Standing Together Against Book Bans: A Q&A with award-winning author and activist Robin Stevenson

Standing Together Against Book Bans: A Q&A with award-winning author and activist Robin Stevenson

In recent years, there’s been a troubling increase in book bans and censorship across North America. Among the themes and genres most challenged are LGBTQ+ books. But many authors are fighting hard to get and keep their stories in the hands of young readers.

One such author is Robin Stevenson. An activist and the award-winning author of over thirty books of fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens, Robin’s work celebrates diversity and brings attention to issues of human rights. She has penned books on queer history and community, abortion and reproductive rights, and on young activists, among others.

We asked Robin about her work and what it’s like to face book challenges and bans.

Several of your books have been challenged throughout your career. What has it been like as an author to see your books facing challenges?

It’s no longer surprising but it is always upsetting. It’s very personal—my books are challenged because they include people like me and my family and our friends. The idea that this makes my books inappropriate for kids is beyond absurd: I write them thoughtfully and carefully, with kids and families in mind, because I know how much it matters for kids to see themselves in—and to learn about others from—the books they read. People who challenge books often claim to be protecting kids, but these challenges are based in homophobia and transphobia. They demonize my community and they actively hurt young people.

You run creative writing workshops and school visits, including ones that educate on different kinds of activism and the history of the LGBTQ+ movement. Why is writing and educating on activism important to you?

I’ve always loved teaching and I’ve always loved working with young people—I was a social worker and university instructor before I became an author—and I’ve been involved in various kinds of activism since I was in my late teens. So, talking to students about writing and activism feels like an obvious fit! There are so many thoughtful and passionate kids and teens out there, and I so enjoy hearing their perspectives on the world around them. I also love sharing stories about activism with them because I think learning about the work people have done to get us to where we are—whether that’s around LGBTQ+ rights or racial justice or reproductive justice or other issues—is encouraging and inspiring and can help us feel more hope for the future. There is still lots of work to do, for sure, but people have fought for change and they have accomplished so much. It’s also really important to me to share queer history with young people; it is rarely taught in schools, and most queer young people don’t have queer parents, so this is a history that doesn’t get passed along from generation to generation within families. I think adults in the queer community have a responsibility to make sure younger people have access to our community’s history.

A board book edition of your starred-reviewed picture book Pride Puppy! will be published on April 16. What inspired you to write this story, and why do you think it’s a good fit for young readers?

For me, being at Pride is a very joyful experience. I love seeing our beautiful, diverse and resilient queer community coming together in the streets, celebrating and continuing to fight for a world where everyone is free to be themselves. When my kid was small, our family went to our local Pride march every year; we would meet up with grandparents, spend time with friends, march in the parade or watch it go by, and hang out in the family area at the Pride festival afterwards. I know lots of kids who celebrate Pride with their families—and I know that lots of kids haven’t had that opportunity! Pride Puppy is for all of them; it’s a fun, happy, colorful glimpse of a family celebrating Pride together, and it shows the way their community helps out when their over-excited puppy gets temporarily lost in the parade. Julie McLaughlin’s illustrations are wonderfully engaging, and I think little kids will love looking at all the pictures in this new board book edition.

Pages from Pride Puppy! written by Robin Stevenson and illustrated by Julie McLaughlin.

During your acceptance speech for the 2023 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, you said that it was important that you were receiving this award at this time. Can you talk about the support you’ve seen in the literary community and the positive action being taken against book banning?

Whenever books are challenged, people step up to defend them—and I am always so grateful to see that. Last fall, for example, when a Catholic school board in Ontario restricted student access to four books with 2SLGBTQ+ characters, over 200 authors signed a letter of protest, and many organizations—from the Writers’ Union to the Ontario Library Association to the Association of Canadian Publishers—quickly released strong statements opposing censorship and book banning.

I think one really important thing for people to know about book banning is that most people do not support it—and although there’s been a huge escalation in book challenges, these challenges are coming from a fairly small group of people. The vast majority of parents trust librarians to select books for their kids’ schools, and most people want public schools and libraries to meet the needs of the diverse communities they serve.

When my own books have been challenged, I have often met wonderful people in the communities where the challenges have happened. This has definitely been a silver lining, and it always gives me hope to see so many thoughtful and committed people standing together against book banning and against the misinformation, bigotry and hate that it is so often based in.

Why do you write?

I can’t imagine not writing. I have always loved words and stories and books, and I love that I get to help bring more books into the world. The fact that I get to call it my job still feels too good to be true.

Robin Stevenson is the award-winning author of more than thirty books of fiction and nonfiction for kids and teens. Her books have won the Silver Birch Award, the Sheila A. Egoff award and a Stonewall Honor, and have been finalists for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Lambda Literary Awards, and many reader’s choice awards. Robin was the Book and Periodical Council of Canada’s Champion of Free Expression for 2022. In 2023, she was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence.