Well-renowned children’s and young adult author Leila Sales empowers the next generation of young women with her latest book, The Campaign.
By Allie Justis, Headshot by Jörg Me and book cover by Kim Balacuit
Leila Sales is a well-renowned children’s and young adult author in the Austin area. She makes an impact with books geared toward empowering the next generation of young women. Her latest book, The Campaign is no different.
The Campaign follows a middle schooler named Maddie Polansky who is very creative but a bit of a troublemaker. However, the election for mayor throws her middle school life off-balance. The new mayoral candidate for her city says that upon election, she will cut the city’s art funding in half. This leads Maddie, her babysitter and a whole crew of other unlikely friends to lead a campaign to save the art program and win the election.
Sales says she wanted her new book to be a fun and entertaining way to bring kids into the conversation about politics.
“I think as a kid, it’s very easy to imagine that the government is this far-off thing. That it doesn’t have anything to do with you,” says Sales. “Whereas the fact is, especially with local government, it’s something you interact with on a daily basis. It’s impacting the streets that you walk on, the air that you breathe, the water that you drink, what sort of foods you are allowed to consume. The education that you receive as a kid and what programs are available to you. So you know—everything. So I think that when you’re a kid you think, ‘Oh, this is for grownups, it doesn’t concern me,’ when it really actually does.”
I think that’s what a good kid’s book should always be. A story of a kid having an adventure and making a change in the world.
Many adults would shy away from conversations concerning politics. However, Sales stresses the importance of explaining the concepts of government without “dumbing it down.”
With The Campaign she does just that. She takes readers on the long journey down the campaign trail from start to finish. All in an effort to spark a love in her readers for activism and local government.
“So the book goes through pretty much every major step along a campaign,” says Sales. “It’s kind of taking all those and making them small and putting them on a level where kids can understand them and conceive of them.”
For Sales, kindling that love for politics and activism has always been an important part of her life. That’s how she got her own start back as a kid. When Sales was just 12 years old, she helped volunteer for her first mayoral election in her hometown of Boston. This is where she found much of her inspiration for Polansky.
“Thinking of what makes it special, because obviously there’s her love of art, she’s kind of a self-proclaimed weirdo and she really takes pride in that.”
Sales says that even though Polansky is a bit of an art kid who doesn’t like to work with others for fear of being judged, she ends up making many unlikely friends along the way. They all work together to do some good, despite their differences.
“Everybody’s an individual. If you all sit around and work together as a team, even though you’re not all the same, that’s actually a part of what makes a team great. When you’re all bringing different skills to this cause that you all are working on together.
“Later on this becomes a main theme of The Campaign. Emphasizing how everyone can do their part in the community they live in, no matter how old they are. It’s about finding the things that you care about and then finding ways to better them,” says Sales. This is the inspiration behind Polansky running her babysitter’s campaign for mayor.
“It’s not even that kids can do this work just as well as adults can. It’s that kids can do different work that is, in some ways, even better than what adults can bring to the table. They can do it because they’re kids, not despite the fact that they’re kids.”
According to Sales, writing this book was fun, but definitely not easy. She had to strike the right balance between being informative and being entertaining.
“I think that’s what a good kid’s book should always be. A story of a kid having an adventure and making a change in the world. As well as discovering new things about themselves first and foremost,” she says. “The first thing you need to do in a kid’s book is entertain. Then once you have a kid hooked, you can educate them. But no kid’s gonna sit there in order to be preached at about the importance of civics.”
As for Sales herself, she has always loved the middle-grade and young adult genre ever since she was a kid. Since then she’s had a very successful career as a writer and editor at Penguin Random House and other notable publishing companies. Sales has written seven other award-winning novels and is always coming up with new ideas.
Looking back on her career, Sales has been nothing but grateful for being a part of the YA genre renaissance. She says it helped transform her own life as well as countless others.
“Honestly it’s the only thing I ever wanted to write. I feel so fortunate that I’ve come of age at a time when the YA and middle-grade categories are broader than they have ever been,” she says. “There’s so much innovative work going on and really important work. YA used to be considered as ‘lesser than’ adult literature. Now that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.”
Sales’ goal is to impact her readers’ lives in a meaningful and positive way, just as other authors have made an impact on her own childhood. With this new book, she hopes to tap into that youthful enthusiasm that all kids have. To show them that they can channel that energy into positive change in their communities.
“I think that as an adult, you read a book, and no matter how much you love it, you’re most likely only going to read it once. And it’s probably not going to change who you are fundamentally as a person,” she says. “Whereas kids, when they discover a book that they love, they’ll probably read it 10-20 times. They’ll learn every word of it. It becomes part of their identity. The idea that the books that I write could be that for some kids is really cool.”
Sales believes that it’s never too early to show kids that they can make a difference. Even if they don’t want to be the one to lead the charge, there are still plenty of ways to help.
“There are so many different ways to be involved in and contribute to a cause that you care about. “You don’t always have to be the person at the front. In the case of a political campaign, you don’t always have to be the candidate. It doesn’t have to be your name that’s going on every poster or your name that everybody knows. Some of the most important work is happening behind the scenes, and that’s true across most industries.”
To promote The Campaign Sales has a virtual launch event scheduled with BookPeople on Sept. 29 at 4 p.m.
In her closing thoughts, Sales stresses that anyone can do anything. That it’s not the age that makes the difference, it’s the passion.
“It doesn’t have to be about just you. It has to be about what you bring to the table.”