Celebrating Robie Harris (1940-2024)

The PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee mourns the loss of Robie Harris, a founding member and passionate advocate of free expression and honesty in children’s books.

Photo by Susan Kuklin

Krystyna Poray Goddu and Paul Zelinsky, co-chairs of PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, note: “Robie was a calm and sage source of guidance for our committee. She stood against censorship with tact and firmness, serving as a model to all of us. And while she is known best for her groundbreaking children’s books about human sexuality—and for speaking out against book banning—she also wrote many outstanding books for young people on other subjects. Her grasp of the inner lives of young children was unequaled and she always addressed them with the honesty they deserve. Her death leaves a huge gap. We will miss Robie deeply, her humor and her wisdom.”

On January 15, 2017, PEN America members rallied with other writers at the New York Public Library at the start of the Freedom of Expression March in New York City; from left: Paul Zelinsky, Jacqueline Woodson, Robie Harris, Fatima Shaik.

In 2012 CYAB Committee members received a plaque from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans in recognition of their work there after Hurricane Katrina; from left: Cheryl Willis Hudson, Amy Nathan, Lyn Miller-Lachman, Fatima Shaik, Susan Kuklin, Susanna Reich, Liz Levy, Robie Harris. Committee members in NYC packed an entire library of children’s books into a truck, which delivered them to the decimated school. Subsequently CYAB members traveled there for author visits.

In 2009, Robie, Susan Kuklin, Fatima Shaik and Liz Levy had the ambitious idea to publish a book featuring the writing of the students at the MLK Charter School; each worked with a different grade. Robie was one of the hardest working and meticulous of authors, and she took her first graders’ writing as seriously as anything she would publish under her own name. We will miss her championship of children’s self-expression and of ours.