Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Stories of Hope: Kidlit Against Book Bans

Last year, I created a show called Stories of Hope: Kidlit for Ukraine and produced it with KidLit TV. It was an unprecedented and emotional benefit starring 28 kidlit authors that raised $15,000 (in a week!) for the children of Ukraine.

In August 2023, while speaking at elementary schools in Forsyth County, GA, administrators asked me to leave out the word “gay” from my presentations or leave. I left. This made national news including the New York Times, Newsweek (I wrote this one), Los Angeles Times, AP, and more.

I had already been intending to do a benefit to fight back against book bans and censorship, but this fast-tracked it. 

On 8/24/23, I asked Julie Gribble of KidLit TV, my partner for #KidlitForUkraine, if she was up for this spiritual sequel, including the tight deadline—aiming for Banned Book Weeks (first week of October). She said yes immediately. 

We chose PEN America as the organization to which we’d donate 100% of proceeds.

I tapped Lauren Castillo to design the luminescent logo (her graciousness also glowed!). It is the colorful image within this graphic:

I set out to follow the template of the first show but with an all-new group of 30 children’s authors and allies. Over the next couple of weeks, I lined up a cast that includes the following:

  • the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
  • a Newbery winner
  • two Newbery honorees
  • numerous other award winners
  • a 30 Rock star

#KidlitAgainstBookBans stars the following:

Anika Aldamuy Denise
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Lisa Fipps
Daniel Handler
Kimberly Latrice Jones
Erin Entrada Kelly
Hena Khan
Adib Khorram
Jo Knowles
Gail Carson Levine
Alex London
Andrea Loney
Jessica Love
Yuyi Morales
Maulik Pancholy
Andrea Davis Pinkney
Toby Price (MI assistant principal fired for reading I Need a New Butt! to 2nd graders)
NoNieqa Ramos
Raul the Third
Jewell Parker Rhodes
Katie Rinderle (GA teacher fired for reading My Shadow Is Purple to 5th graders)
Alex Sanchez
Eliot Schrefer
Jon Scieszka
Laurel Snyder
Christina Soontornvat
Don Tate
Mychal Threets (CA supervising librarian and influencer)
Andrea Wang
Paul O. Zelinsky

Unlike the Ukraine benefit, this got no coverage in kidlit press.

The $4,000 we raised fell short of my goal to match the $15,000 for Ukraine, but I’m happy we were able to contribute something to the ongoing campaign.

I think it was easier to raise money for Ukraine at least in part because we announced that benefit soon after the war started, and it was not just any war—it was the first war in Europe in our lifetime. It was raw, scary, and making headlines daily. (So is book banning, but as we know, many don’t see fighting it as a priority...)

Among the ways I tried to boost the total:

  • emailed the 300+ who donated to the Ukraine effort
  • asked author/illustrator friends to hand out flyers promoting the benefit at the heavily attended Chappaqua Book Festival on 9/30/23
  • because Star Trek actor George Takei posted about my Georgia fracas to his 1.4 million Instagram followers, I asked if he would spread word (if even 1% of his followers contributed, it would add 14,000 donors!)
  • asked PEN if they’d ask big names who have supported them if they would plug it on social media 

Unfortunately, I thought of the Chappaqua idea the night before the book fest and the Takei/PEN ideas the day before the show premiered…in other words, too late. 

I hit other roadblocks—KidLit TV backed out a little over a week before the world premiere (so I switched from live streaming to posting the benefit as a video to be removed immediately after), the donation link on the platform I chose to host the fundraiser (Facebook) didn’t work for some people—but in the end, the show went on.

Thank you again to all who donated, spread word, helped behind the scenes, and, of course, told a story of hope.

1 comment:

Andrea J. Loney said...

It was a beautiful and inspiring program -- I'm so glad I got to be in the company of so many amazing creators! Thank you for inviting me to participate.