North Adams couple's book offers kids different course to discovering individuality
NORTH ADAMS -- Go the wrong way; listen to the tiniest voices; give stuff away for free and never bathe again -- it's now easier for young readers to learn the ropes of anarchy.
John Seven and Jana Christy-Seven, a North Adams couple of 23 years, have laid out those -- among many other -- "guidelines" in their recently re-published illustrated children's book, "A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy." Thousands of copies have already been printed and sold.
The colorful, 44-page children's book is not about children "throwing chairs through windows or blowing up government buildings" -- images associated with the negative connotation of the word "anarchy," Seven said.
Instead, it's unlike many other picture books, which Christy-Seven said tend to come off as "preachy." The book embraces unconventional, even rule-breaking, behavior and questioning authority as a healthy way for youngsters to accept their own individuality and escape the box that rules confine them to.
It mirrors how the couple raised their two sons, Harry and Hugo, the couple said.
"We certainly had rules, but we fostered the belief in them that it's OK to question authority -- and that includes us," Christy-Seven said. "Any authority deserves to be questioned. Kids at a young age are bombarded with rules, and parents are bombarded with rules to put on their kids."
"Not every rule has to be followed all the time," she added.
Christy-Seven, a fulltime illustrator, produced all of the illustrations. She is also the illustrator for upcoming Disney books. Seven, the arts editor at The North Adams Transcript, did the writing.
The book's main character is Wild Child, a blue-haired girl that wears a red half-devil, half-wolf costume that she sews herself on a bright-orange page that reads "Don't look like everybody else! Be you!"
Before she makes her costume, Wild Child is stark naked on the previous pages.
"We were kind of walking that line portraying non-conformity and individualism for little kids," Seven said.
Wild Child, loosely based on the couple's niece, existed before the book she inhabits did. She was originally created as a girl living in the wilderness, but no stories ever fit the character until "A Rule is to Break."
"We were discussing what a child's anarchy book would look like," Seven said. "We brain-stormed, and decided it should be an anti-rule book."
On each page, Wild Child is breaking some kind of common rule between many parents and their children: Staying up all night; ignoring school and reading books instead.
"Or do nothing if you prefer," as the last page reads.
Wild Child is always joined in her free-spirited ventures by creatures including robots, monsters, tutu-wearing bunny rabbits, octopi, and even a giant, anthropomorphized hot dog.
"I needed her to be the only human, I needed it to be more fantasy-based," Christy-Seven said. "If there was an adult, it would automatically make her less important. She needs to be the most powerful."
The authors insist "it's not a rule book."
"It's supposed to make kids happy and giggle, and hopefully prompt conversation," Christy-Seven said. "If the parents are reading the book to them, it's more powerful."
"A Rule is to Break" was originally self-published by the couple in the summer of 2011. It was just recently re-published by Manic D Press, a publishing company out of San Francisco that prints books about anarchy and individuality.
Additional pages and sharper colors were added from the self-published version, the authors said. It is Manic D's first official children's book.
"It fit in with what we do," said Jennifer Joseph, the publisher of Manic D and a self-described "utopian anarchist."
"I thought the illustrations were just dynamite and I really liked the message that was being conveyed," Joseph said. "It's really not just for kids --it's a great gift for anybody that's free-thinking."
Joseph said that a couple thousand copies of the book have been shipped out with many more being scheduled to ship out.
"A Rule is to Break" received a glowing review by author and radical activist Bill Ayers. Conversely, it has received scorn on an online forum at the conservative activists website Free Republic.
Copies of the book are available at Hardware: The MASS MoCA Store, 1040 MASS MoCA Way, The Eric Carle Museum Bookstore in Amherst and on Barnes and Noble's website. A manager with the Pittsfield Barnes and Noble store said she would work to get copies in the store after learning the authors were local.
John and Jana, as they go by on their front covers, have two more books coming out in 2013. "A Year With Friends," a graphic novel for youngsters that shows activities for each of the 12 months , will be published by Abrams Books in January.
"Happy Punks 1 2 3," is a counting book that mirrors the look of famous children's author Richard Scarry, Seven said.
Similar to "A Rule is to Break," "Happy Punks 1 2 3" will be published by Manic D Press in March and incorporates an element not usually seen in kid-friendly books: Punk rockers.
"Every kid has some relative that says they were punk or knew a punk [rocker]," Christy-Seven said.
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