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Justice For Labor Day: Provocative Kids Books About The Fight For Workers’ Rights
[Image Descriptions: Interior illustration from On Our Way To Oyster Bay, by Monica Kulling & Felicita Sala. A group of children and adults rally in a crowd, holding up signs that say “No Work, More Play,” and “More School, Less Hospital.”]
In his post: Help kids understand that the fight for labor rights and safe working conditions isn’t over this Labor Day.
Happy Labor Day!
As you know, Labor Day is the day when the middle and upper-class go shopping for retail deals, toss their white polos to the help for laundering, close the pool, and drink champagne on sailboats.
BUT DID YOU KNOW…
Labor day is SUPPOSED to be a reminder of progress of the Fair Labor movement – encouraging us to fight for safe working conditions, livable wages, reasonable working hours, and the protection of underprivileged employees.
Seems backward that we celebrate by forcing retail employees to work black-out holiday hours, endure insufferable latte orders for crap tips, and get yelled at about coupons.
Um… there is something seriously messed up with how we are doing labor day.
Dolores Huerta was a teacher and mother who took action against the inhuman working conditions of migrant laborers and a key organizer in the California Grape Strike of 1965 – a when workers and consumers pulled together through labor organizing, media action, and boycotts to protect workers.
Mother Jones led a strategic campaign to force wealthy Americans to see the effects of child labor, shaming the US government into enacting child labor laws.
Gordon Parks and Ella Watson instigated our country to recognize the invisible labor of Black women both inside and outside the home.
Today we honor Dolores, Mother Jones, Gordon, and Ella – We keep fighting against the exploitation of workers.
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Learn About The Modern Labor Rights Movement
You might also like: Disrupting Injustice – Books About Resistance For Courageous Kids
Silly But Effective Stories About The Power Of Agitating & Organizing
You might also like: Breaking Walls & Building Bridges – Kids Books About Collective Action
Connect kids with the power of worker’s rights by helping them empathize with other kids just like them.
I am not a giant fan of I Like, I Don’t Like – it’s reductive and lazy, plus the Photoshopped images are creepy AF. But if anyone wants to write their own spin on this, one that does the work of explaining the difference between exploitative work and the work required to be part of a community, I am here for it.
You might also like: Captivating Kids Stories To Recognize Privilege
Glass Ceilings – The Gender & Race Wage Gap
Brave Girl, Shining Star, How Mamas Love Their Babies addresses the presumption of feminine/immigrant incompetence, tokenism, and the invisible unpaid labor of mothers (and sex worker rights), respectively. For kids 10 and up, check out Fannie Never Flinched, (not pictured) which is a bit too didactic for my littles, but a great resource.
Why is women’s work still worthless in kidlit? Heads up for problematic books:
- The Giving Tree is an unhealthy example of what we expect from women – particularly mothers. Read it as a cautionary tale, that relationship is MESSED UP.
- I Am Sacagawea whitewashes and celebrates the kidnapping, enslavement, rape, and exploitation of an underage Lemhi Shoshone woman like it’s some kind of brave adventure. NOOOOPE.
Get picky about the way stories devalue women’s labor.
You might also like: Kickass Black Women – Stories by and about Black American Women
The US Economy Runs On The Backbone of Exploited Black Labor
Note: Brick By Brick repeats the objectifying phrase “Slave hands’ throughout a poem to reclaim and validate the generational trauma caused by slavery. We discuss this in more detail here, but for now, understand that non-Black folks – this book is not for you. It might make you uncomfortable to realize that there’s a thing not made for your consumption. Some things are not for you. You’ll be fine.
Authors – heads up! I’m still searching for a picture book that explains how we continue to willfully exploit Black folks through predatory cash-bail, school-to-pipeline systems, and the terrorism and oppression of Black lives in our judicial system. ::Waits impatiently::
For more problematic literally sugarcoating slavery, look to ‘A Fine Dessert,’ which inspired the hastag #SlaveryWithASmile (coined by BLM Activist Leslie Mac) in a detailed article by Kenrya Rankin from Colorlines. In another, Demetria Lucas D’Oyley from The Root shows us another horrific example of whitewashing in ‘A Birthday Cake For George Washington.‘
You might also like: Stop Lying To Your Kids About White Supremacy
“Many white people did things they never should have done. Denied opportunity, denied housing, denied voting rights, exploited the love and labor of Black women.” – From Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness
The Effect of Exploitative Migrant Labor On Families
Migrant is particularly tame and beautiful, and a good starter since there is no family separation. Pancho Rabbit is scary and necessary to understand the dangers families face in order to do basic work that US citizens both want and need done.
A New Year’s Reunion takes place in China, not North America. I still haven’t found a decent book about Satellite Babies – American children of the working poor – who must be sent to grandparents in China at birth for lack of affordable childcare.
I am waiting for stories about the violent, forced separation of families at the US southern border happening right now currently in print. All because we put up stupid boundaries and criminalized the healthy flow of circular labor migration. To be updated.
Migrant labor in and of itself is not a bad thing. Negative community impacts happen only when we criminalize and exploit impoverished workers, gentrify neighborhoods without increasing wages to match, and hoard resources that migrant families need to complete a healthy economic cycle.
You might also like: Immigrants Belong Here- Books To Help Kids Advocate For Human Rights
It’s Time To Disrupt Systemic Injustice
So, gosh – what now?
These books are designed to make you feel uncomfortable. Most of them are not fun to read. Now that your kids know how our economic system exploits people in poverty, women, nonbinary folks, Indigenous people, and folks of color – whattya gonna do about it?
How are your kids going to take these awful feelings and channel them into good trouble?
I don’t have the time and resources to do everything on this list while raising two kids and running BFL. But every day, I do what I can to fight for fair labor rights, and so should you. So do just one thing – and if you can, do more.
Learn about the impact of small actions with your kids to level the playing field:
- Read one of these books each month. We can’t smash the kyriarchy if we don’t know how it works.
- Sow a grassroots economy: Invest in sustainable business with micro loans (One Hen). Or seed small-business with donations (Beatrice’s Goat, Mimi’s Village).
- Decriminalize sex work: Women who are forced (or choose to) support their children with sex work don’t belong in prison. They deserve resources to keep themselves safe. (Learn why here).
- Demand equitable hiring & employee support: Support affirmative action in your organization. Equitable hiring benefits our entire economy, not just Indigenous folks & people of color. (Everything White People Think About Affirmative Action is Wrong.)
- End cash bail: Prevent people accused of a crime (not even convicted) are imprisoned simply because they can’t afford $30. People lose jobs, housing, and custody of their children over this broken system. Support National Bail Out.
- Practice fair hiring at home: Create transparency, accountability, and safe working conditions for your nannies, cleaners, and other domestic workers (Hand In Hand)
- Pay disabled workers a fair wage: It’s legal and socially acceptable to exploit disabled workers and pay us a sub-minimum wage, consume our work for free, and claim our expertise and labor is worthless. If you benefit from disabled labor, pay for it. (Minimum Wage Shouldn’t Be Something You Work Your Way Up To – Even If You Have Disabilities.)
- Pay for this education: Running Books For Littles is a full-time job. Childcare, housing, groceries, and running BFL isn’t free. You get guides like this thanks to the labor and expertise of an autistic mom of color. Donate or shop using an affiliate link via| Paypal | Venmo | Ko-fi | Buy a t-shirt | Buy a book
Be the leader we need
Our economy is broken because we’re hiring and promoting business executives who care about shareholders and profit. ‘Leader’ is a misnomer – these are Wheedlers, not Leaders.
Leaders protect the people who follow and dedicate themselves in service to a common mission. If the leaders in your your company, your school, or any part of your community are serving themselves over others, or allowing injustice to happen – stand up and call this out – this is not okay. (The Smallest Girl In The Smallest Grade)
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Be The Change You Wish To See