Red Diaper Review: A Is For Activist, by Innosanto Nagara
When I first came across this book I didn’t like it, but wasn’t overly upset about it. The more I see it, though, and the more I see it touted as a must-have for any family that wants to raise a radical or thoughtful or informed child, the more frustrated I get.
I believe in talking to children about big, important ideas, and the author of A is for Activist obviously agrees with this. I disagree that an abecedarium with haphazard capitalizations, rhyming verses that don’t scan properly, and radical buzzwords tossed around with little to no context, is the way to do it.
I’m not sure who the intended audience for this book is. The format is a board book, usually intended for the youngest children, infants through toddlers, who are as likely to gnaw on the pages as listen to them. But much of the vocabulary is more appropriate for middle-schoolers at least, or the very few children who have been thoroughly instructed by a family that regularly discusses the Zapatistas and labor unions. I understand the adult appeal of reading this to infants, or children who don’t need every page explained in painstaking detail, but grown-up enjoyment doesn’t equal a successful picture book.
Take the D page. “Little d democracy./ More than voting, you’ll agree./ Dictators Detest it. Donkeys Don’t get it./ But you and me? We Demand equality.” In just 22 words Nagara addresses two kinds of democracy, the animal mascot of the Democratic party, the failings of that party, dictatorship, and more. On top of that, the capitalization is visually confusing, the rhymes are wrenched, and the meter is inconsistent. Every one of the 26 letters suffers from these same basic problems.
Children deserve subtle, interesting, tightly-constructed stories about these huge issues, which affect their lives both immediately and systemically. I love abecedaria as much as the next word nerd, and I really wish this one worked better.
A is for Activist, by Innosanta Nagara. Seven Stories Press, 2013.