Q & A with Bobbie Malone
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: In what ways has writing "Voices & Votes: How Democracy Works in Wisconsin" been a personal experience? How do you feel connected to this book?
Bobbie Malone: Teachers have been asking for a book on Wisconsin government for many years, and I felt that we needed to create something that went beyond civics and also responded to political history. I looked for a national model for such a book and couldn't find anything. Jon Kasparek is a terrific political historian, and I enjoyed working with him on "Wisconsin History Highlights," so I thought we'd make a good team. And we pretty much invented this book that draws both political history and civics together in a way that will make sense to young readers.
WHS Press: How do you think readers will connect to your book?
BM: I think students will appreciate getting a handle on this information. Learning how democratic government works and understanding why it is divided into separately functioning branches is not the stuff of a Harry Potter narrative adventure. But I think students will like the real world examples, the charts, graphs, and photographs that help make such abstract (for 4th graders especially) content more concrete and useful. Just being able to handle the vocabulary in order to understand the adult political landscape will be truly useful!
WHS Press: What was the most challenging part of writing "Voices & Votes: How Democracy Works in Wisconsin"?
BM: It's hard to take complex and abstract information — and lots of essential political terminology — and make it interesting to a youth audience. Jon and I worked hard to strike a balance. The book really benefited from student editors in "test drive" classrooms around the state who worked on the longest and most difficult chapter on state and tribal government. They were terrific at helping us determine what needed to be changed to make the information clear and digestible.
WHS Press: What would you like students to take away from "Voices & Votes: How Democracy Works in Wisconsin"?
BM: I'd like students to feel comfortable with knowing how government works in the state and to understand how essential it is to be engaged in helping make democracy work better. They don't need to be voting age to make a difference. The closing chapter, "Voices for Change," tells readers about various projects in which students have spearheaded to bring benefits to their communities. Democracy is a system of government designed to empower its citizens with rights and responsibilities. I hope that students discover that they can responsibly make a difference.
WHS Press: What was the motivation for writing "Voices & Votes: How Democracy Works in Wisconsin"?
BM: Too few adults bother voting. Democracy can only work if citizens act responsibly as citizens. Upper elementary school classrooms are the perfect setting for getting students engaged in how things work and helping them realize what they can do as young citizens to make their communities function best for all those who live there.
WHS Press: Why is this book important for Wisconsin? For students?
BM: There's nothing like this out there for young learners. We are excited about having created it.
WHS Press: What was your favorite part of writing "Voices & Votes: How Democracy Works in Wisconsin"?
BM: As a former fourth grade teacher, I love being in the classroom during test drives and learning the way students respond to what we've written. This is true for all the New Badger History books. Young learners are such honest critics, make such thoughtful suggestions, and have so little chance to exercise their tremendous intellectual curiosity and facility in the course of the normative classroom curricula. I so appreciate their seriousness. And their input makes an enormous difference in how we deal with all the rest of the chapters. Of course, it's also great to get the finished book back from the printer!
WHS Press: Describe how writing for young adults differs from writing for adult audiences.
BM: Writing for a youth audience is much more challenging because there's nothing that can be assumed. Every concept and every vocabulary word demands a decision. Is this the clearest way I can tell this? Is this information essential to the development of the basic argument? Will this sequence of information best help students understand the chronology and the gist of the particular event or situation? Which maps will help? What kind of graphic support does this paragraph need for a young reader to make sense of the information? I am a matchmaker at heart, and I love putting all the pieces together to make the book work. Writing for adults is much easier. I do miss some of my favorite verbs, however!