In 1950, young girls like Kathryn Johnston weren’t allowed to try out for Little League. So, Kathryn chose the pseudonym ‘Tubby,’ cut off her hair, and tried out as a boy. Heather Lang’s Anybody’s Game chronicles this inspirational tale of Johnston’s fight for equality from the dugout.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Heather and chat about her writing process, Anybody’s Game and women in history, a perfect topic to discuss since March is Women’s History Month!
Q: Why do you like to write picture book biographies?
A: I love how these books are windows into other worlds—real worlds. They are true stories about how ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. It’s so powerful to discover how trailblazers from the past made things better for us today. I love writing books that can inspire kids to dream, take on their own causes, use their voices, persevere through challenges, and make a difference in their world.
Q: How do the women you write about inspire you?
A: Mostly, I look up to the women I write about and aspire to be more like them. As a kid, I wasn’t always brave, and I even avoided things that were difficult. I was afraid of failure. I have learned over the years, especially through my writing journey, that failure is so important. I think learning to accept and even embrace failure has allowed me to push myself and take on bigger challenges. Ten years ago, if you’d asked me if I would ever go paragliding or swimming with sharks to research a book, I would have said, “NO WAY.”
Q: How do you choose the women you write about?
A: First and most importantly, I must feel a deep connection. The person I’m writing about must inspire me. That inspiration often comes from how they reacted to adversity.
Knowing that I may spend years on a book, the topic also must fascinate me in some way. In the case of Swimming with Sharks, my curiosity stemmed from a childhood fear of sharks. I wanted to explore that fear. During the research process, my fear actually turned into a passion for sharks. Working on Anybody’s Game, I felt deeply connected to Kathryn Johnston through my own childhood passion for baseball. I couldn’t wait to learn more about the history of women in this sport.
Finally, there has to be enough research available to write the story. In the case of Anybody’s Game, there was a lot of information about Little League as well as the struggles girls and women faced in baseball. I was also fortunate to have Kathryn Johnston, her brother, and two Little League historians as resources!
Q: Can you tell us more about your personal connection to the story in Anybody’s Game?
A: Like Kathryn Johnston, I pretty much had my mitt with me everywhere I went as a child and would play catch in the yard with my dad and brother almost every night. I have such fond memories of going to Yankees games with them and cheering for our favorite players, ready with our mitts in case a stray foul ball came our way. I began playing on a travel softball team in fifth grade, and I continued to play in middle and high school. All four of my kids played Little League, and I relished those afternoons and evenings playing catch with them.
I thought about what it would have been like to be Kathryn Johnston, a girl who loved baseball more than anything but couldn’t play on a real team because of her gender. I couldn’t imagine my early years without baseball and softball. I was drawn to Kathryn’s plight immediately.
Q: What was the process of working with your editor like?
A: I have been so lucky to work with the wonderful and talented Wendy McClure on three books! Not only is she supportive and encouraging, she also has excellent editorial insights and brings out the best in my writing. Whenever I have doubts or questions, she patiently works through them with me.
The art can be challenging in nonfiction books, but Wendy has been diligent about sharing sketches and including me in the process. I love the illustrators she has chosen for all my books. Cecilia Puglesi’s retro comic book style was a perfect choice for Anybody’s Game and a fun nod to Kathryn’s favorite comic books, Little Lulu and Tubby!
Q: What do you hope kids will take away from Anybody’s Game?
A: I hope kids will be inspired to follow their passions and persevere when they come across obstacles. I think kids might think that bravery and making change must be something big. I hope they will see that smaller gestures or actions are just as important. Whether it’s writing a letter, raising money for a cause, or standing up for a friend, sometimes it takes many small steps forward (and some backward) to cause change. I hope Kathryn’s story will inspire kids to stand up for what matters to them.
Q: How should students and educators contact you?
Thanks so much, Heather! To find out more about Anybody’s Game, check out our website here.