Interview with Girls Who Choose God Author Bethany Brady Spalding

Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the BibleA little over a year ago Deseret Book released Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible.  I reviewed it here.  Now, authors McArthur Krishna and Bethany Spalding have published a second book, Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Strong Women from the Book of Mormon.  I asked Bethany to tell us about the process of writing these books.

 

Tell us about where the idea for a book about women in scripture came from.

GIRLS WHO CHOOSE GOD: STORIES OF STRONG WOMEN FROM THE BOOK OF MORMONWhen my oldest daughter, Simone, was almost three years old, we were reading through a book of scripture stories together. At the end of the book, she looked up at me with puzzled eyes and said, “Mom, where are all of the stories about the girls?” Her question struck me.  I don’t think my mom had ever asked that question.  I didn’t think to ask that question until I was in my thirties.  But here, my daughter who was not yet three was already asking the gender question.  At such a young age she could already see that she wasn’t reflected in those stories.  She could already recognize the discrepancy.  It was then that I knew that Simone’s generation was different and that they would demand and deserve a new approach to teaching the gospel.  It couldn’t be boy-centric anymore.

Now I am not a writer, and I am not a scriptorian. But I am a mom, and I am a believer in change.  So when I couldn’t find an adequate book about women in the scriptures, I decided to write one.

 

How much time passed between that initial spark and publication?

The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of LifeA very long time–almost five years.  It was a busy season of life…having babies, moving cross-continents, adapting to marriage…but through the years, I kept the hope alive that the book would eventually be born someday.  In 2011, my husband was offered a faculty position at the University of Richmond in Virginia and that was close to the last place on earth I wanted to live.  But despite my strong reservations, we knew it was the place for us—not just for Andy’s dreams but for mine too.  Moving to Richmond, we became fast friends with Terryl and Fiona Givens who had just published The God Who Weeps with Deseret Book.  When Fiona heard about my own book writing project, she urged me on and personally delivered the finally finished manuscript to Deseret Book’s CEO, Sheri Dew.  I don’t think the books would have come alive in any other way.  It was a little miracle–hinged on being in the right place at the right time with the right folks.

 

How did you meet your coauthor, McArthur Krishna?

McArthur and I had been neighbors in Washington DC, both of us working with young women in our inner-city wards.  It was there that we realized how crucial role models are for girls.  So many of our young women didn’t have positive role models in their lives—someone who looked like them, who they could relate to who had pursued an education, had healthy relationships, and was creating a meaningful life.  So many of the young women in our wards didn’t have a vision of what they could become.  I think this experience deeply shaped McArthur and I and showed us how crucial role models are for girls.

Our family had moved from DC to India, and we were living in Mumbai when Simone asked her simple but transformative question.  McArthur just happened to be traveling through India at that very time and her visit to our home made a book feel possible.  McArthur has story-telling in her DNA.  She also is a guru of social marketing—spreading ideas to make the world a better place. McArthur was and is an indispensable partner.

 

How was Kathleen Peterson chosen as the illustrator?

Cartoons can be fun in some settings, but in my mind, they don’t belong in the spiritual realm.  I’ve never liked the wacky way in which we so often portray our scripture heroes and heroines.  We wanted our book to be different—we wanted the depictions of these women to parallel their depth, their wisdom, their boldness.  So we went searching for an artist who was bold and rich and deep. A nd we found Kathy Peterson.  She is absolutely magnificent and has surprised and delighted us with her illustrations–a red-haired Eve holding a pomegranate, a fiery Nephi’s wife with lightening striking in the background, a daring prophetess Deborah embarking on a battle.  Kathy’s illustrations are filled with detail and symbolism and every single one of them is stunning.

 

Is it true her original paintings are now displayed in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City?

Yes! Interesting story: when McAthur’s husband, Ved, first visited Salt Lake City to try to understand his wife’s Mormon roots, he went on a tour of the Conference Center.  At the end of the tour, he asked the guide with a twinge of cheekiness but mostly sincerity, “Is this a boys’ club?”  Ved hadn’t seen images of women anywhere.  And yes–this needed to change.  So when Kathy wowed us with her art, McArthur worked tirelessly to get the Church to buy the paintings and display them in the Conference Center.  It was a tremendous victory.  That beautiful building shouldn’t look like a boys club to anyone.

 

What are you passionate about in life, what do you do professionally, and how have those things informed the writing of the Girls Who Choose God books?

I am passionate about working with communities to design and implement local solutions to entrenched social problems.  I currently work on food justice issues in Richmond, Virginia—empowering low-income families to access and enjoy healthy, affordable food.  My background in community development has certainly informed my book writing.  Lack of visibility and voice for women in the Church is a most pressing problem in our Mormon community.  And as we strategized our approach to tackling this problem, McArthur and I adopted some of Socrates’ wisdom, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  We’ve chosen to invest our energy in creating beautiful children’s books that offer the next generation a more gender-balanced, more doctrinally-accurate view of the gospel.

 

What was your approach for selecting the women featured in Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women in the Bible?  And how was the approach the same or different for choosing the women featured in Girls Who Choose God: Stories from Strong Women in the Book of Mormon?

We were very deliberate about the selection of our Biblical women.  We wanted to highlight a wide range of women—mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, and community members who had a wide range of roles—queens, servants, judges, generals, social advocates, and more.  And we worked hard to select women whose choices taught diverse principles—from courage to leadership to generosity.  With hundreds of women in the Bible, we had a plethora to choose from.  The Book of Mormon was another story.  There are only six women named in the Book of Mormon, and three of them are from the Bible. We didn’t even think it was possible to do a volume from this book of scripture…but then we dug deeper…

 

Many of the women featured in the second book are not named in the Book of Mormon. How did you approach the challenge of writing about nameless women?

For a long time, I’d been stuck on the discouraging fact that there are so few named women in the Book of Mormon.  But thankfully, some existing research opened my eyes to the encouraging fact that over 80 women are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.  It became clear to McArthur and I that we shouldn’t allow the lack of a name to prevent us from learning about these fascinating women.  Many of them had made remarkable choices that shaped the course of civilizations.  And they deserved to be honored.  Writing about women without a name wasn’t necessarily hard, but writing about women with so few details to go on was extremely challenging.  We were committed to staying true to the text, yet felt comfortable ascribing natural human emotions and attributes to the women.  But what we were adamant about was proving that these women had made an actual choice.  Nephi’s sisters chose to break from false tradition, the daughters from the land of Zeniff chose to defend their families from a ferocious army, the maidservant spy chose to speak up against wrongs.   These nameless women gave us powerful, timely messages for our day.

 

Something I like very much about these books is that they frame the choices people make as between two if not equally good, then equally reasonable alternatives.  Things are not always black and white in real life, even for children.  For example Nephi’s sisters choose between following tradition and staying with the older brothers or breaking tradition and going with the younger brother.  I’m curious about how you came to this perspective amid so many stories in the Book of Mormon that frame right and wrong in stark, warlike terms?

We were inspired from the very beginning of the book-writing process to frame the women’s stories around the concept of choice.  We wanted to celebrate these women as agents and active participants—not as by-standers and supporting roles as they are often cast.  Eve’s experience gave a perfect framework for us to follow.  Eve was presented with an extremely difficult dilemma: stay in a beautiful place filled with God’s presence and void of heartache and conflict…or subject herself to pain, disappointment, and loss in order to progress and procreate.  Not an easy choice.  Not a black and white situation.  But the wrestling with this dilemma is what made her wise.  The wrestling all of us do in our own moral dilemmas is what enables us to grow.  We wanted to share the women’s stories in such a way that we could highlight their choices and encourage our young readers to reflect on their own.

 

What response have you received about the books?

McArthur and I have been deeply humbled by the wildly positive response to the books.  We have heard from readers all around the world who have been empowered by the stories at bedtime, FHE, Primary lessons, Activity Days, Young Women events, Girls Camp, stake Relief Society meetings, and even High Councilor talks.  Mormons are hungry for more material about faithful women and these books have helped to fill that craving.

 

The profits from these books are donated to educational opportunities for women.  Can you tell us about some of the good that’s been accomplished from the support nonprofit groups have received?

All of our authors’ proceeds from the Bible volume are donated to Interweave—an extraordinary non-profit organization that brings literacy and entrepreneurial training to women around the world.  We just received an email from Interweave’s Director who has been working in northern Uganda.  During many years of civil war, hundreds of women were captured by rebel soldiers.  They are now being released as single mothers without any education or skills.  With the royalties from our book, Interweave has created a unique program for these Ugandan women to develop skills to support themselves and their children.  It is so rewarding to know that our book can empower women in such crucial ways.

 

What’s next for you and McArthur?  Will we see a Girls Who Choose God church history book or other books for girls and boys?

We always have something brewing. A Girls Who Choose God: Women from Church History is currently in the works–so send us the names of your favorite Mormon women who have pioneered around the globe!  The Girls Who Choose God series has hopefully helped our Mormon community feel more comfortable talking about strong, spiritual women and has provided an array of roles models for our girls and boys.  And now, we are elated to have created another book that shines lights on our ultimate female role model—Heavenly Mother.  In fall of 2016, Deseret Book will be publishing our children’s book on families.  The book celebrates our understanding that earthly families are modeled after our heavenly family, and illuminates the role that Heavenly Mother–in addition to Heavenly Father–plays in leading and loving the human family.  The book presents the model of equal partnership between women and men in heaven and on earth.  And hopefully after reading it, far fewer young ones will have to ask the question, “Mom, where are all the stories about the girls?”


This is a part of the Exponent Book Review Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to treasurer@exponentii.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of many books being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.

Exponent Bookstore Buy books by Exponent bloggers, Exponent contributors and books reviewed at the Exponent.

You may also like...

27 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I absolutely loved the first “Girls Who Choose God” book, and am so excited to read the second. It’s a permanent fixture in our church bag, but also on nightstands and coffee tables. My boys especially love the stories. Thanks for this interview!

  2. Marissa says:

    We absolutely adore Girls Who Choose God! I was so grateful to find it! Where can we get the new BoM one?

  3. Emily U says:

    The book is available on Amazon!

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Girls Who Choose God is such a treasured book in our household. I can’t wait to get the Book of Mormon one, and after this interview, I’m even more excited to read and see it!

  5. Spunky says:

    This is great! I had the same problem with my girls– there seem to be no LDS books with female church leaders in them. Before GWCG came out, I ended up with Princesses of the Bible.

    I like this book, but wasn’t thrilled with everyone being a princess (rather than a queen).

    When I heard about the first GWCG, I was very pleased to have something with a Mormon flair. I also love the questions posed — I found, for my daughters and I, that we read the book almost one page a night, because we would talk about the questions posed, and really put the actions of the women into our lives. It thrilled me to no end, and I can’t wait to read the Book of Mormon version (and the women in Church History version! I so want Barbara Thompson in it! She is the only modern church leader besides Eliza R Snow who doesn’t seem depressed to not have children– because infertility is real, and no everyone can be a mother– I love seeing strong, Mormon women who are happy and childless — and Ardath Kapp and Sheri Dew don’t fit that mould. Barbara Thompson does! )

  6. OregonMum says:

    Thank you for this review!

  7. Thank you! I love to hear about what happened behind the scenes to bring these projects to fruition.

  8. Jennifer says:

    We love this book! The artwork is gorgeous. Thanks for this interview.

  9. Rachel says:

    We got the first book for our daughters, but I ended up needing to read it more than they did. It remains one of my favorite books to read to them and to think about the questions presented at the end of the sections for myself. Looking forward to the following one coming out!

  10. Heather McCloud says:

    Thanks for this great interview–I didn’t know about these!! They certainly help fill a need–I’m super excited to read them, and anxiously await the family/Heavenly Mother book!!

  11. Laxy says:

    Can’t wait to read it!

  12. Ashlee says:

    I adore Girls Who Choose God and have used it frequently in YW and primary lessons. I’m so happy to see another in the series. Love the impact they have on me, my daughter and my sons.

  13. Alisa Allred Mercer says:

    We love these books! They stories are wonderful. I love that each woman, with her portrait and story, are individuals. It helps me to know them and relate to them.

    These books are our go-to for FHE, Primary talks and even my own Sacrament meeting talk.

    Just last night our ward Activity Days Girls had a Living History Museum and used some of the stories from these books. Our boys and girls are learning and knowing the stories of strong women and we are all better knowing and loving these women.

    Thank you for these books. We can’t wait to read more.

  14. Emily says:

    LOVED the first book in the series, as did my three boys. Particularly enjoyed the thought-provoking questions that encourage personal introspection. Looking forward to reading this one, as well as the next one on women from Church history! (Please tell me you’ll include Martha Hughes Cannon and Jane Manning James!)

  15. Kelly says:

    We fell in love with these books long ago. We are so grateful for your work on them. I can’t wait to see the book on Mother in Heaven. And if you’re looking for suggestions for women from church history, I would love to see Jane Elizabeth Manning James in it. She is one of my sheroes. And her friend Emma (Smith, that is).

  16. Kmduff says:

    Love this interview. Makes the book even more awesome.

  17. Elle says:

    I am so glad you’ve written these books–they are beautiful.

  18. Catherine says:

    I am so pleased that the profits go to help women as well! The first book has been an amazing book to read with my three year old son for scriptures at night and I can’t wait to add the second book to our rotation!

  19. Lindsay says:

    I loved this interview. I appreciate the sentiment that instead of fighting old systems, we should put our efforts into building new ones. It’s exactly what they say about overcoming a bad habit; its next to impossible to simply stop doing something, but replacing it with something good really helps. It makes me ask of myself, “what can I do to give space for women’s voices and visibility?
    I look forward to having these books in my home. I actually just ordered two last week and am waiting for their delivery.

  20. Guinevere says:

    I’m so glad to have these books to share with family and friends. Thanks for the great interview.

  21. Rachel says:

    This book series is an answer to the prayers and yearnings of soulful women and men who have ached for more space for women in all facets of our lived church experience. I gave the women from the Bible book to my kids for Christmas last year, and I know what they are getting this year, and next year! Thank you thank you thank you. I also love this quote that guides you “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. I will also adopt it as a way to be more positive and forward focused with my energy.

  22. Kristin says:

    I was able to hear the authors and illustrator speak about their experiences creating this series. It was a lovely night of community building and communion. Perhaps what I love most about this series is that it invites us to ask questions and have conversations—actions key to healthy spiritual and intellectual life.

  23. I saw the art from the book at the Conference Center. I took a picture: https://mobile.twitter.com/aprilyoungb/status/647941176943771648

  24. Vicki says:

    I’m excited to give this book to my daughter for Christmas! I’ve really enjoyed reading the first one with her.

  25. april says:

    I’ve had the first book for a while and just bought the Book of Mormon version. Thank you so much for writing these. My daughter was also acutely aware of gender inequalities from a young age and loves to read about these strong women of faith.

  26. Sara B. says:

    I have the first one and am looking forward to getting this new one. I’m excited for the one about Heavenly Parents! I hope Deseret Book continues to put out books like this!

Leave a Reply