For the future of our budding feminists, read this book to your kids. Read it yourself, even. It’s a scant quarter inch thick, with a page for each letter of the alphabet, and beautiful woodblock prints of each rad woman. What makes them so rad?
“Every single one of these women changed America in some way,” writes Kate Schatz in Rad American Women A-Z, an alphabet book for parents to read aloud, or kids to read to themselves. “Each one worked hard and believed in herself, even when others expressed doubt, or said no. These rad women have all said, ‘Yes, I can.’”
“It was an incredibly fun book to research and write,” Schatz said in a recent interview in Alameda, CA, where she lives with her family. “I really got to geek out!”
The idea for the book came when Schatz was feeling less than rad herself. When her daughter was two years old, Schatz says, “I was reflecting a lot on my identity as a writer, a feminist and a parent. I was creatively challenged. Will I ever get my mojo back?”
She was reading aloud to her daughter and the thought came to her: “What if I did a [children’s book on] radical American women? I want to be able to read her empowering, cool stuff.” Since then she’s found many empowering kids’ books, she said, but at the time, “There wasn’t a lot out there (that was) interesting, fun, feminist, aesthetically pleasing.”
She crowdsourced some ideas via her Facebook page. “My original list was heavy on writers,” she laughs. She found so many women who she considered rad that she already has more similar books in mind – a series of rad women from around the world.
“It’s a good book because it shows why women should be treated equally as guys. It also shows why white people and black people should be treated equally, too. It’s good for girls to read stories about strong women because it could encourage them to be one of them.
I can relate to some of those things because I can be an upstander, too. Like when someone is being mean to someone in my class or one of my friends, I tell them to stop, usually without hurting their feelings.
Are you inspired reading about someone like Angela Davis? Like if she can do it, you can do it?
Yup. But I already feel like I can do it, so she kind of re-inspires me.” – Sammy, age 9
While the pages share the stories of many notable women of all races, ages, eras, and include Kate Bornstein, a transgender woman, one entry that stands out is the letter X. “X is for the women whose names we don’t know,” reads the page. It continues in moving tribute:
“It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read. X is for the women whose voices weren’t heard…For the women who didn’t get credit for their ideas and inventions. Who couldn’t own property or sign their own names. X is for the radical histories that didn’t get recorded…X marks the spot where we stand today.”
Schatz admits that X is her favorite page. “With X, I didn’t want to force anything. It had to legitimately start with X. X is for the women whose names you don’t know. That’s really compelling. There are so many people we don’t know about. I wanted to acknowledge that there are people whose names we don’t know,” she adds. For the Jane Does of the world, X features silhouettes of women working and playing, and the reader may choose which one she wants to be.
Rad American Women is not a girl’s book, Schatz insists. “It’s really important for me that boys read the book. It’s really important that boys see female role models, too. If girls are the only ones who see these, then nothing changes.” The book is for ages 8 and older, for all children (girls, boys, any gender).
Given the chance, kids will see what needs to change in the world. “Kids are so much more receptive and wise than we give them credit for. Kids understand what’s fair and what’s not fair,” she says.
Further proof that this isn’t “just a girl’s book”? “There’s no pink – well, there’s hot pink. Salmon,” Schatz says. Radically salmon.
“I think this book could be very useful to teach about more women that people don’t really know about from history. There are a lot of words and also a lot of information to absorb, so it would be hard to read the whole book at once. I think it would be kind of hard to read if you were younger. I really liked the letter “X” because it included everybody and showed that no matter what you do or who you are, you are important. I would tell my friends that there are a lot of women from now and in our history that they don’t know about.” – Sienna, age 9
Rad American Women A-Z is published by City Lights/Sister Spit – the first children’s book ever published by City Lights. Schatz’s book, Rid of Me: A Story, was published in 2006 as part of the 33 1/3 series. Her work has been published in Oxford American, Denver Quarterly, Joyland, East Bay Express, and San Francisco Chronicle, among others. Her short story “Folsom, Survivor” was a 2010 Notable Short Story in Best American Short Stories 2011. She’s the chair of the School of Literary Arts at Oakland School for the Arts. Artist Miriam Klein Stahl is a visual artist. She is a co-founder/lead teacher of the Arts and Humanities Academy at Berkeley High School, and an Arts Commissioner in the City of Berkeley.