Monday, June 26, 2006

what if...comments on radical books for kids

On the anarchist parenting listserv that I subscribe to, there's been a recent discussion about what kind of kids books are out there that have a radical bent. Some of the titles, I never considered; some I don’t necessarily agree with; some I never even heard of. And so, armed with this info, my kids as well as many of the neighborhood children who are a part of a child-swap (article to come soon), my dog Noodle and myself have spent a few afternoons walking to the south Berkeley library trying to find them.

Along the way one excursion, we all started talking about how books teach. I love hearing what they think they learn from books. My eight year old pipes in that she knows how to swim in freezing water if she ever falls through a frozen lake.

‘Nice,’ I say, ‘and I hope I’m with you when I decide to cross the Alaskan wilderness.’

‘And I learned how to make a fire too,’ she brags.

My ten year old daughter asks why we need to find books that are radical in the first place. ‘Yeah,’ the three others chime in sarcastically in that ten year old way they have ‘like, why does everything need to be radical, Tom?’ They sound so exasperated. But they get it. One of them brings up Girls to the Rescue and how normally it is always the opposite. Boy saves girl, but they laugh and know what is up, but they also know how overwhelming it is to be told they same boy saves girl story over and over. And then my daughter brings up Cars. Here’s the main reason I am so impressed with kids and why I was reminded that having these sometimes tedious, difficult conversations is so important, reminded why being willing to talk about what things could look like if in fact things were different is so effective.

My daughter says, ‘yeah look at how popular Cars are now because of that movie. Maybe they should make a movie called Bikes or Walks.’ They all laugh, but she is so right. What if…


I was pleasantly surprised to find many of these books available in the local library. Take a look for yourself and please let me know what others you suggest. I am trying to come up with a radical daddy library for the storyteller in all of us to publish in rad dad #4.

Because sometimes we all need a book to help or guide us. When we are tired, when we’ve worked a long day, when we are at our wits end, sometimes what settles us most effectively is to read a story, to be a part of the listening audience, to be transported with our children to the place of what ifs and once upon a times.

And man, did I find the coolest book ever. I happened upon it at Bound Together Books in San Francisco, but I didn't buy it because it was fifteen bucks but now realize after some used book internet searching that that was a bargain. So for my birthday you all can send it to me because I have never seen a book that narrates such a radically different set of values, one that challenges the notions of capitalism, family structure, success and many other things.

It's called A Little Squatters Handbook and it is the story of five homeless people from all walks of life (there’s even one little Lego man who’s missing his little Lego arm) and how they band together to take over an abandoned building. They all sleep in the same bed (at least initially) sharing dreams and fears, mange to ward off the cops by employing various direct action tactics, and in the end they throw a party inviting all their family and new neighbors to celebrate their new communal living arrangements. Read it -- even just for yourself.

What follows the list of books -- tell me what you think...

Some Radical Parenting Books:

Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama's Guide To Raising A Teenager by Ariel Gore
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Liberated Parent, Liberated Child

Kids Books for various ages:

Si, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can!: Janitor Strike In L.A. by Diana Cohn
Conversations With Durito: Stories Of The Zapatistas And Neoliberalism
by Subcomandante Marcos
Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne
Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
Let's Get A Pup by Bob Graham
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Philip Pullman
Carly by Annegert Fuchshuber
Super Cilantro Girl by Juan Felipe Herrera
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope
The paper bag princess by Robert N Munsch
The Big Orange Splot by D. Manus Pinkwater
The mysterious adventures of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Rabbit Island by Jorg Steiner
From Egg To Chick by Millicent Selsam
Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard
Brave Potatoes by Toby Speed & Barry Root
The Pirate Queen by Emily Arnold McCully
Oh Lord, I wish I was a Buzzard by Polly Greenberg & Aliki
The Enormous Carrot by Vladimir Vagin
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Nanabosho: How the Turtle Got its Shell by Joe McLellan
Crocodile Crocodile by Peter Nickl
Kids On Strike photo book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The day Joanie Frankenhauser became a boy / Francess Lantz
The secret under my skin / Janet McNaughton
Danny, the champion of the world / Roald Dahl
América is her name / by Luis J. Rodríguez
The samurai's daughter : a Japanese legend / retold by Robert D. San Souci
The pirate meets the queen : an illuminated tale / by Matt Faulkner
Punxsutawney Phyllis / by Susanna Leonard Hill

Oh, and I’ll be biking down the coast of Oregon with my babies’ mama because the kids are at grandma’s (much love to grandma) so I’ll post again and reply to any comments after the fourth of july (and if you haven’t read Fredrick Douglas’ 'why I don’t celebrate the fourth of july’ you should…


Chip said...

what a great list Tom, thanks. I know some of those books, and my kids have loved them, but there are a lot I haven't seen yet. You're right, it's so important for kids to read these kinds of radical (or at least non-mainstream) books. It really does have a positive effect too.

Have a great bike trip!

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

I also thought this was a great list. I'd add to it Todd Parr, who wrote The Mommy Book, The Daddy Book, It's Okay to Be Different, The Peace Book, etc. They're written for very young children, but contain within them some very radical cultural assumptions such as gender is what you make it, gay is good, no justice no peace, etc. More importantly, Liko is fascinated by the images, which are bright and engaging for a toddler.

Anonymous said...

Great site. Thanks for the ideas on a few more books that we haven't ran across quite yet.

My son is just crazy about the Madonna book Mr. Peabody's Apples. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about that one yet. It's kind of a melancholy little thing. Beautiful illustrations, though, very similar to our Missouri homeboy Tom Benton. And the kid is just koo-koo for baseball.

Also, Zen Shorts by Jon Muth is a great recent addition to the five-times-a-day stack. It features the Giant Panda, Stillwater, getting to know some very nice kids. Stillwater tells old school tales from the heart of the Buddha.

For you Dads, I'm wondering if it is worth revisiting To Kill a Mockingbird and the likes of Atticus Finch. Single Dad, doing things his own way. I think I'll pick it up soon.

Anonymous said...

I'm a librarian; my job is cataloging children's books. I just finished our record for "The Little Squatters' Handbook" and found your blog by Googling the title to see if I could find out more about the book and the organization responsible for it. It just may be THE coolest radical kid's book I've seen, ever. I thought that you might find it heartening, somehow, to know that our library has purchased 5 copies, other libraries have also collected it, and that the wisdom it contains is even now being quietly disseminated to the people of the world.

Randy Thorp
Alachua County Library District
Gainesville, Florida