Not Done Yet: An Interview with Author Tameka Fryer Brown and Illustrator Nina Crews

Today is election day and no one believed more in the power of voting than activist and politician Shirley Chisholm. Not Done Yet: Shirley Chisholm’s Fight for Change chronicles Shirley’s journey from teaching to entering politics, eventually becoming the first Black woman ever elected to Congress—and, in 1972, the first woman of any race to seriously run for president. Through poetry and digital illustration, author Tameka Fryer Brown and artist Nina Crews celebrate Chisholm’s determination and her commitment to working for rights for all. Although Chisholm is gone, her legacy lives on, continuing to inspire those who fight for fairness and change.

Today Tameka Fryer Brown and Nina Crews join us to discuss this stunning picture book biography. Read on to find a video from the author and information about how you can go vote!

What was your inspiration for writing Not Done Yet: Shirley Chishom’s Fight for Change?

Tameka Fryer Brown (TFB): In early 2017, an author friend, Kristy Dempsey, tagged me in a tweet from an editor who was asking for a picture book about Shirley Chisholm. I was flattered Kristy thought I was up to the task of writing about this phenomenal ancestor, but I was convinced my lane was fictional pbs and that I should probably stay in it. Still, the idea never left my mind. It took me two years to figure out how to enter Mrs. Chisholm’s story…which finally came once I realized all the personality traits she and my grandmother had in common. After that, it became a passion project.

How does Shirley Chisholm inspire you?

Nina Crews (NC): I loved learning about Chisholm’s out-of-the-box thinking. She wrote in Unbought, Unbossed, her autobiography, that in her first congressional campaign she studied the data on likely voters and found that women in her district voted more than men. James Farmer, who ran against her, belittled her, calling her a “schoolteacher,” and paid little attention to the female voters who would ultimately show up at the polls. Shirley paid attention to those women. She talked and listened to them in English and in Spanish. Because of that, she won the election by large margins. I also love her sense of style and incorporated many of the bold patterns that she wore into my illustrations.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while researching this book?

TFB: I learned a lot of things about Mrs. Chisholm that I never knew before, but perhaps the most surprising was that she spoke fluent Spanish. She gained fluency as an educator so that she could communicate effectively with students and their families. That same skill helped her connect with a broader range of voters and constituents, too.

NC: It was a delight to discover photographs of Shirley Chisholm dancing, laughing, and playing the piano. Such joyful moments! They gave me a deeper understanding of her personality and made me admire her more. I was pleased to add an illustration of her dancing to the back matter. I think it gives readers sense of her liveliness and humor.

What are your thoughts about Nina Crews’ illustrations for Not Done Yet?

TFB: There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how I feel about Nina’s illustrations for the book. She did a masterful job on every level! Folks often describe the ideal illustrations for a picture book as those which add to and elevate the story, as opposed to merely interpreting the text. When I say Nina Crews understood the assignment….

Nina’s colorful art perfectly reflects the time and tone of the story, including Mrs. Chisholm’s bold spirit and elegant fashion sense. Nina also included many details in the art that I didn’t have space for in the main text, which demonstrates the extensive amount of research she also did on Shirley Chisholm’s life. I am beyond grateful to have been paired with Nina on this project.

How did you create the illustrations for this book?

NC: I began as I always do with pencil drawings. Drawing is an important step in my thinking process. Until something is on paper, it’s all a bit of a jumble. Drawing allows me to organize my thoughts and problem solve. Unlike the sketches for my photo illustrated books, the drawings for this book needed to be tighter and more resolved. Once I had everything mostly decided, I scanned the drawings and worked on the spreads in Adobe Photoshop. Each page is created in layers of colors, patterns, and textures—a digital collage. Many patterns were inspired by Chisholm’s outfits and others were chosen to evoke the typical décor of the times.

I’ve been creating photo illustrated books for a long time and was looking for ways to grow. My technique was limiting the stories that I was able to tell. My agent was encouraging, telling me that “it couldn’t hurt to add another tool to the toolbox.” It’s been wonderful and exciting to make these changes and open up new directions for my work.

If you could have a conversation with Shirley Chisholm today, what questions would you ask?

TFB: I’d ask to hear stories about her childhood in Barbados. I loved listening to my grandmother and her sisters talk about their back-in-the-day experiences, and my daughters love to hear their grandmothers do the same. Mrs. Chisholm had a great sense of humor and was great at imitations, so I know she’d have me rolling!

This is your first non-fiction book. What did you enjoy about this genre?

NC: I really enjoyed the deep dive into Shirley Chisholm’s life. I found that there were so many things I knew rather superficially but needed to understand better to be able to “see” the story. So, I read Chisholm’s first autobiography and watched video interviews she gave. I researched images of civil rights protests from the 1930s through the 60s, studied photographs of Barbados, and the New York State Assembly. I watched the Netflix series, Mrs. America, which devotes an episode to Chisholm’s presidential run. In doing so, I was able to deepen my understanding her time and my city! I was raised in New York City and my childhood overlapped her years in the public office. This made the project doubly satisfying.

What makes Shirley Chisholm’s story inspiring for children and what do you hope young readers will learn from this story?

TFB: I hope every reader will understand the impact one person—one loud, determined person—can make on the world. I hope they understand that includes them, too.

NC: Shirley Chisholm lived a life of purpose. She worked tirelessly to help others and met obstacles with smart thinking and a positive attitude. Her story shows us that you can fight for what you want and win. The famous quote attributed to her—“If they don’t give you a seat at the table bring a folding chair”—really sums that up for me. It shows that she looked for ways to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ that she used all the resources available to have a positive impact on her constituents’ lives.

Lerner podcast episode

Author Tameka Fryer Brown shared her thoughts on the Lerner podcast. Listen to the full episode here.

Go Vote!

It’s the right of every US citizen to vote and let your voice be heard. If you’re in the state of Minnesota visit the Secretary of State website to learn how to register, where your polling place is, and more. is also an excellent source of information.

Connect with the author and illustrator

Tameka Fryer Brown is an award-winning picture book author. Her titles include Brown Baby Lullaby and My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood which was Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book and a CCBC Choices Best Book. Her work is also featured in the anthology We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices. Tameka lives in North Carolina with her children.

Author and illustrator, Nina Crews uses collage to create distinctive picture books. Her first book, One Hot Summer Day, was published in 1995 and is still in print today. Her titles include A Girl Like MeSeeing Into Tomorrow: Haiku by Richard WrightThe Neighborhood Mother Goose, and Below. Her work has been selected by ALA’s Notable committee, the Junior Library Guild, NCTE, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Bank Street College of Education, and others. She is the daughter of children’s book authors and illustrators Donald Crews and Ann Jonas. Nina lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and son.

Learn more about Lerner author and illustrators in these past interviews!

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