On March 6, the leadership of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators responded to an open letter calling for the organization to support an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza.

Hundreds of children’s and YA creators including Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Brendan Kiely, Sabaa Tahir, and Maggie Tokuda-Hall added their names to the petition, which features an illustration—“We Feel Your Silence”—by Egyptian-born picture book artist Hatem Aly.

In an Instagram post titled “Message from SCBWI’s Executive Director,” SCBWI wrote,

“Many of us are watching, horrified by the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis impacting Palestinians and Israelis. The death of innocent children in this conflict is unbearable and unacceptable as a price of war.

“Right now, there is an open letter circulating on social media urging SCBWI to take action steps and make a collective statement about Palestine and Gaza. There are extremely important points conveyed, along with inaccuracies and insensitivities in the letter that make it difficult to engage. But what’s most pressing, and what SCBWI leadership agrees on, is that children are being displaced from their homes, are being held hostage, and are dying in terrifying numbers, and it is right for artists and storytellers to use their voices in the face of this tragedy.”

Responses were mixed, and executive director Sarah Baker engaged with several commenters directly. Various community members thanked SCBWI “for supporting the voices of all authors and illustrators… while acknowledging this horrendous war and humanitarian crisis.” Others called the letter “performative” and “disappointing,” some said they would not renew subscriptions, and one called the approach “genocidal apologism.” SCBWI has more than 22,000 members around the world.

A commenter identifying “as an Arab directly impacted by” the longstanding conflict in Palestine suggested that SCBWI’s “next event can showcase Arab voices” and perspectives. Palestinian illustrator Balaa Alawoor posted in reply to SCBWI that she has lost her home and studio, and feels "the majority of the children's literature publishers in the world do not offer anything to those in situations like mine."

Another told SCBWI, “I only wish the letter could have included that you denounce antisemitism and support Jewish voices as well.”

The activist outcry and organizational response echoes debates across literary circles. Earlier this year, Writers Against the War on Gaza disrupted a PEN America event with pro-Israel speaker Mayim Bialik, then circulated an open letter criticizing the freedom of expression nonprofit’s silence on the war, prompting the organization to issue a statement about its values. And last month, American Booksellers Association members confronted the ABA board during a community forum to demand a call for an Israeli ceasefire.

SCBWI members and onlookers now question how a literary organization dedicated to artistry for children and youth ought to respond to a crisis in which according to the United Nations, half the Gazan population is under 18 years old, and two thirds of the war dead are women and children.