The woman who was almost the 45th president is not one of the 13 American women who changed the world, according to her daughter’s book. Chelsea Clinton’s “She Persisted” has been a bestseller since it debuted in late May. Yet try to find Hillary Clinton between its covers and you may be reminded of another popular children’s title: “Where’s Waldo?”
“No one has inspired me more than my mother,” Chelsea Clinton explained by phone. “But I didn’t want the most recent chapter of her life and the election to overshadow the celebration of the women whose stories I share in the book for their persistence and courage.” Among those women: Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Sally Ride, Oprah Winfrey and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“It would have felt disingenuous to not have her included at all,” Clinton said before going on to describe the various ways she and her editorial team tried to honor the former secretary of state without shining a spotlight on her. “We thought about putting her name on an envelope or hiding it in an illustration, but then we thought that would be hokey and a distraction and contrary to the purpose of the book.”
Hillary Clinton appears in a painting in the book’s opening pages, framed and hung on a museum wall — relegated, it seems, to history.
The book was in fact inspired by another woman: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Its title comes from the moment that launched a thousand tweets, T-shirts and GIFs: When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut off a speech Warren was giving during the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and chastised her with what’s become a feminist battle cry: “nevertheless, she persisted.”
There’s a girl-power movement in the picture-book world — see also, for example, “I Dissent,” “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls,” “I Am Jane Goodall,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer.” The little girls (and boys) reading these books are being primed for action rather than lulled to sleep. They are curious. They are inquisitive. They are not shy. They are, in a word, woke.
And they want to talk about Hillary Clinton — even if her daughter doesn’t, necessarily. Moments before a recent “She Persisted” event at Symphony Space in New York, one little girl — Simcha Jacobs, 6, of Honolulu — said she was excited about the event “because I might see Hillary!”
“Maybe she’ll make a surprise appearance,” the girl’s mother said hopefully.
She did not.
But Simcha was not alone in wanting to talk about Hillary and the current state of affairs in America. After a group of actresses — Alexis Bledel, Jessica Pimentel and Annie Q. — performed a dramatic reading of “She Persisted,” Chelsea Clinton, in a long black floral dress, opened the floor to questions. A gaggle of girls stepped to the microphone and turned up the volume.
The first interrogator had a strawberry-blond braid running down her back. “How do we persist in resisting Donald Trump?” asked 8-year-old Amara Moulds. Loud cheers and applause ensued.
“I would say a few things,” Chelsea Clinton offered, deliberately, through a muted smile. And then, in her quiet, raspy voice, the 37-year-old mother of two launched into an answer that can only be described as Clintonian:
“Being a citizen isn’t just something that happens when we vote, and being a citizen isn’t just something that happens when we don’t agree with whoever is in power. I think being a citizen is something that is hopefully part of our lives every day. And I start with that because I think we all have to think about both what we stand in opposition to but also what we want to affirm and support.”
Then, calmly: “You asked a question about our current president. And I certainly don’t agree with him, I think, on anything.” (Audience laughter.) “But there are a lot of people in Washington as well as here in New York City that I do agree with. I think it’s important, Amara, for you — you are 8, you can’t vote — but you are a citizen and you have a right to be heard. Make your voice heard — to your senators, your congressperson. I think it’s important you make your voice heard to the White House. I think if you can go to protests, demonstrations, rallies that you feel strongly about, whether it’s about climate change or women’s rights, or human rights . . . you should go to that. Say what you support.”
It began to seem as if perhaps Hillary Clinton had made a surprise appearance.
“If you’re a New Yorker like I am and you agree with something that Senator Gillibrand has done or Senator Schumer has done, make your voice heard and say thank you. Thank you for standing up for women’s rights; thank you for standing up for climate change and science.”
Clinton began to talk about city council elections and recycling. “So much attention understandably is on Washington,” she said, “but it’s important what happens at local and state level. . . . Yes, absolutely resist what you think needs to be resisted but also support and advocate to advance what you think we need more of.”
Amara quietly went back to her seat.
The questions continued fast and fierce: “How did you decide not to put in Hillary Clinton? Because she is one of my heroes.” “What do you hope young girls across the country will take from your book?” “What’s one thing you persisted on?” “What do you think young girls at my age should do to start becoming like the women in your book?”
“What does it take to persist?”
“Optimism and stubbornness,” Clinton replied to that last one, “optimism that you believe both you and whatever you are fighting for are better off for the persisting, and just the stubbornness to refuse to be dissuaded.”
As for her own persistence, Clinton was short on details, even when pointedly asked by an 8-year-old: “One day would you like to be president?”
“For me,” she said, “right now, the answer is no.”
Nora Krug is an editor and writer in Book World.