Sunday, June 2, 2013
Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children's Literature by Julia L. Mickenberg (Editor), Philip Nel (Editor)
The book is divided into 8 parts that cover the historical breadth of radical works with topics of literary themes, science and technology, economics, subversive messages, missing historical narratives, and societal prejudices. Part 3 on "Work, Workers, and Money," was one of my favorites as it showed how radical writers bucked the trend of glorifying industrial production and the person in power to focusing on the worker. Langston Hughes "Sharecroppers" shows the tenant farmer working for an overseer who keeps the profits and "The Little Tailor," by William Gropper that has a tailor working in a factory on an assembly line. Both show their labors do not allow them to own their products or find happiness in their strenuous work. Unlike most books during the early 1900s that glorified industrial production, these authors questioned it. These stories made me think of today and how computers are replacing people and books to some degree. The contemporary novel by John Scieszka shows this shift in technology as the protagonist, an old rusted cell phone called "Robot Zot" comes to earth and falls in love with a toy cell phone. Perhaps it is a comment on consumerism as Zot zaps household items in the house with his ray gun, as well as, a parody on romance tales. Lane Smith's "It's a Book" is another radical book that shows how technology is causing kids to not read, along with "Goodnight iPad," a parody of children saying goodnight to their technology devices. These books make me question what I consider the norms of how technology effects society today.
My favorite story in this book was "Johnny Get Your Money's Worth," by Ruth Brindze which reveals how advertising by a company gets kids to buy their candy. (I'm sure this appealed to my journalism side.) The piece is written for adults and reads more like an article than story but is meant to get people to think critically about consumerism. The company advertised a free bike to kids if they collected 700 wrappers in 4 months. If you do the math that means a kid would have to eat 5 candy bars a day. As she says it is "first-rate advertisement" for the company in getting them addicted to their chocolate bars. This made me think of the book, "Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate" and "Betty Bunny Wants Everything," by Michael Kaplan, a humorous look at a child who doesn't know when to stop eating chocolate or buying all the toys in the store. David Shannon's "Too Many Toys" is a comment on the consumerism that has many children with "mountain's of toys". Much of what the authors point out can be found today and for me this was the strength of the book. History doesn't really change. There will always be inhumanity, prejudice, war, environmental, economic, and societal issues. This is a book that could be written many times over and while I found it quite compelling I didn't love it.