A is for activist by I. Nagar


  • Leslie Aitken




Nagar, Innosanto.  A is for activist.  Mississauga, Ontario: Random House, 2013. Print.

A publisher’s release indicates that Innosanto Nagar is the founder of “…The Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio in Oakland, California, that is dedicated to “serving the movement…” (Enclosure dated November 16, 2013).  It is not the least bit surprising, then, that he would produce a book in the cause of activism; in fact, he would appear singularly qualified to do so.  But that he should, in good conscience, produce this particular book is baffling.

At times political propaganda, always a diatribe, A is for activism comes in the form of a board book for tiny hands, and in the guise of an ABC book.  Who is Nagar’s intended audience?  Or, more cynically, just whom is his publisher trying to kid?

The underlying intent of English language alphabet books is to introduce preschoolers to phonics.  Typically, words and illustrations are kept within the young child’s own experience level, real or vicarious.  One is free to agree with the following sentiment; it is, however, absurd to suggest it as an appropriate mnemonic for fastening the sound of the letter “d” in the mind of a three-year-old:

            “Little d democracy
            More than voting, you’ll agree.
            Dictators Detest it. Donkeys Don’t get it.
            But you and me? We Demand equality!” 

It also strains credibility to think that the symbolism of the illustration accompanying this stanza, a donkey and an elephant butting heads, will be grasped by American infants. This mnemonic for “n,” I grant you, might appeal to a two-year-old; but his mother?  Not so much.

            “N is for NO
             No! No! No!
            Yes, to what we want.
             No to what must go!
             No! No! No!” 

Finally, if you are seriously opposed to the expanding use of fossil fuels, join the adult conversation.  Sell your car.  Install some solar panels. Vote.  Don’t waste time teaching your babies to chant,

            “Silly Selfish Scoundrels Sucking on dinosaur Sludge!”

Some of Nagar’s ideas would be worth presenting to high school students—but not in board book format.   For young children, there are excellent picture books about people who have championed human causes with courage and conviction; for example, Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney.  Don’t buy A is for activist for a little child.  If you must have it, buy it as a gift for your adult friend who joins causes.  With this last possibility in mind, I am awarding the book one out of four stars.

Not Recommended: 1 out of 4 stars
Reviewer:  Leslie Aitken

Leslie Aitken’s long career in librarianship involved selection of children’s literature for school, public, special, and university collections.  She is a former Curriculum Librarian at the University of Alberta.



How to Cite

Aitken, L. (2015). A is for activist by I. Nagar. The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.20361/G2HW21



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