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You can do it: Elizabeth Warren makes a pinkie promise to girls

Charlene Chua
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

All Polly wants to do is help wash the car and build a drawbridge for a science project. But the men and boys in her life keep telling her "that's not what girls do!"

Polly is getting tired of hearing that.

One day, her mother takes her to a rally where they meet a woman who is running for President.

Pinkie Promises
/ Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Pinkie Promises

"I want to lead our country," she says. "That's what girls do." Together, they make a promise to always remember what girls do.

Pinkie Promises is inspired by an experience Senator Elizabeth Warren had when she first ran for office 10 years ago.

"How many people said to me, 'Great! But you know you can't win. Massachusetts is not ready to elect a woman,'" Warren says. "I thought about that and I thought, 'You know, I might not win. But I'm going to make every single day count.' Every time I saw a little girl, I dropped down on one knee and I would say, 'My name is Elizabeth and I'm running for the United States Senate because that's what girls do.' And then we would do a pinkie promise."

While Senator Warren - spoiler alert - won that race, and while she's written many books, Pinkie Promises is her first book for children. It's also her first time working with an illustrator. Warren knew right away that she wanted to work with Charlene Chua.

"I wanted Charlene because she draws girls. Girls who are energized, girls who are frustrated, girls who are engaged. Girls who are going to change the world," says Warren.

Charlene Chua / Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

Chua, who uses she/they pronouns, was very busy at the time, but agreed to read the manuscript. They loved what it had to say.

"Being non-binary you do get that message from other people that you can't do certain things because of who you are, and it creates a lot of doubt inside you," Chua says.

At first, Chua was a little intimidated to illustrate Senator Warren. "I'm not particularly good at depicting real people. I think that's why I generally prefer to do cartoon-y sort of work for children," Chua says. "There's always a bit of stress that the real person will be like, 'That doesn't look like me.'"

Senator Warren says Chua's illustrations make her story come alive, "When I saw myself as... a cartoon character, I loved it. She made it just right."

Pinkie Promises is mostly about Polly, but both author and illustrator agree that the real star of the book is Bailey, Polly's - and Senator Warren's - golden retriever. In the book, he's Polly's constant companion, but he's also in the background knocking over a lamp, eating a burrito, popping a soccer ball, causing trouble.

Charlene Chua / Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

It's a second, entirely visual story that Senator Warren hopes will keep parents and their kids coming back.

"I think of picture books as something not read once and put away," Senator Warren says. "They're read over and over and over and over. That's part of the comfort and the beauty."

Charlene Chua thinks Pinkie Promises is mainly a book for little girls, "But I hope that all children who feel like they've been told they can't achieve something by other people or grownups will be able to relate to the story and take away something from it."

Senator Warren agrees. "This book is for little girls, but it's also for little boys. I think it's really important that little boys see little girls as actors. As having initiative and control," she says. "So I think of it as a book for both. Little boys and little girls."

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Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.
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