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Chelsea Clinton: In Her Own Words

By Lara Deloza
 | Jul 25, 2019
LT371_clinton_ldThe United States may have met Chelsea Clinton when she was a seventh grader in 1992, but now she’s a New York Times best-selling author, a literacy advocate and, as of the summer of 2019, a mother of two with a third child on the way. She spends her time empowering young readers—and older readers, too—and she doesn’t think twice about taking on bullies both on and off social media.

Her books speak to the issues she feels most passionately about—female empowerment, kindness, equality, global health, the environment, and endangered species. She hopes her newest book, Don’t Let Them Disappear (Penguin), will show kids the difference they can make in the world no matter how young they are. She has been traveling the country talking to kids about how they can be changemakers and turn their passions into action.

All those reasons (and more) are why we’re so thrilled to have Chelsea Clinton speak at the International Literacy Association (ILA) 2019 Conference. Her inspirational work not only speaks to creating a culture of literacy, but also helps drive the change needed to get there on a global level. But don’t just take our word for it—take hers.

On her connection to NOLA

“Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, where we launched a new partnership between Children’s Hospital New Orleans and the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative to engage pediatricians, physicians, and medical staff to help raise awareness among parents, grandparents, and caregivers about the importance of early learning and brain development.

“Through this work, every baby born at Touro and West Jefferson Family Birth Place, LCMC Health partners, now leaves with a children’s board book, a onesie with bright graphics, and a booklet reminding parents of how important their role is in their baby’s brain development when they talk, read, and sing with them from birth.”

On a child’s first teachers

“Reading and talking to kids shouldn’t be a luxury. We need to support all parents so they have time to invest in their kids and access to books to read together.”

On starting off strong

“Research shows that almost 60% of children come to kindergarten unprepared, lagging behind in early language and literacy skills. They are then more likely to fall further behind in school every year after that, less likely to go to college, and less likely to get the job of their dreams or earn an income that their work ultimately deserves.

“I’m so passionate about this work because I fundamentally believe that every child deserves the best start in life. Not being prepared for kindergarten is a lifelong tax that no child should bear, and it certainly isn’t a kid’s fault or their parent’s fault.”

On the importance of access

“The first five years are critical to a child’s brain development, which is why Too Small to Fail works to support parents and caregivers with tools to talk, read, and sing with their babies from birth.

“To do that, we work with local communities including librarians, pediatricians, faith leaders, and national partners like Univision, Scholastic, and Spotify to surround families with language everywhere they spend time—at home, on playgrounds, in laundromats, grocery stores, and even bus stops. We try to go wherever families spend time [and provide] resources and tools to support parents and other caregivers to be kids’ first teachers.”

On her newest book

“The biggest inspiration for Don’t Let Them Disappear came from all the kids I’ve spoken with—in my own life, in research for previous books, on book tours—who passionately shared their love and concern for animals, especially endangered species. All animals play a crucial part in the health of our planet, and it’s devastating to think that even one species, like African elephants or rhinos, could be extinct in our or our children’s lifetimes.

“I decided to write this book about just a few of more than 16,000 endangered plant and animal species that are deserving of our attention, respect, and protection, and to hopefully inspire and equip young people to do something to save the animals they care about that are also so vital to our planet.

“It’s the book I wish I had as a kid, and I’m so excited to be able to share it with young readers today.”

On empowering the next generation

“I’ve been privileged to meet a lot of young people who are doing incredible things in areas they’re passionate about, and I’ve been able to see the impact they have when they are empowered by the adults around them. We’ve also seen this throughout history. For example, in [the United States] during the 1970s, young people played a
critical role in saving the bald eagle.

“Stories have an amazing ability to spark the imaginations and dreams of readers of any age. I hope through sharing stories of women who persisted throughout history, or what we can do to save endangered species, that young people are inspired to make the positive difference they want to see in our world. Then I think it’s important that, as adults, we listen and help inform and empower them to take action.”

On the impact of motherhood

“My kids are my biggest inspiration. Thinking about the type of world I want them to grow up in drives everything I do—through my writing, teaching, and work with the Clinton Foundation— and I want to ensure that I’ve done everything possible in my small way to make the world a healthier, safer, and more equitable place for them and their generation.”

On tackling Twitter trolls

“I think everyone has an obligation to stand up [against] what we see as wrong and unacceptable—in person and online. I think that is particularly true for anyone who has a platform, whether in our schools, our workplaces, or publicly.

“I also recognize that social media is a tool—one that can be used in the best sense to help inspire positive action—and I use it as an opportunity to shine a light on the issues, people, and causes that are close to me and I feel are deserving of our attention.

“It is also important to take breaks from social media and our phones. We use both sparingly on the weekends and try to never use either around our kids.”

On the power of readalouds

“Reading in our family is hugely important, and Marc and I read to our kids every night and often in the mornings, too—and a lot on the weekends. We love seeing their excitement and listening to (and trying to answer) all their questions about what we’re reading together. I know that reading and talking are good for their brain development, [but] it is also an experience we treasure.”

On her new podcast

“Why Am I Telling You This? will feature conversations with a few of the people we find so inspiring—some already well known and others who you may not have heard of—to hear about their experiences, their work, and explore some of the big issues that are facing our world today.

“We have the honor of working with remarkable individuals who are doing incredible things—helping LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S., reducing the stigma around menstruation for women in the slums of Mumbai, combatting the opioid epidemic by expanding access to the lifesaving reversal drug Naloxone, just to name a few.”

On speaking at ILA 2019

“I’m honored to be included in this year’s program and excited to share Don’t Let Them Disappear with the educators in the audience. My hope is that it can spark and suppot conversations in classrooms and elsewhere about these endangered animals and others, and what kids can do to help!”

Lara Deloza is the director of brand content and communications at ILA. 

This article originally appeared in the open access July/August issue of
Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

Hear more from Chelsea Clinton when she speaks during General Session on Friday,
Oct. 11. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.

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