The American Library Association’s annual meeting is one of my favorite events—joy always permeates the air as attendees celebrate the winners of the youth media awards. But at this year’s conference, held in Chicago, Illinois, June 22-27, I also felt unease, sadness, and anger. There’s been a rise in book banning across the country, and librarians and authors alike are dealing with the fallout—even at the conference itself. Several librarians told me they saw a small group of protesters outside the convention center holding signs decrying drag queen story hour (though no such event was scheduled for the conference).

The good news? We’re not giving up without a fight. At a panel on censorship, author and former school librarian Kyle Lukoff (Too Bright To See) expressed disillusionment with well-meaning but ineffectual efforts—such as hashtags or tote bags—to combat book banning. “It may be time for sabotage, subterfuge, and deceit,” he said. “I also believe in some cases it might be time to lie to your boss. It might be time to deceive your board. It might be time to surreptitiously remove or include materials.”

Author and former high school English teacher Samira Ahmed (Internment) urged librarians to take political action—by calling school board or other elected officials to express support for freedom of information, by sending them faxes (emails are too easy to ignore, she warned), or by organizing postcard campaigns. How can we encourage community members to vote for school and library board members who oppose banning, asked one audience member? Ahmed emphasized partnering with school unions and other local organizations.

Carol Monroe, a librarian from the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, observed that librarians, as government employees, are often hampered in how much campaigning they can do; publishers, however, have more freedom and resources to advocate for change, like the legislation in Illinois that protects school and public libraries from the threat of censorship. “A publisher can push legislation; a publisher can lobby,” Monroe said. She added that laws can make a difference in a way that individual library collection policies cannot. “Policy is internal. A law is external, and you are obligated to follow it.”

Constantly fighting censorship is exhausting—and a burden that falls disproportionately on authors of color. At the Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Banquet, Freewater author Amina Luqman-Dawson said it rankled a bit that she so often fields questions about book banning; instead of defending her book’s right to exist, she’d rather be celebrating the stories of marginalized people. Her Newbery-winning novel centers on a tightknit community of Black people who have fled slavery—precisely the kind of book that’s coming under fire now by those opposed to honest depictions of our nation’s history. But, as Luqman-Dawson told the audience, “Freewater is exactly the right book for exactly the right time.”

As always, I was stirred by the strong sense of community in the kid lit world. In his speech accepting the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, James E. Ransome told audiences how awestruck Luqman-Dawson had been to meet him; he, in turn, had been just as moved to meet her. Ransome also paid tribute to the late Jerry Pinkney, his mentor and friend, while Doug Salati, accepting the Caldecott Award for Hot Dog, spoke of the late Tomie dePaola’s mentorship and encouragement. Salati noted how affirming it was to discover that dePaola and many of the children’s authors he idolized were, like him, gay—something he wished he’d known growing up.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is learning about upcoming books, and this year was no exception. I met Laura James; her picture book My Mother Was a Nanny, rooted in personal experience, follows a young girl of Caribbean descent whose mother balances many jobs yet still manages to show her daughters that they matter most. I’ve noticed several new picture books that offer loving, joyful portrayals of working-class families—a most welcome development.

At a Penguin panel spotlighting Black illustrators, moderated by librarian Edith Campbell and held at the Epiphany Center for the Arts, Nikkolas Smith spoke about The Artivist, his upcoming picture book about a child combining his passion for art with a commitment to social justice. I’m also thrilled that Jack Wong, author of one of my favorite 2023 picture books, When You Can Swim, has a new book out this fall: The Words We Share. It’s the tale of a child who often interprets for her Chinese-speaking father and decides to turn her translation skills into a business.

With the conference behind us, I’m determined to follow the example of the courageous librarians and artists taking stands against censorship. Monroe told me that reviews are immensely helpful in justifying the purchase of books that come under attack, and I’m heartened that at Kirkus we’ve highlighted important yet vulnerable titles. But I want to do more, and I’ve resolved to seek more opportunities to fight back—it’s an obligation that all of us in the kid lit world bear.

Mahnaz Dar is a young readers’ editor.