Off the Record: A Q&A with Camryn Garrett

We’re honored to have a guest post from the incredible Camryn Garrett today! Camryn is the author of Full Disclosure and the new Off the Record, both of which deal with heavy topics (HIV and #MeToo, respectively) and they’re well worth the read. Keep scrolling to hear a bit from Camryn herself!

Q&A with Camryn Garrett

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Off the Record is about a teen journalist named Josie who wins a contest to cover a press tour for a new movie, but while on her journey, she discovers a sexual assault scandal and must decide whether or not to use her voice to try to expose it.

As for what inspired me, I had really been wanting to write something about a teen journalist because I had that experience. With MeToo all over the news, I had been thinking about those stories and the way they were reported. There was a lot of emphasis put on the survivors who came out with stories first, but even when other celebrities, like Gwenyth Paltrow, shared their stories, they all seemed to be white. There were women like Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o who also had Weinstein stories, but to me, they were reported almost as an afterthought. I wanted that to be addressed in the story; is it because there are less WOC who have been abused? Because they’re uncomfortable speaking with the (usually white) reporters? What dynamics are there?

You’ve said that this is your most personal book. How are you and Josie similar? Different? Do any of the other characters share parts of you? 

My friend picked up the book the other day and said, “I really feel like Josie is you.” It’s kind of embarrassing because it’s so personal. Josie and I both struggle with anxiety and fatphobia. When I was her age, I also wanted to leave my town, and I also was a teen journalist. Neither of us went to prom! We’re both into film and journalism. We both have rather interesting relationships with sisters. Her really horrible experiences in middle school were based on mine. There are many similarities.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m as shy as she is. I had great friends in high school while she didn’t. I think she’s really great at establishing trust and soothing people, while I find it pretty difficult to be comforting. While she’s into film, I don’t think she actually wants to make them, whereas I do. My parents also never would’ve let me go on this adventure that she gets to experience!

I think all of my characters have some part of me, even if it’s just the ugly parts. I also relate a lot to Alice as a big sister. Even though she and Josie don’t really get along, I understand how hard it is to try to get along when you feel so different from your younger sibling. The awkward ways she tries to comfort and support Alice definitely stem from my interactions with my own sister.

The book also looks at “problematic faves” – have you personally had to reckon with any problematic faves of your own?

Yes, I think that’s something we all have to deal with! The problematic faves mentioned in the book were drawn from my own. I really love Hitchcock, but it’s also hard to forget how he treated his female leads, and I try to remind myself of that when I watch his work. I also love many movies Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin have produced. I think it feels more and more impossible to only watch work by “good” people when producers like Weinstein and Rudin really worked on everything. I don’t believe in separating the art from the artist, though I try to think really hard about who worked on films and how that influenced the way we not only see the movie in a cultural sense, but how the cast and crew were treated.

So far, your books have tackled the #MeToo movement and life as an HIV-positive teen. What other social issues (for lack of a better term) are you hoping to include in future YA novels?

I’m honestly not really sure yet! There are “big” issues I feel I can center books around, and then issues I try to sneak in, if that makes sense. Off the Record tackles #MeToo but also things like fatphobia and mental health. I really want to write about colorism, but I’m not sure if I could center an entire plot around that. Stay tuned!

How do you balance writing and school? Like Josie, do you struggle with people not taking you seriously because of your age, despite your talent?

I want to give a positive answer and say that I just schedule myself to death. But the truth is, even with my schedules, it can be really overwhelming at times. It’s finals season right now and I’ve definitely had a hard time balancing book stuff and college. That being said, it’s definitely more manageable when you aren’t releasing a book around midterms or finals!

I think some people in the actual industry might take me less seriously, but people I interact with daily tend to be a lot more impressed. I always forget how impressive my accomplishments are until I speak to one of my mom’s friends or let one of my professors in on my secret. They’re always so excited for me!

Normally, though, I don’t really tell any of my professors or classmates about my books. I don’t want it to color their perception of me. When my professor who doesn’t know about my books tells me that I’m really talented, it means so much, and I know it’s not just because they’re impressed by my writing.

Credit: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Who would be your dream person to profile? An actor, musician, artist, etc?

My dream person would probably be Stella Meghie. She’s a Black director from Canada who has made films like Everything Everything, Jean of the Joneses, and The Photograph. Right now she’s working on a biopic of Whitney Houston! She’s gotten so much amazing work since her debut film, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen for Black women in this field, and I love that she’s able to work in both the independent and studio worlds. I’d mostly want to talk to her for selfish reasons.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

The podcast WhoWeekly. I very eagerly anticipate it every week!

Thanks for joining us, Camryn! Off the Record and Full Disclosure are out now, make sure you pick them up from your favorite bookstore!

Off the Record
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829993 | Knopf BFYR
Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this. Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head. One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

Also by Camryn Garrett:

Full Disclosure
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829955 | Knopf BFYR
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Camryn Garrett: website | twitter | instagram

A Taste for Love: A Q&A with Jennifer Yen

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month (and just because we loved A Taste for Love), we asked author Jennifer Yen a few questions about her sweet – in more ways than one! – new romcom!

Q&A with Jennifer Yen

Tell us a bit about A Taste for Love! What inspired you?

I originally pitched A Taste for Love as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice meets the Great British Baking Show, with matchmaking Asian mommas! While it is a young adult romcom, it’s actually a story about all kinds of love: for yourself, your family and friends, and of course, for that special someone! I was inspired to write it because growing up, I wanted to see characters like me finding and falling in love. I also wanted to write a book that highlighted the experience of growing up as Asian American diaspora.

Are you a baker yourself? If so, what’s your specialty?

I do bake, though I’m not anywhere near Liza’s level! My favorite pastries to bake are cakes, because I love the different flavors you can layer in through the cake, icing, and toppings. One of my hopes once COVID has passed is taking lessons on how to decorate them!

Related: if you were on a cooking show, what would be your signature dish?

I’ll let you in on a (not so well kept) secret . . . I’m a terrible cook! However, when I do attempt something, I stick to the dishes my mom taught me. My favorite is her vegetarian sushi.

Who is your favorite Jane Austen hero and/or heroine?

There’s a reason why I chose Pride and Prejudice as my first retelling. Elizabeth and Darcy have a very special place in my heart.

What’s your favorite romance trope?

Oh my goodness . . . there’s so many! I love enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, one-sided (they think) love, there’s only one bed, stoic versus sunshine, I could go on. . . .

If you could write a modern version of any classic novel, what would it be? Why?

This will probably surprise a lot of people, but I would love to write an epic fantasy like Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. It was the book my dad used to read me at bedtime when I was growing up, and I remember being so enthralled by the characters and their adventures.

What’s your number one piece of writing advice (either that you give people or that you’ve received)?

The best advice I’ve ever received from several authors – the most recent of whom was the wonderful Sarah Kuhn – is that successful writers are the ones who don’t give up. Publishing is tough, and you’ll face a lot of challenges, but perseverance is key to making it through. As for the advice that I give, it’s to know your strengths. Start from there so you have the confidence to tackle the parts that are most challenging to you.

What are you working on next?

I have a few projects in the works, but there are only two I can talk about right now. The first is my second book, Love, Decoded, a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. My protagonist is Gigi Wong, James’ younger sister. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jennifer Yen novel without delicious food, family drama, and a banter-filled romance, so there’s that too! The second is Every Body Shines, a fat positive anthology I contributed to that’s coming out in June 2021. My short story, “A Perfect Fit,” features a girl who must become the hero of her own story if she wants to be a princess at prom.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

I think anyone who knows me knows I will say BOBA TEA! Granted, I don’t always get the boba, but I live for milk tea. Also, with social distancing, I can’t live without my phone and computer! They’re my connection to the world.

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! A Taste for Love is out now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

A Taste for Love
By Jennifer Yen
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593117521 | Razorbill
To her friends, high school senior Liza Yang is nearly perfect. Smart, kind, and pretty, she dreams big and never shies away from a challenge. But to her mom, Liza is anything but. Compared to her older sister Jeannie, Liza is stubborn, rebellious, and worst of all, determined to push back against all of Mrs. Yang’s traditional values, especially when it comes to dating. The one thing mother and daughter do agree on is their love of baking. Mrs. Yang is the owner of Houston’s popular Yin & Yang Bakery. With college just around the corner, Liza agrees to help out at the bakery’s annual junior competition to prove to her mom that she’s more than her rebellious tendencies once and for all. But when Liza arrives on the first day of the bake-off, she realizes there’s a catch: all of the contestants are young Asian American men her mother has handpicked for Liza to date. The bachelorette situation Liza has found herself in is made even worse when she happens to be grudgingly attracted to one of the contestants; the stoic, impenetrable, annoyingly hot James Wong. As she battles against her feelings for James, and for her mother’s approval, Liza begins to realize there’s no tried and true recipe for love.

Jennifer Yen: website | twitter | instagram

Guest Post: My Spunky Little Sister by Paul Harbridge

Today is Down Syndrome Day and we asked author Paul Harbridge if he wanted to share a little bit about his sister, Linda, who is the inspiration for his upcoming picture book, Out into the Big Wide Lake. Keep reading for Paul’s reflection as well as a note from his editor, Samantha Swenson.

Paul Harbridge: My Spunky Little Sister

Linda is my younger sister. When Linda was born, I had just started school. I remember my mother crying when a nurse told her my pretty little sister might never talk and my father getting angry when a doctor suggested she live in an institution.

The Harbridge Family

Almost as if to prove them wrong, Linda grew to be a very active girl. When we went swimming at Muskoka Beach, she was the first one in and the last one out. She loved to go out onto Lake Muskoka in our family’s little boat, usually accompanied by our black-and-white family dog. Benjie trotted along, too, on her long bike rides, and one day she came back and said, “We met a bear.” When she got cross-country skis, the first time she went down a hill without falling, she raised her ski poles triumphantly above her head and cried, “I did it!”

Linda played T-ball and hit the ball a mile. She was a member of a swimming group and later won a medal for Canada at the Special Olympics in Vancouver. Her bedroom was full of ribbons, medals, and trophies from all the sports she played, and she even won $1,000 at a bowling tournament!

Contrary to those early predictions, Linda learned to speak very well. She was an expressive, warm, and social young woman with an exceptional sense of humor.  She liked to show off the ASL signs she had picked up at school and when I taught her some Spanish words like leche, patatas fritas, hamburgesa, she remembered them for years.

Linda Catherine Harbridge

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her seventies, Linda’s support workers suggested she move into a group home in town, but Mom would have none of it. When my mother passed away, Linda made the move into a group home at age 47 and told us, “I’m big now. I have my own place.” In her early fifties, Linda’s own memory started to weaken but that did not slow her down. At 58, she took up snowshoeing and, although I wasn’t there, after she successfully made her way down the first snowy trail, I’m sure she raised her arms and cried, “I did it!”

A couple of years ago I visited my father who still lives in the house he built us up in Gravenhurst. Looking through an old family photograph album, I got the idea for a story about a spunky girl with Down Syndrome and her best friend, a black-and-white dog. I wrote it with the encouragement from my agent Amy Tompkins, and my editor at Tundra Samantha Swenson loved it immediately. Josée Bisaillon did the brilliant illustrations, and Out Into the Big Wide Lake was born. For her 59th birthday, I sent Linda an advance copy of the book and she was absolutely thrilled, especially since there is a photograph of a her as teenager hugging Benjie on the very first page.

Linda and Benjie

I hope Out Into the Big Wide Lake will inspire children facing challenges to give it their best shot and say, like Linda, “I did it!”


Samantha Swenson: A Note on Out into the Big Wide Lake

What spoke to me immediately about this book was two words: Why not?

To me this encapsulates the beauty of picture books, the ability for a minuscule number of words to hold infinite possibilities. In this story, at every moment of something new, Kate asks “Me?” and her grandmother responds “Why not?” And with those two words, the world opens up. Why not, indeed? Those words are empowering, those words are life-changing, those words are even a little scary (especially for Kate’s rightfully nervous mom!). These two words allow Kate to ask the question of herself and answer with bravery and spirit.

After reading this story for the first time and sitting with it, I also realized how meaningful it is to have a character with Down Syndrome inhabit the space of the every-character. Her Down Syndrome doesn’t define her character here; her challenges aren’t defined by it either. These are challenges that all kids face: trying something for the first time, overcoming fear, being given a level of responsibility that’s new. And challenges that all parents face as well: letting go and trusting in your child – trusting that you’ve given them the tools to take on this new thing. It could be going on bike ride with a friend for the first time, a first sleepover, a first walk to school on their own, a solo plane trip to see parent in a different city, piloting a boat for the first time. Having a Down Syndrome character embody this freedom and this universal experience felt so important and so exciting.

Linda Catherine Harbridge

Paul’s respect for the character is evident in every line. As a writer, he knew how to create a character who leapt from the page to grab you. But as a brother to someone with Down Syndrome, he knew how to honor that character’s life and experience in a way that is singular. Kate is not just a picture book version of his sister Linda Catherine; Kate is a beautiful embodiment of Paul’s love and respect for Linda Catherine and a celebration of her spirit and personality.

I hope that everyone who reads this book feels that warmth and love and admiration, and I hope you all fall as in love with Kate as I did. And I hope when you or your loved ones are challenged, you think of those two little words: why not?

Out into the Big Wide Lake
By Paul Harbridge
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
48 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265592 | Tundra Books
It’s Kate’s first time visiting her grandparents on her own at their lakeside home. She’s nervous but excited at the adventure ahead. She helps her grandfather with his grocery deliveries by boat, where she meets all the neighbors, including a very grumpy old man named Walter. And she makes best friends with her grandparents’ dog, Parbuckle. Her grandmother even teaches her to pilot the boat all by herself! When her grandfather takes ill suddenly, it’s up to Kate – but can she really make all those deliveries, even to grumpy old Walter? She has to try! Based on the author’s sister, Kate is a lovable, brave, smart and feisty character who will capture your heart in this gorgeous and moving story about facing fears and gaining independence.

Tell Me When You Feel Something: A Q&A with Vicki Grant

We’re super excited for Vicki Grant’s upcoming thriller, Tell Me When You Feel Something, so we asked Vicki to pop by the blog and answer a couple of questions!

Q&A with Vicki Grant

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Here’s my elevator pitch: Vivian Braithwaite is in a coma. Lots of kids shot cell phone footage of her taking a pill at a party just before she seized so there’s no real question what caused her to overdose – or is there? Davida Williamson has her doubts. Despite her crippling shyness – and her own mixed feelings about her apparent friend – Davida is determined to discover what really happened. Throw in some romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and a growing sense of dread – and that’s basically the premise behind Tell Me When You Feel Something.

The inspiration for the story came to me years ago when I found out that some of my daughter’s high school friends worked as “simulated patients” at med school. Their job basically was to ’simulate’ illnesses so student doctors could sharpen their medical chops before getting sicced on real patients. Until then, I had no idea that was a thing. My brain kicked into high gear. A YA story set in a med school? Kids having to fake diseases and conditions? I had so many ideas about what I could do with that scenario. My first attempt was a comedy TV series with the punny title of Ben Dover (also the name of our hapless hero.) I couldn’t talk anyone into buying the series, but the SP angle hung around in the back of my head. By the time I’d conceived of Viv and Davida working as SPs, the story had become much darker. My brother’s in the medical business so I’d occasionally pick his brain about what he’d witnessed. I could always count on him for some deliciously gross (if anonymous!) details after a night in emergency but it was the more complex issues he encountered that really resonated with me. I’d spoil it to say too much more other than to add that although the particulars in the book are fictional, the situations (and machinations that created them) are based on reality.

Designer credit: Talia Abramson

There are multiple perspectives in the book – what was the easiest perspective to write? The hardest? Do you have a favorite character?

Viv’s chapters were probably, if not the easiest to write, at least the easiest to conceive. I certainly wasn’t the star in high school that Viv was, but we shared a similar background. I’d never suggest I had an unhappy childhood – because I didn’t! – but I understand firsthand what Viv was going through. As in her case, my parents adored me (and my siblings), they just couldn’t stand each other. This led to some notably bad behavior. Different than in the book, but still far from ideal. Through it all, despite the unseemly behavior happening behind closed doors, we were expected to play happy, well-adjusted teenagers in the outside world. More than that, we were expected to succeed. Anything less felt like abject failure.

This, of course, isn’t an unusual situation. To a greater or lesser degree, don’t all teenagers live with the conviction that they have a terrible secret to hide? Sometimes it has to do with family breakdown or addiction. Sometimes it’s just having a sister you think is weird (which, depending on your state of mind, can loom almost as large). In the book, Viv is at the darkest part of her struggle, before she’s developed any perspective on it. I remember what that felt like – and how growing up was all I needed to get past the worst of it.

As for the hardest perspective to work from? Again, I can’t give too much away but “the bad guys” are usually the most difficult to get right. Partly that’s because I don’t identify with them (geez, I hope not) but also because I don’t believe anyone is entirely evil. Very, very bad things are done in this book. Terrible, unforgivable things. But that doesn’t mean I want to paint the perpetrator and/or perpetrators as unredeemable monsters. No one is all bad, no matter what they’ve done. I always try to imbue my villains with some decency, some inherent worth. They’re human beings after all. How to do that without in ANY WAY condoning their behavior is the tough part.

Who are some of your favorite thriller writers (or what are some of your favorite thriller novels)?

I love thrillers that make sense. That sounds like one of those “well, duh,” responses but a lot of thrillers don’t. The clues might all add up, but the basic premise doesn’t. For instance, the social media influencer who singlehandedly cracks an international cocaine ring? The pre-school teacher who teams up with a semi-pro skateboarder to solve the murder of a Moldavian prince? Might make for a fun read, but when would that ever happen? So I’m going to go way, way back for this and mention Scott Turow’s book, Presumed Innocent. It’s not a YA book but it’s still the best thriller ever. It’s a true mystery set in a real-world situation, solved by someone realistically in a position to solve it. Brilliant!

What’s your preferred genre to write? Would you write another thriller?

I love writing thrillers, especially with some humor, so yes. I’d absolutely write another one! (In fact, I’ve got one on my laptop right now, waiting for a polish.)

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a middle-grade novel called Green Velvet Dress, Worn Once. It’s about vintage clothing and medically-assisted death and forgiveness and somehow figuring out how to fill the giant gaping hole torn in your life when the person you love more than anything dies. Oh, and it’s a mystery and it’s funny too.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I live in Nova Scotia where there’s been virtually no COVID, so there’s very little I’ve done without during the pandemic. Our borders were closed so I haven’t been able to travel – but how can I complain about that given what the rest of the world is dealing with? I feel very lucky. (I’ve even be able to get my highlights touched up regularly!)

Thanks for joining us, Vicki! If you’re intrigued by Tell Me When You Feel Something, make sure to request it on NetGalley right now or pick up a copy on June 15!

Tell Me When You Feel Something
By Vicki Grant
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270091 | Penguin Teen Canada
It seemed like a cool part-time program – being a “simulated” patient for med school students to practice on. But now vivacious, charismatic Viv lies in a very real coma. Cellphone footage just leads to more questions. What really happened? Other kids suspect it was not an intentional overdose – but each has a reason why they can’t tell the truth. Through intertwining and conflicting narratives, a twisted story unfolds of trust betrayed as we sift through the seemingly innocent events leading up to the tragic night. Perhaps simulated patients aren’t the only people pretending to be something they’re not. . . . The perfect after-school job turns deadly in this contemporary YA thriller that exposes the dark reality of #MeToo in the world of medicine, for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.

Vicki Grant: website | twitter | instagram

Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery

In honor of Women’s History Month, we have a special guest post from Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen, authors of Speak a Word for Freedom and Five Thousand Years of Slavery. Read on to learn more about some incredible women who fought against slavery:

Marjorie and Janet: Our first book, Five Thousand Years of Slavery, tells the story of world slavery from ancient times to the present. While doing our research, we discovered that women played a major role in the campaign against slavery. It was their first political battle, even before they fought for the right to vote. We were so intrigued that we decided to devote our second book to their involvement.

Speak a Word for Freedom tells the story of fourteen women who have fought against slavery in different regions of the world over the past 250 years.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to introduce you to four of these remarkable women:

Credit line: Portrait of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman (c.1742-1829) 1811 (w/c on ivory), Sedgwick, Susan Anne Livingston Ridley (fl.1811) / © Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA, USA / The Bridgeman Art Library

Mum Bett was a slave in the home of John and Hannah Ashley in Sheffield, Massachusetts. One day while Bett and her sister were in the kitchen, Mrs. Ashley, a quick-tempered woman, lifted a hot kitchen shovel from the stove and aimed it at Bett’s sister. To protect her, Bett jumped in front of the girl, catching the blow on her arm and suffering a severe wound.

As a slave, Bett had overheard many prominent guests talk around Mr. Ashley’s table. One of them, Theodore Sedgwick, described Massachusetts’ new constitution, which said all people were “born free and equal.” After being assaulted, Bett went to see him and asked if the law could free her. If all people are born free and equal, she asked, shouldn’t she be?

Sedgwick agreed to take her case to court. On August 21, 1781, Sedgwick told the jury there was no law establishing slavery and that the Massachusetts state constitution made slavery illegal because it said all people were “born free and equal.”

Mr. Ashley claimed she was a slave by law.

Bett’s argument won, and she and an enslaved man named Brom, who joined the case with her, were freed. To recognize her status as a free woman, Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman. Mum Bett’s anti-slavery case was the first to cite the state constitution but not the last.

Credit line: ©Religious Society of Friends in Britain.

Elizabeth Heyrick, a white woman in England, became a leader in its abolition movement. As a convert to the Quaker religion, she fully adopted its message of equality regardless of race, sex, or social class, and refused to remain silent in the face of injustice.

By 1808, Britain had ended the slave trade that brought captured Africans to its colonies, but slavery continued to thrive in its Caribbean islands. Slaves produced the sugar that made British plantation owners rich.

Heyrick believed slaves had waited too long for their freedom. In 1823, she used the tool she had at hand – a pen – to protest the injustice. Printed pamphlets were the social media of her day, and she wrote seven to protest slavery.

In her first anti-slavery pamphlet, she called slavery a national disgrace and announced something new for the time:  a boycott of slave-produced sugar. “When there is no longer a market for the productions of slave labor, then, and not till then, will the slaves be emancipated.” She knew that both women and men would be suspicious of a pamphlet written by a woman, so she didn’t sign her name.

The abolitionist group active in Britain was for men only, so she helped to form one for women. The men’s group called for the gradual abolition of slavery, but women demanded it end immediately.

Heyrick’s group was so popular that it raised enough money to contribute to the men’s group. In 1830, though, they said they would not give any more money to the men until they, too, called for an immediate end to slavery. Seven weeks later the men did.

In 1833 the event Heyrick had long hoped for arrived, passage of the Slavery Abolition Act, ending slavery in the British colonies. Heyrick had died two years earlier.

When British missionary Alice Seeley Harris arrived in the Congo Free State with her husband, John, in 1889, they had one goal: to convert the native people to Christianity. But the atrocities they witnessed upended their mission.

The Congo Free State was created in Africa in 1885 by King Leopold II of Belgium to exploit the land for its natural resources, especially rubber, and to enrich himself. Agents of the king forced the natives into the bush to harvest rubber.

One Sunday morning, a man named Nsala arrived at the Harrises’ mission with what looked like a bundle of leaves in his hand. Alice opened it to see the severed hand and foot of his daughter, shown in this picture. This atrocity was a warning to Nsala and other rubber workers that they must meet their quotas for the Belgians or suffer mutilation.

Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, Alice, a skilled photographer, graphically documented the brutality in photographs published in reports and pamphlets sent to England.  On visits there, the Harrises gave public lectures illustrated with Alice’s photographs. The steady barrage of negative publicity incensed the public against King Leopold. By 1908, the disgraced monarch was forced to turn the governance of the Congo over to the Belgian government.

Credit line: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department

“I was sold like a goat,” says Hadijatou Mani, describing her sale as a slave at age twelve to a forty-six-year-old man in Niger in West Africa. She was known as a “fifth wife,” but had none of the rights or privileges of a wife under Islamic law. Instead, she was forced to work in her master’s house and fields, obey him in all things, and submit to beatings and humiliation.

Fortunately for Mani, a local antislavery organization, Timidria, was working to end the practice of slavery in Niger, where it was illegal but still widespread. With help from Anti-Slavery International in Britain, they sued the nation of Niger in a Western African regional court.

Although Mani was afraid to speak, her lawyers told her to look at the woman judge and talk to her “the way you do to us.” Mani gave a heartfelt account of her years of abuse and suffering. The judges awarded her damages from the government of Niger for its failure to protect one of its citizens against enslavement. This was a victory not only for Mani but also for others facing the same degradation in Niger.

In March 2009 this woman, who had never left her country, flown on a plane, or felt a cold breeze, traveled to Washington, DC, to receive the International Women of Courage Award from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who praised her “inspiring courage in challenging an entrenched system of caste-based slavery.”

Each of the women in Speak a Word took a courageous step. Though not all won awards, they have all won our admiration for never giving up in the fight for justice.

Want to learn more about these amazing women and many others? Check out Janet and Marjorie’s books!

Five Thousand Years of Slavery
By Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen
176 Pages | Ages 10+ | Ebook
ISBN 9781770491519 | Tundra Books
When they were too impoverished to raise their families, ancient Sumerians sold their children into bondage. Slave women in Rome faced never-ending household drudgery. The ninth-century Zanj were transported from East Africa to work the salt marshes of Iraq. Cotton pickers worked under terrible duress in the American South. Ancient history? Tragically, no. In our time, slavery wears many faces. James Kofi Annan’s parents in Ghana sold him because they could not feed him. Beatrice Fernando had to work almost around the clock in Lebanon. Julia Gabriel was trafficked from Arizona to the cucumber fields of South Carolina. Five Thousand Years of Slavery provides the suspense and emotional engagement of a great novel. It is an excellent resource with its comprehensive historical narrative, firsthand accounts, maps, archival photos, paintings and posters, an index, and suggestions for further reading. Much more than a reference work, it is a brilliant exploration of the worst – and the best – in human society.

Speak a Word for Freedom
Women against Slavery
By Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen
216 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781770496514 | Tundra Books
From the early days of the antislavery movement, when political action by women was frowned upon, British and American women were tireless and uncompromising campaigners. Without their efforts, emancipation would have taken much longer. And the commitment of today’s women, who fight against human trafficking and child slavery, descends directly from that of the early female activists. Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery tells the story of fourteen of these women. Meet Alice Seeley Harris, the British missionary whose graphic photographs of mutilated Congolese rubber slaves in 1904 galvanized a nation; Hadijatou Mani, the woman from Niger who successfully sued her own government in 2008 for failing to protect her from slavery, as well as Elizabeth Freeman, Elizabeth Heyrick, Ellen Craft, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Anne Kemble, Kathleen Simon, Fredericka Martin, Timea Nagy, Micheline Slattery, Sheila Roseau and Nina Smith. With photographs, source notes, and index.