Mylo Freeman’s 2021 picture book adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay We Should All Be Feminists is currently only available in its Dutch edition in translation by Hi-en Montijn, We Moeten Allemaal Feminist Zijn. This is a picture book introduction to feminism for children ages 8 and up, and full of Freeman’s characteristically bright, bold figures coupled with a child-friendly Dutch version of Adichie’s call for social justice and a more equitable world for everyone.
Both the essay and the picture book are based on a well-known 2012 TED Talk We Should All Be Feminists where Adichie lays out her rationale for why she has claimed the word “feminist” as her own identity and why everyone else in the world should as well.
In Freeman’s picture book interpretation, Adichie is depicted with her natural hair up in a bun as a young girl with a bright green tent dress with her full name in darker green letters. Her best friend joins her, a Nigerian boy named Okolama, who was the first person to ever call Adichie a feminist during an argument when they were teenagers. Adichie admits that she didn’t know what the word feminist meant when Okolama used that word in anger. When she looked up the word and realized what it meant, then she understood “what he wanted to say,” the implication that feminists were angry unreasonable beings.
Freeman chooses stories from Adiche’s original text that highlight and describe what feminism really is so that her version of Okolama, and her readers, can understand why feminism is so important. The opening story is about Adichie’s great-grandmother who refuses to marry someone she doesn’t love, running away to marry a man she did love. “She was a feminist,” Adichie tells Okolama, “Women have to choose for themselves.”
Adichie acknowledges the role of physical strength determining male leadership in the past, but now that cunning and intelligence are more needed instead, “girls are just as smart as boys.” When Adichie talks about how boys are allowed to be combative and angry, Freeman’s double-page illustration features climate activist Greta Thunberg with a G and T on her coat and her signature pigtails, arms crossed in anger about global warming. Freeman wraps Thunberg’s portrait in swirls of environmental symbols, including whales, recycling logos, and power plants, as Adichie talks about women and girls’ anger and how society tells girls to behave and be nice. Girls shouldn’t have to be nice. Girls can get angry and become activists.
There’s a spread of five girls wearing fancy dresses, including young Adichie in a pink tiered and ruffled dress and her full name. The message here is that it’s OK to want to be pretty and even to accept compliments, but the reason for fashion is to feel good for themselves: “I only choose my clothes because I think they are beautiful and I feel good in them.” There’s a woman who has the same job as her husband, yet does all the housework at home and even thanks him for changing their child’s diaper: “Shouldn’t it be normal for him to help take care of his baby?” Freeman posits this question while depicting the couple as construction workers in hardhats and orange work crew vests. Yet, the wife is wearing bright pink dishwashing gloves, carrying a cleaning bucket, and multiple cooking utensils while also wearing a tool belt, looking on as her husband changes the baby. The inequities here are gently portrayed within a caring nuclear family, but they are nonetheless unmistakeable:
The book ends with the definition of feminism clearly drawn by the examples from Adichie’s life that she shared with Okolama and the world: “A feminist is a man or a woman who says: ‘It is not good to treat boys differently from girls. This must change. All of us need to make that change!'” This call for equality is grounded with a large group illustration featuring people of many different genders, races, ages and cultures. Adichie and Freeman celebrate the unity that feminism can bring to communities if we all work together to create a more just and equitable world for all.
#TranslateThis! An English edition of this picture book would be a wonderful addition to social justice and gender equality library and classroom collections in schools around the world.
We Moeten Allemaal Feminist Zijn
Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Translated from the original English by Hi-en Montijn
Adapted and illustrated by Mylo Freeman
Published by De Bezige Bij
We Should All Be Feminists
Written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published by Anchor Books, 2015
You can purchase a copy of We Should All Be Feminists here.
“An enchanting plea by the award-winning Nigerian novelist to channel anger about gender inequality into positive change…Adichie makes her arguments quietly but skillfully. A moving essay that should find its way into the hands of all students and teachers to provoke new conversation and awareness. — Kirkus Reviews
“Nuanced and rousing.” — Vogue
“One and a half million YouTube viewings later, this small but perfectly formed talk has become an equally small but perfectly formed book…there really is no excuse not to buy several.” — Harper’s Bazaar
“The humorous and insightful tone will engage teens and give them an accessible entry point into gender studies. This title would also work well as a discussion starter in debate and speech classes. An eloquent, stirring must-read for budding and reluctant feminists.” — School Library Journal
“In this adaptation from Adichie’s TEDx talk, the Nigerian author points out that a focus on “human rights” overlooks the specific problems of gender. This short yet poignant work is a great way to begin the conversation with teens.” — Cicely Lewis, “A Teen Feminist Reading List” | Read Woke