Good Stuff – Little Rebels

By Herb Kohl

Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature

Edited by Julia L. Mickenberg and Phillip Nel
New York University Press, 2008
Hardback, $32.95, 288 pages.

Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators

by David Sobel
Stenhouse Publishers, 2008
Paperback, $17.50, 168 pages

Sometimes it’s wonderful to be proved wrong. In 1995, I published an essay that made a plea for radical children’s literature and claimed that it was almost impossible to find any. In referring to this claim, the editors of Tales for Little Rebels say in their introduction: “Yet in recovering a radical tradition in children’s literature, we discovered far more work than we had room to include [in the book]. We’ve collected texts that offer a taste of the U.S. Left’s ‘social imagination’ as it evolved over the course of the twentieth century.”

Tales for Little Rebels provides fiction, nonfiction, poems, illustrations, and biographies from authors and illustrators as diverse as Art Young, Lucille Clifton, William Gropper, Langston Hughes, Norma Klein, Syd Hoff, Eve Merriam, Julius Lester, Tom Feelings, Walt Kelly, and Munro Leaf. It also states, convincingly, that these works are part of a radical tradition in children’s literature. This beautifully produced book is full of illustrations, comic strips, and photos. The editors also provide a running commentary, which fills in information about the authors’ and illustrators’ personal and political lives.

I read this book with great pleasure and some of the entries stand on their own as first-rate works of children’s literature. Taken as a whole, the book reveals a unique, vibrant, imaginative, and energetic left-wing tradition of writing for young people. It is an invaluable resource for progressive educators and hopefully will inspire teachers to write and even publish their own children’s books dealing with sensitive political and social issues.

Another book I recommend is Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators by David Sobel. For Sobel, the study of global climate and the environment begins in your own backyard. He articulates seven principles of ecological education and describes them in the context of experiments and observations he did with children in his own environment. He also gives examples of the principles of his “place-based” education in work in other schools throughout the country.

Sobel’s first principles are that environmental education needs to be kinesthetic and develop adventures that explore the environment. The second and third principles are that environmental education should be imaginative and utilize stories, plays, photos, and other forms of media; and that students should try to understand animals inside out before trying to study and save them. The next three principles consist of developing a sense of place and using maps; having children construct safe and special places for themselves; and creating models of ecosystems and neighborhoods, small worlds, as vehicles for understanding abstract ideas about the environment. The final principle is what Sobel calls “using hunting and gathering” — creating collections and data while looking for clues that might lead to potential solutions to large environmental problems.

The examples Sobel provides in his book draw from work with 3- to 12-year-olds, though I suspect the principles, adapted and used selectively, can be used to introduce older students to environmental studies. The book does not provide an in-depth curriculum, but is well written and provocative. Creative teachers will find much in it to set them off developing principles and curriculum of their own.