20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work
Written by Tiffany Jewell Illustrated by Aurélia Durand
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN: 978-0-7112-4520-4
Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster
“It’s not enough to be non-racist – we must be ANTI-RACIST.”
Tiffany Jewell quotes the legendary but also controversial human rights activist Angela Davies in the promotion of a book that arrives during the global struggle for equality. Her words are aided by the vivid, ‘Saved By the Bell’ 90’s style graphic illustrations of Aurélia Durand, her colour palette is warm and perfectly suited to the latitudes of the citizens of the global majority.
Jewell provides action plans and activities to help a young person to navigate towards the world as it could be. Focusing on methods to help an individual make changes in themselves first and then influence others we get to see how enlightenment can surround one in a powerful bubble of agency building the confidence to challenge hegemony.
Is this complex subject too difficult for children to grasp you might ask? The author thinks not as it is in our earliest years that prejudiced ideas form and it is at this age that they need to be understood and somehow challenged. I think there is an intention to raise awareness in parents and grandparents alike and perhaps it is they who need to engage with this book for their own benefit too. It is a cliché but they will have to ‘Unlearn what they have learned’ to get to grips with the possibilities advocated within its pages. The book also contains useful notes on the text, a glossary and selected bibliography to support further understanding.
The information is presented as New Knowledge and backed up by the author’s personal journey to raise herself to a position of useful authority. She uses step by step practices to form a better world and to help people cope with the old one so we can all be in a better place together. Though a Biblical cliché ‘the truth shall set you free’ and I certainly hope that this is the reality for the many rather than the few if we are to make any progress on justice.
The intention of the author is also to challenge performative behaviour as this is a serious subject that requires one to commit to being anti-racist and to stick to this position! To do the work. We will have to employ a new vocabulary to describe a world that is actually anti-racist. It will be hard for some to accept that the world has actually been violently shaped by racists for the benefit of racists.
As someone who understands book design I find the layouts difficult to read as the overall design is weakened by the body text being too close to the gutter, and the stiffness of the book binding allied with the thick stock used does not help. For such an important book the design should be more elegantly produced. If this book, as I suspect, is also meant to work as an e-book then this might account for these design judgments for the publication. That said it should be most definitely be available online and in multiple languages to increase its reach. Everyone should want to follow an anti-racist path and this book will support this stance.
I have previously reviewed a picture book called ‘Greta and the Giants’ by Zoé Tucker and Zoe Persico that focused on helping young readers to appreciate how they can play a part in the climate crisis debate, and I feel that This Book Is Anti-Racist can do the same. It will help children to help their elders to understand the inequities of racial prejudice and the work necessary to help them to ‘change their minds.’ The answers to these problems cannot be found in one publication, but Tiffany Jewell makes a great start and should be commended for taking a stand.