When I'm writing a biography, I always search for the thread that starts from a childhood moment, weaves its way through challenges, and ties into an accomplishment later in that person's life. So I was delighted to spot that thread early on in Door by Door: How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator by Meeg Pincus and illustrated by Meridth McKean Gimbel.
At a young age, Americans learn about the country's presidents. But do most American toddlers use their building blocks to create a model of the White House? Do most American kids request a podium for a holiday gift? Do most American teenagers work on a gubernatorial campaign? No, but Sarah McBride did. She knew politics was her destiny. But what she didn't know was "why her body didn't match her brain and heart." Born with a boy's body, Sarah longed to be seen as a girl. Heartfelt and engaging, this is the true story of Sarah's McBride's quest to become her authentic self—an American leader working to improve the lives of others.
Today author Meeg Pincus discusses creating Door by Door—How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator:
In the back matter, there is a wonderful note from Sarah McBride. How involved was she in the process of making this book?
Sarah has graciously been involved from the very beginning of this book, before it was a book and before she was a senator, in fact! I approached her about writing her story for kids when she was still at the Human Rights Campaign and had been the first openly transgender person to work at The White House and to give a national political convention speech. I wouldn't have written it without her, and we are grateful that she has worked with us throughout the process – commenting on drafts and illustrations, contributing her beautiful note, and launching the book with us.
Was there one aspect of Sarah McBride's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you as you wrote this biography?
I actually think it was the image of her asking for a podium for Christmas as kid! That quirky fact of her life just illustrates so powerfully how strong the dream was for her to speak up for others, to make a life in government and politics. She knew from such an early age how she wanted to help the world, just as she knew her gender (which was different from what she was assigned at birth) but she felt she could not achieve her dream and also live as her true self. To me, this is the heart of Sarah's story, especially for kids, as it was a struggle she had since childhood.
While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?
Learning about how active and impactful she was in politics as a youth was surprising – you don't hear of many kids devoting themselves so fully to local political campaigns, but Sarah did. She gave a televised public speech introducing Delaware's governor-elect when she was just a teenager.
Why do you think kids can relate to Door by Door?
I think kids may relate to several parts of Sarah's story. For some, it will be her feeling different and her worries about not being accepted as her true self by her loved ones and others in her life. For some, it will be her passion for a dream she's not sure she will ever get to accomplish. For some, it will be her desire for a more inclusive culture, where everyone is embraced for who they are. At its core, I think kids will relate to Sarah's emotional journey – her fears, her dreams, her sadness and relief – as all humans have these emotions.
Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?
Sarah herself was the most invaluable source, both in real time and in all the writing she has done and interviews and speeches she has given. I read the articles she wrote when she came out as trans in college and later as a young adult. I watched her political speeches and the interviews she gave at bookstores and on talk shows after the release of her memoir. I read her memoir at least three times all the way through. Sarah is one of the most eloquent people I've ever encountered, and her own words were the key sources for this biography.
How did you select the timeframe for your book?
I knew the book had to begin in her childhood, as the story is so much about what she knew from when she was a child. In my original version, I had started the story with her asking for a podium for Christmas and then ended it with her at the podium at the Democratic National Convention. But it took a while to sell the manuscript, so by the time it sold to Penguin Random House, I needed to end with her becoming a state senator, and my editor wanted even more focus on her childhood, so I went earlier than the podium to her building The White House out of blocks as a very young child!
What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?
Beyond the typical (and important!) advice to research deeply and thoroughly, use primary sources, etc., for me the #1 tip is to tap into the underlying emotion of a true story and find a way to connect readers to that heart. Whether it's a biography or a STEM story, there needs to be something emotionally compelling to draw in a reader, from compassion to curiosity.
If you could pick the ideal place for a Door by Door storywalk, where would it be?
Definitely Delaware! Probably around the state house, where Sarah serves as the nation's first openly transgender state senator, and the area where she grew up.
What other books would you recommend to readers who love Door by Door?
I recommend several nonfiction picture books about LGBTQ+ role models and history in my "Solutionary Stories" Bookshop list. Gayle E. Pitman and Rob Sanders have been groundbreaking authors in this niche, and luckily we are adding more books (by them and other creators) to this list each year.
TRUE STORY TIDBITS:
Both uplifting and informative, this book is on two shelves in my True Story Bookshop:
- LGBTQ+ Trailblazers
To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.
Every day is a good day for a true story! But here are some special tie-in dates for Door by Door—How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator:
- Election Days – both federal and local election days – are a huge and important tie-in to this book, especially in these times when politicians have been attacking the rights and freedoms of transgender and other LGBTQ+ Americans through discriminatory laws, banning books, and the like.
- June: Pride Month
- March 31: International Transgender Day of Visibility
- Oct. 11: National Coming Out Day
- Nov. 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance
Meeg Pincus is the author of several "Solutionary Stories"—nonfiction & informational books that inspire kids to make a difference—such as Miep and the Most Famous Diary and So Much More to Helen! To learn more about her work, visit her website.