ISU professor’s book chosen for Library of Congress’ Great Reads program

“Amazing Iowa Women” (2018) has been chosen to represent the State of Iowa in the Library of Congress’ Great Reads program. 

Eleanor Chalstrom

“Amazing Iowa Women” (2018) by Dr. Katy Swalwell, associate professor in the School of Education and Iowa State alumna, has been chosen to represent the state of Iowa in the Library of Congress’ Great Reads program.

Her children’s book introduces readers to women from Iowa by highlighting an extraordinary person for each letter of the alphabet. Each page contains a brief biography of the woman and an illustration of the woman that reflects their image and accomplishments.

Swalwell said she conducted research on women from Iowa that do not receive much credit in mainstream state history and compiled it into a child-friendly format. She worked with 28 Iowan artists who created illustrations for each subject in the book, including Jennifer Leatherby, contributing graphic designer for the book. Raygun, a clothing store in Des Moines, assisted the team in publishing and distributing the book.

Swalwell’s inspiration for “Amazing Iowa Women” came from a passion to diversify social studies education in the state.

“History is way more complicated and interesting when you expand to include other people’s stories,” Swalwell said. “You have a much more accurate understanding of how institutions have worked, how societies have functioned, so there’s really no way to understand history without including stories of people who don’t fit into that [predominately-male] category … Kids have to see themselves reflected in what they learn.”

Cat Rocketship was a contributing artist for “Amazing Iowa Women.” Rocketship is a professional Iowan artist that focuses on lo-fi art and advocates for the proper payment of professional artists.

“I was really interested in this piece because Kate just had this big, interesting, powerful vision for it,” Rocketship said. “I could tell she had the drive to bring it all together. She really had a big beautiful vision.”

Rocketship was taken with the amount of diversity displayed in the book. They were excited to be a part of a project that educated and celebrated Iowans that were not represented in standard state social studies works.

“Amazing Iowa Women” was nominated to represent Iowa in the Great Reads program by Iowan librarians who were especially drawn to the book. After the nomination process was finalized, “Amazing Iowan Women” was chosen to represent the State of Iowa in the program.

The Great Reads program chooses a title from each of the 50 states, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands each year.

The Great Reads program’s website says that the books are “distributed by the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book during the National Book Festival. Each book is selected by a local Center for the Book or state library and most are for children and young readers. Books may be written by authors from the state, take place in the state, or celebrate the state’s culture and heritage.”

Swalwell has continued the “Amazing Iowa Women” impact by continuing it on as a series. “Amazing Iowa Athletes” was published by Raygun, and many of the “Amazing Iowa Women” artists are featured in it. Swalwell has also planned for “Amazing Iowa” installments featuring Iowan scientists, activists, and artists.