Author Mary Cronk Farrell shares how libraries impacted her research process in her latest book, Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights. I received a complimentary copy of this book in preparation for this interview.
How would you describe your book Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights?
The book is the story of one woman who believed change was possible. She believed that if people came together and worked for a common goal, they could improve their lives. It’s the story of how she developed her talents, grew in compassion and courage and stood strong even at the cost of her life.
What is one interesting fact you like to share with children about Fannie Sellins?
One thing I love about Fannie is that she admits that when she first stood at a podium to speak, she was scared. But she ended up traveling around the country speaking for two years, telling people about the garment workers on strike, gaining monetary support for them and urging a boycott of products made under unfair labor practices. She became a powerful and charismatic speaker. She says that she overcame her fear by remembering the faces of the women she had worked with in the factory. This inspires me to be willing to try something new, even if I’m scared, and to choose to be motivated by compassion, not fear.
What will resonate with young readers about Fannie’s story?
What I hope will resonate with young readers about Fannie’s story is that even when things don’t go smoothly in life, or the way we want them to, we can be true to ourselves and not give up. And also, that uniting with others is powerful. Often what we can’t do alone, we can accomplish joining with others who share our goals.
What has been the most startling discovery you have made during your research, and what role did librarians and libraries play in this process?
Librarians played a huge role in helping me put my hands on primary sources documenting aspects of Fannie’s story, especially when I first began my research in 2006. At that time, there was less information readily available on the internet and local librarians helped me get copies of newspaper articles through interlibrary loan. Some arrived on microfilm, and librarians patiently helped me learn to use the machine to search through newspaper issues and print copies of the articles I needed. Being able to request books and articles through inter-library loan made most of my early research on Fannie’s life and death possible because I could not afford to travel to St. Louis, West Virginia and Pennsylvania from my home in Washington State. Throughout my research, librarians generously shared their time and effort searching their archives for information and photographs to help document Fannie’s story.
How have librarians and libraries impacted your life as a child and also as a professional author?
Reading remains one of my favorite activities and I still go to the library regularly and check out a stack of books. As an author, reading books in my genre is very important to keep up on the market. I frequent the new books shelf to stay up on what’s being published. My local library is crucial to me for both enjoyment and research.
There was an amazing librarian, Mrs. Orr, who recommended books to me throughout my elementary school years. Somehow, she knew what kind of books I would love and to this day, I remember only two she recommended that I didn’t finish, The Hobbit and Watership Down. Isn’t that funny that I remember those two, but not the hundreds that I enjoyed? And it was hundreds, because my older sister and I would go to the library once a week and check out a stack of four or five books. It was a mile from our home and in the summer we would walk there and back to get our fix.
What was the greatest struggle and triumph with publishing a book about an activist largely unknown to audiences?
The struggle with writing a book about an unknown woman was the initial difficulty in finding a publisher willing to do the project. Early on, every editor who saw the manuscript thought that it was a worthy subject, but said there was no market for a book about an unknown woman. I first submitted the story in 2007, and it is finally hitting shelves nearly ten years later. The triumph is that young readers now have access to the courage and compassion of Fannie Sellins, to the story of how she developed and used her talents to work for justice for all. She has been a huge inspiration to me and I know that her story will empower others as well.
How can librarians ensure that unfamiliar advocates such as Fannie Sellins are recognized by their young patrons?
Librarians are uniquely positioned to help young readers discover heroines like Fannie Sellins. They can choose the “selling point” of a book to reach various types of kids. To one they might point out the many interesting photographs in the book, to another they could mention how Fannie spoke out, even at the risk of going to jail for her opinions. Librarians can help students who are unenthused about writing a report by suggesting exciting, easy-to-read biographies like Fannie Never Flinched that make history as interesting as TV drama.
What role do youth services librarians play in ensuring children and teens receive accurate information?
Youth Services librarians have a responsibility to include a wide variety of quality literature in their collections to give children and teens the opportunity to look at topics from numerous points of view. They are on the front lines in helping students learn to assess information for themselves and make decisions about accuracy and logic, and to think critically about what they read. They can help students compare sources, search for further clues and ask pertinent questions. Librarians can play an important role in student learning by suggesting they look at historical biography like Fannie Never Flinched as a lens for considering current events.
Visual images throughout the book influence how readers process information. What inspires your readers about these images?
The images in Fannie Never Flinched draw readers into the story because they put real faces on the facts of history, often times the faces of children. They add “skin” to the words. Graphic elements in the book entice reluctant readers, the attractive pages making the text appear less imposing and more interesting.
What projects are you currently working on at this time?
I am currently working on the story of Major Charity Adams, one of the African-American pioneers in the Women’s Army Corps. Charity Adams showed exemplary leadership and courage in a time when the United States military was segregated and black women were treated as second class citizens even as they volunteered to serve their country in time of war.
Thank you for this background and for sharing your perspective on these topics!