What I love most when picking up a book by Nyasha Williams is that, regardless of the topic, I'm guaranteed an imaginative and thorough interpretation that hits home for children and adults alike. Looking for a topic that's educational yet fun? Genuine and empowering? One with relatable characters intent on making a difference? Look no further. From her first self-published book back in 2020 ("What's the Commotion in the Ocean?") to her newest release, "Ally Baby Can: Be an Eco-Activist," she's added more lovable characters to the mix and high-impact lessons on how to be an environmental-justice warrior, while also giving us a peek behind the curtain into the mind of Nyasha Williams and her evolutionary interpretation of what it means to be an environmentalist in 2023 and how to make an impact in our world today.
"Ally Baby Can: Be an Eco-Activist" hit bookstores this past Valentine's day, and I couldn't have been more excited. In her newest addition to her "Ally Baby Can" series (part 2 of a 4-part series with two more releases later this year), Nyasha focuses on ways "Ally Baby," an advocate for social and environmental justice, can enact change to help our world.
Not one to shy away from complex social narratives and big words, one of my favorite things about this story is Nyasha's use of powerful terminology along with a glossary of terms to dive further toward the back of the book. A reader of this series might ask - "What is a food desert?" or "What does it mean to be 'Eco-conscious'?" These readers can be assured that the answers to their questions are just a few pages downstream. Though primarily intended for young children, the highly educational nature of this book can be appreciated by the novice to the senior, with significant concepts presented with simplicity. The language we use matters, and teaching children how to speak and write about critical topics has always been at the forefront of Nyasha's teaching philosophy, and that is represented in her work.
Where she once believed recycling was a key focus for a positive environmental impact, she now believes responses like composting and prioritizing compostable or reusable packaging, eco-friendly travel options such as biking or commuting and eating as close to home as possible (locally) as sustainable policies are far more fundamental. In her words, "Voting with your dollar is the only way. Use your finances to hold companies accountable for adopting regenerative business practices." This new understanding contrasts with her first book ("What's the Commotion in the Ocean?") and shows that, even within her work, she acknowledges the need to change outgrown patterns and challenge our assumptions. It was essential for her to showcase practical and applicable acts of environmentalism, demonstrated in her ability to act based on new information.
Along with a desire to feature viable ways to practice eco-activism, it was of critical importance to Nyasha to highlight Indigenous community members. Though notoriously used in the Western World to refer to Native Americans, this term refers to all native peoples Indigenous to various regions and continents. Indigenous is a global term. Disproportionately affected, Indigenous communities often bear the brunt of pollution and climate disasters. They are more likely to have toxic facilities near them and receive less adequate protection when natural disasters strike. Although BIPOC communities are not seen as the face of climate change activism, these communities have been consistently on the front lines, both dealing with repercussions and actively trying to continue living in balance with the earth. This book does an excellent job honoring and advocating for these existing practices in light of a more popularized, white-centered ideology.
The team at HarperCollins was first captivated by Nyasha's second book, "I Affirm Me," and especially connected with the cultural identity reflected throughout the book and the thoughtful nod towards Black culture and experience. This book led them to greenlight the series, and Nyasha's making of the "Ally Baby Can" anthology began in mid-April 2021. With this approval also came an ask to include multiple 'Sensitivity Readers' (dedicated readers for offensive content, stereotypes, bias, lack of understanding, etc.) and involve other activists in its making to ensure a well-rounded perspective and prevent misrepresentation. These asks were not only followed by Nyasha but, because they aligned with her values, were actively supported. As you read the book, you'll find there isn't only a glossary for resources but also dedications to other eco-activists and additional readings to continue to build knowledge and support other critical figures in the realm of environmentalism.
Thoughtful and highly informative, this book will be a great addition to any family's reading rotation. If you enjoyed "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi or any of Nyasha's previous works, you would be delighted by this book. And, if it's anything like "Antiracist Baby," there's a chance Ted Cruz might come along and ban it, so there's more reason to get yours today.
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