Thursday, February 29, 2024

Q&A with Joshalyn Hickey-Johnson




Joshalyn Hickey-Johnson is the author of the new children's picture book biography Susie Clark: The Bravest Girl You've Ever Seen: Desegregating Iowa Schools in 1868. Her other books include Travis, It's NOT Your Birthday.


Q: What inspired you to write this children’s picture book biography of Susie Clark, who as a girl helped integrate schools in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1868?


A: I first learned of [Susie's father] Alexander Clark in 2009 at my church. Our pastor is also an activist per se and works with human rights quite a bit. So he brought the story to our church back then.


When I was recommended by Rachelle Chase, Krista Regenetter to work on this book, I was very honored and inspired to say the least!


Q: How did you research Susie Clark’s story, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I was blessed to research the story with a wonderful team that allowed me to tour Muscatine, Iowa. We looked at landmarks and talked about the things that little Susie may have seen along the way during her era.


There are historians that live in the Muscatine area who shared a lot of information about the Clark family concerning their lineage, occupations, and activism.


I was surprised to learn how busy the family was. By being involved in the underground railroad, as well as Susie’s dad being a barber, an attorney, and an ambassador, I learned that they weren’t afraid of working hard to make change. 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I hope listening and learning Susie’s story will teach children that, even though something appears to be frightening, to not be afraid to express your feelings to your family, and taking the first step with support from others, can make a huge difference.


Also, I hope they learn that they can be supportive to help others be brave.


Q: What do you see as Susie Clark’s legacy today?


A: I see Susie’s legacy as the advantage of all students studying together in Iowa far longer than other states. Also the legacy of having “a school with her name in her town, with all kinds of kids, black, white and brown.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I’m focusing on helping promote Susie’s story to all who will listen.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think you should know that I appreciate these questions and your interest in Susie’s story. Thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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