Sharice's Big Voice

"Sharice's Big Voice," by Sharice Davids. 

Sharice Davids has been a lawyer, a mixed martial artist and congresswoman. Now, she’s added another job to her resume: children’s author.

In June, HarperCollins will publish “Sharice’s Big Voice,” an illustrated memoir of the Kansas Democrat’s journey from childhood to her election as one of the first two Native American women in Congress.

Early in the book, after getting questions from classmates, a young Davids asks her mother, Crystal Herriage, “What am I?”

Herriage tells her about her Native American heritage and that she’s a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who call themselves “The People of the Big Voice.” Davids said the scene played out much the same way in real life.

“I remember being young and saying to my mom, ‘Mommy, what am I? And it’s because the kids at school were saying that to me: What are you? Because I didn’t look like any of the couple of groups in school. I was pretty little and remember asking her that question,” she said.

In working on the project, Davids said she discovered that only 1 % of children’s books published in the U.S. feature Native American or indigenous characters, a figure that comes from a 2018 University of Wisconsin study.

“I think that for any Native or indigenous children or First Nations children who read the book, I just hope that they in some ways see themselves,” Davids said.

“I hope any kid who gets a chance to read the book will see that all of our paths are different.”

Davids said she prioritized finding an indigenous artist for the book. Illustrator Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley is an Ojibwe Woodlands artist and member of Wasauksing First Nation in Canada.

“I think Joshua, our illustrator and artist, did such an amazing job of taking the narrative that we were talking about and depicting it in a vibrant way,” she said.

The central relationship in the story is Davids and her mother, a single parent and Army drill sergeant stationed at Fort Leavenworth during Davids’ childhood. She recently got to show her mother the illustrations.

“As soon as she opened it, she said, ‘Oh I’m in here,’” said Davids. The scene in which her mother receives a promotion to sergeant first class is one of her favorites.

“It was really sweet to watch her turn the pages.”

The book has been in development since Davids’ first year in office.

House rules require lawmakers to seek approval by the Ethics Committee for outside income generated by book contracts. The committee cleared the project in 2019. Davids’ contract entitles her to royalties of 7 to 7.5% of hardcover sales and 3 to 3.75% of paperback sales, according to the letter from the ethics panel.

The idea came from conversations with Nancy Mays, a campaign volunteer and donor who urged Davids to write about her experiences. The Johnson County communications consultant and lecturer at the University of Kansas served as Davids’ co-writer.

Children’s books by political figures have become increasingly common. First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and former Kansas City Mayor Sly James have all released them in recent years.

Davids, 40, said her decision to write for kids initially caught some friends by surprise. But she sees them as the ideal audience for the book’s themes of finding your path and celebrating diversity.

“I think young people often feel like they’re not given enough credit for what they understand, so that’s on us as adults to making sure we’re talking to young people like the humans that they are,” Davids said.