One of my favorite things about children’s books is how they’re read across generations. From librarians to students, parents to kids, older siblings to younger ones – children’s books have a way of forming a community of readers. And when authors and illustrators take up the task of creating social justice-oriented children’s books, both kids and adults are asked to imagine what kind of future is possible.
Cindy Wang Brandt’s You Are Revolutionary is a wonderful example of a book that urges all generations to participate in the revolution. Illustrated by Lynnor Bontigao, You Are Revolutionary introduces a group of young children who “know deep inside that every kid has a right to food, shelter, water, and a future that’s safe and bright.” The book ensures that everyone has something to bring, and we can all come together to practice care for our communities.
While the text tells a broad narrative of the importance of bringing your unique self, skills, and desires to the movement, Bontigao’s illustrations tell a more specific story of organizing for affordable housing. For example, on one page, we see kids at the park using chalk to draw pictures of families and houses. Written on the ground in bright letters: “Homes for all!” and “Justice.” On the opposite page, a kid in a wheelchair plays the tambourine and another sits on a makeshift seat while strumming a guitar, both smiling encouragingly at a family donating warm clothes for the winter. The revolution is colorful, musical, and inclusive.
On another page, we see a young writer typing an op-ed for the school newspaper, titled: “Don’t Clear the Park: People Live Here.” The article includes quotes from students at the elementary school and residents of the park; adjacent to the article is the weather forecast predicting rain. Affordable housing is not just about housing, but also the decriminalization of poverty, racial capitalism, mutual aid, and climate justice. In so many simple ways, the book demonstrates the interconnectedness of social justice. As abolitionist Mariame Kaba has written in We Do This ‘Til We Free Us (2021), prison-industrial complex abolition is “a vision of a restructured society in a world where we have everything we need: food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundation to our personal and community safety.” Through Wang Brandt’s rhymes and Bontigao’s illustrations, We Are Revolutionary shows us how a more just world requires abolition.
I live walking distance to the local neighborhood park, where we take turns refilling small buckets of chalk for the kids. Sometimes the chalk disappears for days or weeks at a time, but this week, the buckets were filled to the brim. Just last week, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. It is an egregious assault on human rights and will have horrifying consequences across the country. And while I am devastated, this week, the park sidewalks have been filled with colorful block letters that write out “fight for repro rights” and “abortion access 4 all.” Reproductive justice, like affordable housing, has a vast history within white supremacist and institutional violence.
If abolition is about building a world in which we have what we need, we’ll need to cultivate a vast set of creative actions and skills across generations to make radical worlds a reality. As You Are Revolutionary says, we all have something to contribute:
“You can be fierce and feisty,
or you can be soft and tender.
To fix the world’s big problems
we need both defenders and menders.”