About Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith is best known as an award-winning, bestselling author of fantastical and realistic fiction for young readers.

She is the New York Times best-selling YA author of HEARTS UNBROKEN and both the FERAL trilogy and TANTALIZE series. These novels were released by Candlewick Press in the U.S., Walker Books in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand, and additional publishers around the globe.

She also is the author of several award-winning children’s books, including: JINGLE DANCER, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME, and INDIAN SHOES, all published by HarperCollins. In addition, she has published short stories, nonfiction essays, and poetry for young readers.

She is a citizen of Muscogee Nation, based in Austin, Texas. She holds both a bachelor of science degree (with majors in news/editorial and public relations) from the William Allen White School of Journalism at The University of Kansas and a J.D. from The University of Michigan Law School.

She also serves on the core faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and is a member of the Honorary Advisory Board of We Need Diverse Books. Order books by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

(“Leitich” is pronounced Lie-tick. First a long “i,” then a short “i,” followed by a hard “k.”)

Writing Life

(Or… Why’d You Go to Law School Anyway?)

cynthia_leitich_smith_age_5
Age 5, a picture book reader and library kid

It’s not a bad question.

I’ve wondered once or twice myself.

After all, the experience did result in a decent amount of stress, lost sleep, and about seventy thousand dollars in student debt (though I did meet some of my best friends and learned I could compete academically on a national level).

At the time, I’d planned to become a legal reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. It was a great plan. There was nothing wrong with the plan.

Only problem? My heart was elsewhere.

But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s go back to the beginning….

Growing Up(ish)
When I was a kid, I spent lots of time reading books, especially library books. At age 7, I won a summer reading contest sponsored by the Mid-Continent Public Library of Grandview, Missouri.

It’s my favorite achievement.

Between third and fourth grade, I moved to Lenexa, Kansas. Through junior high, I worried too much about being a foot taller than everyone else, including the boys (they kept growing; I didn’t), and about being one of four girls in advanced placement classes (later I figured out that being smart was a bonus in life).

bridge_to_terabithiaGrowing up, my favorite books included BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare, and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konigsburg. These all received The John Newbery Medal, awarded by the American Library Association.

I also loved TIGER EYES and ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume. Like many women of my generation, I credit Judy with helping me survive the latter elementary grades and junior high.

As for my own story, I was lucky enough to be part of a close extended family, an only child with lots of first-to-third cousins, most of us in Missouri (my dad’s home state) and Oklahoma (my mom’s home state). And, come summertime, my mom would load me and Grandma Melba into her Oldsmobile and take off from the K.C. suburbs to rural Oklahoma.

Growing up, I had Sunday afternoon iced teas with Great-Grandma Bessie, fished with Great-Grandpa Ernest, took long walks with Grandma Melba, jostled with Cousin Stacy for rights to Grandpa Clifford’s chair, and lived with Great Aunt Anne. My elders told me stories about themselves, their parents and grandparents, our extended family and friends, our respective and overlapping cultures and traditions.

In_my_grandmothers_house_grandma_dorothyIn particular, I remember hearing talk of my Grandma Dorothy and her three sisters, about how my great-grandma had died young and so the girls had to all help raise one another.

And I always had a special fascination with stories about Grandpa Ray, who died the year. I remember hearing again and again about how he was a gruff man who cried at movies, how he was deeply committed to his career in the U.S. Air Force, and how as a boy he’d grown up with his brothers and sisters at Seneca Indian School in Oklahoma.

None of my manuscripts are retellings of these people or their lives, but I’m honored if anyone can catch an echo of their voices in mine.

Exploring
cyn_teenMy love of stories inspired an interest in newspaper reporting.

In 1986, I served as editor of The Epic at Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kansas; and later went on to major in news/editorial and public relations with a concentration in English at The William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at The University of Kansas, Lawrence.

All along, I wrote poems and short stories but didn’t seriously consider being any other kind of professional writer than a journalist.

Over the next few years, I reported for The University Daily Kansan and then various community and metropolitan newspapers. I talked to an African-American lawyer about his work in the civil rights movement, to a city alderman about his decision to run for state representative, and to a Tony award-winning actress about her guru.

In 1991, I began studies The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor with the idea that I would become a legal journalist and then teach Media Law at a journalism school (or maybe First Amendment at a law school). During summers, I studied the French legal system in Paris, worked for a legal aid office in Hawaii, clerked for a federal appellate judge in Kansas, and reported for both The Detroit Legal News and The Dallas Morning News.

By graduation, I was writing fiction for grown-ups, too. For almost a year afterward, I worked in the law offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and of the Social Security Administration in Chicago.

Children's and YA Writing
My mom was the one who suggested I write for children, and I thought that was a horrible idea. I was a young grown-up, and I wanted to distance myself from being a kid. Then I started to read children’s books again, and I realized I couldn’t think of anything better to do with my life.

In the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing, I felt compelled to dedicate my career to young readers. Immediately. Full time. No excuses. I did what everyone tells you not to do: I quit my day job.

I moved to Austin, Texas. I started teaching part-time at St. Edward’s University and freelance writing for a couple of parenting magazines. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. I read SCBWI publications, attended conferences and workshops, met mentors and friends. Most importantly, I took a children’s writing class at a ranch in La Grange, Texas; from author Kathi Appelt.

jingle_dancerWithin a year and a half, I sold my first book, JINGLE DANCER.

Over time, I’ve continued to write contemporary stories and children’s books but also have branched into creative nonfiction, short stories, creative nonfiction, young adult fiction, and speculative fiction.

I’ve grown into my role as a signal booster for children’s-YA literature, joined the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and been appointed to the board of We Need Diverse Books.

My journalistic and legal education helped prepare me to write for youth readers and to pursue a competitive career in children’s-YA publishing. So did the lessons I learned from Kathi Appelt.

But the earliest, perhaps most influential, gifts I received as an author came from childhood–from family stories and picture books borrowed from my local public library.

 

Awards & Honors

for Jingle Dancer

  • Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich SmithNotable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Selector’s Choice for 2001
  • Named to the 2001 2 x 2 Reading List of twenty books recommended for children ages two through second grade by the Texas Library Association
  • Finalist, children’s/YA division, the Oklahoma Book Awards
  • Runner-up for the Storyteller Award from the Western Writers of America
  • Named a CCBC Choice for 2001
  • NEA Native American Book List
  • Featured in “Debuts That Deliver” (Book Magazine)
  • Featured title, Texas Book Festival
  • Featured title, GREAT BOOKS ABOUT THINGS KIDS LOVE by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, 2001)
  • Editor’s Choice, Library Talk
  • 2002 Read Across Texas Bibliography (Texas State Library and Archives Commission)
  • Named among “Best Multicultural Children’s Books for Early Childhood Educators” (Montessori Life)
  • Suggested Title, Recommended Native Literature for Youth Reading Circles from American Experience: “We Shall Remain” (April 2009) from PBS.
  • Listed title, Talk Story: sharing stories, sharing culture: a joint project of the American Indian Library Association and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association.
  • Named to the Reading Is Fundamental 2011 Multicultural Books List

for Rain is Not My Indian Name

  • Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich SmithDishchii’Bikoh High School Reader Award. DHS is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona.
  • Smith named a Writer of the Year (Children’s Prose) by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in recognition of the novel
  • Finalist, children’s/YA division, the Oklahoma Book Award
  • Featured title, GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, 2002)
  • Featured title, St. Petersburg Times “You Gotta Read This” Book Club
  • NEA Native American Book List
  • Featured title, Texas Book Festival
  • Featured title, Second National Book Festival.
  • Book of the Month, Red Tales, Aboriginal Voices Radio
  • Recommended title, THE CHILDREN’S LITERATURE LOVER’S BOOK by Joanna Sullivan (Jossey-Bass, 2003)
  • Recommended title, DOES ANYBODY ELSE LOOK LIKE ME? A PARENT’S GUIDE TO RAISING MULTIRACIAL CHILDREN by Donna Jackson Nakazawa (Da Capo Press, 2004)
  • Recommended title, SEVEN CHOICES: FINDING DAYLIGHT AFTER LOSS SHATTERS YOUR WORLD by Elizabeth Harper Neeld (Warner Books, 2003)
  • Suggested Title, Recommended Native Literature for Youth Reading Circles from American Experience: “We Shall Remain” (April 2009) from PBS.

for Indian Shoes

  • Indian ShoesNotable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
  • Planet Esme’s Don’t-Miss List for 2002
  • Finalist, Friends of the Austin Public Library Award/Texas Institute of Letters
  • 2003 Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • Choices 2003, Cooperative Children’s Book Center
  • NEA Native American Book List
  • 2003 Chicago Public Schools Fourth Grade Recommended Reading
  • Featured title, Texas Book Festival
  • 2004-2005 Children’s Crown Award List
  • Featured title, Read On, Wisconsin
  • Listed title, 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, compiled by Ginny Moore Kruse and Kathleen T. Horning, updated by Kathleen T. Horning and Megan Schliesman (Cooperative Children’s Book Center, 2001, 2006, 2010).

for Santa Knows

  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich SmithFeatured title, 2007 Kansas Book Festival
  • Horn Book Holiday High Notes

for Tantalize

  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich SmithTop Ten pick, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) list of 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults in the “What’s Cooking?” category (“tasty reads to fill your belly and warm your soul”)
  • Borders Original Voices Nominee, March 2007
  • Featured title, 2007 National Book Festival
  • 2007-2008 Tayshas List
  • Chapters (Canada) Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick
  • Featured title, 2007 Texas Book Festival
  • BBYA nominee
  • Featured title, 2007 Kansas Book Festival
  • Cybils nominee
  • Featured title, Readergirlz 31 Flavorite Authors for Teens

for Eternal

for Holler Loudly

  • Holler LoudlyFeatured title, 2010 Texas Book Festival
  • Dolly Parton Imagination Library selection
  • Finalist, Writers’ League of Texas Children’s Book Award

for Blessed

  • Blessed (Candlewick)Cybils nominee
  • Teens Top Ten Nominee
  • 2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year

tantalize_kieransstory_tbm_for TANTALIZE: Kieren’s Story

  • Cybils Nominee
  • Featured title, 2011 Texas Book Festival

for Feral Nights

  • Cybils Nominee
  • Writers’ League of Texas Book Award

for Children’s & YA Literature Resources

About the Author: Long Version

At the Illumine Award Banquet

Cynthia Leitich Smith is best known as an author of fantastical and realistic fiction for young readers.

She is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of the award-winning Feral series, which includes Feral Nights, Feral Curse and Feral Pride, as well as the critically acclaimed Tantalize series, which includes Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed and Diabolical.

Two graphic novels, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and Eternal: Zachary’s Story, both illustrated by Ming Doyle, complete the Tantalize series.

These YA adventure-fantasies were originally published by Candlewick Press in the U.S., Walker Books in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand, and additional publishers around the globe. The series are often noted for their diverse protagonists, humor, social conscience and compelling action. The books are available in hardcover, paperback, electronic and audio editions.

Cynthia is also the author of several award-winning children’s books, including: Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu; Rain Is Not My Indian Name; and Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen; all published by HarperCollins.

Cynthia was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in recognition of Rain Is Not My Indian Name. She is an enrolled tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and is a member of the Honorary Advisory Board of the We Need Diverse Books nonprofit organization.

Cynthia looks forward to the publication of her upcoming YA contemporary realistic novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, Oct. 2018). It is her first book with a Native protagonist since 2002.

She has been twice featured at the National Book Festival. Her titles have been honored among Notable Children’s Trade Books in Social Studies, Oklahoma Book Award finalists, NEA Choices, CCBC Choices, Bank Street Choices, Children’s Crown List selections, YALSA Popular Paperbacks, Writers’ League of Texas award winners, TLA Spirit of Texas (YA) choices, and more.

She was named the first Spirit of Texas Young Adult author by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association and the first young adult author to be honored with the Illumine Award by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators also instituted the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award in her honor.

Cynthia is a popular writing teacher, serving on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and leading workshops hosted, for example, by SCBWI chapters, the Highlights Foundation and Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Cynthia’s website at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. School Library Journal said of Cynsations, “If you read only one blog, this is it!”

Cynthia makes her home in south-central Austin. Order books by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

(“Leitich” is pronounced Lie-tick. First a long “i,” then a short “i,” followed by a hard “k.” Listen to Cynthia say her name via the Author Pronunciation Guide from TeachingBooks.net.)

Cynthia has written several essays and short stories. These include:

  • “Dreams to Write” which appears in Our Story Begins: Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, 2017);
  • “All’s Well,” which appears in Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015);
  • “Cupid’s Beaux,” which appears in Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015);
  • a letter in Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest, 2012);
  • “Mooning Over Broken Stars” (a companion to a story by Joseph Bruchac), which appears in Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012);
  • “Isolation,” which appears in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones (HarperTeen, 2011);
  • “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appears in Geektastic: Stories from The Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009);
  • “Cat Calls,” which appears in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009); and
  • “Haunted Love,” which appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008);
  • “Riding with Rosa” which appears in Cicada magazine (March/April 2005);
  • “A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” which appears in Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

More Information

Cynthia was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Her states of residence have included: Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Michigan Law School reading room

She graduated with degrees (in news/editorial and public relations) from the White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, Lawrence in 1990 and (in law) from the University of Michigan Law School in 1994. At Michigan Law School, she was a co-founder and senior editor of The Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. Cynthia also studied abroad in Paris, France during the summer of 1991 via Tulane University Law School and the University of Paris IV.

Teacher Guides for Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Books

Reading Group Guide for Blessed

Blessed

BLESSED (Candlewick, 2011).

About BLESSED

Reading Group Guide: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith: features introduction; excerpt; discussion questions; author biography; author interview; and acclaim. Quick-print format.

Reading Group Guide for Eternal

EternalETERNAL (Candlewick, 2008, 2010).

About ETERNAL

Reading Group Guide: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: features introduction; excerpt; discussion questions; author biography; author interview; and acclaim. Quick-print format.

Reading Group Guide for Tantalize

TantalizeTANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007).

About TANTALIZE

Reading Group Guide: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith: features introduction; excerpt; discussion questions; author biography; author interview; and acclaim.

Teacher Guides for Holler Loudly

Holler LoudlyAll activities in these HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton, 2010) teacher guides are linked to state content standards. PDF format.

Pre-kindergarten Guide: offers activities to help you integrate HOLLER LOUDLY into English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and theater/drama curricula.

Kindergarten Guide: offers activities to help you integrate HOLLER LOUDLY into English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and theater/drama curricula. ELA and math activities are also linked to the Common Core Standards currently being adopted by many states.

First-grade Guide: offers activities to help you integrate HOLLER LOUDLY into English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and theater/drama curricula. ELA and math activities are also linked to the Common Core Standards currently being adopted by many states.

Second-grade Guide: offers activities to help you integrate HOLLER LOUDLY into English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and theater/drama curricula. ELA and math activities are also linked to the Common Core Standards currently being adopted by many states.

Readers Theater for Santa Knows

Santa Knows

About Santa Knows

A reader’s theater of SANTA KNOWS, adapted by Toni Buzzeo, is featured in the December 2007 issue of Library Sparks: Engaging Activities to Reach Every Reader.

Guides for Indian Shoes

Indian ShoesINDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002).

About INDIAN SHOES

INDIAN SHOES puzzle: a word find with vocabulary words from the book. [PDF]

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith: Bloom’s Multiple Intelligence Projects, Pre-Reading/Prediction Guide, and Comprehension/Quiz Questions from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, for use as classroom material and internet resources. Features include MI activities related to the following areas: Verbal/Linguistic; Logical/Mathematical; Visual/Spatial; Body/Kinesthetic; Musical/Rhythmic; Interpersonal; Intrapersonal. See also the Logical/Mathematical Worksheet.

Reading Group Guide: Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith: features publication information; introduction; excerpt; discussion questions; author biography; author interview; and review excerpts. Quick-print format.

→ Readers Theater: “Don’t Forget The Pants” from INDIAN SHOES. Script developed by Sylvia M. Vardell. A short read-aloud theater script for a short story from the book.

Guides for Rain is Not My Indian Name

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Rain Is Not My Indian Name
by Cynthia Leitich Smith

RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001).

A  mega guide centers on RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME. Related pages offer journal or book talk questions, short answer questions, quizzes, behind-the-scenes insights, curriculum tie-in information, related links, author trivia, and more.

Teachers may be especially interested in:

Discussion questions for each chapter, many of which also feature notes on the story behind the story and more. This has been very popular for classroom use, from elementary schools to college classrooms.

RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME puzzle: a word find with vocabulary words from the book. [PDF]

Rain Is Not My Indian Name: Multiple Intelligence Projects by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, for use as classroom material and internet resources. Features activities related to the following areas: Verbal/Linguistic; Logical/Mathematical; Visual/Spatial; Body/Kinesthetic; Musical/Rhythmic; Interpersonal; Intrapersonal.

Reading Group Guide: Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith: features publication information; introduction; excerpt; discussion questions; author biography; author interview; and award/review excerpts. Quick-print format.

CAMERAWOMEN by Pat Joel from Book Links. Features overview, bibliography (biography, non-fiction, fiction—including RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001)), discussion questions, activities, and Web connections.

Guides for Jingle Dancer

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jingle Dancer
by Cynthia Leitich Smith,
illustrated by
Cornelius Van Wright
and
Ying-Hwa Hu

JINGLE DANCER (HarperCollins, 2000).

Teachers may be especially interested in:

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith: Multiple Intelligence Projects, Pre-Reading/Prediction Guide, and Comprehension/Quiz Questions from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, for use as classroom material and internet resources. Features include MI activities related to the following areas: Verbal/Linguistic; Logical/Mathematical; Visual/Spatial; Body/Kinesthetic; Musical/Rhythmic; Interpersonal; Intrapersonal.

See also Supplemental Curriculum for JINGLE DANCER. Includes discussion questions, a link to an online activity about Muscogees, a link to a fry bread recipe, outlets for powwow music and videos.

Williams School Multicultural Family Book Project (Grade 3): see how JINGLE DANCER inspired students.

Author and Site Activities

(1) Ask the class to write an author or illustrator report:

Read Cynthia Leitich Smith’s biography, learn more about her writing life, and visit her blogs, Cynsations and Spookycyn.

Read An Interview With Children’s Book Illustrators Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu from Cynthia Leitich Smith Children’s Literature Resources. Van Wright and Hu are the illustrators of JINGLE DANCER.

(2) Ask the class to write a letter to the author: Cynthia Leitich Smith. Some groups have sent interview questions of their own. Cynthia will write back to the entire class, mentioning each student by name (teachers are asked to write clearly the name of each student on his or her letter beneath the student’s signature so Cynthia can decipher them).

(3) Schedule a cyber visit with the author.