second picture book biography with editor Alex Cooper at HarperCollins. Still a bit early to say much more about that one now . . . but the subject is, indeed, another inspiring woman!!
About Jen Bryant
Jen Bryant writes picture books, novels, and poems for readers of all ages. Her books have received the Sibert Medal, two Caldecott Honors, two Schneider Family Book Awards, and two Orbis Pictus Awards. Jen and illustrator Melissa Sweet have collaborated on biographies of creative artists and writers, including A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Jen’s biography SIX DOTS, a Story of Louis Braille, illustrated by Boris Kulikov, is available in Japanese, Korean, Hebrew and also in a print/ braille version. Jen’s book Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, a civil rights story illustrated by Frank Morrison and published by Abrams, was the 2021 NCTE Orbis Pictus winner. Jen lives with her family in Pennsylvania.
Find out more about Jen Bryant at www.jenbryant.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
Purchase Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX