On April 11, an estimated 1,800 virtual attendees tuned in for a “Children’s Book Changemakers” program, livestreamed on Zoom by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Impact and Legacy Fund. The ILF, which supports SCBWI’s charitable activities and administers special programs, spotlighted young anti-censorship activists from the National Coalition Against Censorship and other organizations, and hosted brief conversations with established authors and advocates including Barbara Kingsolver, Lois Lowry, and entertainer Goldie Hawn.

SCBWI co-founder and ILF managing director Lin Oliver emceed the event. ILF is “the charitable and social justice arm of the SCBWI,” Oliver told listeners. “Our mission is to help make change in the world through children’s books and to enable creators of children’s books—writers, illustrators, publishers—to express themselves and create the change that they are passionate about.”

The event began with a talk by Cameron Samuels, a Brandeis University undergraduate who as a high school student founded Students Engaged in Advancing Texas, known as SEAT for demanding “a seat at the table” of policymaking. Samuels recalled how the students, who were not yet old enough to vote, “distributed hundreds of banned books, published op-eds in the press, and introduced state legislation. We filed legal action with the ACLU to dismantle a discriminatory internet filter [at school]. We brought together students to defy the norms and created [an activist] norm for students to engage throughout the state.”

Samuels’ examples were a warmup for appearances by NCAC leaders and teen activists who spoke about the freedom to read. NCAC executive director Lee Rowland joined the call to inform SCBWI listeners how the NCAC’s youth programs “are engaged with and helping support the next generation of folks who will keep us free. [They] will be the readers that carry your values and the values of free expression in practice to the next generation and hopefully save us all.”

NCAC Youth Free Expression director Christine Emeran then introduced video presentations on banned books from three student advocates, followed by a panel in which three more high school students from Nashville, Houston, and central Pennsylvania talked with novelist Lois Lowry about the dangers of censorship.

Lowry told the students that her often-controversial fiction, notably The Giver, addresses the chilling effects of oppressive systems, but her platform as a citizen reaches a more targeted audience. “When I have attempted to address censorship or challenges [in my community], I go and do my little thing or I write a letter to the newspaper,” Lowry told students, “but the ones who really make a difference are the people of your age. When kids speak up, when a kid goes to a school board meeting, it’s so much more impressive than when an author goes to a school board meeting or sends a letter in.”

Hawn participated due to her interest in supporting young people’s mental health through her foundation, MindUp. She said she started the foundation in 2002 with a goal to promote well-being: “what I wanted was for children actually to feel happier, to be more optimistic, more positive, more joyful in the classroom.” Her interest developed into a curriculum combining mindfulness and brain science, intended to give young people greater agency in managing their emotions and anxieties, problem solving, and conflict resolution. She and Oliver said they are co-creating a Kindness Club book series on these principles, to be published by Penguin Workshop.

The program included awards for youth books that address justice and advocacy. The Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World was given to Dashka Slater’s Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed (FSG).

Author-illustrator Karen Winnick announced the inaugural winners of a new prize she founded, the Charlotte and Wilbur Award for Compassion for Animals. Named in honor of Charlotte’s Web’s characters with the blessing of author E.B. White’s estate, the awards amplify books about kindness toward animals. Katherine Pryor won for her picture book Home Is Calling: The Journey of the Monarch Butterfly, illustrated by Ellie Petersen (WorthyKids), and Roland Smith won for his middle grade series adventure, The Wildes: The Vaquita (Sleeping Bear). An honor award went to Liz Garton Scanlon’s Full Moon Pups, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Putnam). Winners receive cash awards and a chance to produce and distribute a video school visit.

In addition, Winnick declared that the Charlotte and Wilbur committee had “created a special citation of excellence” to honor Barbara Kingsolver and her daughter Lily Kingsolver’s Coyote’s Wild Home, illustrated by Paul Mirocha (Gryphon). The Kingsolvers joined the Changemakers event to talk about how books promote empathy. Barbara Kingsolver called Coyote’s Wild Home an opportunity to “break down the barrier between humans and non-humans” and the perception that predatory animals are “enemies and villains. Even children’s literature is suffused with a hatred and a fear of predators, the big bad wolf, the bad bear. We wanted to write a book that gives predators good PR.”

The Children’s Book Changemakers program, delivered to an audience interested in writing and illustrating for young people, shed light on how teens and their allies are taking action, notably for youth mental health and freedom of expression. A video of the event is available to watch here.