With releases like The Civil Disobedience Handbook and the International Homosexual Conspiracy, it’s no surprise that Manic D, a San Francisco small press specializing in anarchist publications, would attract negative attention. But the press’s initial foray into children’s book publishing – a 44-page picture book for children ages 4+ – is igniting just as much controversy as any of its books for adult readers. Within days of the mid-November release of A Rule Is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy by husband-and-wife team John Seven and Jana Christy, the Liberty News Network, a Tea Party publication, published a report condemning the book’s existence. LNN writer Eric Odom stated that it was “downright shocking” that such a book had been published.
A Rule Is to Break contains such advice as “When Someone Says, ‘Work!’ You Say Why?,” “Think for Yourself!,” and “Give Away Stuff for Free.” “Do What You Want!” declares the penultimate page, with the last page expressing truly anarchist sentiments of self-determination, by concluding, “Or do nothing, if you prefer.”
According to LNN, “it gets worse.” A Rule Is to Break contains a blurb on the back cover by William Ayers, described below the blurb as “author (To Teach: The Journey in Comics and Fugitive Days), teacher, Barack Obama’s alleged terrorist pal, and grandpa.”
“Bill Ayers, radical terrorist leftist and friend of Obama, not only endorsed [A Rule] through his Twitter account, his comments in support of the book are listed on the actual Amazon page,” LNN's Odom wrote. “If a person can be read by the company he keeps, what does this say about Obama?”
Seven isn’t surprised at the controversy building in certain circles around A Rule Is to Break, which they originally released as a 32-page paperback in June 2011, after Seven and Christy, whose previous collaborations were published by Capstone and Andrews McMeel, had raised $1,200 through a Kickstarter campaign to self-publish a book that they felt reflected their own family’s philosophy of life. “A Rule Is to Break was a little too radical for the publishing houses we usually go to,” Seven explained.
The timing of the book’s release coincided with the emergence of the Occupy movement, and A Rule Is to Break was “passed around” at Occupy encampments in various cities, Seven recalled, prompting the right-wing blogosphere to criticize it as “a manual by Occupy to brainwash children.” The title is a takeoff of the title of the classic children’s book A Hole Is to Dig by Ruth Knauss, which was illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
A Rule Is to Break did not sell well, due to Seven and Christy’s lack of experience with sales and distribution. “It sold probably a couple hundred copies,” Seven told PW. Acting upon a suggestion by a bookseller who complained that it was “a pain in the ass” to order books from them, Seven and Christy decided to query traditional publishers after all.
“We’re not publishers,” Seven said, explaining that he and Christy sent A Rule Is to Break and another children’s book for ages 3+ that they’d self-published, Happy Punks 1 2 3: A Counting Story, to alternative presses, including Manic D. Happy Punks 1 2 3 will be released by Manic D in March 2013, two months after Abrams Appleseed releases the couple's much more mainstream picture book, A Year with Friends. “[Publisher Jennifer Joseph] was insistent that she publish A Rule Is to Break and Happy Punks 1 2 3,” Seven recalled, “I think the books spoke to her.”
Manic D, founded by Joseph in 1984, publishes six titles each year, including fiction, nonfiction, art books, and poetry. Manic D titles are distributed in the U.S. by Consortium, and in Canada by Publishers Group Canada. A Rule Is to Break was published with a 5,000-copy initial print run. While Consortium declined to disclose sales figures, marketing manager Jennifer Swihart Voegele said that sales are “pretty good,” and are “healthy for a first picture book from a small publisher.” She expects sales to pick up, especially with the Tea Party condemnation.
“The Tea Party doesn’t like A Rule Is to Break because it’s anti-capitalism,” Joseph insists, adding that, hoping to create more buzz, she sent copies to media pundits Bill O’Reilly and Stephen Colbert with a card that reads “Happy Holidays!”