The independent bookseller City Lights has been a fixture in the San Francisco literary scene since the 1950s, and its publishing house has released some iconic works of literature and poetry — you've all read Allen Ginsberg's Howl, haven't you? Well there's also Charles Bukowski, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and other left-wing names famous for social justice. City Lights' first children's book Rad American Women A-Z can take a seat alongside some of these titans of progressive literature because it's one of the coolest picture books I've ever seen.
Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History… and Our Future! is the picture book you're going to want to give anyone having a baby this spring, and then also buy a copy for yourself. Mermaid in Chelsea Creek author Michelle Tea started the City Lights/Sister Spit imprint back in 2012, and when Tea brought Rad American Women A-Z to Stacey Lewis, vice president of City Lights, Lewis knew it would be perfect:
When Michelle brought this book in, the concept was so perfectly in line with our commitment to progressive politics. We say we don’t publish children’s books, but this one was just so City Lights.
Each page of the picture book, written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, highlights one of 26 American women how have shaped our history, culture, and society, from the letter A to the letter Z.
There's women's rights and civil rights activist Angela Davis, comedienne Carol Burnett, musician Patti Smith, jazz singer Hazel Scott...
... civil rights activist Ella Baker, dancer Isadora Duncan, writer Zora Neale Hurston, and 19th century abolitionists the Grimke Sisters.
And as for "X"? "X is for the women whose names we don’t know." Perfect. Schatz told Publishers Weekly that she got the idea for the picture book when her own child turned 2.
Being a parent made me think really differently about being a writer and feminist. When you become a parent you see the world in a different way. We have a house full of children’s books, and there were so many A-Z books, but I wanted something more dynamic, diverse and engaging. I realized I would need to do that myself. At first I thought it would be just a fun side project, but people reacted so passionately. I realized all kinds of people were hoping for and wanting something like this book...
The landscape of children’s literature is so exciting right now. It’s really different than when I was a kid. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is amazing and it’s getting the attention of publishers.
Image: Gianpiero Actis/Wikimedia Commons