Getting Kids to Be Activists Through a Graphic Novel

One of the lessons of history is that it must be retaught so our children won’t repeat it. When I left Union Plus last year, I decided to enter into an “encore” career and published a graphic novel to teach kids about labor history. But most importantly, how to become an activist when you’re a teenager. That was just the beginning—AFT got involved and decided that we needed to go big on this. Through #ShareMyLesson, we wrote a lesson plan that guides kids through worker history but also gets them engaged in issues during this very important political time.

The graphic novel is for 8- to 16-year-olds; this “Generation Z” is now larger than millennials or baby boomers. When the Rules Aren’t Right: 7 Time Travel Tales of Activism is the story of Emma, a typical teenager tired of her family and her chores. She goes back in time with her nana in a time machine made out of kitchen appliances and participates in parts of activist history. From the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire to international child labor activism to farm worker safety, the book focuses on the long arc of social justice.

AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker took time on March 17 to endorse this book at an AFT luncheon honoring female activists for Women’s History Month, including Neidi Dominguez with the AFL-CIO.

Weingarten noted that the AFT’s free Share My Lesson website offers a lesson plan using the novel: https://sharemylesson.com/teaching-resource/when-rules-arent-right-7-time-travel-tales-activism-leslie-tolf-279986.

So I’m re-engaging, re-activating and re-igniting. My goal? To get 1,000 educators to read the book and 100,000 kids to use it. Although only 1 in 10 kids are growing up in a union household, they’re coming of age in a politically active time. To find out more about the book, visit WhenTheRulesArentRight.com or contact Leslie Tolf at [email protected]. Can you help?

Leslie Tolf is president emeritus of Union Plus and a graphic novel activist.