By Rochelle Melander
The story behind my new book, Mightier Than the Sword, begins many years ago—in a church basement.
In 2006, I started a writing program for young people called Dream Keepers. I met with a group of teenage girls at my church. We used mentor texts as writing prompts, reading texts like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and listening to songs like Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black.” Because I wanted our work to be a dialogue, I invited the students to bring in their favorite poems and songs, too—and that became part of our curriculum.
Dream Keepers expanded into libraries and schools. I lugged bags of books and writing supplies all over the city—and longed for a single book that would help me talk about these writing mentors with students. When I wrote the book proposal for my book, Write-A-Thon, I included the idea for Mightier Than the Sword—a book that would collect the stories of people whose writing changed the world.
In late 2017, I took Middle Grade Mastery with the Children’s Book Academy and wrote a pitch for Mightier. An agent expressed interest—and I spent a month writing the book proposal. She passed on the project, and I used her feedback to make the proposal better. I spent the next year and a half pitching, getting rejected, revising, and pitching again. By the fall of 2019, I’d just about given up on the book when I tried a round of #PitMad. Four editors expressed interest—and Beaming Books offered me a contract. Yay!
But before I could begin writing, I worked with the editorial team to develop the list of writers would be featured in the book. This might have been the hardest part of the whole process! We had our core mission: to feature people whose writing changed the world. Because I work with so many young people who love science, technology, medicine, and more, I wanted the book to represent a variety of fields and include many types of writing. Of course, we also wanted to make sure the list appealed to children, teachers, and librarians. (Can you see why this was a challenging job?)
Once we had the core list of 40 people and 5 interludes (amendments, comic books, etc.), I started researching and writing. Each chapter took a lot of time—I read about the person in an online encyclopedia and then read their autobiography (if they had one), other original sources, and any biographies I could find. Oh, and this book was written during lockdown—so the weekend before all the libraries closed, I ran around to libraries and checked out five bags of books.
Throughout the writing and editing process, we made changes. If any writer didn’t fit the mission, they got cut. For example, one of the writers I really wanted to include had plagiarized the recipes in her cookbook. When she copied other writers’ recipes, that was common practice. But I didn’t think it set a good example for young people. We added writers, too—usually so we could expand the diversity of writers and topics. When an early chapter on The Rosetta Stone got cut, we added a chapter on Film.
The publisher hired Melina Ontiveros to illustrate the book. Her illustrations of the writers and their world capture their personalities and help make the stories come alive for readers. I’m looking forward to taking the book into classrooms and libraries to share these stories with students.
About the book. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book pairing life changing writing exercises with the stories of a diverse group of people who changed lives and communities throughout history. The book features people from a variety of disciplines who used their words to educate people about the stars, advocate for women’s rights, end slavery, save the environment, protest injustice, and more. Sidebars explore types of writing, fun facts, and further resources.
Bio. 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. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com
Mightier Than the Sword: https://bookshop.org/books/mightier-than-the-sword-rebels-reformers-and-revolutionaries-who-changed-the-world-through-writing/9781506466408