Rethinking Our Atlas of Possibility: An Alphabet Book of Imaginative, Uncommon, and Stereotype-Defying Occupations
An antidote to centuries of limiting and unimaginative ideas about what boys and girls can grow up to be.
By Maria Popova
As a lover of unusual alphabet books and of intelligent, imaginative children’s books that defy gender stereotypes, celebrate diversity, and counter bigotry, I was instantly taken with Work: An Occupational ABC (public library) by Toronto-based illustrator and designer Kellen Hatanaka — a compendium of imaginative, uncommon, stereotype-defying answers to the essential what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up question.
With a sensibility between mid-century children’s books and Blexbolex, Hatanaka weaves bold graphics and soft shades into a tapestry of tender vignettes about people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There is the K-9 officer (female) training her trusty dog on an obstacle course; the Butcher (heavy-set) chasing after a mischievous raccoon that got away with the sausage; the Naval Architect (female) oversees the construction of a large ship near the shore as the Oceanographer (female, dark-skinned) explores the marine world below the surface.
What emerges is an atlas of vocational possibility that offers a heartening antidote to our culture’s stale menu of options for what constitutes a successful life; a toolkit that fortifies young readers against the malady anguishing so many modern grownups — the challenge of letting our life speak and defining our own success.
Hatanaka’s depiction of women is especially emboldening — they aren’t pinkwashed stick-figures and don’t shy away from brawny or brainy pursuits.
Complement the immeasurably wonderful Work, which comes from Canadian independent children’s-book publisher Groundwood Books, with Maira Kalman’s design-history alphabet book, which was among the best children’s books of 2014, and Oliver Jeffers’s illustrated stories for the letters.