Throughout the years, books written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Berkeley High School (BHS) art teacher Miriam Stahl have told the stories that the average textbook fails to mention. Highlighting women from the many countries around the world, their recent books have been centered around strong, innovative, pioneering individuals. However, Schatz and Stahl’s newest book, Rad American History A-Z, is “not just about individuals, but bigger movements and moments in history,” according to Schatz. The book goes letter by letter through the alphabet, naming, explaining, and showing different historical events that shaped the way BHS students see and live in the US now.
In times of activism in local and broader communities, it is so important to recognize events that have taken place in the past. “I have always wanted to make a book that is really about groups of people getting together to make change happen because I think it’s important for us to have stories of outstanding, interesting people. I feel like when kids, and people, read those stories, they feel like there is a divide between what they can do and what that person has done. But I think that actual, real change happens within groups, and I want people to read the book and know that if they have a good idea, they can gather their communities and make things happen,” says Stahl.
The BHS community has recently seen a similar desire to create change collectively, in the demands that students have co-created and presented to the school board about cases of sexual harm. BHS, like the groups in Rad American History A-Z, has proved that the most powerful, and change-inspiring movements are
those that are led communally. It is important for all communities, however, to learn and grow when reading about the past. Although history doesn’t always have an obvious correlation to the present, there is a lot to explore, learn from, and connect to. Schatz explains, “Reading and studying history gives us a really valuable perspective. Especially when the current moment feels overwhelming, it can give us a breather.”
Another valuable thing this book has to offer is the ability to understand its content in more than one way. Along with the chance to read the text on each event and understand its connection to the letter of the alphabet it was assigned to, there are unique and detailed illustrations for people who thrive when learning visually. It is important that history is available to all types of students, because everyone can connect to it in some way.
“I’m dyslexic myself, so I am drawn to pictures and images, and so, I often think about learners like myself that are going to look at images before they read. The images give you a little insight into the story you’re about to read and I also think that images and pictures are very powerful and have the capacity to change culture,” shares Stahl, who created the illustrations for Rad American History A-Z.
It is obvious how important it is to learn about history, in every way, shape, and form. This is why Stahl and Schatz created a book centered around the change that people have made together, whether it be change that is now celebrated, or that people have learned from. It is their hope that students can read this book and become inspired by these monumental historical events. “The youth are the people living right now that have the ability and capacity to change culture in a major way. They will be our future that are pushing to change laws and make life better for us all,” said Stahl.