Washington Township resident Megan Callea left her fast-paced Wall Street job following the birth of her first child. She is a firm believer that, when it comes to following your dreams, leap and the net will appear. Her dream was to create a series of books celebrating the most important women throughout history. As a result, she is now the creator and author of Our Legendary Ladies.
The series of children’s board books is beautifully illustrated by Jennifer Howard. Of course, each new entry features a historic, inspiring woman. The first book to be released spotlights Harriet Tubman, and is available both in bookstores and online; Best of NJ got the chance to speak to Callea and learn more about her new project. Specifically, she shared the ways she researches her heroines, how her books give back to the community and more.
Up Close with Megan Callea, Author of Our Legendary Ladies
Best of NJ: How did the idea for these books transpire?
Megan Callea: I have two young children; my daughter is almost 3 and my son is one. I had a traumatic childbirth with my daughter and thought, “If I never see her, who’s going to be her role model? Who will be the people who influence her? This is my goal, to put really strong role models in front of her.” There were books in the 3 to 5 age range about historical women, but they were pretty basic; like Amelia Earhart, Aviator. One word to describe her. There was really nothing out there for the really young age; I kind of saw a need for it.
BONJ: What’s the age range for Our Legendary Ladies?
Megan Callea: The reading level is the zero to age 4 stage; but parents with older children told me the content is enhanced enough for older kids as well. One mom told me her 8-year-old enjoyed Harriet Tubman, and wanted to learn more about the Underground Railroad. She even learned things about Harriet’s life she didn’t initially know. It tells Harriet’s story. It’s a very abridged version, but it still tells her story, and kids can get the gist of it.
Researching Our Legendary Ladies
BONJ: You consulted with child psychologists to develop these biographies, right?
Megan Callea: When I first came up with this series. I asked child psychologists if it makes sense to talk in-depth about these women to babies; and use these really big words with them. Every single one of them said, “Absolutely. This is what we’ve been trying to get people to do for so long.” They sent me articles and studies that reference the benefits of reading larger words and more complete stories to babies. I even spoke with an infant psychologist—I had no idea there were infant psychologists!
Some parents told me that hearing their 2-year-old say, “Harriet Tubman” gives them chills; you don’t expect them to have this connection to one of these historical women. My own daughter now uses the word, “legendary.” Infants are introduced to all these new words—such as “vocation” and “abolition”—that they wouldn’t just pick up hearing their parents talk.
Our Leading Historians
Megan Callea: For each featured lady, I had their leading historian sign off on their book. The leading historian for Harriet Tubman is biographer Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, who reviewed the book for accuracy. Initially, we had a picture of Harriet holding a lantern on the cover; Kate asked, if Harriet’s in hiding, why would she have a lantern? Ninety percent of books have a photo of Harriet Tubman with a lantern. Of course, at some point Dr. Larson said she held a lantern, but it shouldn’t be her iconic image.
The next woman we’re featuring, Anandi Gopal Joshi, is one of the first Indian female physicians. She doesn’t have a U.S.-based historian, and most books about her are in Hindu. Anandi Gopal Joshi’s only historian is in India and I reached out via Facebook Messenger and she agreed to consult!
BONJ: Anandi Gopal Joshi actually had a connection to New Jersey!
Megan Callea: Yes! In the late 1800’s, Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, read an article about Anandi’s desire to study medicine; she wrote to her and her husband offering them accommodations in America.
Our Legendary Ladies Gives Back
Megan Callea: I found a statistic that said, in middle-income neighborhoods, the ratio of books per child is 13 to 1; in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children. (Source: Handbook of Early Literacy Research, Volume 2.) Sure, there are libraries, but I think lots of times for families in those situations they’re overwhelmed; they don’t know everything out there to take advantage of.
BONJ: Who are your personal role models?
Megan Callea: My mom is Latina and my dad is German-Irish. For me, growing up, one of the few Latinas out there was Selena. I may write one of the books about her. She was determined; I loved her story. Also, my grandmother. She had 7 kids, worked in a factory, and always had food on the table; she was an amazing woman. Who were the women who influenced me? Definitely my family.
BONJ: What are some of your beloved New Jersey hangouts?
Megan Callea: I’m a big animal lover, and there’s an adorable family run farm called Abmas in Wyckoff. We go there way more often than we should! You go in and get crackers and carrots to feed a cow; rabbits…it’s so cute. We drive twenty minutes to spend 15 minutes there. We also love Turtle Back Zoo and are big fans of Liberty Science Center; we’re members and it’s the best place to be on Tuesday morning before all the field trips come in.
The Future of Our Legendary Ladies
BONJ: What’s next for you, professionally?
Megan Callea: I would love to see this—these books, my mission—grow; maybe adopt inner-city classes so each time a book comes out, these classes get copies. Like that statistic said, in low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 age-appropriate book for every 300 children; I would love to lower that number. I recall when I read that statistic and then looked at my kid’s bookshelf I was thinking, “You are so blessed.”
To learn even more about Our Legendary Ladies, click here to visit the official website. The Harriet Tubman book retails for $12.99. Our Legendary Ladies can also be found at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and select independent bookstores. In addition, if you purchase a copy from the official website, Megan Callea will autograph it. Following Tubman, future Our Legendary Ladies books will include Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart and Anne Frank. In the meantime, the second book, featuring Anandi Gopal Joshi, releases Summer 2018.