A is for Activist

Posted by Kelly on June 17, 2013

Cover of A is for Activist

Innosanto Nagara. A is for Activist. Kupu Kupu Press, 2012. Board book. 26p. $15. 978-0-9883448-9-1. 

This board book for small hands is an atypical abecedary, more focused on radical vocabulary than teaching the alphabet. It is unclear whether this title is a joke intended for adults like “Go the Fuck to Sleep” or if it is legitimately geared towards young children—hopefully the former, not the latter. As a litmus test, I showed it to some of my students from six to nine years old. They enjoyed looking for the cats included on each page but didn’t seem to understand many of the words.

There are some families that are deeply steeped in Leftist traditions, where young children would be exposed to words and concepts such as abolitionism, grassroots, and vox populi. Other families, even very progressive ones, may need to undergo hours of explanation and long, ongoing conversations about ideas raised on every single page. While this is not necessarily a bad thing because it’s never too early to start talking with children about the environment or social justice, I wonder if a clumsily-rhymed collection of chants is an effective way to accomplish this. There isn’t even a clear or unified format of the text.

A couple of the pages are simple ABAB rhymes which don’t even scan properly. Most others rhyme in a more disjointed way, and others don’t rhyme at all. The words on each page that begin with the assigned letter of the alphabet are capitalized, but even then it can be confusing which page stands for which letter: for example, the letter “U” where “W” words actually signify labor rights. Then we read,  “Wait. That’s not U, that’s DOUBLE U. U is for Union. Union Yes!!”

Even those who love radicalizing children’s literature will see that this book is not the way to do it. This book is recommended for libraries serving children of progressive parents who may want to expose their children to these concepts, no matter how difficult to read.

Reviewer: Kyle Lukoff, Librarian

Corlears School, New York City

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Categories: Youth

2 Responses to “A is for Activist”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Wow, I can’t disagree more. My kids (2-year-old twins and a 4 year old) LOVE this book. I wonder if it just wasn’t age-appropriate for the reviewer’s 6-9 year olds? My kids love the rhythm of the words and the excellent illustrations. We often do a “clap our knees” thing when we read it, because the rhythm is so excellent. They like finding the letters that begin each of their names. They like finding the cat. They like that there’s lots of “different shades” of people in this book. And I should say that our family is not super-duper-activist. We’re progressive, yes, but my 2-year-olds have never even been to a protest. I would strongly recommend this book to parents and other adults reading books to children preschool age and younger.

  2. Similar to the comment above, my kids (2 and 5) really enjoy this book. I reviewed it recently on my blog about children’s books and activism (www.alisongoldberg.com) and here are my take-aways:

    Nagara very skillfully speaks to the very young (0-5) directly. Here’s an example from the “T” page where tulips, a tiger, and a butterfly stretch on the page:

    T is for Trans.
    Tulips, Tassels, Tigers.
    Tractors and Tiaras.
    Trust in the True:
    The he she they that is you!

    What a fabulously child-focused way to gently deliver a message about identity.

    Surely some of the topics will go over a young child’s head, particularly one in the ABC board book stage. But this is a book that will still be relevant for many years beyond; it has layers. (Personally, I love the invitation for ongoing conversations on these topics; I think some of the best children’s books invite questions and dialogue even after the book is closed.)

    Moreover, what Nagara so importantly does is not wait until the ABC book stage is over to begin a conversation about “Actively Answering A call to Action” and all that comes after.

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