The ABCs of Empowerment

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Author Kate Schatz (left) and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl collaborate to create “Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History ... and Our Future!”  Photo courtesy of Kate Schatz.
Author Kate Schatz (left) and illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl collaborate to create “Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!” Photo courtesy of Kate Schatz.

A is for Angela Davis,

B is for Billie Jean King,

C is for Carol Burnett,

D is for Dolores Huerta,

and

X is “for the women we haven’t heard about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.”

“Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!” features short biographies and X-Acto knife cutouts of 26 radical female figures from the 18th century to the present. With bold text and bright colors, the book has received critical acclaim from several authors, teachers and parents who have bought the book for themselves and their children.

Written by UC Santa Cruz alumna Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, the book is City Lights Publishers’s first children’s book in its 60-year history.

“A children’s book was never one of the things we were seeking out or looking to do,” said UCSC alumna Stacey Lewis, who is City Lights Publishers’s director of publicity and marketing. “That’s why it was a stretch to us in theory as a kids book, but the political and cultural sensitivity of the book matched City Lights.”

Schatz said creating a book for children to start thinking about role models was an idea she had after having a daughter. There aren’t many empowering books available for children to learn about progressive female figures from the past and present, so Schatz wanted to make one for her daughter to read when she becomes older.

“As an outspoken feminist and someone who has always been involved in social justice, political issues and women’s issues, some of the most important education we can do is start teaching children at a young age how to respect each other and how to respect all genders, races and ethnicities,” Schatz said.

For Schatz, it’s exciting to see young boys and girls learn about certain ideas and issues “that most adults are terrified to talk about.” The letter “K” introduces Kate Bornstein, a transgender woman, writer, playwright and activist.

Bornstein’s part of the book explains “some people are born with male body parts, but they feel like women. Some are born with female parts but they feel like men. And some people don’t feel like either. Kate realized that she was ‘transgender,’ which means that she doesn’t identify as the sex she was born with.”

Since this may be the first time children encounter what transgender means, the book is an educational experience on many topics.

While the book was initially made for children, Lewis of City Lights Publishers said it has received “overwhelmingly positive” responses from audiences of all ages — the first batch of books sold out immediately at City Lights.

“The people who have been excited for it are primarily adults who want to get it for kids,” Lewis said. “They want boys and girls to be exposed to the biography. It’s appealing to kids too because the graphics are so bold.”

Award-winning artist Miriam Klein Stahl illustrated each figure by cutting out figures with an X-Acto knife. A difficult task Schatz and Stahl had was making the book aesthetically appealing to both children and adults.

Schatz also had trouble narrowing down female figures for each letter of the alphabet, so she asked for input from friends and researched names she had never heard of before, or even considered. Deciding on one female figure for each letter of the alphabet was the hardest component she encountered.

“[Choosing] was really hard and took a long time,” Schatz said. “We wanted to have a balance of women from several races and ethnicities but also a balance of time periods — some who are living now and long ago. We also wanted to show a range –– athletes, scientists, performers. There are 26 people in the book, but there could easily be 26,000.”

As a feminist writer for children’s literature and fiction, Schatz said the education she received at UCSC was critical in shaping her work and who she is today.

“Her combined major in creative writing and women’s studies was clearly a direct influence on her book about radical women,” said literature professor and Creative Writing Program Co-director Micah Perks, who worked with Schatz during her time at UCSC and continues to mentor her.

Schatz hopes to continue writing children’s literature and collaborating with Stahl to make “Rad American Women A-Z” a series.

“The impression I get is those who are excited about this book really want to pass it on to younger generations,” said Lewis, a UCSC alumna and director of publicity and marketing at City Lights Publishers. “They see it as something they wish was around when they were younger.”