Blog intro text here, if desired.
Big news for A is for Activist! I just signed the contract—the next edition will be published by Seven Stories Press! They are the publishers of some of my favorite children’s books (What Makes a Baby and 10,000 Dresses) and this will be their first board book. This means that A is for Activist will be available in a wide range of booksellers throughout the world. Their edition will release this Fall, and my supply is dwindling, so it may go out of print for a short period. If you want a “first edition” copy, order now—but don’t worry, more will be in your local bookstore soon enough!
Honored that A is for Activist is being carried in select independent shops! Here’s the growing list.
U.S. by state:
Ecology Center Store: Berkeley (CA)
Espacio 1839: Los Angeles (CA)
The Green Arcade: San Francisco (CA)
Laurel Book Store: Oakland (CA)
Modern Times Bookstore Collective: San Francisco (CA)
Oakland Museum of California Store: Oakland (CA)
Rainbow Grocery: San Francisco (CA)
Reach and Teach: San Mateo (CA)
Silver Moon Kids: Oakland (CA)
SoleSpace: Oakland (CA)
Walden Pond Books: Oakland (CA)
Teaching for Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore: Washington (DC)
Global Exchange Fair Trade Store: Washington (DC)
Charis Books: Atlanta (GA)
Solar Store of Greenfield: Greenfield (MA)
Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse: Baltimore (MD)
Black Wagon: Portland (OR)
Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe & Activist Center: New York (NY)
Left Bank Books: Seattle (WA)
Another Story Bookshop: Toronto (ON, Canada)
Glad Day Bookshop: Toronto (ON, Canada)
Octopus Books: Ottawa (ON, Canada)
Spartacus Books: Vancouver (BC, Canada)
Kidz Space at SoleSpace
Mark your calendars! We’ll transform SoleSpace’s 1000 sq floor into KidzSpace for some Saturday morning fun time!
• Kid & Adult Dance Session with Nkei Oruche
• Interactive/dramatic reading of “A is for Activist”
• Sing along with the Pacha’s Pajamas crew
• Radical Reading Room by Green Branch Library
• Pop-up bookstore by Modern Times Collective
• Art, Music, Face Painting
We’ll wrap up in time for folks to make it over to another great event for kids and families at The New Parkway at 11am.
Make it a morning of Art, Music and Activism for your kids in Uptown!
Grooming Your Future Activist
A growing segment of children’s media has a progressive bent, and much of it is locally produced.
By Corey Hill
Children’s entertainment comes with no shortage of messages: disobedient princesses learning to obey their parents; giant red dogs urging teamwork; purple dinosaurs imparting the wisdom of just being yourself. But with a few exceptions, kids’ books, movies, and music highlight only a narrow range of voices and viewpoints. Most are an implicit endorsement of stratified wealth. (After all, what are princes and princesses if not the embodiment of entitlement?) There’s an acute shortage of voices from queer folks and people of color. Many have outmoded gender norms.
Radical parents looking for something to read to their sprouting 99 Percenters need not despair. Children’s media with a progressive bent does exist, the offerings are expanding, and a great deal of this tyke-targeted agitprop is, not surprisingly, produced right here in the Bay Area.
The Bay Area has long been at the forefront of activism in the United States, whether that means advocating for gay rights or recognizing the injustice of apartheid. This area is also home to a large number of creative types, like writers and illustrators. If you were to make a Venn diagram of the two groups, there would be a large overlap in the center representing creative types who are also progressives. As it turns out, the folks in the overlap are more than happy to turn their attention to a young audience.
Case in point: A is for Activist, an ABC book self-published by Oakland-based graphic designer Innosanto Nagara. Released in November, the tot tome touches on the Occupy movement, LGBTQ rights, union power, and Malcolm X. Sure, this isn’t the first time a progressive message has made its way into material aimed at little ones. Dr. Suess’ The Butter Battle offers commentary on the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, published in 2000, provides a child-sized serving of workers’ rights education. The difference between those works and A is for Activist is that the latter doesn’t rely on allegory. It is almost certainly the first children’s book to end with “Z for Zapatista,” and no interpretation is necessary for the rhymes that accompany the letter F: “A Feminist Fights for Fundamental Rights/Choice in Our Future/Fairness in Our Pay/The Freedom to Flourish in each and every way.”
“I wanted to write a book that had values and issues that I cared about,” said Nagara. “It’s the stuff that I think is interesting and fun. Activist issues and values are my issues and values, but there wasn’t a book that I could find that was specifically about it.”
Nagara went the labor-intensive self-publishing route, but many authors have found a local ally in Children’s Book Press. The San Francisco publishing company has been churning out agitprop for the onesie crowd for more than three decades, and it was the first publisher in the country to focus on marginalized voices from the Latino, African-American, Asian-American, Pacific-Islander, and Native-American communities. Diversification, to make an obvious point, is sorely needed in popular culture. For example, Latinos make up less than 5 percent of characters represented in the media, according to studies by UCLA and Media Matters, despite representing nearly 17 percent of the US population.
Books like Birthday in the Barrio, Quinito’s Neighborhood, and Lakas and the Manilatown Fish provide perspectives that often get short shrift. Local author and illustrator Maya Christina Gonzalez, author of My Colors, My World and I Know the River Loves Me, has produced numerous books for Children’s Book Press, but she still feels one group is in need of greater representation.
“I felt, as a queer, a great desire to be of service to my community,” Gonzalez said. “And one of our most disenfranchised communities are our transgender youth.”
Gonzalez’ Gender Now, first released in 2010, was the first children’s book to explore transgender topics. The book touches on cultural norms on gender from around the globe, provides examples of prominent historical trans figures, and includes activities explaining the difference between gender and sex — all in a crayon-friendly format. Gonzalez is currently developing The Gender Team, a graphic novel about six superheroes exploring gender.
Messages about being yourself is standard kids’ trope across the board, but Gender Now and The Gender Team present a radical departure from mainstream offerings. Disney certainly embraces a limited version of this ethos, but it will probably be some time before a transgender princess shows up on toy store shelves.
In the music department, kids have mostly been limited to a chorus of eight-year-olds singing pop hits. (The Kidz Bop franchise has released 22 albums in 11 years.) Michael Franti’s tunes provide a welcome respite.
“Most of my audience today, a lot of them have kids who are preschoolers,” said Franti, frontman of the politically charged local band Spearhead. “So they’re always asking me to do shows that are all-ages. So now, almost every show has been all-ages. Before every show, we’ve made time so that at sound check … parents can come up onstage and bring their kids.”
The inclusivity of the stage show is part of a broader emphasis on Franti’s part to engage young people. He’s written two children’s books in the last five years: What I Be, which emphasizes tolerance and self-expression, and Where In the World Is Away?, an exploration of sustainability and recycling. “As an adult, I thought it would be great if kids could have an understanding of that from the time of early childhood, an awareness that what each of us does impacts the planet,” Franti said.
Another local company that’s imparting a progressive message on young minds — in this case using all three platforms of music, books, and video — is Balance Edutainment. The Oakland-based company is hoping that its multimedia storytelling series Pacha’s Pajamas will be the next Dora the Explorer — albeit Dora with a more radical edge.
Pacha’s Pajamas tells the story of a young girl exploring her dreams of advocating for natural ecosystems. Although many components of the multimedia project are still in development, Balance has released the first book in the series and a soundtrack featuring big names like environmentalist and public radio host Majora Carter, actor Cheech Marin, and rappers Lyrics Born and Mos Def.
“We’re out to inspire children to be heroes for the planet, to uplift and inspire children, and [for] youth to be voices for change in the world,” said Aaron Ableman, co-founder of Balance Edutainment. “Pacha’s is the culmination of the last ten to twelve years of work, and really exploring the role of popular media.”
Balance Edutainment has also made Pacha’s Pajamas content available for crowdsourcing. Oakland-based Destiny Arts Center developed a play that shined a spotlight on the enduring environmental justice concerns surrounding asthma. It was performed at La Peña Cultural Center in May.
What separates Pacha’s Pajamas from the countless other platforms doling out platitudes on being green is that it embraces an approach to the natural world that is divergent from the dominant Western viewpoint. Telling kids to recycle is one thing; telling kids that rivers should have legal rights, well, that’s radical.
The Bay Area is certainly a good place to be a changemaker. And that doesn’t have to end when parents unwrap the Baby Bjorn. “The Bay Area has a history of progressivism and radical politics,” said Franti. “I think that people from my generation, as we’ve grown older and started families, we don’t want to leave those things behind. A lot of us, when we were young, we wanted to be on the frontlines of protest and activism. But now, a lot of us have a baby strapped to the front, and it’s not always appropriate to go up against a police shield. So now, we’re finding new ways to do it, new ways to communicate, new ways to make the education of our kids be in line with the beliefs that we have.”
Waiting has been the hardest part of this. The folks at printer were nice enough to send me this photo of A is for Activist–hot off the presses. These are the press sheets, that then somehow get glued onto the thicker stock, that is then cut, scored and folded and glued back to back onto the other sheets to create the four layer “boards” with sheets that crossover the center seamlessly. I’m still not certain how they do that–but it explains why it will probably be another week or so in bindery before they put them all on a truck to Oakland.
16th October, 2012 – Posted by Tex Dworkin – No Comments
It’s written AND Illustrated by Global Exchange longtime ally Innosanto Nagara, who along with Design Action Collective has been designing Global Exchange materials for over a decade. (Some of you might remember the GAP sweatshops campaign?)
I’ve personally worked with Inno on many projects over the years, and when I heard he had a children’s book coming out about activism, my first thought was, well, of course he does!
Inno is a true activist, design his modus operandi, and now that he’s a proud papa, I can think of no better person to create such a book.
A is for Activist is colorful and (of course) visually striking, given Inno’s background. Plus with punchy words and a worthy message, it looks like a fun read for both the reader and the wee one(s).
I asked author Inno what inspired him to write A is for Activist, and here’s what he had to say:
Well, my son turned two in June. He’s my first child, but he’s also the eighth child to be born into my home community. The eldest is now twelve, so I’ve spent a lot of time with children’s books.
The best books—the ones my son enjoys the most and I enjoy reading over and over—are the ones that have the best rhythm and cadence. Dr. Seuss books are the best example of this. The words are often made-up. The stories are wacky. But they are fun to read for the parents, and the kids are engaged.
The other books that my son enjoys are the ones with (lightly) hidden images that he can look for. Sometimes there’s not a lot of writing—just illustrations with layers and depth. “Three alligators, and two cockatoos. Can you find the cockatoos?”
Finally, there are those “theme” books that speak to the parent’s interests and values: Architecture ABCs (from our friends who are architects), Goodnight San Francisco (for those who live in SF), and so on.
This got me thinking, what would a book that did all of that for my family look like? It would be about activism, of course. The rhymes would be about stuff I cared about and be fun to read. I’d be reading this book over and over, so I’d want it to be something I’d enjoy discovering meaning in.
But more importantly it would need to be full of big, fun words and rhymes for my son. Cool words, like “Zapatista!” Oh, and the illustrations would need to be striking and layered and full of surprises for both of us. And of course there had to be a cat on every page.
So that’s what I set out to do.
Well Inno, mission accomplished. I’m sold, now all I need is a kid to read it to!
A is for Activist is at the printer! I just signed off on the proofs, so now we just wait for them to arrive (est. delivery time 6 weeks). Pre-order discount is still in effect, but I’ll be switching it from “pre-order” to “order” as soon as I have a determined delivery date. I’m not trying to create some sort of false consumer pressure, but pre-orders are still very helpful, so I do want to offer the discount as a ‘thank you’ to anyone who is able to place their orders now.
On a separate note, here’s a clip of me doing a final test run of the book before sending it to press: