I’m typing from behind swollen eyes today, the result of a day of crying tears of joy, tears of relief. Just a whole lot of tears. Lots of friends and readers have told me the same, and shared that one of the most profound moments of yesterday’s historic inauguration was hearing the “Madame Vice President Kamala Harris” being introduced for the very first time.
It’s always a long path to a place where we are stepping over those proverbial shards of broken glass on the floor on our own journeys to success, and an even longer path to where we’re not seeing that glass at all. It’s this journey that’s captured so beautifully in Ambitious Girl, the joyful and important new picture book from best-selling author, lawyer, activist, entrepreneur, mom of two, favorite Spawned podcast guest, Meena Harris. She also happens to be the niece of our new Madame Vice President.
Meena is clearly an ambitious woman herself!
If you’ve ever seen a high-achieving woman called “too ambitious” — or even been called that yourself as if it’s a bad thing, ahem — this children’s book unapologetically helps us reclaim the word.
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In Ambitious Girl, we meet a girl who sees a strong woman on TV being labeled “too ambitious” and “too assertive,” and wonders why. Through her mom, she’s taken on a journey to find the empowerment that’s still not automatically bestowed on girls today, and especially not for girls of color. (Don’t make me pull out my binder of examples!) She learns about some of the women in the past who’ve opened doors, from The Suffragettes to Shirley Chisholm to Mae Jemison, and gets this wise advice from her Grandma: “You may be the first someday, but don’t be the last — make space for more!”
(Who might have inspired that line, do you think?)
By the end, she understands what it means to be persistent, assertive, confident and proud, and how those ideas play out in ways that children care about; like being able to have goals and careers, sure, but also to just laugh loudly or play as they want on the playground. Or hey, maybe even to build their own playground.
Girls will just love the exuberant illustrations by Marissa Valdez, and like all my favorite picture books, it will allow all girls to see themselves in the (Converse All Star) shoes of the heroine.
I really appreciate that Ambitious Girl doesn’t feel like a “lesson book” if you know what I mean. It’s just charming and smart in every way, making it a book kids will want to come back to again and again
(At the time of publishing, it’s already an Amazon #1 book in its category and I’d like to think that even if the author’s aunt hadn’t just been sworn into the White House, it would still be a best-seller.)
If you’re wondering about “ambition” as one of the qualities you want to imbue in your own kids, or you’ve never talked about it before, I understand. It’s not generally up there with traits like kindness, empathy, respect, and self-love that we are inclined to discuss. But the book has changed my view of that too.
In other words, Ambitious Girl not only helps girls see their power, it might help parents like us think about how we talk to our girls about their dreams, and how to put that power to use.
“I am valued. I am loved. I have purpose, hope, and power,” the main character concludes.
Isn’t that what we want for all our kids?
P.S. Share Ambitious Girl with your boys, too. We need more boys growing up knowing that the ambition to pursue goals passionately and without apology isn’t the sole pervue of boys and men. It belongs to everyone, of any gender, any race or background. That’s my America.
And be sure to catch our podcast interview with Meena Harris about the importance of diversity in children’s books. She’s a delight!