Fresh Voices: Q&A with Meeg Pincus and Merdith McKean Gimbel, author and illustrator of DOOR BY DOOR

A nonfiction picture book about Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride, who dreamed of making a difference as a kid and became the highest-ranking openly transgender political official in America.

What inspired you to write/illustrate Door by Door

MP: It began with reading Sarah’s coming out story in our college alumni magazine in 2012. I was so moved by it and realized that, while I’d been working for gay rights for 20+ years, as a cis woman, I really didn’t know much about trans rights or trans experiences. So, her story inspired me to dive in, learn, and better understand trans lives, struggles, and history. This then made a huge impact on my own life when a very close loved one came to me for support around their gender identity.

As I had the honor of walking alongside my trans loved one on their transition journey, and getting involved in the trans advocacy community, I kept thinking back to Sarah’s story. As a children’s book author, I knew hers was an important story that kids could relate to, and I approached her about writing it – before she became a senator, actually! – and she was so gracious and enthusiastic. Five years later, we have Door by Door.

MMG: I knew I wanted to illustrate Meeg Pincus’s manuscript about Senator Sarah McBride as soon as I read it. I love how Meeg wrote about Sarah’s journey growing up. It’s touching to see the way she grew into her leadership roles, fully embraced her gender identity, and eventually shared her true self with her loved ones. Senator McBride is such an inspiring, well-spoken, and graceful person so it’s been neat to illustrate a story about her life. And I will say that as a non-binary kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I didn’t have the privilege of reading about gender diverse people who did great things. I’m delighted I get to be part of a team that created such an important book.

What was the most difficult part about writing/illustrating the book? What part was the easiest? 

MP: I think the most difficult part was trying to do justice to Sarah’s story, wanting to get it right for her and reflect her authentically and fully – in just 40 pages! (That’s always the trick with picture book biographies but especially with a living subject.) Luckily, she was so generous with her time and feedback, which helped tremendously in making sure I was on track (and I wouldn’t have done it without her participation!).

The easiest part was working with Sarah, the amazing editor, Kelly Delaney, and fabulous illustrator, Meridth McKean Gimbel. We all just clicked and were so passionate about the project and our shared vision for it, the process was just a joyful collaboration.

MMG: Many trans people feel discomfort or even trauma when looking at images of themselves before they transition. I wanted to be mindful of that, and still create illustrations that felt true to who Sarah has always been as a person. We were very fortunate to have her review all the art created for this story. Because of the personal nature of Senator McBride’s journey of embracing her gender identity, we could not have done this book without her feedback. She was really generous with her time and an integral part of helping us create a respectful representation of her life.

I think the easiest part of illustrating this story was choosing the color palette. This is a pride book about a politician. The colors were pretty much set from the get-go. I had fun placing trans and pride colors throughout the book. And I am happy that the endpages have been received as I intended. The opening pages, with their blue and grey doors closed, symbolizing how the world saw Sarah before she came out, and how restricting that was to her. After we read how she embraced her identity, and excelled in politics, we see the closing endpages with rainbow-colored doors. Sarah’s blue door has been opened, and a triumphant trans wave of colors sparkles through the doorway.

What character or element of the story do you identify with the most and why?

MP: My heart just aches for, and relates to, Sarah’s journey of being “different” from the dominant culture and unsure if she could be fully herself and still pursue her dreams to make an impact.

I have multiple ways I’m “different” myself and I still grapple with embracing all the parts of me fully, the worries of being accepted and included, while also feeling called to be out there making positive change in a sometimes-cruel world. It’s this human, emotional struggle that’s at the heart of the story, and that I think kids will understand innately as well.

MMG: I feel a strong connection with Senator McBride’s journey of getting to know herself and embracing her gender identity. I grew up in a conservative environment that often categorized gender in a way that gave me extreme discomfort or anxiety. I too have a clear memory of boys and girls being put into separate lines, in my gym class, and me not wanting to line up on either side. I felt like I belonged to both groups and that didn’t belong to either. We didn’t have the term non-binary when I was a kid, so I grew up feeling like I was the only one who felt alienated and detached from the gender assigned to me. As an adult, I read books about trans and non-binary folks. I realized that these books were describing me. Once I had the terminology, the pronouns that better reflected my identity, and the support I needed, I felt at home. It took me longer than it should have to find peace within myself. That process all started with a book, which is why I feel that books, like this one, are so important.

What do you want kids today to take away from this story?

 MP: I hope kids will take away validation for who they are, compassion and understanding for others who may be different from them, and as Sarah says in her note in the book, the belief that their story matters – that everyone’s story matters, and if we listen to each other, we can create a more safe, healthy, and equal world.

 MMG: Growing up we’ve all struggled to be seen and valued for our true selves. I hope the kids reading this story will be empowered to embrace themselves for who they are and see that when they live their lives as their authentic selves, they can dream big, and accomplish big things. And specifically, to the queer and trans kids that see themselves in this book, I hope they feel loved and celebrated.

What are you currently reading?

MP: I just started reading Daniel Nayeri’s Everything Sad is Untrue. And I stopped short at this line, which just says everything for me: “If you listen, I’ll tell you a story. We can know and be known to each other, and then we’re not enemies anymore.”

 MMG: I always have a big stack of books, and I bounce back and forth between them. Here are a few books I’m currently reading; Black Beach by Shaunna and John Stith and illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, Baby’s Here!written by Jessica Young and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Maribel’s Year written by Michelle Sterling and illustrated by Sarah Gonzalez, The Beautiful Something Else by Ash Van Otterloo, Thisby Thestoop and the Wretched Scrattle by Zac Gorman, Ducks by Kate Beaton, and The Tunnels by Greg Mitchell.

Door by Door

Door by Door By Meeg Pincus; illustrated by Meridth McKean Gimbel

A nonfiction picture book about Delaware State Senator Sarah McBride, who dreamed of making a difference as a kid and grew up to become the highest-ranking openly transgender political official in America.

As a kid, Sarah McBride dreamed of running for office so she could help people in her community. When her friends asked for bicycles for Christmas, Sarah asked for a podium. Her friends and family encouraged her to follow this path, but there was one problem: they saw Sarah as a boy, and Sarah knew she was a girl. Every night, she’d replay the day in her head, watching how it would have played out if she was able to live as the girl she knew herself to be.

In college, she finally came out as Sarah, and in 2020 she won her election to become a Delaware State Senator, making her the highest-ranking trans political official in the country and a hero to kids everywhere who want to live their dreams and be themselves!

The Fresh Voices series is in coordination with the RHCB DEI Book Club Committee.
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