Fighting Words: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry Honor Speech

I am honestly so stunned and grateful for this award. I never expected to write Fighting Words. I was at work on a different manuscript when yet another #MeToo story hit the media. I sat at my desk shaking with helplessness and rage; the first words I typed — My new tattoo is covered by a Band-Aid, but halfway through recess, the Band-Aid falls off —­ surprised me. Two days later I had thirty-nine pages and was swearing to my editor that I could, in fact, turn them into a book.

But none of us knew how a story for ten-year-olds that featured sexual abuse, foster care, a suicide attempt, boys snapping bra straps, and a whole lot of lightly disguised curse words would be received. I begged friends to consider blurbing it: This book is a hill I will die on. You can see their generous responses on the book jacket. What you can’t see, what you’ll never see, are some of the other replies I received: Kim, I love you, but I can’t. It still hurts too much. The scars go too deep.

The best statistics we have are that by age eighteen, one in four American girls and one in six American boys will have been sexually abused. In a typical classroom of twenty-five children, that’s three girls, two boys. Five kids. Teachers email me, What if I have a Della in my classroom? There’s no “if.” They do.

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2021 BGHB Fiction and Poetry winners.]

I wrote the hard book I desperately needed as a child. It took me a very long time to find my words. When I did, my greatest fear was that the gatekeepers of children’s literature — and we all know they exist — would turn Della’s story away. Awards like this one ensure that won’t happen. They hold wide the door.

Thank you, thank you, for hearing Della’s voice. Thank you, thank you, for hearing mine.

From the January/February 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB21. Read more from The Horn Book by and about Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of Newbery Honor Book The War That Saved My Life and its sequel, The War I Finally Won (both Dial). She is also the author of the 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Honor book Fighting Words.

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