Small Shoes, Great Strides: An Interview with Author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Many students know the story of Ruby Bridges, but how about the McDonogh Three? Small Shoes, Great Strides: How Three Brave Girls Opened Doors to School Equality tells the powerful true story of how Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost courageously integrated a New Orleans school on November 14, 1960. 

Today award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson joins us to discuss how she discovered this amazing story, her hopes for young readers, and more. Read on to listen to a Shelf Care interview with the author as well as download our free educator guide!

How did you learn about the McDonogh Three? 

One of the gifts I received from my work on Bad News for Outlaws was finding friends in the U.S. Marshals Service.  Jim Dunn of the U.S. Marshals Foundation first introduced me to the story of the McDonogh Three, and then connected me to the three women and the surviving deputy U.S. marshal, who were kind and generous with their time and story. 

What inspired you to write this book?

What usually inspires me—a fascinating story that I knew nothing about.  The process of writing a book enables me to learn and grow from the learning.  And, if the story reveals past history as incorrect, I can set the record straight and make a lasting contribution.

Tell us about a discovery that you made while researching or writing the book?

Aside from the fact that the girls were barely six years old, I was amazed to learn that, for a year and a half, Leona, Tessie, and Gail were the only students attending McDonogh 19 Public School.  White parents boycotting the school had removed their children and harassed those who dared not follow suit.  Also, I learned that the McDonogh Three integrated the New Orleans school district before Ruby Bridges, which compelled me to want to set the record straight.

What do you hope readers will learn or discover from reading your book?

I hope readers will come to know these largely unsung heroes and to honor Leona, Tessie, and Gail for their courage and contribution to bettering our world.  And I hope readers come to recognize the brave U.S. Marshals for protecting them (in addition to the countless ways we have all benefited from the U.S. Marshals Service).

Shelf Care Interview

Join Julia Smith as they talk to author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson about her new picture book, Small Shoes, Great Strides. In the interview, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson credits her passion for books to her late parents, who read to her and her siblings faithfully every night. Drawing stories from family as well as undertold black history, many of Vaunda’s books and have been recognized with awards and honors. Listen to the full interview here.

Free Educator Resources

Our free teaching guide will help start discussions, research other historical figures, write a letter, and more! Download here or on the Lerner website.

Praise for Small Shoes, Great Strides

★ “Bostic invokes the school’s brown paper window coverings as a moving background for glorious acrylic portraiture featuring violets and purples that summon feminism and the threesome’s status as civil rights royalty . . . A welcome spotlight on the undersung history of three girls whose bravery and endured torment carved a path for generations.” — starred, Booklist

★ “[A]n unmissable story about everyday courage whose notes about the importance of overcoming discrimination remain timely.” —starred, Foreword Reviews

★ “Micheaux Nelson and Bostic’s information-packed picture book examines an overlooked story of civil rights . . . Art in browns, purples, and golds juxtaposes saturated portraits of the girls with sepia-tone scenes of protesters.”—starred, Publishers Weekly

Connect with Vaunda

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal StairBad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico.

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