The Wedding Portrait is an essential book for kids about standing up for what’s right. Here are stories of direct action from around the world that are bookended by the author’s wedding story. He and his bride led their wedding party to a protest, and were captured in a photo by the local newspaper kissing in front of a line of police just before being arrested. “We usually follow the rules. But sometimes, if you see something is wrong–more wrong than breaking the rules and by breaking the rules you might stop it–you may need to break the rules.” When indigenous people in Colombia block an oil company from destroying their environment–this is a blockade; when Florida farmworkers encourage people not to buy their tomatos because the farm owners won’t pay them for their hard work–this is called a boycott; and when Claudette Colvin takes a seat in the front of the bus to protest racism–this is called civil disobedience. In brilliantly bright and inspiring illustrations we see ordinary people say No–to unfair treatment, to war, to destroying the environment. Innosanto Nagara has beautifully melded an act of love with crucial ideas of civil disobedience and direct action that will speak to young readers’ sense of right and wrong. There has never been a more important moment for Innosanto Nagara’s gentle message of firm resolve.
NAGARA, Innosanto. The Wedding Portrait. illus. by Innosanto Nagara. 36p. Triangle Square. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781609808020.
Gr 3-5–An introduction to social justice through a framing device in which Nagara tells his grandson about a photograph from his wedding, where he and his wife were arrested for protesting nuclear bombs. Nagara’s story grows in scope to encompass different forms of protest, from the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter, and expands beyond the United States to include stories of social activism from other countries, including India and Colombia. Warm, bright illustrations provide the text with a sense of urgency, and the individuals portrayed in the images complement the diverse scope of Nagara’s journey. The book veers away from didacticism by grounding its descriptions of various forms of protest with human touches (notably, the central story of Nagara and his wife’s arrest). The book also emphasizes the difference between simple “disobedience” (i.e., refusing to do your chores) and “civil disobedience.” By concluding the work with a description of his arrest, Nagara taps into some of the challenges and risks associated with protest. The book ends on a note stressing the importance of community and collaboration and learning from each other. VERDICT An intriguing and timely purchase for young readers that provides a valuable introduction to social activism and protest.
Seated nearby, Eilon Shomron-Atar, a psychoanalyst, was straining to filter out the distractions of some dozen pint-size listeners gurgling and spinning like jacks all around him.
Bella, his 2-year-old, sat at his knee as Tehilah Eisenstadt, a childhood educator and activist, read to the group from “Emma and the Whale,” which touches on themes of empathy and wildlife preservation.
Such messages matter, Mr. Shomron-Atar said, but so do values like “food justice” or, as he explained, “learning about eating ethically, buying local, organic and pain-free and knowing where your dinner comes from.” They are concerns embraced by the authors of board books like “V Is for Vegan” and “Vegan Is Love.”
Those books and their reform-minded kin have descended like crickets on indie stores and megachains, their authors, by turns upbeat or admonitory, addressing themes of immigration, climate change, racial and ethnic diversity, feminism and gender identification, all gathered under the rubric of social justice.
To booksellers and publishers, such topics are especially timely. “Since the election, there has been a greater sense of urgency about these issues,” said Annie Hedrick, an owner of Book Culture. “Parents in our area are trying to find ways to take them up with their kids.”
Board books and picture books are proving a popular avenue. “Five or six years ago, ‘A Is for Activist’ would not have been published,” said Ken Geist, publisher and editorial director for picture books at Scholastic. “I don’t think the trend was mainstream at that point.”
Since its release in 2013 by Seven Stories Press, “A Is for Activist,” by Innosanto Nagara, has become a children’s best-seller, with 125,000 copies in print, according to the publisher. Arguably the book’s unexpected success has given rise to a flurry of such child-friendly primers — among them, “My Night in the Planetarium,” also by Mr. Nagara, which is in part about speaking out against oppression. These and similar offerings seek to captivate a generation still too young and unformed to have acquired a name.
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Social activist Innosanto Nagara wanted to find a fun book to read to his 2-year-old son that also talked about the importance of social justice.
He wasn’t looking for the typical fiction written for children, instead, he was looking for unique narratives — by writers of color and/or authors who can speak about social issues through their own experiences.
Nagara couldn’t find any. So he wrote one.
“Parents and teachers are realizing that what students read and learn affects how they see the world.” said Deborah Menkart, Executive Director for Teaching for Change, an organization that puts together social justice reading lists to inspire children throughout the summer.
“Give kids credit,” says Stan Yogi, one of the authors on our list. “They have an innate sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Being able to draw on that innate sense of justice through relatable stories is so important.”
Not all parents have the time to do what Innosanto Nagara did.
For those who can’t, we’ve compiled a list — with help from Teaching for Change — of books that frame big issues through a lens children can understand.