Tundra Telegram: Books That Aren’t Gonna’ Take It Anymore

Hello, and thanks again for reading the Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.

And what is on many North Americans’ minds this week? The fight for abortion rights in the United States. No doubt, our readers have heard about the leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that indicated the court is set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide. In the days and nights that followed, abortion rights protesters have rallied in cities around the United States (and sometimes outside Supreme Court Justices’ houses) to express their outrage and opposition.

While few picture books delve much into abortion or abortion rights, we have included a few YA titles that do in a frank manner. But our focus in this telegram is on books that demonstrate the power of protest and collective action to influence political decisions.

PICTURE BOOKS

To get your kids involved in activism early, start with an ABC book, like A Is for Activist, written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara. Perfect for families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for, A Is for Activist will have your kids associating M with Megaphones and Marches over Moons and Monsters.

Inspired by the 5 million people (many of them children) in 82 countries who participated in the 2017 Women’s March, Andrew Joyner’s The Pink Hat follows the journey of a pink hat that is swiped out of a knitting basket by a pesky kitten, blown into a tree by a strong wind, and – after a series of misadventures – finally makes its way onto the head of a young girl marching for women’s equality.

Kids in protest march are also central to Lubaya’s Quiet Roar by Marilyn Nelson and Philomena Williamson, a book that shows the power of introverts in social justice movements. A reserved girl draws pictures on the back of her parents’ protest posters. So when the posters are needed again when Lubaya and her folks march in the streets, the girl’s artwork makes a massive visual statement and demonstrates how “a quiet roar can make history.”

Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress by Alicia D. Williams and April Harrison is not just a picture book biography, but the story of an activist turned political leader. Chisholm started as a kid who asked “too many questions,” soon became a young activist with the Harriet Tubman Society and Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League, and eventually became the first Black woman to run for Congress, as you’ll learn when you read this acclaimed picture book!

MIDDLE GRADE

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an anthology of poems, letters, personal essays, art, and other works by 50 diverse creators who lend voice to young activists, and edited by legendary writers and editors Wade and Cheryl Willis Hudson. From authors like Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Ellen Oh, and others comes a book that, as Ashley Bryan says in the foreword, “just to touch this book … will lift your spirits.”

Grassroots organizing is highlighted in Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles. In it, Wes is more focused on his style and playing video games than the protests his parents keep dragging him to. But when a developer attempts to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood where Wes has lived his entire life, he gets a hard lesson in gentrification and becomes a reluctant activist who learns the power of community.

It may not have the awesome power of a thousands-strong march, but Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s Banksy and Me features a street-art-style protest against cameras being brought into classrooms and unites a group of middle-grade students together against an unfair school policy.

And Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes celebrates a different kind of activism, when straitlaced student June Harper starts an underground reading movement in reaction to a massive book ban at her middle-school, showing you can make a difference by marching in the streets and by granting access to forbidden information!

YOUNG ADULT

Maybe she’s not fighting for reproductive rights, but young feminist Jemima Kincaid takes aim at her private school’s many problematic traditions in The Feminist Agenda of Jemima Kincaid by Kate Hattemer. When Jemima is named to student council’s Senior Triumvirate, she’s finally in a position to change things, but she may inadvertently end up reinforcing patriarchy instead of fighting it!

If that’s not angry enough for you, you’ll love Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao’s “400 pages of female rage.” It’s like Pacific Rim mashed up with The Handmaid’s Tale and a heaping spoonful of Chinese history. As Julie C. Dao insists, “Zetian’s fight to shatter patriarchal definitions of power makes for a truly thrilling read.”

But if you’re looking for YA books that discuss abortion, you can’t go wrong with E. K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, an unforgettable story about the aftermath of a cheerleader’s sexual assault, that refuses to play to stereotypes and focuses instead on the importance of creating strong community support systems. It’s no spoiler to say an abortion is pivotal in our heroine Hermione’s journey.

And an oldie-but-goodie on the topic of abortion is bestselling author Sarah Dessen’s Someone Like You, following teen best friends Scarlett and Halley as they encounter new understandings of love, sex, and responsibility – something highlighted when Scarlett finds herself pregnant two months after her boyfriend dies in a motorcycle accident. Could abortion be her answer? You’ll never know unless you read this classic from 1998!

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