Dean Robbins

What compelled you to write about the characters in Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass?

I’ve always been inspired by civil rights heroes, and one way I express my devotion is by traveling to the places where these brave souls once lived. I visit their houses and walk the streets where they walked in hopes of feeling their presence. So one day I took a road trip to Rochester, New York, because of its association with the women’s right champion Susan B. Anthony and the African American rights champion Frederick Douglass. On a tour of Anthony’s house, the guide pointed out the parlor where Susan and Frederick would sit and have tea. I hadn’t realized they were close friends and neighbors who worked together on their respective causes.

It struck me that this could be a powerful story for children: the leaders of two oppressed groups joining forces in the interest of freedom for all. In Two Friends, Susan and Frederick enjoy a brief respite from their struggles, discussing their work and supporting one another over tea and cake.

Given that Two Friends is about a male-female friendship, how does it fit into the strong-girl theme of Girls of Summer?

The book shows that, in an age when women couldn’t vote, couldn’t work in most jobs, and couldn’t go to most schools, Susan B. Anthony demanded equal treatment. She tirelessly advocated for women in spite of constant setbacks. She trudged from town to town to give speeches about equal rights, often facing hostile crowds. In her most famous act of civil disobedience, she voted in the 1872 presidential election—a courageous act that led to her arrest and trial.

As one of the few men who supported Anthony’s cause, Frederick Douglass affirmed that women’s rights should be an essential concern for all American citizens. Their revolutionary friendship presented a united front against injustice, showing what’s possible when oppressed people refuse to be dominated.

What is your dream for this book?

I mentioned my devotion to my heroes, and part of that involves telling their stories so that others might be inspired by them. I hope Two Friends will bring Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass to life for elementary school kids so they, too, will become passionate about making the world a fairer place for everyone.

Luckily, my words received the best possible assist from the book’s illustrators, Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Their rich images draw children into this 19th century parlor and make them feel part of Susan and Frederick’s cozy tea party. For strong girls, the illustrations of Anthony reading about rights and giving eloquent speeches about justice will be particularly affecting.