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Meet the Creatives Behind the Union Kids’ Book Everyone’s Buzzed About

James Raynes editing a first proof of the book from his Ballarat home studio.

Vic unionists are known for our prowess when it comes to sending a message. Whether we’re organising phone banks, door knocks, petitions, rallies or dancing lobster flash mobs - we know how to tell a story that turns heads.

And now, with the publication of our first ever, union-themed children’s book, we’re taking that story to pint-sized unionists to be.

‘Sticking Together’, which is on sale now, was illustrated by Mitzi McKenzie-King and written by her Trades Hall colleague James Raynes. The book invites readers to take a journey through the animal kingdom and discover what animals can teach us about working-class solidarity (which is quite a lot, as it happens). For instance, did you know that otters hold onto each other in a kind of ottery raft in the water, so they don’t float away while they’re sleeping? 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 penguiny bits off?

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,” says James. “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.”

Mitzi adds, “I also think solidarity comes naturally to children – if it’s nurtured. And it’s not always, especially in mainstream education that tends to want to turn kids into little productivity machines.”  

Mitzi McKenzie-King illustrates 'Sticking Together'

Mitzi McKenzie-King in the early stages of illustrating the book.

When Solidarity’s not Always… Photogenic

This is James and Mitzi’s first children’s book together and while they had “great fun” creating it, the project wasn’t without its challenges.

“One of the toughest things was narrowing down the animals we wanted to select because the examples of animal cooperation are so numerous,” says James. “Then there was the discovery that some of the best 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!” her chuckles.

Embedding Union Values in Every Page

Mitzi and James, who have worked together for more than four years at the Hall, 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 explains.

James adds: “If you were to give this job to an illustrator that 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.”

Even the colours of the illustrations was developed with the movement in mind. Mitzi adopted the We Are Union’s brand palette to illustrate the whole book.

“We’ve used very rich, deep colours but they’re bright and energetic at the same time. That’s our movement: energetic, colourful – but with a lot of depth!”

For Mitzi, it was important to express the essence of the Vic unionists’ Solidarity Statement. “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.”

Secretary of Victorian Trades Hall Council Luke Hilakari is proud of the book, and keen to get it into the hands of thousands of children. “Unionism is all about sticking together and helping each other out – and that’s a lesson children are never too young to learn, and adults are never too old to be reminded of.”

He hopes that the book can be used to “start a few conversations with the children in your life – and maybe even inspire a future generation of unionists!”

‘Sticking Together’ is being launched online by actor, Playschool presenter and proud unionist Rhys Muldoon on Monday, November 8. Follow us on Facebook to get a reminder of the event, and purchase the book here.

Meet the makers behind the Vic union movement’s first ever solidarity-themed children’s book, ‘Sticking Together’.

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