A is Actually for Activist

From all of us looking for activist books for our babes, thank you Innosanto Nagara!

A is for activist is a recently self-published ABC board book by Nagara who is both the writer and illustrator. He is a founding member of Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio in Oakland.
Here’s an ABC book where the letter “X” doesn’t fall back on those tired old images. Rather, Nagara draws on its power:

               X is for Malcolm.
               Malcolm X.
               History’s lessons 
               can be complex.
               Remember Parks.
               Remember King.
               Remember Malcolm.
               And let freedom ring!

And that’s just one letter!  All 26 letters have tight little narrative structures that flow seamlessly from bright, vibrant illustrations. Democracy… equal rights… justice… diversity…  Nagara packs so much into this small book.

I recently learned about A is for activist from a friend who described her favorite image. It’s the “R” page, a quiet but fierce candlelight vigil that stretches far into the horizon.

Where else – but in a children’s picture book – do we get to see Rosa Parks and Henry David Thoreau at the same march? (Check out the illustration’s map on the book website for a helpful who’s who.)

Activists from throughout history stand beneath this text:

“Radical Reds!” the headlines said.
“Ruinois Rioters!” the Rumors spread.
“Rabble Rousing Riff Raff…”

Intense, right? It’s a stunning spread.

So will a young child be able to digest all of this?

Nagara very skillfully speaks to the very young 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.

Also, a curious black cat makes an appearance throughout the book, so young kids can play the game of finding the animal on each page (for example, next to the Zapatista on the Z page).

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.

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. 

For that, I’m grateful.