'Rad American Women' spells out feminism for kids

History books come in all sizes, but few include enough stories of women who have influenced American society.

Those looking for more than Susan B. Anthony should look no further than “Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!” written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl.

The first children’s book published by City Lights in its 60 years in San Francisco the subject of a celebration at the bookstore on Saturday, just as Women’s History Month comes to a close.

Schatz, an author who chairs the School of Literary Arts at Oakland School for the Arts, came up with the idea while looking for books for her young daughter. There were A to Z books about animals and food, but none that served up history in an engaging way.

Her biggest challenge was whittling down the list of women she was interested in to the final 26.

“My primary goal was to have a very diverse group of women,” Schatz says. “I was trying to focus on women whose stories aren’t all that familiar.”

In “Rad American Women,” A is for Angela – as in political activist Angela Davis. P is for singer Patti Smith. The book, of course, ends with Z, as in writer Zora Neale Hurston.

Rosa Parks is not included, but her mentor – Ella Baker – is. Nor is Amelia Earhart, but another aviator – “Queen Bessie” Coleman – is.

Schatz found Coleman’s story especially inspiring. Coleman grew up in poverty in the South. Turned down by American flying schools because she was black, she learned French and raised enough money to move to Paris. She earned her international pilot's license in 1921, two years before Earhart, and found success as a stunt pilot. “It’s such a story of sheer will and independence,” Schatz says. “Kids love it when I talk about how she flies upside down.”

Schatz says she knows there may be some backlash.

“It’s an understandably progressive feminist text,” says Schatz.

So far, response has been positive, Schatz says, noting that “Rad American Women” went into its second printing before it was officially released. “I couldn’t be more pleased,” Schatz says.

Stahl, who teaches at Berkeley High School and is co-founder of its Arts and Humanities Academy, created bold illustrations to accompany the text.


Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!

Where: City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., S.F.

When: 12:30 p.m. March 28

Tickets: Free

Contact: (415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

Note: “Rad American” design silk-screen will be offered; bring a T-shirt or other clothing item.

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