Young people do have stories worth telling

We could not help but share this letter from the astounding student Erica Eliza Smith.

“I just finished reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice for the second time. The first time I read it was back in eighth grade (I’m a junior now) when I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a teenager in a world run by adults. This was the same year I read We Were There, Too! and It’s Our World, Too! 

I believe that every book I’ve read has changed my life. But your books have changed my life more than any other book beyond certain religious texts and the books that taught me how to read. You’re the only author I’ve found who seems to care about young people who want to read about other young people.

Young people do have stories worth telling. I understand that my school textbooks will never devote a significant number of pages to young people for the same reasons they don’t talk all that much about women or people of color. Paper and class time is limited. We can only cover the presidents and generals. But that doesn’t mean we weren’t there too. That doesn’t mean we didn’t witness historical events at the very least. And there are always untold stories about people like Claudette who changed things.

I feel like youth are the most neglected of any demographic group. My school offers a women’s history class, which I’ll take next year, and all but one of the movies we watched in U.S. History this year featured African Americans. But so far as young people are concerned, we have Sacagawea and Emmett Till. I wish they’d include more stories about youth. It would help us see history as our story instead of something that happened to old dead guys.

Reading your books, especially We Were There, Too! felt like going through a treasure trove. Here was a young person for all my favorite pieces of history. The sweatshops of the Industrial Revolution. The women’s suffrage movement. The Salem Witch Trials (I’m descended from an accused witch). The pioneer trails (them too). And more little slices of history I’d never given much thought to. I can’t thank you enough for bringing all these stories to light. Please know that your efforts to dig up these people and put them on a page was worthwhile. I recommend them to teenagers and adults alike. Keep writing great stories!”

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