Monday, October 18, 2021


 In the "it's a small world department," my sister Barbara (who lives in Milwaukee) met Rochelle Melander at a July 4th picnic this past summer. After hearing Rochelle speak about her book, Mightier than The Sword (Beaming Books, 2021). Barbara told her that she should contact me because I love encouraging kids to write. (In case you didn't know, my second book was Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.)  After the picnic, Rochelle looked me up and realized that I was on her list of people to contact to be part of her blog tour!

I am proud to introduce you to Rochelle's inspirational and educational new book.  Rochelle has so much to say about teaching writing to kids, that today I'm reviewing her book and interviewing her. Next week she will guest blog about, "Playing With Writing Types."


From Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese novelist and poet who lived from 978-1016 to Malala Yousafzai, a contemporary Pakastani activist, writer, and the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Mightier Than the Sword highlights men and women throughout history and from diverse cultures who changed the world through their writing.

Rochelle's list includes well-known figures who you may or may not think of as writers: Charles Darwin, Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Nellie Bly, Ida B. Wells, and Rachel Carson. But there are also many lesser-known individuals such as Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, Wang Zhenyi, Ada Lovelace, Mary Garber, and Sequoyah and many more. 


In addition to the short easy-to-read essays about each writer and the ways in which the individual's writing affected the world, there are suggested writing activities and a pithy quote from the writer.

"If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." - Martin Luther

Martin Luther was a German theologian who wrote in the early16th century. After his biography and work as a writer, his entry includes the development of Gutenberg's printing press which enabled more people to read the Bible. Luther's Ninety Five Thesis against the Catholic Church invited debate and promoted change. The author uses that point in history to challenge readers to find ways to invite debate.

This is the "Write to Create" activity for Luther: 
Martin Luther used repetition and rhythm so people would enjoy reading his words aloud. He used relatable images to explain complex topics: “A lie is like a snowball: the further you roll it, the bigger it becomes.” Keep a notebook to record juicy words, favorite phrases, and interesting snippets of conversation. p. 17

Mightier Than the Sword is a rich curriculum resource for grades 4-8. Besides the writing activities associated with each writer, the book ends with ten more pages of activities! There are ideas to get the reluctant writer going, revision ideas, advice from the featured writers, and of course, a list of books about writing.



CAROL: Did you write the book or the pitch first?

ROCHELLEI wrote the pitch first. When an agent expressed interest, I wrote the proposal. (I did that quickly, in about 6 weeks.) When the publisher accepted it, I wrote the book.

CAROL: How did persistence help you sell your book?


ROCHELLE:  As an artist educator, I’ve longed for a book like Mightier Than the Sword. I believed the book would help me introduce young people to writing mentors from a variety of disciplines and support students in writing their stories. When I hit obstacles, connecting to this purpose kept me going. 


Researchers call this grit. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. … Grit is about having what some researchers call an 'ultimate concern'—a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.” 

When I first pitched the book in early 2018, an agent loved the idea and requested the proposal. But she rejected it—because she wanted more of a deep dive into history. I revised and submitted it to more agents—only to get a slew of rejections. Many of them said the book was too educational—and not right for the trade market! Then an agent requested a revise and resubmit—which I did. As I waited for their response, I sent it out to just a few more agents. When an agent I met at a conference offered representation, I sent a note to the agents who’d been sitting on the proposal for months. They all rejected it. I wasn’t keen on the representing agent, so I tried #PitMad. Surprise! I had four hearts from four different editors. One of those, Beaming Books, offered a contract. Woot!

For me, grit meant repeatedly reminding myself of my purpose—to help young people fall in love with writing. Once I got the contract, I still had hours of research and writing ahead of me—and that purpose helped me shape every single essay in the collection. If you’re stuck or struggling, consider your ultimate concern: why is this project important? Who will it serve?

Rochelle teaching
young writers.

CAROL: How did you come up with these particular writers? You had centuries and the whole world to choose from!

ROCHELLE: The writers! I first came up with the idea for the book in 2009 and started collecting names. When I decided to get serious about the book, I searched online, read anthologies and talked to professors to find names. Once the publisher accepted the book, we worked together on finalizing the list. I wanted to make sure the list was diverse in multiple ways: disciplines, gender, race, culture, writing genres, and more. The book includes 40 writers, 5 interludes, and many short profiles!

CAROL: What were the lessons about writing that you learned while researching and writing this book?


ROCHELLE: I learn from every book I write, but Mightier Than the Sword brought so many more lessons—probably because I was researching and writing about people who used their writing to make a difference in their worlds. Here are three of them:


  • It’s okay if you weren’t a successful student. Follow your passion. Many of the writers I featured did poorly in school. Charles Darwin skipped out on grade school lessons and dropped out of medical school. But when he discovered his passion for nature, he succeeded.

  • Write about what matters to you. Passion drives persistence. When congresswoman Patsy Mink was in college, she started a letter campaign to protest segregated student housing. She succeeded—and the college changed their policy.

  • Writing is difficult. Do it anyway. Because of social media, we see writers celebrating their wins, but we don’t see the sweat equity that went into their work. It took James Baldwin ten years to write his autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. During that time, he struggled to earn money and deal with self-doubt. 


Leave a comment to enter the giveaway. You'll have a second chance to enter after  Rochelle's next post. A winner will be drawn after 6 PM on October 27. If you are a media specialist, home school educator, or ELA teacher let me know--I'll give you another chance to win this book. AND if you compare Mightier than the Sword to What's in Your Pocket? from last week's blog, you get an additional chance!


Congratulations to a new subscriber, Suzy Leopold, who won WHAT'S IN YOUR POCKET? from last week's blog. 


Theresa Milstein said...

This is my kind of book. I'd love to have this in my classroom.

Danielle H. said...

I enjoy reading about other authors and what inspired them to become writers. I enjoy finding out what or who held them back and how they overcame obstacles. This book is similar to What's in Your Pocket because it focuses on successful, accomplished writers who can inspire readers to pursue their own writing dreams, whereas the aforementioned book featured scientists who made a difference and can inspire young minds in technical fields.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Theresa, this is definitely your kind of book! And Danielle, I knew you'd take up the "compare/contrast" challenge. You both go in twice!

Terri DeGezelle Michels said...

How interesting to write the pitch first. That is Brave!

Carol Baldwin said...

Terri, that is pretty typical for nonfiction books. Thanks for your comment.

Unknown said...

Maybe reading this book will help me with my writer’s block and encourage me to finally put down on paper the book ideas that are swirling around in my mind. It’s never to late to learn, grow and change. Hooray for mentors! We are all richer because this book has been written.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you for your comment. I need your name and email address to enter you in the giveaway.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

How wonderful! So proud that Rochelle was able to pitch her book and have it accepted for publication before she wrote it. That is intriguing. Hurray for her. Don’t include my name in the drawing.

Never Give Up

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your comment, Joan!

Rosi said...

This sounds like a terrific book. I will have to check it out. Please toss my entry in for one of your teacher or librarian readers. I think it really belongs in such a setting. Thanks for an interesting post.

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks , Rosi, for giving your entry to a teacher or librarian. That means Theresa Milstein, you're getting another chance to win this book!

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