Sunday, November 27, 2016

Book reviews: Two children's titles from Hardball Press

Hardball Press Children’s Division Offers Bi-Lingual Titles on Equality, Strength, Sharing
Book review by John Pietaro

Hats Off for Gabbie / Aplauso para Gaby!
Written by Marivir R. Montebon, Illustrationj by Yana Murashko, Translation y Laura Flores
(Hardball Press, 2016)

The Cabbage That Came Back / El Repollo Que Volvio
Written by Stephen Pearl, Illustration by Rafael Pearl, Translation by Sara Pearl
(Hardball Press, 2016)

With the addition of these two releases, the children’s division of independent, progressive publisher Hardball Press is running eight-strong. The series is unified by engaging, moving tales of growth, self-realization and visions of social justice with a strong focus on multi-culturalism: each title is published in both English and Spanish. But the publisher is sure to avoid the preachiness that can be associated with such a mission. Instead the text is clearly driven by the experiences and expanse of the child’s world and Hardball’s artwork is inviting and often compelling.

With Hats Off for Gabbie! / Aplauso para Gaby! Hardball brings us the ongoing fight for identity and equality via the tale of an eight year-old girl wishing to become a member of the local Little League baseball team. She is confronted with open sexism when the dismissive team coach tells her, “This is for boys only”. Confronted with exclusion, Gabbie and her friend divisive a plan to have her try out for the team, in essence, in drag. Disguised as a boy, her athletic talents immediately earn her a place on the team, and when in a tight game her batting skills are put to the test, she scores the winning home run. And then in coming forward with the reality of her gender, Gabbie liberates the team for girl athletes.

The core story is an important one for girls who have so often been left out of team sports, but there is room for this to be symbolic of one’s journey for self-actualization: following both her victorious moment and acceptance by the coach, “Gabbie made a promise to herself to always tell the truth”. This is an empowering statement in any context.

The Cabbage That Came Back / El Repollo Que Volvio offers another important moral, selflessness. Here, in the face of a winter colder and more snow-filled than she’d known before, a rabbit is desperately seeking to find vegetation to eat. Discovering two heads of cabbage in the frozen landscape, she brings them home and feasts on the first. Considering a neighbor she believes to be hungry, she gives the second cabbage to the hedgehog. Multiple times, the cabbage is given away to the next animal bearing winter’s famine, but when each realizes that she has enough food, they give it to another. Eventually it returns to the rabbit, an apparent reward for her kindness to others in need. The symbolism of outreach and sharing is center-stage and brings the concept to children in an inviting and gentle manner:  the rabbit could not rest having two if she believed others didn’t have any. With our recent election and its coming fallout, this timely morality story may become a necessary tool in a field of disconnect, isolation and divisiveness.

Thursday, November 10, 2016



By John Pietaro

ON THIS SECOND MORNING OF ELECTION 2016, staring into the surreal reality that Donald Trump is now president-elect, I find myself transitioning from the sickness and near-numbness of yesterday to a place of brewing anger. Like most on the Left, I was up very late on Election Night, uneasily throwing back a few, watching the results come in through gritted teeth. Yesterday morning in addition to feeling clouded, physically ill and psychically broken, I was exhausted. My day job in the labor movement provides a strong atmosphere of support but yesterday as I went into my midtown office for a team meeting, "venting " was first on the agenda. We were all in this same head of deep mourning but launched into a detailed conversation into the bitter reality of Trumpolotic: the icy blast came in a rush. In addition to his flagrant racist, sexist, xenophobic, greedy platform, he will probably push a viciously anti-Union agenda via Herr Scott Walker's "right to work" horseshit thrust onto the entire nation. Once inflicted, this would tear down the organized labor structure as we know it, vastly weakening unions, dividing workers and leaving a workforce with few if any rights on the job.

This is a change that we can never accept --just as we need to fight against his demonization of immigrants and people of color, his objectification of women and his complete corporatization of governance. No progressive or liberal of any stripe can allow a seizure of the nation by a power broker of the very rich now with the full strength of both houses of congress to trounce on (what remains of) the democratic concept. Trump's appeal to the working class, disaffected whites, unemployed rural people and the utterly gullible in addition to vile racists, Klansmen, xenophobes, homophobes, sexists, America-firsters---the perfect storm for fascist demagoguery---is something we have not experienced prior. This nation has been wracked with the greedy, the hateful and the isolationists who use the lowest tactics known, but prior to yesterday's tragic debacle, they've not been elected president.

This goes well beyond chilling. We are now awash in a very cold, a very urgent time and it must be faced head-on by all people of conscience. The Left must seek to build coalitions not of the moment but permanent bases from which to work. We need to use the model of the Popular Front which brought together Marxists, social democrats, unionists, liberals and the Democratic Party to fight the very real fascist threat overseas. Unified organizations of cultural workers carried the joint messages far and skilled community organizers, worked carefully to insure that workplaces and neighborhoods and families became a part of this serious need for CHANGE. And they operated successfully without any inkling of an internet, email or Skype! And until this mass coalition was manipulated to division, it was one of the vehicles used to hold the populace together and destroy Hitler's world conquest. And over the decades we've rarely if ever been able to repair the damage done. Many of our fights against injustice were fights alone. There is no place for such isolation of progressive activity now.

The present enemy we face is within and we need to both fight the power and find the means to bring in workers, because we cannot and should not do it alone. Today--not months into a Trump Administration-- we have to call on every voice, every hue, every culture that believes in equality and social justice; every working person, every oppressed community, artists, organizers and strategists of the wider Left; communists and socialists and anarchists and social democrats and liberals alike to begin the process. We can no longer allow our individual issues and organizations to separate us. We have no time left to waste, sisters and brothers.

The hour is late.

Album review: Gene Pritsker’s Sound Liberation, Let’s Save the World Suite

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