by Kirsti Granholm
Robin Stevenson is one of Canada’s top children’s book writers. Throughout her career, she has written and published over 25 kids and teens books and won multiple awards for those titles. Robin has explored many themes around sexuality, identity, gender and belonging. Her most recent book Pride Colors was a success in Canada and the United States. Robin’s dedication to supporting individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community inspired me to contact her for an interview for Pride month 2019.
You have written a number of impressive award-winning books throughout your career. How did you begin writing with the intention of publishing?
Actually, I didn’t really begin with the intention of publishing at all! When my kid (who is now 15) was a baby, I started writing just for fun. I kept a notebook under the stroller and would just walk around until he fell asleep, and then I’d sit down and write. I wrote some short stories, and what I thought might be a draft of a children’s book, and then one short story about two teenagers grew until it was the length of a young adult novel. Someone suggested I send it to Orca Book Publishers, so I did. Luckily, it landed on the desk of an editor who liked my writing and before I knew it I had two contracts — one for the children’s book, which became Impossible Things, and one for the YA novel, which became Out of Order. Those two came out in 2007 and 2008. I was in love with fiction, and I didn’t want to leave my kid to return to social work full time so I just kept on writing instead.
You write LGBTQIA+ books, do school visits, and have a resource page on your website for those who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community. Why is it important for you to have these open, educational conversations with children, parents and teachers?
Well, I’m queer, and I went to school during a time when we didn’t have these conversations at all. That wasn’t great for LGBTQIA+ kids and teens. Most of us didn’t even have the language that would have made it so much easier to talk about these subjects, to understand our own identities, to find community. And of course, it isn’t just important for LGBTQIA+ kids and teens: I think all children, parents and teachers need to be aware of LGBTQIA+ issues. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still common, and they hurt people. So it is up to all of us to challenge that, and to change that. I think we should all be committed to being supportive and inclusive and to continuing to fight for equality — and it is easier to do that work if you have access to resources.
In 2016, I published a non-fiction book about pride (Pride: Celebrating Diversity and Community), and as a result, I have spent a lot of time over past 3 years talking to young people about LGBTQ+ issues. I talk to a lot of kids who are afraid that if they come out as gay, or bi, or lesbian, or trans, that their parents won’t support them, or will be angry or disappointed.
So I think kids need to hear from the people that love them that it is okay for them to be themselves and to love who they love. Our teens and our older kids need to hear that, of course — but there is no age that is too young to begin giving your kids that message. So I wrote this board book, Pride Colors, for the very youngest kids.
I also wanted to write a book that included photos of families with same-sex parents. My kid has two moms, and when he was a baby, there were no books like this at all. One of my favourite reader reviews online is from a mom whose toddler calls it the “Mommy Cuddles Book” because it has a photo of a baby being hugged by two women.
I hope people who are allies to the LGBTQ+ community will find this book gives them an easy way to be inclusive in how they talk about families with their kids. And I hope that parents reading it to their kids will think about the message as they say the words. We don’t know who our babies will grow up to be, but we can all commit to loving and supporting them as they grow older and find their own paths in the world.
Who is one author, illustrator, or creative you can think of that inspired you while growing up?
I have two that come to mind: L.M. Montgomery, for Emily of New Moon, and Louise Fitzhugh, for Harriet the Spy. Both Emily and Harriet were characters I related to very strongly, for different reasons — and both were girls who loved to write.
How will you be celebrating Pride month this year?
I will go to the Pride Parade and festival in Victoria, BC with my family and friends. I will also go to some of my favourite local Pride events — like Pride in the Word, which is a queer literary event featuring readings from queer poets, writers, and performers. I also love Victoria’s wonderful Big Gay Dog Walk: on Pride weekend, local dog owners gather on Dallas Road to walk our dogs, many dressed up in their Pride regalia, along a grassy area overlooking the ocean. And of course, I will be doing a few school visits, talking with students in Victoria and Vancouver about how Pride began, and what means to those who celebrate it, here and around the world.
If you are interested in learning more about Robin’s books and initiatives, check out her website here: robinstevenson.com