“Rad Girls Can”: A Book That Refuses to Sugarcoat History

Written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women is meant to inspire girls to empower themselves. Schatz writes that it is meant to motivate a girl “to take risks, to work hard, and to be her own best, bold, brilliant self.” Although it is a needed addition to curricula in schools, it is of interest to all ages and sexual orientations.

In this interview, Kate Schatz discusses how she defines a “rad girl,” what prompted her to write the book and how a children’s book can be radical in combating white supremacist misogyny.

Mark Karlin: After successfully publishing Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide, how did you and Miriam decide to focus on young women in your new book?

Author Kate Stahl and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl.
Author Kate Stahl and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl.

Kate Schatz: We love making books together and were thrilled to make a third. We had a few ideas for what it might be, but ultimately, we got the idea for Rad Girls Can from our young readers (and some of their parents and teachers and grown-up friends) who came to our readings and, well, asked for it. Over and over we heard the questions “Can you make a book about girls?” and “Can you make a book about people my age?” We decided to listen to our readers, and are very glad we did.

How do you define a “rad girl”?

A rad girl is creative and passionate and curious and kind. She stands up for herself, and for others. She may not know exactly who she is or what she wants to be, but she cares and she dreams and she wants to make things happen. She is willing to take risks, to work hard, and to be her own best, bold, brilliant self.

How did you choose who to include in Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women?

It wasn’t easy — especially since there is seemingly no end to contemporary stories of rad young women making change and achieving great things. Our research was wide-reaching and ranged from reading Teen Vogue archives to watching documentaries to googling “girls from history” to doing traditional library research. We probably considered over 100 girls for the book, and somehow narrowed it down to 50 stories. We prioritize stories about girls of color, and try to find a balance between historic and contemporary, and well-known and not-as-well-known. And no matter what, we seek to tell stories that have strong, relatable narrative cores that almost any reader can connect do regardless of age, gender or life experience.

Who is the audience for Rad Girls Can?

To the bookselling world, it’s a middle-grade hardcover book that’s aimed at the 9-to-15-year-old crowd. However, I think it’s for anyone who likes inspiring, compelling stories about strong young women who’ve impacted our world.

To what do you attribute the success of your book series?

Madison Kimrey is featured in Rad Girls Can. When she was 13 in 2013, she began a campaign to allow teenagers to preregister to vote when they obtain a driver's license.
Madison Kimrey is featured in Rad Girls Can. When she was 13 in 2013, she began a campaign to allow teenagers to preregister to vote when they obtain a driver’s license.

I think that Rad American Women A-Z was the right idea at the right time, told in the right way, and illustrated in Miriam Klein Stahl’s bold and beautiful style that made it unlike any other book out there. I also attribute the success to the fact that Miriam and I and the publishers (City Lights Books) were all totally new to children’s books and had zero expectations or limitations as to what a children’s book could be. None of us had ever done a book like this, the print run was small, and there was no corporate overlord telling us we would never sell books if we put Angela Davis on the cover, or if we wrote about a transgender woman.

We did it entirely our way, and it ended up paying off big time, because people were — and still are — hungry for honest, intelligent, progressive books that refuse to sugarcoat American history. And our current political and cultural climate is only reinforcing the need for books like this. We are honored to do our part to combat white supremacist misogyny via radical children’s books and powerful storytelling.

What has the feedback from young women been to the book?

The book has been out for one week and thus far it’s been fantastic — and the feedback from boys and young men is fantastic as well. Young people are thanking us for writing it and are excited to see people like themselves and their peers in a book.