Innosanto Nagara was born and raised in Indonesia, and moved to the US in 1988 to study zoology and philosophy at UC Davis. Upon graduation, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he worked as a graphic designer for a range of social change organizations, before founding the Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio in Oakland, California, that is dedicated to “serving the Movement.” Inno lives in a cohousing community in Oakland where his child is the youngest of eight children to be born into the household, so he has “studied” a lot of children’s books over the past twelve years. A is for Activist is Inno’s first book.
A is for Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for.
The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books.
What motivated you to write books that specifically include LGBTQ families/issues?
I basically wrote A is for Activist initially with just my child in mind. I wanted to have a book that would truly engage them while at the same time be fun for me to read, since I knew that if it was a hit with our child, I’d have to read it over and over again. Also I wanted the book to reflect our family’s values and be about things that mattered. LGBTQ issues matter to us–and despite the fact that we live in the relatively progressive Bay Area, basic rights are still a battleground. Other children’s books like Heather Has Two Mommies (Lesléa Newman), And Tango Makes Three (Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson), and 10,000 Dresses (Marcus Ewert) were groundbreakers (and still are). Following in their wake, I felt it was important for a book that encourages children to take the reigns of their own futures to say that we are proudly and unapologetically on the side of LGBTQ rights.
I define “family” broadly. Sometimes you’re born into it. Sometimes you choose it. Sometimes it chooses you. We live in a co-housing community with five families and children from different parents who have been raised together since birth. My partner is adopted. There are many paths that bring people together throughout the world, so “family” is who you decide it to be.
What does “equality” look like to you?
Equality is a component of Justice. Justice is approached not only when there is simple equality (as in “equal access” or “equal pay”) but when there is fairness, free from discrimination, bias, and taking into account diversity and difference. Sorry… as a student of philosophy, that’s the least “technical” answer I can give on the concept. 🙂
But as far as immediate policy goals for marginalized families goes (LGBTQ families, undocumented families, families torn apart by war, and so on) even the basic step of being afforded basic human rights and equal treatment would be a step towards progress. So even as our movements achieve legislative wins and cultural paradigms begin to shift with each new generation, it’s important to remember what Malcolm X articulated so well in 1964: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.”
I know that may sound grim for a children’s book author, and I’m actually quite hopeful. But I derive that hope from remembering that all that we have achieved has been achieved by being bold. So when I propose “equality” in A is for Activist, I envision Justice.
Whose books do you admire and why?
Ooh, this is a hard one–there as so many great writers of all genre that I have been influenced by. But since I’m being interviewed here as a children’s book author for the Family Equality Council, here are some contemporary children’s book authors who’s books are staples in our household (besides the ones I mentioned above): Maya Christina Gonzalez (many books, including her latest “gender free” book, Call Me Tree/Llámame Árbol), Janine McBeth (Oh, oh, Baby Boy), Corey Silverberg (What Makes a Baby), Cheryl Kilodavis (My Princess Boy),Yuyi Morales (many books, including Viva Frida), Shane Evans (We March).
What’s coming up next for you?
Right now I’m very focused on getting the word out about the Spanish adaptation of my book, A de Activista—written by the incomparable “artivista” Martha Gonzalez (from the Grammy Award winning band, Quetzal). But this Fall my next book is coming out from Seven Stories Press/Triangle Square: Counting on Community, a book about the value of community, sharing, and cooperation—that also teaches kids their numbers. Oh, and there’s a duck.