By Lindsay Amer
A is for Activist is no ordinary alphabet book. This children’s picture book, which explores the meaning of activism letter by letter, is nothing short of a masterpiece for the newly literate. Author and illustrator Innosanto Nagara deftly weaves history with ideology, iconography with purposeful depiction of diversity, and factual learning with complex rhythm and rhyme.
The first page asks its young reader to evaluate a singular question: “Are you an activist?” The resounding triumph of Nagara’s book is that the child will answer with a definitive and knowing “yes” by the letter Z (“for Zapatista, of course”). Nagara accomplishes this by methodically defining “activist” in all its complex elements and categorizations.
As Nagara shows, activism is not just picket lines, it is not just Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, it is not just LGBTQ rights, or worker’s rights, or environmental advocacy. True activism is all of those things and so much more. Activism is a way of being– a way of living life by the principles embedded in the alphabet of our everyday language. If activism defines the alphabet, and the alphabet constructs words, and words create language, then activism becomes fundamental to human communication. By connecting our every letter to an activist concept, Nagara binds activism itself to the building blocks of our way of life. “A is for Activist,” but it is also for “Advocate. Abolitionist. Ally.” You are an activist because there are an infinite number of ways to be one. And kids can be activists, too!
Every letter shows us the many ways in which we can be activists. First, there are the more obvious acts like hanging Banners, or living the Co-op life of Counter Culture. Next, there are the ways used by noteworthy activists before us. We can study Rabble Rousers like Dr. King, Parks, Malcolm X, and so many more. Then, there are the grand ideals of Peace, Justice, and Democracy, alongside it smaller daily practices like eating Healthy foods and asking Questions. Nagara’s poetry asks the reader to embrace these multiple aspects of activism and their purposes to further our understanding of the activist identity itself.
Nagara’s illustrations are radical in their representations. When we look to the Feminist, we do so on a page including Sojourner Truth and the Statue of Liberty holding her closed fist up high in lieu of her torch, all silhouetted by Rosie the Riveter. When we speak of the “Indigenous and Immigrant,” so many different eyes of all shapes and colors stare back. Genderless hands holding hands represent all letters of the LGBTQ community and their Love, and the Transformative butterfly flutters for Trans equality. Not to mention the illustrations of people of color outnumber depictions of white throughout the whole book. A is for Activist feels utopian in its representation of diversity, but the funny thing is that it is likely the most realistic proportion of race I have seen. I could go on, but I do not want to spoil the rest of the alphabet for you. Did I mention there is a Spanish translation of the book? Oh! And there’s a hidden drawing of a cat on every page!
A is for Activist is a story of the activist’s past, present, and future. I’ll be completely honest, I am a grown adult and the first time I read the book (with no children in sight), I nearly cried. Every time I pick it up, I am overwhelmed by its very existence, by its enormous potential for radicalizing and empowering young people as meaningful agents of change. This book does the work of passing on the radicalisms we fight so hard for. I hesitate to even call it a children’s book. Adults can learn just as much from it as their kids. I want to see someone perform this book as a slam poem at a rally. Scratch that: I want to see a child perform this book as a slam poem at a rally. I guarantee it would bring the house down.
A is for Activist is the rare book that enacts its own principles simply by being. Buying and reading A is for Activist is itself activism. Even more so is sharing it with a child in your life. So, are you an activist?
Lindsay is a New York-based artist making queer content for kids! You can check out her newest project, Queer Kid Stuff, an LGBTQ+ educational webseries for the kiddos on YouTube. She is also a founder and Co-Artistic Director for Bluelaces Theater Company, creating multi-sensory work for individuals with developmental differences. She holds a BS in Theatre (with a minor in Gender Studies) from Northwestern University and an MA in Theater and Performance from Queen Mary University of London. When she’s not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, she’s probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy while playing her ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @thelamerest
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