by Len Lear
What gets me is how the Chestnut Hill Local has managed to get this far without writing an article about Miriam Peskowitz, Ph.D., who will be discussing her latest book, “Code Like a Girl,” this Saturday, Aug. 17, 4 p.m., at Mt. Airy Nexus, 520 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. Since Peskowitz has lived in Mt. Airy for 17 years and has not been in the Witness Protection Program, it has obviously been the Local’s (and my) oversight.
I may have interviewed more than 100 authors over the years, but I cannot recall any who were more prolific than Peskowitz. She is the New York Times best-selling author of “The Daring Book for Girls.” Published by Harper- Collins, “Daring” graced the New York Times list for 14 weeks, pulled the #1 spot on IndieSense and was translated globally. It was the 14th-highest best-selling book of 2007. “Daring” was followed by two pocket versions, “Things to Do” and “Wisdom & Wonder,” and by the full-length sequel, “The Double-Daring Book for Girls.”
There were “Daring” board games and calendars and toys; a video game; a spot in both Martha Stewart’s Winter Holiday Basket and the 2008 Oscars. There was a “Daring Burger King Happy Meal” promotion and “Daring Kids,” a single-episode PBS show that she wrote the script for. It is currently under option to be developed for TV.
Peskowitz has written at least three other books: “The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars,” “Spinning Fantasies” and “Judaism Since Gender” and numerous articles and blog posts. When not collecting new sets of knowledge and performing the alchemy of creating non-fiction books, she walks her dog, tinkers in her garden and stays up late with “code.”
Speaking of code (computer programming), Peskowitz’s newest book, which she will be discussing Saturday, is “Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips,” published this week by Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books. She previously worked for the LEGO company, which was her entry into code. She was invited by Michelle Obama’s staff to stop by the White House for some conversations about girls, STEM, tech, media, etc. From these meetings came the genesis of a book that would welcome girls and beginners of any age or gender into the world of code.
“Of course the talk came around to technology,” Peskowitz, 55, told us last week, “as the largest field and industry in which girls and women are still excluded, and what to do about that. I left thinking that there wasn’t a book about girls and tech. On the Amtrak home I wondered whether there should be such a book, and by the time I got to 30th Street Station, I knew the answer was yes.
“I’ve always devoted myself to breaking open gender stereotypes. I love the idea of shifting the image of the ‘tech bro’ and undoing the ‘code=male’ stereotype. But the big picture is one of equity and possibility: I simply detest any time that some of us are limited from being part of the biggest world possible. I want a world that does not exclude. We all should be in the room where things happen.”
By January 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers gave Peskowitz the green light.
“They thought it was a wonderful idea for me to write a book about something I knew very little about! My editor, Michelle Frey, really believed in the project, and I couldn’t have done it without her entire team of editors and designers.
“My older daughter was at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy at the time, and I watched her take three semesters of coding, immerse herself in eight semesters of video creation and editing, and create digital products
“The experience of learning to work with code was magical. I hope the book shares that feeling. That code isn’t dry or ultra-mathy; it’s just a form of creation, of making things. I hope that readers of all ages will feel like I demystified code for them … and I want girls to feel that it’s normal to use code, and I want the tech industry to shift gears rapidly and become more diverse and a lot more inclusive.”
Peskowitz went to Oberlin College, starting in their music conservatory as a cello major but graduating with a degree in Comparative Religions in 1986. She also earned an MA and a PhD from Duke University in Women’s Studies and the History of Religions.
The Long Island native was an Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida, but she gave up her tenure there in 1998 and later taught at Emory and Temple Universities and had two children, who are now 20 and 13.
For more details, visit MPeskowitz.com or call 215-844- 1870. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org