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Rad Dad: What If?
Radical Books for Kids (and Adults)

On the anarchist parenting email list, there's been a recent discussion about what kind of kid's books are out there that have a radical bent, that offer stories that teach values that challenge the status quo, the way things are, that offer the magical and crucial what if? scenario so essential to believing in the possibility of change. Some of the titles, I never considered; some I don't necessarily agree with; some I have never even heard of. And so, armed with this info, my kids, our dog Noodle, and many of the neighborhood children who are a part of a child-swap collective, we all spent a few afternoons walking to the south Berkeley library.

Along our merry way, we all started talking about books, about what they mean, how they teach. I love hearing what kids think about the world around them. So on the subject of books, my eight-year old pipes in that she knows how to swim in freezing water if she ever falls through a frozen lake.

"I learned that from a book," she brags.

"Nice," I say, "I hope I'm with you when I decide to cross the Alaskan wilderness."

"And I learned how to make a fire too."

My ten-year old daughter asks why we need to find books that are radical in the first place. "Yeah," the two other know-everything ten-year olds chime in sarcastically. "Like, why does everything need to be radical, Tom?" They sound so exasperated. But I know they get it. One of them brings up the Girls to the Rescue series and how normally it is always the opposite. Oh help me, help me, one mimics and they all laugh, but they know how overwhelming it is to be told the same boy saves girl story over and over. And then my daughter brings up Cars.

She says, "Yeah, look at how popular cars are now because of that movie. Like those Chevron cars. Maybe they should make a movie called Bikes or Walks." She is so right. What if…?

That's why I am constantly reminded that having these sometimes tedious, difficult conversations are so important. I am reminded why being willing to talk about what things could look like—if in fact things were different—is so effective, so damn important.


Onto the list. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of these books available in the local library. Take a look for yourself and please let me know what others you suggest. I am trying to come up with a radical library for the storyteller in all of us, as well as for the next issue of rad dad. Because sometimes we all need a story to help or guide us.

When we are tired, when we've worked a long day, when we are at our wit's end, sometimes what settles us most effectively is to read a story, to be a part of the telling, to be transported with our children to that place of what ifs? and once upon a times.

And man, did I find the coolest book ever. I happened upon it at Bound Together Books in San Francisco, but I didn't buy it because it was fifteen bucks, but now realize after some used book searching that that was a bargain. So for my birthday, you all can send it to me because I have never seen a book that narrates such a radically different set of values, one that challenges the notions of capitalism, family structure, success, and many other things.

It's called The Little Squatter's Handbook and it is the story of five homeless people from all walks of life (there's even one little Lego man who's missing his little Lego arm) and how they band together to take over an abandoned building. They all sleep in the same bed (at least initially) sharing dreams and fears, manage to ward off the cops by employing various direct action tactics, and in the end, they throw a block party inviting all their family and new neighbors to celebrate their new communal living arrangements. Read it—even just for yourself.

Kid's Books for various ages:

column added on 2006-07-16 :: ::

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