Rad Girls Can
Welcome to Rad Girls Can
In this book, you’ll find fifty stories about all kinds of girls and young women who’ve done incredible things—all before the age of twenty.
Some of the girls featured in this book are well-known, iconic figures: people like Anne Frank, Joan of Arc, and Helen Keller. But many of these girls may be unfamiliar to you, either because they’re just beginning their rad journeys or because their stories haven’t yet received the attention they deserve.
Most of the stories take place in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but there are a few girls profiled from the nineteenth century, like Mary Shelley and Maria Mitchell, and several super-ancient stories (check out Khutulun, the Wrestling Princess, from the year 1260). Some girls, like Misty Copeland, Ruby Bridges, and Janet Mock, are now grown-up, successful women. Their stories focus on the amazing things they did when they were younger, showing how they got to where they are today. And finally, many of these stories are about girls who are young right now, like author and activist Marley Dias, singer/songwriter Lorde, and pro rock climber Ashima Shiraishi.
Regardless of when these girls did great things, this book is mostly about what they did and how they did it. At some point in their lives, all of the girls in this book decided to go for it. They started fashion lines, blogs, and bands. They stood up for their beliefs and challenged injustice in their schools—and in the federal courts. They saw that something wasn’t right—and they refused to be quiet about it.
The girls in these stories come from different backgrounds, cultures, and countries. Some have faced war, racism, poverty, and abuse, while others have lived safe, comfortable lives. Some helped shape laws, and some had to break the rules. Each girl in this book is as unique as her story—but they all share a sense of creativity, commitment, and courage. And they all care.
Some of these girls’ accomplishments are epic. They get lead roles in movies and publish cool books, and they win Nobel Prizes and gold medals. But most change happens in small, incremental ways: one young person starts a hashtag on Twitter, a girl learns about an unfair law, a group of friends writes poetry about their experiences with discrimination. It takes hard work, dedication, and patience to make a difference. But it also takes a first step, that initial spark to get you from wondering Can I . . .? to realizing I can!
You can find rad girls everywhere : In the lab, in the classroom, in the ring, and in the pool. They’re at the skate park, on the radio, and on the playground. They’re playing on soccer fields and basketball courts. They’re standing up at school and speaking out from the podium. They’re gathering at marches and rallies, and they’re connecting on the phone and online. And they’re here, in these pages.
Born in West Orange, New Jersey, 2003
Eleven-year-old Marley Dias loves to read. She loves getting lost in a great story, imagining new worlds, and learning new things. But the more books she read, the more she noticed that most of the main characters, especially in classic books, were boys: mostly white boys, and sometimes, white boys with dogs. Marley didn’t mind reading about boys and dogs (or wizards or unicorns or fairies), but as a young black girl, she also wanted to see someone like herself as the main character. She wanted to imagine herself as the hero.
“You don’t have to be very old to start trying to fix the problems you see in the world around you.”
Marley decided to do something about it. She began by doing research to see if anyone else had noticed this problem. She learned that less than 10 percent of children’s books published in 2015 had a black person as the main character. And of 3,400 children’s books published that year, fewer than 100 were about Latino characters. And even though children’s books have gradually become more diverse, many libraries have only older books that don’t reflect this shift.
Diversity in books benefits everyone: it gives us a broader understanding of who we are as a nation, and a world. Almost half of the children in the United States are children of color, so why should almost all the books be about white kids? Marley wanted more diverse books to be available for everyone, so she started a campaign to collect and donate a thousand books about black girls, so more girls like herself would have access to books that reflected their experiences.
She was excited about her new idea, but how exactly would she get all those books? She decided to use social media and spread her message with the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks. And it worked.
“Frustration is fuel that can lead to the development of an innovative and useful idea.”
Within months, Marley’s campaign got the attention of writers, librarians, booksellers, and other people across the country, and the books began pouring in. Journalists wrote stories about her, and soon Marley had more than four thousand books to donate!
She had exceeded her goal, but Marley was just getting started. She continued to collect books (up to nearly ten thousand!), created a resource guide for educators, and used her newfound media attention to speak to broad audiences about the importance of diversity in kids’ books. She even got to interview Hillary Clinton and edit her own online zine for Elle magazine. And eventually, the girl who loved books got to write and publish her own book—a guide to activism—when she was just twelve years old.
THE CLIMATE KIDS
First filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015
There are many ways that young people can help protect and preserve the environment. You can recycle, compost, and conserve water and electricity. Another option? You can sue the federal government—as Hazel Van Ummersen, Victoria Barrett, Jaime Butler, and Jayden Fontlin did. They’re among twenty-one climate activists under age twenty-one who are plaintiffs in a landmark court case.
“It’s important that I’m doing this at a young age because it inspires people of my generation to help. You don’t have to wait until you’re older.”—Jayden Fontlin
A plaintiff is an individual who brings a case to court (as opposed to the defendant, whom the case is brought against). In this case, the defendant is the president of the United States, and the plaintiff is a group of young people who argue that the U.S. government has actively contributed to climate change. By doing so, the government is violating the constitutional rights of young people. The plaintiffs argue that having a healthy climate is a fundamental liberty for today’s children and the children of the future.
The plaintiffs range in age from eleven to twenty-one and come from all over the United States. They’ve all witnessed the impact of climate change on their lives in many different ways. Some come from urban areas—like eighteen-year-old Victoria, whose school shut down after Superstorm Sandy flooded New York City. Seventeen-year-old Jaime lives with her family on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, where a devastating drought has dried up the natural springs that her family has relied on for generations. Fourteen-year-oldJ ayden, who is from Louisiana, has already experienced two floods in her home caused in part by rising sea levels along the Gulf Coast.
The plaintiffs don’t argue the case in front of the judges—they have grown-up lawyers who do that. Their job is to tell their personal stories of how climate change impacts them. They attend as many of the court hearings as possible, and they also act as spokespeople for this important lawsuit. In the process, they get to learn a great deal about law, government, the judicial process, the science behind climate change, and what it means to be a climate activist.
Thirteen-year-old Hazel joined the lawsuit because she is concerned about climate change and wants to show that young people “aren’t just playing video games on the couch.” Her friends think it’s cool that she’s part of this big lawsuit, and, she says, no matter what happens with the suit—whether they win or lose—she knows she’ll be fighting to protect our planet for the rest of her life.