Sticking Together is a beautifully illustrated children’s book produced by the creative team of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. It’s the perfect gift for pint-sized unionists-to-be (as well as the fully grown variety!).
What can animals teach children about working-class solidarity? Quite a lot! Take a journey through the animal kingdom and discover how important it is for all of us –human and animal alike – to stick together.
For instance, did you know otters link up their paws and form a ‘raft’ before they fall asleep, so no otter drifts off while they’re napping? Or that vampire bats bring back food and share it with their hungry counterparts?
Or that emperor penguins huddle together in the cold like a chummy rugby scrum, but they rotate who stands on the outside so that nobody freezes their penguinybits off?
The book is written by James Raynes and illustrated by Mitzi McKenzie-King.
For both James and Mitzi, creating the book was a reminder of how much solidarity is not just natural, but also vital for our survival.
“While I was researching, I saw so many examples of how animals cooperate,” James said.
“The natural world is often used as a metaphor – a justification even – for individualistic, competitive behaviour and it’s really not accurate.
“Society teaches us over and over again to look after number one, but the reality is that working in union is part of human nature.”
Nature not machines
Mitzi said, “I also think solidarity comes naturally to children. And it can be nurtured – but it's not always, especially in mainstream education that tends to want to turn kids into little productivity machines.”
“One of the toughest things was narrowing down the animals we wanted to select because the examples of animal cooperation are so numerous,” James said.
“Then there was the discovery that some of thebest examples of animal cooperation in the wild are not necessarily the cutest things to be putting in a children’s book!
“Naked mole rats cooperate in pretty interesting ways – but have you ever seen a naked mole rat?”
For Mitzi, the hardest thing to illustrate was “definitely the vampire bats”. The bats were a late addition to the book – and James is all praise for Mitzi’s success at making them look cute. “I mean – the bats cooperate by regurgitating blood into each other’s mouths so she really had her work cut out for her.”
Mitzi and James, who have worked together for more than four years, believe that an alchemy of shared union values and a similar sense of humour helped the words and imagery fuse so cohesively.
“We’ve both got this intense passion to make things better, and to try to always eke out humour wherever we can,” Mitzi said.
James said: “If you were to give this job to an illustrator who wasn’t steeped in the values of unionism, would the humanity in these images have come through? I’m not sure. I think that as unionists and communicators, we both understood and wanted the same thing.”
Mitzi said, “We need to teach kids that unionism is about collectivism, but also that it’s about valuing diversity, inclusion and intersectionality. So by illustrating someone in a hijab and someone in a wheelchair and gender-ambiguous people, it’s normalising for young kids the idea of power and beauty in diversity.”
Available from weareunion.org.au, or see Giveaways to go in the draw for a free copy.