When Chelsea Clinton hit the road in 2015 with her first book, “It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!”, designed for ages 10 to 14, the question naturally occurred: What about their younger siblings?
“I’ve been spending time with young activists,” Clinton says. “I wanted to share their stories and answer their questions.”
What she found, however, was that younger children don’t have the same questions or concerns as older ones. For example, they’re interested in different animals than their older siblings are.
And so, her new book, “Start Now! You Can Make a Difference” (Philomel Books, $16.99, 126 pages), which is designed to motivate the 7- to 10-year-old set to improve the world in areas ranging from health to the environment to bullying. Not that they need any motivation. In these pages, you’ll meet kids who will make you feel like a slacker. There’s 7-year-old Isiah, a Virginia boy who was so outraged by the clean water crisis in Flint that he was determined to donate drinking water to an elementary school in the Michigan city. Told the school had enough, he hit on a hand sanitizer campaign, raising enough money to donate a two-year supply of hand sanitizer to every school and homeless shelter in Flint.
Pennsylvanians Roldan and Devin, 14 and 10 respectively, noticed that there were more mosquitoes in their hometown, in part because draining the local swimming pool each spring killed off the tadpoles that would eat the insects as mature frogs. The brothers made aquariums to house 2,000 tadpoles, releasing them when grown. The result was an ecosystem rebalanced.
Katie, a third-grader in South Carolina, grew a cabbage so big it weighed as much as some first-graders. She donated it to a soup kitchen, then persuaded her school to start a vegetable garden. That gave rise to Katie’s Krops, which now has 100 gardens in 33 states aiding the food-insecure.
For those of us who haven’t yet gotten the ball rolling, Clinton offers historical examples, practical tips at the end of each chapter and fun facts. (Did you know that blood circulating through our bodies travels 12,000 miles daily? That’s farther, she writes, than the distance between New York City and Antarctica.) Such tidbits are accompanied by Siobhán Gallagher’s often whimsical drawings. (We particularly like the one of dinosaurs lolling on a beach.)
The writing, too, is designed to draw young readers in.
“I think it’s important not to talk down to kids,” Clinton says, “to be respectful and accessible.”
“Respectful and accessible” are words that might be applied to Clinton herself. She is in conversation just as she appears on TV or on the campaign trail — at once poised and polished, breezy and warm (“Hi, it’s Chelsea”). And grateful: “Thank you” is a phrase that comes readily to her.
Surely, if there was ever anyone who understood the high-profile challenges of childhood, it is Clinton. She grew up before our eyes as the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman to be nominated by a major political party for president of the United States. The media was not always kind — kindness being a subject she tackles in “Start Now!” They scrutinized everything from her looks to the Clinton family dynamic. Small wonder that when Barron Trump — the 12-year-old son of President Donald J. Trump — was criticized for wearing casual clothes last year, Clinton took to Twitter to defend him: “It’s high time the media and everyone leave Barron Trump alone and let him have the private childhood he deserves.”
Clinton emerged from her own youth with an armload of degrees — an undergraduate one from Stanford University, masters from Oxford and Columbia universities and a doctor of philosophy in international relations from Oxford — and an impressive résumé that has included stints at “NBC Nightly News,” the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Avenue Capital Group and New York University.
She has brought the reporter’s and academic’s love of research to her career as a children’s author.
“I read a lot of nonfiction for this age group,” she says of the preparations for the book, “talked with a lot of kids and absorbed their language.”
Children are never far from her thoughts. A mother of two — Charlotte and Aidan, with husband Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker — Clinton says she spends a great deal of time on early childhood and nutritional initiatives as vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation. But she also shares her mother’s passion for saving the endangered African elephant.
With five books under her belt — the others are “She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World,” “She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History” and, with Devi Sridhar, “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?” — Clinton has a couple of more in the pipeline, though it’s too early to discuss them, she says.
For her, writing begins with notes on paper. The actual writing and rewriting is done on computer. Not for her a half hour here and there, though.
“I have to make time to write, to reflect and then to rewrite,” she says.