Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman (2021) is an autobiographical account of one of the very first Native women elected to Congress. The picture book is co-written by US Congresswoman Sharice Davids, who is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, and Nancy K. Mays. In addition, it is beautifully illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, an Ojibwe Woordland artist and member of Wasauksing, First Nation.
Davids’ story-telling strategies allow young readers to understand her journey to politics through an intersectional framework that acknowledges how class and race influence her life. The story is told in the first-person, which provides a quick sense of intimacy amplified by Davids’ frequent direct address to her audience. In fact, the text maintains an informal, conversational-tone throughout. One can imagine Davids sitting across from them on a bus as she tells her story.
Conversation is a central theme in the text. First, Davids reflects with admiration on her mother’s conversational skills. Then, she notes how hers sometimes got her in trouble as a child. Even though adults didn’t always appreciate her chatter, talking and listening were how Davids built relationships with people.
Along with the relationships that make her who she is, Davids explores the history that shapes her life through a discussion of US settler colonialism, including residential schools. While telling her personal story, Davids is able to reveal social inequities in access to education as well as gaps between policy makers and those whose lives are affected by policies.
As much as I value the picture book, I was disappointed with Davids’ limited acknowledgment of sexuality. She references her partner once, identifies as a lesbian once, and in paratext it is mentioned that she faced opposition because of “who she loved.” For a story that dives so deeply and so beautifully into race and class, more attention to gender and sexuality would have been appreciated.