Publishers' Preview: Diverse Books: Five Questions for Juno Dawson

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2023 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Books, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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A little girl’s classmates keep pestering her with questions about where her big brother went. You Need to Chill! she tells them, as Dawson’s rhyming text and Laura Hughes’s illustrations provide the answer — and the message.

1. First picture book! How did you get comfortable writing for such a young audience?

I was a primary school teacher for six years, including two years in Year 1, which is five- and six-year-olds in the UK. You learn very quickly what both teachers and kids need. Teachers like quick reads they can fill five minutes with when the class gets restless; young readers like to predict and repeat text. So I knew the recipe behind a great picture book all along; it was more: did I have something to say?

2. Are you a big sister?

I am — although my sister is nothing like the little girl in You Need to Chill! When I came out as trans, she was amazing, though. I’m also an aunt, and she so beautifully explained to my nieces, who were very young at the time, what was happening. I wish this book had been around then.

3. Comparing the UK and U.S., what differences do you see in trans acceptance?

This is a complicated one. I think, in the UK, the discourse has been led by a clique of outwardly liberal journalists writing in the mainstream press. They managed to normalize a dangerous prejudice against trans women in particular, legitimizing anti-trans stereotypes. In the U.S., it’s very divided down political lines. That said, the New York Times seems determined to scaremonger about trans lives too. It’s a shame. In both nations, flailing politicians are weaponizing trans lives to mask the fact that they have nothing to offer the country any longer.

4. Who are your role models in writing about sex and gender for young people?

For young people I’d say Maia Kobabe, Patrick Ness, David Levithan, and Lewis Hancox.

5. What’s your favorite way to chill?

I am a certified mermaid and can be found in a bathtub with a book six nights a week. Bath salts, candles, the whole thing. I hate to be a cliché, but here we are.

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Photo: Eivind Hansen.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978.

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