Remembering Acclaimed Children’s Book Author Robie Harris

Robie HarrisRenowned educator and author, Robie Harris, GSE ’70, died on January 6 at the age of 83. Known for her significant contributions to children’s literature, Harris leaves behind a legacy of authentic and honest storytelling and a profound impact on generations of young readers.

A longstanding member of the Bank Street community, Harris is celebrated for her numerous books written to help children understand powerful feelings and complex topics, from love and anger to HIV/AIDS and reproduction. Prior to her writing career, Harris pursued her passion for teaching at Bank Street Graduate School of Education, where she earned her master’s degree in 1970. The following year, Harris accepted a teaching position at Bank Street School for Children, an experience that played an important role in shaping her approach to children’s literature.

While at Bank Street, Harris worked on an initiative for the Head Start preschool program in which older siblings joined an after school program. Through this work, she learned that the children were largely unfamiliar with their New York City neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen and set out to facilitate a deeper understanding of the area by guiding them to explore and document their surroundings on Super 8 cameras that she secured through a grant.

Robie Harris and students using cameras in the documentary film "Child's Eye View"The project led to a documentary film titled Child’s Eye View, which featured the children’s color footage and black-and-white photography of Harris teaching. The film was chosen to be included in the Lincoln Center Film Festival. During this time, she met her husband, William Harris, who was working at Fordham University on film and communication and had interviewed her about the project.

In addition, Harris was a member of the Bank Street Writers Laboratory, a supportive workshop space for published authors to review each other’s works-in-progress. There, she collaborated with authors William H. Hooks and Irma Black on writing segments for the children’s television series Captain Kangaroo.

Throughout Harris’s career, her books on sensitive topics were often challenged or banned, including It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, and Sexual Health and Who’s in My Family?: All About Our Families, which features families of many configurations, including gay parent/s.

In a 2015 interview with Bank Street, Harris said, “Kids need to understand that we live in a diverse community, and to respect one another.… That’s one of the many reasons I wrote this book.”

Former colleagues remember Harris for her vibrant spirit and dedication to fostering age-appropriate learning experiences through authentic stories, engaging children’s natural curiosities, answering important questions, and instilling a love for reading and learning.

“She was my north star. We were each other’s first readers and most trusted voices about our books,” said Elizabeth Levy, prolific children’s book author and executive member of the Bank Street Children’s Book Committee, who is Harris’s first cousin. “Robie had a plumb line into kids’ feelings and a fearlessness about their strong emotions. Her honesty and humor and fierceness persisted until the day she died.”

“She lived such a full life with a ferocity of spirit. She carried the Bank Street moniker wherever she went and whenever she spoke at conferences worldwide. What a gift she was for all of us whose path crossed with hers,” said Hal Melnick, GSE ’74, former faculty member at the Graduate School of Education, who worked as a consultant with Harris on her children’s books titled Now What? A Math Tale and Crash! Boom! A Math Tale and co-produced with Harris Celebrating Bank Street’s First 100 Years, a special publication honoring the College’s centennial year.

In addition to her husband of 55 years, she is survived by her two sons and four grandchildren.