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Behind The Book: She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised their Voice and Changed the World

Author Kathy Mac Millan shares what inspired her and her co-author Manuela Bernardi to write She Spoke. Read on to learn more about the book’s journey from idea to publication.

Writing Besties

Way back in the spring of 2018, I got an intriguing email from the Publishing Director at Familius. He had the idea of using the sound book format (usually seen in books about farm animals for young children) to highlight the words of inspiring women. The book was targeted to publish in March of the following year for Women’s History Month.

I had worked with Familius before, so they knew that my research background would be a good fit for the book. Given the topic and the close deadline, I needed a co-author—and who better than my critique partner and writing bestie, screenwriter Manuela Bernardi?

Permissions and Use

Manuela and I got to work right away. It all started with the audio clips, as they shaped the structure of the book. Each audio clip had to be between fifteen and thirty seconds, in English, feature inspiring words relevant to the speaker’s biography, and either be in the public domain or recordings we could get permission to use. We found some wonderful historical clips that we would have loved to use—from figures like Mother Jones and Amelia Earhart—but some were so old we couldn’t identify who owned the rights to them, while others we were just unable to get permission to use.

Wonderful Women

The availability of audio clips narrowed the field of possibilities somewhat. But, we still had a lot of back and forth before settling on the final list of women to include in the book. We wanted to make sure we represented many different types of diversity. We made sure to feature some women that the reader would have heard of, but also some lesser-known figures that everyone should have heard of.

Watch Kathy and Manuela discuss their book during the 2021 World Read Aloud Day

International Collaboration

Manuela and I spent six months writing and editing the book from different hemispheres—me in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and Manuela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We used the same technologies we have always used to chat and give each other feedback on our work: email, instant messages, video chat, shared documents, electronic databases, and international text messaging apps. It required a lot of planning and communication!

Once we had identified the subjects for the profiles, we divided the research and drafting work. Then we edited each profile together in a shared online document while discussing them via video chat. When I read the book now, I can’t actually identify who wrote what, because so much collaboration went into it!

Raise Your Voice

We hope that hearing these powerful words right from the source will inspire readers not to give up, no matter what. Girls are often given the message that they must tone down their passions. Or that they will only be heard if they express themselves in soft, “polite” ways. But if girls and women—and allies of any gender—become aware of this and challenge those expectations, we can quite literally change the world!

Kathy MacMillan (she/her) is a writer, nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and signing storyteller. She is the co-author (with Manuela Bernardi) of She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World, and the author of Nita’s First Signs, Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents, The Runaway Shirt, and many more books for children, teens, and adults. Find her online at https://kathymacmillan.com/.

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