Christine McDonnell first visited Rosie’s Place about 10 years ago, and soon after she began teaching classes there. “We served primarily immigrant women from all over,” McDonnell said. “I learned so much from them.”
So it was a natural progression when McDonnell, who had written 11 previous books for children, decided her next project would be a book about Kip Tiernan, who founded Rosie’s Place in 1974 in the South End. “I was thinking about social activists, and she came to mind,” she said. “And then once I started reading her work over at the Schlesinger Library, her voice is unbelievable. I knew I had to write it. She’s just phenomenal.”
The result is “Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women,” an illustrated book for kids aged 7-10.
Tiernan, who died shortly before McDonnell first came to Rosie’s, learned about serving those in need while living with her grandmother during the Great Depression, McDonnell writes in the book. Working in homeless shelters as an adult, she noticed women were in need of help as well — an understanding that wasn’t shared by many others. Her work founding Rosie’s was, as McDonnell writes it, revolutionary and a perfect story for children.
“I just felt that — we all need role models in terms of empathy and her level of dedication to people in need. And her lack of judgment about them,” McDonnell said. “She was so focused on the dignity of the women who came in.”
Introducing young readers to difficult concepts like homelessness isn’t easy. But, McDonnell said, “I hope that they’ll be inspired to show empathy for people who are different from themselves. To not pass judgment and belittle people who are in need.” And, she added, “I think it’s an important story. Certainly the problem hasn’t diminished.”
McDonnell, along with illustrator Victoria Tentler-Krylov, will read in person 6 p.m. Tuesday at Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.