Occupy Homes MN activists release children's book about the foreclosure crisis
Bumbling villains Freddie and Fannie loom over the residents of Homesville.
courtesy Becky Z. Dernbach
When the country's two major mortgage institutions are nicknamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it was probably inevitable that at some point someone would personify them.
Local Occupy Homes activist Becky Z. Dernbach saw the opportunity. On Friday, Boneshaker Books is throwing Dernbach a release party for her new picture book, Fannie and Freddie, in which those mortgage giants are the two main characters -- specifically, the cartoonish villains.
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"We'd been talking about Freddie Mac as a character, almost, as he was kicking the Cruz's out of their home," Dernbach says. "And I was frustrated that the narrative of the housing crisis has gotten so convoluted when it seems so simple to me."
The book is Dernbach's effort to re-frame the responsibility for the crisis and, she says, to "firm the movement." The text takes the form of a Seuss-style allegory, with narrative couplets written by Dernbach. The illustrations are the result of a collaboration between 11 artists -- two outside the Twin Cities and nine from the area -- including several active Occupy organizers and two local homeowners fighting with Occupy against foreclosure.
Dernbach wrote the book in about two months this summer and got the artists together in September. She then self-published so that she could get the first copies in time for the National Day of Action in D.C. on September 27. While there, she read from Fannie and Freddie on the lawn of Ed DeMarco, the guy who oversees the real-life versions of the institutions.
The book's plot tells a familiar story -- or at least, one version of a familiar story. Fannie and Freddie are rich, loutish siblings who, after lending the citizens of Homeville funds to buy their houses, head off to Vegas. They gamble away all of their money, and decide to put the homes of Homeville on the blackjack table.
The siblings lose their bets, and when they return to Homeville, raise rates on the new homeowners' loans. The town quickly crashes: schools can't pay teachers, trash fills the parks. One of the citizens, nurse Maggie McWhite, loses her job when the hospital closes. As Dernbach writes:
"Maggie'd thought if disaster struck, she would be ready.
But she'd lost all her savings to Fannie and Freddie.
And yet she still had to keep making her payments.
While Fannie and Freddie made plans in the Caymans."
When the "too big to fail" siblings come to collect Maggie's house, she stays put in protest, and then rallies her neighbors to stand strong together. Not unlike some homeowners, and a movement, here in the Twin Cities.
Occupy Homes MN is supporting Dernbach's work: It financed the first half of the first batch of books (50 copies), and is receiving half of any proceeds. "We sort of are viewing it as a joint project," says Dernbach, who coordinates communications for Occupy Homes MN. "The book is co-produced by them, and I'm the other producer."
Some early readers have said Maggie McWhite reminds them of one of the first homeowners to partner with Occupy, north Minneapolis's Monique White. Dernbach, however, insists any resonances are accidental. "'Mc' is often used in rhyme, and 'white' rhymes with a lot of things," she says. "But at the same time, though it wasn't conscious, I won't say absolutely" that the fictional and the real [Mc]White are totally separate.
Though the book rhymes and has pictures, Dernbach considers it fitting for readers of all ages. She's selling copies for $10 via her website, and hopes to have them available to buy in bookstores like Boneshaker on consignment.
IF YOU GO:
Fannie and Freddie book-release party
7 p.m. Friday, October 19, Boneshaker Books at 2002 23rd Ave S
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