Teaching the ABCs for activists to be

The alphabet book that begins with Activists and ends with Zapatistas

| December 6, 2012
Teaching the ABCs for activists to be

A is for Activist

by Innosanto Nagara
(Kupu-Kupu Press,
2012;
$15.00)

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A is for Activist.

B is for banner, bobbing in the sky.

It’s pretty clear from page one that this is no Cat in the Hat. Billed as a book for the children of the 99%, A is for Activist is the radical vision of Innosanto (Inno) Nagara, a graphic designer and social justice activist from Oakland, California.

Like most parents, Nagara had little trouble finding books with colourful pictures and fun rhymes to inspire a love of words in his young son. But after reading aloud hundreds of tales featuring princesses, knights, and dogs, the absence of progressive themes in children’s books became abundantly clear.

So Nagara decided to rectify the shortage, despite having zero experience as a children’s book author (or any other kind of author, for that matter). The original plan called for limited press run -- one copy for Nagara’s son and a few others for close family and friends.

But as it turned out, Nagara was not the only parent hungry for end rhymes featuring revolutionaries and social-justice luminaries. A is for Activist blossomed, as co-workers helped generate content, and a Kickstarter campaign defrayed the cost of development. After seven months of design, writing, revision, and a self-taught course in self-publishing, Nagara produced an ABC book with a decidedly un-Disney outlook. 

 

To wit:

D is for democracy.

G is for Grassroots.

L- G- B - T - Q
Love who you Choose!

The alliteration and rhymes have the rhythm and fun of standard ABC books, burrowing into little ears and prompting memorization and spontaneous recitation.

“It’s pretty awesome to hear a three-year-old saying ‘union power,’” Nagara says.

Throughout the alphabet, topics ignored by most toddler tomes at last get their due. Cooperative workplaces. Unions. Feminism. Immigrant rights. The challenging content raises the question whether Nagara considered changing the message, perhaps to appeal to a broader readership.

“Sure, there were moments when I thought, maybe I should change this...but then I thought, why write the book at all if the message was going to be diluted?” Nagara said.

The undiluted message has caught the attention of leading progressive figures, including author Naomi Klein and her partner Avi Lewis, who proclaimed it “Full of wit, beauty, and fun!” Native American activist and children’s book author Winona LaDuke called it a “fun and vital resource.”

And for all the families out there eager to transmit their values at story time, it is indeed vital. After all, there aren’t too many alphabet books that begin with Activists and end with Zapatistas.—Corey Hill

This review first appeared in Yes Magazine.

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Comments

Sounds good, but why pick on "The Cat in the Hat"? It was very cutting-edge in 1957. Even the girls did stuff! 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cat_in_the_Hat

quote: "Theodor Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, created The Cat in the Hat in response to the May 24, 1954, Life magazine article by John Hersey, titled "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading." In the article, Hersey was critical of school primers:

'In the classroom boys and girls are confronted with six books that have insipid illustrations depicting the slicked-up lives of other children. [Existing primers] feature abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls. . . . In bookstores, anyone can buy brighter, livelier books featuring strange and wonderful animals and children who behave naturally, i.e., sometimes misbehave. Given incentive from school boards, publishers could do as well with primers'."

Girls in particular were objects or housewives in training. 

One could hardly expect Seuss to talk about activism during the repressive 1950s, but his books were far from reactionary by the standards of the day. 

 

 

I apologize profusely for slighting Dr. Suess.  Perhaps I should have picked a different children's book with which to contrast A is for Activist.  Dr. Suess did indeed write about the arms race and stereotyping as well, so maybe his works weren't the best to use. 

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