In January 2020, Go With The Flow was released on bookshelves across North America. Since then it has been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, and German (forthcoming) and sold close to 100,000 copies, was published to critical acclaim, and was nominated for an Eisner and was a LA Times Book Prize finalist. My name is Lily Williams and I co-wrote and illustrated this middle grade coming-of-age graphic novel Go With The Flow with my friend and co-author, Karen Schneemann.
In late 2021 we heard rumblings that our book was banned in Keller, Texas. By 2022, we got confirmation from an article on NBC that our book was banned.
All of this started for Karen and me in college… Karen and I met in an animation class in college. She was there for her second degree (she’s an engineer by day) and I was there for my first. We became fast friends and at some point towards the end of our college careers we started discussing why there wasn’t more art about menstruation in a way kids and teens could read/learn about. We put discussions about this on hold for a while as life happened and then in 2016, we finally we dove in on the idea of a web comic about mensuration. Soon The Mean Magenta was born, a web comic about four girls (Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha) in their early 20s dealing with work, friendship, and… their periods. We learned a lot as we started posting and quickly after, my children’s book editor at Macmillan asked to scoop up our book to make it a graphic novel.
For four years we adapted The Mean Magenta into Go With The Flow – from 2016 when the book was acquired by Macmillan, to 2020 when the book was published by Macmillan’s imprint First Second. It takes a long time to make a graphic novel! There’s not just the story to hone, but so much art to be made and I can only draw so fast. The cool thing was that as we aged the characters down from girls in their 20s to a middle grade graphic novel featuring high schoolers… we had a lot of amazing conversations with each other and our publishing team about why this book was needed.
Go With The Flow captured perfectly so many things we wanted to say about periods. And for all the things left out or not touched upon, we have a forthcoming sequel called Look On The Bright Side (2023). I am not sure what I can say in a blog post hasn’t already been said in a way we liked in the book we wrote together – it’s why we are so proud of the book we wrote!
But I am upset that our book has been banned. These book-bannings across America, and specifically in Texas, feel distinctly Nazi -like in their suppression of information. I have felt mad (this is so dystopian), joyful (hah – we made a powerful enough book to make people uncomfortable), but mostly upset. We wrote a story about friendships and periods for kids to relate to and learn from and they can’t do that if they don’t have access to the book.
Stories help people see themselves in the world through the process of relating to others. Stories help people find their voice, feel less alone, bring people together, and create empathy for others. But most importantly for kids, stories can provide a safe space for kids who might otherwise not have the resources or community to support them.
The world needs period stories, just like it needs all sorts of other stories.
Go With The Flow is a friendship story. Period. It’s a story about four girls navigating high school and all the daily drama that happens with that, only they also start a menstrual revolution. The revolution is aimed to support their peers access to menstrual products. They challenge authority in the very mild form of writing letters and having conversations with authority figures (something I might add I also did in high school, albeit about different things). I won’t spoil the ending but when one character takes things a too far… she does get in trouble.
According to UNICEF about 26% of the world’s population (girls and women of reproductive age) menstruate. Mensuration is deeply stigmatized despite being a normal and healthy bodily function. Scientific studies have shown that girls are going through puberty earlier than they used to… meaning their periods are starting earlier. A girl getting her period at 10 is now becoming more common, which means we have to teach our kids (not just teens) about this earlier. For many girls, a period starting is an end of an education (either completely or for the weeks they are on their period). It’s hard to imagine from a place of comfort where period products are accessible, but many girls and women in America cannot afford period products and for those girls, that means a stifled education. This is not something only happening in far and away in distant countries, this is happening in our own communities. It’s just not talked about because menstruation is deeply stigmatized.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the world, Karen and I were on a nation-wide tour. We did conferences, book festivals, and school talks. The most profound school talk we did was one at a lower income school in California. The questions at our other talks had been more simple to answer, things like, “which girl do you relate to the most in your book?” or “what inspired you to write this book?”. At this school however, we were pleasantly surprised by some of the questions which were big – questions about what sex is, how periods can show if you are pregnant… and I will never forget the young worried girl, who the librarian told us later was a Sudanese refugee and had no female family members in America, “who do you talk to about your period if you don’t have anyone to talk to?” This girl broke me. Karen and I cried in the car after we left the school.
We wrote Go With The Flow for everyone. We wrote it because there’s this moment in female/AFAB friendships where you talk about menstruation. Girls learn when they are young to talk about it in private spaces in hushed tones – for safety. We wrote it for kids who confidently know their bodies and the kids who don’t understand the changes their body is going through. We wrote it for girls and boys and parents. We wrote it for women and people who needed to heal some childhood trauma their period caused. We wrote it for ourselves. And… we wrote it for kids, like the little girl in California, who don’t have safe spaces to have these conversations.
When adults censor media intake by banning books, or refusing to let their kids watch, for example, Turning Red (because it has a period scene), the conversation does not stop. The conversation will simply move to a less safe space.
It is the job of parents and educators to answer questions for kids so that they can learn. It is our duty as adults to provide safe spaces for kids to explore these complicated ideas without judgement.
When we do not provide stories like that of Go With The Flow or any of the other amazing books on the NBC Texas Banned Books list, we limit readers ability to be seen, heard, and build empathy. We cut off the pathways to answer questions and provide safe spaces.
I have heard rumors the reason our book was banned is because the characters challenge authority. Sure, they do. I won’t deny that. I have three thoughts on that. The first is, we should not be teaching kids that authority is to be followed blindly without question, but instead teach them to question the world around them to become strong thinkers. The second is, I don’t buy that challenging authority is the problem for Go With The Flow… because many people challenge authority in all books including The Bible. It’s the fact that the kids are challenging authority of adults inspired by bodily autonomy with an emphasis on educating girls. The third is that I don’t care what the reason is. A banned book is a book not accessible in the hands and to the minds of those who need it. And that is a grave disservice to our world and an injustice to a growing mind.
Read banned books.
Share banned books.
And… maybe challenge a little authority.
For more resources on banned books, visit Macmillan’s Banned Books page:
You can purchase a copy of Go With The Flow wherever books are sold, or rent a copy through your local library.