Freedom of Expression

Peek Highlights from the 2023 ALA Conference: "Unite Against Book Bans", Celebrating PRH Pride, Author Chats, & Lots More!

Amanda Gorman and Christian Robinson.

Librarians showed up in full force at the recent ALA Annual 2023 Conference in Chicago, Illinois—brimming with enthusiasm, passion, and curiosity. Conference attendance reached almost 16,000, and we could feel the bustling energy everywhere. In addition to connecting with our librarian colleagues about important upcoming books and authors to watch, we had vital conversations about the recent upsurge in banned and challenged books that librarians across the country are fighting. Many librarians thanked Penguin Random House for our efforts and our support.

Ibram X. Kendi

Penguin Random House was proud to partner with Unite Against Book Bans and ALA on their inspiring kickoff event—the Rally for the Right to Read: Uniting for Libraries & Intellectual Freedom. More than 700 dedicated librarians, ALA staff, and publishers attended to celebrate and recognize their colleagues working each day to protect the freedom to read. Author and activist Dr. Ibram X. Kendi headlined the event, delivering a galvanizing talk underscoring the importance of access to information and thanking librarians for their work as “freedom fighters.” The atmosphere was electric as everyone rose in a standing ovation for Dr. Kendi. And librarians, library workers, and publishers left renewed and rejuvenated in their mission. 

Matthew Desmond book signing.

Pulitzer Prize–winning author Matthew Desmond (POVERTY, BY AMERICA and EVICTED) opened the Saturday Main Stage session: “Going to the Root: Libraries, Adult Literacy, and the Interruption of Generational Poverty”. Speaking powerfully about his research into why poverty persists in the United States, Desmond challenged us to consider the actions we can each take in the fight to end this morally urgent problem. Following his presentation, Desmond joined a panel of thought leaders, including ALA’s Executive Director Tracie D. Hall, for an exploration of how libraries can respond to the intersections between low literacy in adults and structural issues including the poverty and housing insecurity. Following the session, Mr. Desmond signed copies of POVERTY, BY AMERICA for librarians, who shared stories of how his work has changed their curricula, their thinking, and their perspective. 

The Penguin Random House Library team was thrilled to celebrate our winners of the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Literature—this year Penguin Random House took home the top spots for both Fiction and Nonfiction. We were lucky to have both award-winning authors—Julie Otsuka (THE SWIMMERS) and Ed Yong (AN IMMENSE WORLD)—join us in Chicago to accept their medals in person. Both gave heartfelt acceptance speeches to a packed house of librarians at the American Writers Museum and signed books for attendees after the ceremony.  

Rally for Right Signage Board.

Within the exhibit hall, PRH divisions came together on messaging in the booth around book banning and Pride. Our Rally for the Right to Read signage called librarian attendees to name a banned book that had great lasting effect on them. PYR joined RHCB in launching their Banned Books campaign featuring a RALLY FOR THE RIGHT TO READ KIT that librarians and educators could order and have shipped direct for their school, library, and/or community. The kit centers around community action including customizable signage, postcards to write representatives, banned book resources, and more.

Our PRH Pride banner stated we are “Proud to Publish LGBTQIA+ Creators and Stories,” and pictured a selection of LGBTQIA+ titles across divisions. In this space, PYR highlighted our Read With Pride and Trans Kids Are Our Kids Booklists, DK highlighted THE DC BOOK OF PRIDE with a postcard pack giveaway, and the PRH Adult Library Marketing team offered Read Proud, Listen Proud Sunglasses and Out of Print Pride Bookmarks and Pins.

RHCB Banned/ Challenged books.

Random House Children’s Books sponsored 13 authors and illustrators for the ALA Annual conference and hosted 16 signings plus an additional 6 signings with wholesale partners including CPI and Baker & Taylor. Their  booth space was dedicated to key frontlist, their award-winning titles, and other key titles and brands for the library market. Featured displays included a roundup of 2023 Starred Reviews, dedicated signage for Random House Graphic featuring a digital Library Book Club Guide, and signage highlighting available resources for RHCB Banned and Challenged books. In addition to the resources highlighted in these displays Random House Children’s Books also distributed physical ARCs and other promotional materials, including a Fall 2023 picture book giclée pack and digital ARC brochure, over the course of the conference.

Doug Salati, Caldecott speech.

While in Chicago the RHCB team celebrated the Randolph Caldecott Medal for HOT DOG by Doug Salati, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and John Newbery Honor for MAIZY CHEN’S LAST CHANCE by Lisa Yee, the John Newbery Honor for IVELIZ EXPLAINS IT ALL by Andrea Beatriz Arango, and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for STANDING IN THE NEED OF PRAYER by Frank Morrison, plus several other awards and honors.

Other Random House Children’s Books events included a Picture Book Breakfast highlighting recently published and upcoming picture book creators including Caldecott Medalist Michaela Goade (REMEMBER) among others which featured an “Inside the Illustrator Studio” behind the scenes video component plus a Preview Lunch highlighting upcoming picture books, middle grade, and young adult titles featuring YA author Jumata Emill (WANDER IN THE DARK). Emill spoke not only about his upcoming novel but also the important role librarians play in ensuring young readers have access to books and stories that highlight a wide range of perspectives.  

Penguin Young Readers sponsored 19 creators for the ALA Annual conference and had 30-feet of booth space dedicated to frontlist, their award winning titles, and brands key to the library market, all while distributing galleys and promotional materials into the passionate hands of librarians throughout the weekend.

President’s Program.

Among their robust lineup, #1 bestselling author, poet, and advocate Amanda Gorman and award-winning artist Christian Robinson closed the ALA Conference as keynote speakers, discussing their upcoming picture book with SOMETHING, SOMEDAY. Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (KAPAEMAHU) joined ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada for the President’s Program, discussing Native Hawaiian philosophy and traditions, and the contributions Wong-Kalu has made to the Native Hawaiian and LGBTQ communities.

Printz Award winner Sabaa Tahir

The PYR team celebrated the Michael L. Printz Award for ALL MY RAGE by Sabaa Tahir, the William C. Morris YA Debut Award for THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF HOODIE ROSEN by Isaac Blum, the BCALA Literary Award for Nonfiction for STAR CHILD by IBI ZOBOI, among several other award winners and honorees. In addition, they hosted a Penguin Art Show, inviting 100 librarians for a cocktail party highlighting Black artists Nikkolas Smith (THE ARTIVIST), Jennifer Mack-Watkins (YOU GOTTA MEET MR. PIERCE!), Dare Coulter (ZORA, THE STORY KEEPER), and Kitt Thomas (PATCHWORK PRINCE).

DK sponsored two authors for the ALA Annual Conference, held one special event, and celebrated nearly 100 exciting frontlist and backlist favorites for people of all ages and reading stages. Hundreds of galleys, finished copies, posters, and other promotional items for top titles were distributed to eager librarians throughout the weekend.

Dylan Hollis

B. Dylan Hollis, author of BAKING YESTERYEAR who was met with the cheers and applause of a roaring crowd at the What’s Cooking @ ALA stage on Sunday afternoon, spoke to and signed books and posters for nearly 200 librarians in anticipation of his PRH-record-breaking bake book coming later this month. Jadzia Axelrod, author of THE DC BOOK OF PRIDE, met her enthusiastic fans at a book signing at the PRH booth on Saturday afternoon to help celebrate Pride Month and the freedom to read.

DK Booth and Staff.

DK celebrated 35 years of the landmark and beloved DK EYEWITNESS children’s series and the forthcoming EYEWITNESS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EVERYTHING with a special event on Saturday afternoon in which librarians participated in a “story walk” outlining the history of the series (soon to be adapted as a downloadable activity kit for libraries everywhere!), interacted with Eyewitness-themed topic stations, and received a coupon for a free copy of the Encyclopedia coming in September.

Barack Obama Pens Letter to America’s Librarians for Protecting Our Freedom to Read

Barack Obama © Pari Dukovic. READ Image ©

Today, July 17, Barack Obama published a letter he wrote to America’s librarians. He shares with readers how books have shaped his life and notes that the effort to ban books today is an attempt to silence voices. In the letter, Obama thanks the nation’s librarians who are on the front line defending our freedom to read and encourages citizens to join him in reminding others that “the free, robust exchange of ideas has always been at the heart of American democracy.”

You can find the letter on Barack Obama’s Twitter, Instagram and on Medium.

Or, you may read the letter in its entirety below. 

"To the dedicated and hardworking librarians of America:  In any democracy, the free exchange of ideas is an important part of making sure that citizens are informed, engaged and feel like their perspectives matter.   It’s so important, in fact, that here in America, the First Amendment of our Constitution states that freedom begins with our capacity to share and access ideas – even, and maybe especially, the ones we disagree with.   More often than not, someone decides to write those ideas down in a book.   Books have always shaped how I experience the world. Writers like Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin taught me something essential about our country’s character. Reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else’s shoes. And the simple act of writing helped me develop my own identity — all of which would prove vital as a citizen, as a community organizer, and as president.  Today, some of the books that shaped my life — and the lives of so many others — are being challenged by people who disagree with certain ideas or perspectives. It’s no coincidence that these “banned books” are often written by or feature people of color, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ+ community – though there have also been unfortunate instances in which books by conservative authors or books containing “triggering” words or scenes have been targets for removal. Either way, the impulse seems to be to silence, rather than engage, rebut, learn from or seek to understand views that don’t fit our own. I believe such an approach is profoundly misguided, and contrary to what has made this country great. As I’ve said before, not only is it important for young people from all walks of life to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view.  It’s also important to understand that the world is watching. If America – a nation built on freedom of expression – allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, why should other countries go out of their way to protect them? Ironically, it is Christian and other religious texts – the sacred texts that some calling for book bannings in this country claim to want to defend – that have often been the first target of censorship and book banning efforts in authoritarian countries.  Nobody understands that more than you, our nation’s librarians. In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines – fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone. Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with.   That’s why I want to take a moment to thank all of you for the work you do every day — work that is helping us understand each other and embrace our shared humanity.   And it’s not just about books. You also provide spaces where people can come together, share ideas, participate in community programs, and access essential civic and educational resources. Together, you help people become informed and active citizens, capable of making this country what they want it to be. And you do it all in a harsh political climate where, all too often, you’re attacked by people who either cannot or will not understand the vital – and uniquely American – role you play in the life of our nation. So whether you just started working at a school or public library, or you’ve been there your entire career, Michelle and I want to thank you for your unwavering commitment to the freedom to read. All of us owe you a debt of gratitude for making sure readers across the country have access to a wide range of books, and all the ideas they contain.  Finally, to every citizen reading this, I hope you’ll join me in reminding anyone who will listen — and even some people you think might not — that the free, robust exchange of ideas has always been at the heart of American democracy. Together, we can make that true for generations to come.  With gratitude, Barack" 

WMG Presents "The Battle for the Bookshelf" Featuring RHCB's Dominique Cimina on July 17

The Women’s Media Group (WMG) is presenting a special event, “The Battle for the Bookshelf: How to Fight Back Against Book Bans” on Monday, July 17 from 12:00 -1:00 PM ET via Zoom. To register click here

We are witnessing an unprecedented surge in politically motivated book bans, threatening the free flow of ideas and stifling intellectual diversity within communities nationwide. Join WMG for a compelling and urgent panel discussion as we confront the escalating wave of book bans and assaults on the cherished freedom to read. In this candid conversation, panelists will delve into effective strategies that libraries, publishers, media, and others can employ to push back against these alarming well-organized challenges, defend intellectual freedom, and safeguard access to diverse and challenging literary works.  When: Monday, July 17 from 12:00 to 1:00 PM ET Where:  Via Zoom Cost: Free for WMG members, $15 for non-members Register: "The Battle for the Bookshelf" Panel will include:  Dominique Cimina is SVP, Publicity, Corporate Communications and Author Brand Strategy for Random House Children’s Books (RHCB). Over the course of her 15 year career at RHCB, Dominique has developed and executed publicity campaigns, as well as managed relationships for talent including Christopher Paolini, Mary Pope Osborne, Carl Hiaasen, R.J. Palacio, Marie Kondo, Ken Burns, Jason Segel and Jimmy Kimmel. Dominique currently oversees the team that manages PR and event strategy for all authors, illustrators and brands published by RHCB. She leads the division’s internal and external communications efforts, philanthropic initiatives, and has recently began focusing on the development of RHCB’s author brands. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Brown University and a MBA from Columbia University.  Stephana Ferrel to bring together student-centered groups from across the state of Florida and unite our voices to protect every student’s right to access information and ideas. Her primary role within FFTRP is to track the censorship attempts happening around the state as Director of Research & Insight. She is the mom of two children that attend Florida public schools.    Nina Lorez Collins is the board chair of the Brooklyn Public Library, a trustee of the publishing house Spiegel & Grau, and she manages the literary estate of her late mother, the filmmaker and writer Kathleen Collins. Until recently she was the Chief Creative Officer for Hello Revel, a digital events & community platform for women over 40, as well as the founder of The Woolfer, which Revel acquired in 2021. Her book, What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself As I Attempt to Age Without Apology, was published in April 2018. She’s a graduate of Barnard College, has a Masters degree from Columbia in the field of Narrative Medicine, and a long professional background in book publishing, both as a literary scout and then as an agent. She has four grown children and lives in Brooklyn.  Caroline Richmond is the Executive Director of We Need Diverse Books, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to creating a world where everyone can find themselves in the pages of a book. In this role, Caroline develops programs to diversify the multi-billion-dollar publishing industry, oversees grants that support diverse creators and educators, and generates resources to address the book bans spreading nationwide. She is a member of various advisory boards, including the Little Free Library and Mayo Clinic Press, and is also an award-winning young adult author.  Moderator:  Kelly Jensen is an Editor at Book Riot, the largest independent book website in North America. She covers all things young adult literature and has written about censorship for nearly ten years. She is the author of three critically-acclaimed and award-winning anthologies for young adults. She was named a person of the year in 2022 by Publishers Weekly and a Chicagoan of the year in 2022 by the Chicago Tribune for her anti-censorship work. Prior to her work at Book Riot, she was a public librarian for children, teens, and adults in several libraries in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.   

Penguin Random House Joins the Historic Freedom to Read Campaign

Yesterday, June 25, Penguin Random House was proud to join the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association and millions of other Americans who believe in the freedom to read and publish by joining the historic #FreedomToRead campaign, in which Americans are standing united together against book bans.

You can read the full release below and or you can visit the ALA website here to take action and sign on to support the freedom to read.

Association of American Publishers and American Library Association Reaffirm 1953 Freedom to Read Statement, Joined by the Authors Guild and American Booksellers Association As censorship threats continue to target libraries, schools, publishers, authors, and booksellers, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) are calling on all members of the book community to affirm their commitment to the Freedom to Read Statement on its 70th anniversary. They are joined by the Authors Guild and American Booksellers Association as well as numerous other signatories. First published on June 25, 1953, the Freedom to Read Statement begins with this timeless observation: The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. It is continuously under attack. And the freedom to read continues to be threatened. In the past year, more than 60 state bills have been introduced that would restrict or chill what Americans may read.  Many of these efforts are unquestionably unconstitutional and would impair the First Amendment rights of readers of all ages. Following are joint remarks from Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association; Allison K Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association; Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers; and Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild: “Seventy years ago, fear, suspicion, and suppression fueled by McCarthyism was at a fever pitch—a serious situation that required a robust and vigorous affirmation of intellectual freedom and the constitutional protections that protect it.  Today, as we grapple with a new wave of censorship in schools, libraries, and bookstores targeting a wide range of expression, including fiction and nonfiction, the Freedom to Read Statement remains an important defense of the freedom to write, publish and inquire. “Our democracy is based on the belief that every person’s right to read is indispensable to their personal and political happiness. This fact is indisputable.  American democracy has always depended on the lawful dissemination and rigorous protection of speech—from all political quarters and all personal perspectives, both old and new ideas. “To be clear, not every expression of authorship will withstand the rigorous and sustained scrutiny of the marketplace of ideas, but our free society requires that we have the right to make up our own minds about what we choose to read and what we think of what we’ve read.  As our predecessors stated in 1953, “Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.” “As we celebrate this anniversary, we are mindful not only of the rights of readers, but of the nation’s authors, publishing houses, bookstores, and libraries, whose missions both reflect and are in service to our free society.” Again, we invite you to pledge your support at or