Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Meet Innosanto Nagara!

To open a book is to enter into a world of magic and wonder. Children's books have a powerful purpose -- beyond educational, books open children's minds to imagining many worlds and possibilities.
With The Power of Children's Books, we are not only celebrating the importance of their art but also the artists themselves, whose contribution provide our children with creativity and fantasy - and the
opportunity to dream of a world where anything is possible.

The current exhibit "A is for Art in Activism" closes this weekend - bring your children and students and encourage our youth to become the future leaders of tomorrow. 


Get to know one of the artists in the exhibit - Innosanto Nagara, author and illustrator of A is for Activist!

Of the books you have drawn, which do you reflect the most on? Why?
 I've only done two children's books, A is for Activist and Counting on Community (which comes out this Fall). Because I just finished Counting on Community, that's the one I've been reflecting on most recently. But A is for Activist also is a continuing project for me. Working with Martha Gonzalez (amazing Artivista from the Grammy Award winning band Quetzal) last year on her Spanish adaptation, A de Activista, has been a wonderful experience. Because it's an ABC book, and the words in Spanish that relate to the images don't always start with the same letters, it was a unique challenge. So we don't call it a translation, we call it an adaptation. Martha wrote a whole new book in Spanish that is fun for the kids, engaging for the adults, and presented her voice and politics along with the original images.
We also has the opportunity to work with Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine) on producing an audio version of A is for Activist,  and a Swedish translation came out last year as well! I'm working on a study guide based on the themes in the book with a number of leading activists who are working on those issues on the ground. So struggle continues!

Innosanto Nagara and Martha Gonzalez
What advice would you give your younger self?
 Don't take up smoking. When you're young, you don't think you'll never have to worry. Well, when you do get older, those things were either dumb, a waste of time, or an unnecessary worry that you now have to deal with.
But besides that, I would advise my younger self to worry a little less about what other people think. Everyone says that, and in fact you do need to care about what other people think. There is great value in understanding where other people are coming from, and that comes from caring what they think. But understand it. Have empathy. Decide what to do with it. But don't worry so much.

What three children’s books, other than your own, would you name as must reads? Why?
It's so hard to narrow it down to three. I feel there is such a great movement right now of people creating diverse children's books about things that matter. Authors and illustrators like Maya Christina Gonzalez, Yuyi Morales, and Shane Evans are creating such wonderful works of social relevance that children just love. But if I have to come up with three, I'd have to give a shout out some of my favorite independents:

Oh, oh, Baby Boy by Janine McBeth
As the father of a boy and a person of color, I think this book is just a gift. It is so important that we continue to expand the narrative of empowerment for girls, recognize women's work, and break down the gender binaries. But in the midst of that work it is also important to find the space to talk about raising good boys, and celebrate "engaged fatherhood" as she puts it. So I'm thankful for this book on a personal level.

What Makes a Baby by Corey Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
There is nothing else like it, and it's important. The rest of the world is going to present our children with faulty messages about their bodies, human reproduction, and what makes a family. Corey's narrative masterfully navigates all this in a way that is engaging and understandable to even very small children (my child loved it since he was 3), without compromising on any social or scientific accuracy.

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors 
by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
While I am not a practicing Muslim, I grew up as a Muslim in Indonesia and now that I live here, I see the deep, deep levels of ignorance people in the US are subjected to with regards to Islam. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns is a wonderful way to expose your children to what Islamic culture really means to Muslims. The illustrations are beautiful. And the words are lyrical, and are chosen so very carefully to appreciate, not preach.

W​hat are three places you would suggest children/families visit when in your hometown?
I will have to re-answer this question for my home hometown of Jakarta when I take my child there for the first time next year. But for my current hometown, if I have to pick three, I'd say Children's Fairyland, the Oakland Museum during their Dia de los Muertos event, and Adventure Playground in Berkeley.