You may not have noticed, but there’s an election coming up. With talk of right, left, and the squeezed middle, which books offer children a strong and stable basis in political thought? Catherine Barter, author of the political thriller Troublemakers, and bookseller at Housmans, London’s oldest radical bookshop, puts an X in the box for the best.
A is for Activist
Innosanto Nagara, Seven Stories Press, 978-1-6098-0539-5, £6.99
A beautifully illustrated A -Z picture book in which C is for Co-op, F is for Feminism, G is for Grassroots… you get the idea. A is for Activist is a playful introduction to politics and people power, packed with ideas for changing the world. It’s full of big concepts presented with humour and warmth, and provides plenty of inspiration for budding activists everywhere. Nagara’s Counting on Community is fantastic, too.
A Rule is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy
John Seven and Jana Christy, Manic D Press, 978-1933149257, £13.99
Anarchy might sound scary, but as a political system based on challenging authority and resisting arbitrary rules, it’s sure to have some appeal for children. Through the character of Wild Child, this fun picture book introduces some of anarchism’s bravest ideas: ‘think for yourself’, ‘build it don’t buy it’, ‘listen to the smallest voice’, ‘give away stuff for free’. While parents might balk at some of the suggestions (cake for dinner? no baths ever again?), these bold challenges to conventional thinking offer a joyful and yes, anarchic, complement to some of the more worthy and serious political children’s books out there.
Who are Refugees and Migrants? What Makes People Leave Their Homes? And Other Big Questions
Michael Rosen and Annemarie Young, Wayland, 978-0-7502-9985-5, £13.99
There have been a number of excellent picture books exploring the experience of refugees and migrants recently, like Kate Milner’s My Name is Not Refugee or Francesca Sanna’s The Journey. But this non-fiction book for older readers is an excellent primer for this most timely of subjects, offering not just the usual call for tolerance and compassion, but active invitations for children to think critically about the ways in which migration is discussed politically. The inclusion of real migration stories from high-profile people like Rita Ora, Mo Farah, and Michael Rosen himself, give warmth and dimension to this complex topic.
The Liar’s Handbook
Keren David, Barrington Stoke, 978-1-7811-2680-6, £6.99 pbk
Part of Barrington Stoke’s Super Readable series, this short, punchy novel about families, secrets and lies has a straight-from-the-headlines twist. River, whose mother is a lifelong political activist, is a fifteen-year-old boy with a gift for fabrication. He is suspicious of his mother’s new partner, and also has questions about his father, who mysteriously left before River was born. The Liar’s Handbook takes the recent scandals around undercover policing in activist communities and turns them in to a page-turning family drama. There’s no heavy-handed message, here: the ethical questions the book raises are implicit. But Keren David’s afterword about the true stories that inspired the book will likely leave curious readers wanting to know more about this very contemporary issue.
Don’t Cross the Line
Isabel Minhos Martins, Gecko Press, 978-1776570744, £11.99 hbk
An armed soldier, surrounded by white space, guards the line that divides the pages of the book. Characters amass on the left-hand pages: the soldier will not let them cross the line, citing the orders of The General. When two boys accidentally kick a ball across the page, they cross to retrieve it, and others follow in their wake, until the right-hand page is full of people, and the authority of The General has collapsed. This simple story elegantly introduces concepts of power and peaceful rebellion. The vivid colours and detailed illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and the use of the book’s physical format is witty and inventive. We absolutely love this book at Housmans Bookshop.
Lydia Syson, Hot Key Books, 978-1-4714-0367-5, £7.99pbk
Historical fiction can provide an exciting introduction to political ideas, and in Lydia Syson’s YA novel, set during the Paris Commune of 1871, history is much more than a backdrop. An exploration of the socialist ideals and politics of the Commune is woven into the narrative, with characters both inspired and frustrated by the politics of their time. Syson deftly portrays politics as part of the drama and fabric of everyday life—an idea with plenty of resonance today.
Girl with a White Dog
Anne Booth, Catnip Publishing Ltd. 978-1-4714-0367-5, £6.99 pbk
Jessie is learning at school about the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. Meanwhile, her grandmother is behaving erratically, clearly haunted by something from her past. There are a plenty of children’s books dealing with Nazi Germany, but this story is particularly effective in linking the past and the present, and demonstrating that the horrors of fascism can’t always be safely confined to history. This was shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award in 2015.
The Little Bookshop and the Origami Army
Michael Foreman, Andersen Press, 978-1-7834-4208-9, £6.99 pbk
Another Little Rebels Award shortlistee. The Mayor decides to close down Joey’s favourite bookshop and replace it with a superstore: Origami Girl to the rescue. This picture book might not inspire confidence in government—when Origami Girl heads to Parliament for help, she finds them all literally asleep on the job—but it’s a sparky celebration of community action and standing up to power, the type of politics that everybody can be part of.
Sally Gardner, Hot Key Books, 978-1471400445, £6.99 pbk
At least one piece of dystopic fiction has to make it on to this list, and the 2013 Carnegie Medal winner is still one of my favourites. In a bleak alternate England in which an oppressive and violent regime routinely makes people disappear, the original, defiantly imaginative voice of fifteen-year-old Standish Treadwell offers a reminder that resistance to totalitarianism begins in the mind.
Here I Stand: Stories that Speak for Freedom
Amnesty International UK, Walker Books, 978-1406373646, £7.99 pbk
With contributors including John Boyne, Neil Gaiman, Frances Hardinge, Chelsea Manning and Sabrina Mahfouz, this collection of stories exploring human rights and their various violations could be terribly worthy, but in fact it’s a moving, creative response to many of the humanitarian injustices of our time, made more effective by the variety of voices it contains.