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Works of Radical Imagination

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The Wedding Portrait is an essential book for kids about standing up for what's right. Here are stories of direct action from around the world that are bookended by the author's wedding story. He and his bride led their wedding party to a  protest, and were captured in a photo by the local newspaper kissing in front of a line of police just before being arrested. "We usually follow the rules. But sometimes, if you see something is wrong—more wrong than breaking the rules and by breaking the rules you might stop it—you may need to break the rules." When indigenous people in Colombia block an oil company from destroying their environment—this is a blockade; when Florida farmworkers encourage people not to buy their tomatoes because the farm owners won't pay them for their hard work—this is called a boycott; and when Claudette Colvin takes a seat in the front of the bus to protest racism—this is called civil disobedience. In brilliantly bright and inspiring illustrations we see ordinary people say No—to unfair treatment, to war, to destroying the environment. Innosanto Nagara has beautifully melded an act of love with crucial ideas of civil disobedience and direct action that will speak to young readers' sense of right and wrong. There has never been a more important moment for Innosanto Nagara's gentle message of firm resolve.

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blog — April 27

Three Cheers: Innosanto Nagara

Three Cheers is a recurring feature on the Seven Stories Blog, in which authors dish on three books or authors that helped to mold them over the course of their lives. Today we're featuring Innosanto Nagara, author of A is for Activist and many more, all available from Seven Stories.

by Innosanto Nagara

There are of course many many more, and it’s terrible to have to just pick three. But since three is what you ask for, here are my three cheers:

First cheer goes to the Indonesian dissident poet/playwright Ikranagara, who also happens to be my father. First cheer to him because, consciously or unconsciously, my understanding of what writing is, who can write, and why one would write, was first shaped by him. Growing up in a house where my parents and their friends discussed writing and philosophy, and seeing the impact they were having in the country, makes my father my most formative author influence. 

Second cheer goes to Khalil Gibran, introduced to me by my mother when I was a child. His “On Children” in The Prophet, is a guiding philosophy for how I approach writing for children. That core idea, that ‘your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself” and that ultimately they will “live in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams,” is why I think it’s important to have the conversations I hope to spark with my books.

Third cheer is difficult. I want to credit writers like Keri Hulme (The Bone People) or Jerzy Kosinski (The Painted Bird), whose approaches to writing and style have been a great influence. Or maybe I should make sure everyone knows Ayu Utami, whose book Saman was the first of its kind for an Indonesian writer and blew my mind when I read it in 1998 right before the fall of Suharto. Saman undoubtedly contributed to the fall of Suharto. But since this is a space where I’m wearing my children’s book author hat, and I only have one cheer left, I’m going to make a shout out to Shel Silverstein. Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book is not his most famous children’s book, but it was one of his favorites, and mine. His respect for children’s ability to appreciate complexity and context, in 1961, is always a reminder to me.

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Children’s book author and illustrator Innosanto Nagara’s books encourage children to grow up with confidence in themselves, and to be proactive citizens who are passionate about causes from environmental issues to LGBTQ rights and civil rights. Born and raised in Indonesia, Inno moved to the US in 1988. After studying zoology and philosophy at UC Davis, Inno moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, working as a graphic designer for a range of social change organizations before founding the Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio. Inno lives in Oakland in a cohousing community with nine adults and eight kids.

Inno’s first book, A is for Activist, started a movement in social justice book publishing for children. After it came Counting on Community, then My Night in the Planetarium and The Wedding Portrait. M is for Movement is the fifth title written and illustrated by Innosanto Nagara.

Inno’s books stand in solidarity with people of all ages, races, gender identifications, and backgrounds. They suggest that your family isn’t only yourself and your parents but also the community in which you live, the histories of those around you, and the natural environment on which we depend for our food and water and air. The ideas in Inno’s books may sometimes sound controversial, but they speak to us in a language that is pure common sense and in tune with our natural wishes and inclinations as human beings.