A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor by Karen M. Greenwald; illustrated by Sian James

Hello, Karen M. Greenwald! Hello, Sian James! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read. Thank you for stopping by to discuss and celebrate A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor. Karen, thank you for introducing me to Susanna Salter. When did you first learn about her?

Karen M. Greenwald: I first learned about Susanna Salter when researching another idea. I was captivated immediately! As I began researching, I found that many original sources (such as articles from the time) were fraught with errors. Similar to some coverage today, they initially discussed Susanna’s appearance (including her weight!) instead of her skillset. None explained why she chose to run. I wanted to go deeper—to learn her reasons. This began a two-year journey and a great friendship with one of her descendants. I’m honored to have authored the only picture book about Susanna. It feels exceptionally relevant and exciting to share her historic achievement this year!

Sian, please tell us about the materials you used to create the art.

Sian James: I always feel that I can create more freely with a pencil in hand, and so I started with lots of concept drawings just in my sketchbook. I played with different ideas: scenes, character sketches, compositions and so on, before turning to my computer. All the illustrations were then sketched and painted entirely in Photoshop.

Thank you, Sian! Karen, imagine you’re booktalking A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor to 200 elementary school teacher-librarians. What would you share with them?

Karen M. Greenwald: Susanna’s story is not just about a young mother who overcomes bullies. Yes, that is an important part of it. Her bravery in the face of public humiliation is key. So is her background, including a college education (something she fought poverty to provide for her children). But there are other important aspects students should consider.

First, the governor (an abolitionist) called the shocking Kansas law an “experiment.” He signed it with the proviso that it could be overturned in two years’ time. What if Susanna had not run? What if she had lost? Would the law have survived? How did her election results change the opportunities for women in Kansas?

Secondly, students should explore contrasts between the bullies’ intent on Election Day versus that of the delegation visiting Susanna. Also, important is the reaction of Argonians, particularly those who chose equality and justice over party, politics, and discrimination. Interestingly, most of these voters were men!

Finally, the international response to Susanna’s victory was astonishing, given her city’s tiny size and landlocked location. Why did it grab the attention of newspapers and citizens (including nobility!) worldwide?

I asked myself these questions throughout the research process!

Sian, please finish the following sentence starters: 

Susanna Salter was such an incredible lady! She cared deeply about her city and its people, bravely stood up to the bullies, and made history. 130 years on, her story remains very relevant to both boys and girls today, and I feel very privileged to be able to work with Karen and the Albert Whitman team to tell it!

Picture books are like a magical wardrobe, which invites you to step inside and visit a different world. They let your imagination run wild and stretch your understanding of what is possible. By taking you on an adventure, they also encourage you to go out and seek your own.

Karen, please finish the following sentence starters:

Sian James’ illustrations beautifully bring Susanna’s world to life and allow the reader to insert themselves into both the chaotic and sentimental moments of the story.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me about when the library burned down and the first time I made the angel food cake featured in the book!

Thank you, Karen and Sian! 

In addition to being a children’s author, Karen M. Greenwald is a nonpracticing attorney and an international-award-winning brand strategist. She is a Maryland native.

Sian James was born in Hong Kong and has been drawing ever since she could pick up a pencil. Having lived a previous life as an archaeologist, she likes to combine her passions for history and illustration to tell stories from the mundane to the magical.

Look for A Vote for Susanna: The First Woman Mayor on October 1, 2021. 


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