Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton

Celebrating Books for Readers

Congratulations to SCBWI on another successful year of the Books For Readers project! See the video from the Indigenous People’s Celebration in Fargo, North Dakota and the book donation to the Indian Education Program of Fargo and West Fargo public schools.
And, the celebration for The Literacy Alliance in Oviedo, Florida. Books for Readers is an annual literacy initiative from SCBWI to collect, curate and donate new books created by SCBWI members to increase access to books for children in need.

Author/Illustrator Insights

Honoring Her Passion by Julie Kendrick from Minnesota Good Age. Peek:

“’Honor your own passion and honor what feels important to you,’ [Marion Dane] Bauer said. ‘Don’t ask what practical use it is and don’t ask what anyone else thinks about it. Just reach for what feeds your own soul. ..Step back and write something that feeds you.’”

Success Story Spotlight with Rebekah Manley by Rebekah Manley from The Writing Barn. Peek:

“The writing world, especially now that it is so big online, can feel like being stuck in the nosebleeds at Super Bowl, but desperately hoping to make touchdown. The Writing Barn with it’s flowing coffee, twinkly lights brings an approachable atmosphere makes space for you on the field.”

Q & A with Tricia Tusa by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“I’m really picky about who I bounce ideas off of because it’s this precious little egg that I have not sat on yet. I’m so careful.”

Misogyny Poisons All Waters by Alison Ng from YA Interrobang. Peek from Elana K. Arnold:

“I think one thing Damsel (HarperCollins, 2018) explores is how misogyny poisons all the waters. This means that women’s relationships to one another can be damaged just as surely as relationships between men and women, and relationships between men are damaged, too.”

Success Story: An Interview with Amy Nielander from The Mitten. Peek:

“I shared that draft at a [SCBWI] Round Table Critique, but it just wasn’t working…It wasn’t until I shared my portfolio with my Rutgers mentor when I returned to it. She encouraged me to prioritize the story and develop it further.”

2018-15 from Courtney Summers. Peek:

“In ten years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned: how to work hard. Write hard. Write well. To push myself to write better. To stop downplaying a talent I know I possess. (All writers should learn that, and take less time than I did to do it.) To promote without apology.”

Unpresidented by Martha Brockenbrough from VCFA Wild Things. Peek:

Unpresidented (Feiwel & Friends, 2018) and The Game of Love and Death (Scholastic, 2015) have more in common than you might imagine. Both were books I had to write.. And I feel like I should say that neither book immediately found a home in publishing.”

The Porchlight: Episode 35 with Lucia DiStefano by Bethany Hegedus from The Writing Barn. Peek:

“Bethany…and Lucia delve into what Norman Mailer calls ‘the spooky art’ of writing and the magic and mystery of the creative process. They discuss how the seeds of ideas are first planted in a writer’s mind as well as the many iterations ideas can go through as they evolve into a book.”

Exclusive cover reveal: ‘Midsummer’s Mayhem’ by Hilli Levin from BookPage. Peek:

Rajani LaRocca – “I hope this novel shows young readers that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be stuffy, boring or confusing and that his work has endured for centuries because it depicts emotions and situations that still resonate today.”

In Memory

Remembering Barbara Brooks Wallace from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek:

“Barbara Brooks Wallace, author of children’s books and two-time Edgar Award winner, passed away November 27, 2018, of natural causes. It’s a term she would have liked–Natural Causes. I imagine I can hear her saying, ‘That could be a title.’”

Obituary: Kate Dopirak by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

(Andrea Welch, executive editor) “All of us here at Beach Lane and S&S will miss her dearly, but it’s heartening to know that her wonderful picture books will live on, bringing the same kind of joy to young children that she brought to everyone.”


‘How I Landed in Children’s Books’ compiled by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Industry veterans tell us about the surprising twists that led them to publishing, from a failed CIA test to chance advice at a midnight bowling party.”

Interview with Kristin Daly Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins by Jonathan Rosen at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:

“Don’t worry about what is trendy—write what interests you… the truth of the matter is that the best way to make someone—whether that someone is an agent, editor, or reader—care about your book is if the author is writing something they believe in and care about themselves.”

Lerner Acquires Zest Books by John Maher with additional reporting by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Zest will operate as an imprint of Lerner, and launch at least 10 new titles in the YA entertainment, history, science, health, fashion, and lifestyle advice categories in 2019… ‘YA nonfiction has become one of the fastest growing genres in publishing,’ Hallie Warshaw, publisher and creative director of Zest Books, said in a statement.”


Hugely Underrated Diverse YA Fantasy Books by Namera Tanjeem from Book Riot. Peek:

 “But there are still a bunch of novels out there which deserve a lot more recognition for the diversity of their casts and settings….All of the following have significantly less than 1000 ratings on Goodreads, which definitely makes them under-appreciated gems.”

New and Upcoming YA Books That Make Perfect Chanukah Gifts by Dahlia Adler from BNTeen Blog. Peek:

“Thankfully, it’s a great time in YA for Jewish fiction that makes the perfect gift… we’ve taken care of your shopping list with one title for each day of the holiday!”

Episode 42! The Choices We Make, by Linda Sue Park from Kidlitwomen* Podcast. Peek:

“We’re not just trying to change children’s books. We’re trying to change the world —which is incredibly hard work. But it always begins the same way: By looking at our own stuff, and changing the choices we make every day.”

Multicultural Board Books for Babies and Toddlers by Pragmatic Mom from her blog. Peek:

“I’ve always loved board books; they are full body entertainment for babies who might explore them with their teeth and virtually indestructible for toddlers! But it was surprisingly hard to find board books with diversity and inclusive themes to help develop empathy skills. I hope you like my first list!”

28 Days Later Call for Nominations by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek:

“We will accept nominations for our 12th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of Black children’s book literature, today through Dec. 15. Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Anyone can nominate.”

The YA Trans Own Voices Masterlist from Ray Stoeve. Peek:

“This database contains young adult fiction titles with trans protagonists by trans authors, as well as young adult nonfiction about trans experiences and trans issues by trans authors. I define trans broadly… basically, anyone who identifies as some type of not-cis person.”

Writing Craft

How to Raise the Stakes in a Novel from Nathan Bransford. Peek:

“…your reader is going to be inclined to want what your protagonist wants and will root for them to get that. If your protagonist doesn’t really want anything in particular, why should your reader care?”

Picture Book Format and How to Format Your Manuscript by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:

“Picture book manuscript format flummoxes a lot of aspiring children’s book writers because there is so much potential variety… I’ve developed a picture book manuscript template handout that I’ve used over the years to really streamline and clarify the process for writers.”

Lessons Learned From a First Attempt at NaNoWriMo by Jess Zafarris from The Writer’s Dig. Peek:

“Really, the most valuable thing I got out of my mostly-pantsed NaNo project was a firm, plotted scene list that I truly believe makes up a good story arc with rich, interesting characters and only a few small pieces that need to be worked out.”

Editing After #NaNoWriMo- Make Your #Writing Shine by Chris Eboch from Fiction University. Peek:

“I suggest making a chapter by chapter outline of your manuscript so you can see what you have without the distraction of details. For each scene or chapter, note the primary action, important subplots, and the mood or emotions.”

Writing, the Gift of Time and O’Henry by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“…as I considered a potential list of gifts that writers might want to give themselves for the holidays, everything on the list came down to a single item: time. Except… sometimes, the gift you need is time spent writing; sometimes, the gift is time spent not writing.”

The 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters by K.M. Weiland from Helping Writers Become Authors. Peek:

“It’s not enough for minor characters to simply be present in the story, nominally either for or against the protagonist’s goals. These characters should have distinct, concrete goals of their own. These goals should have a specific relationship to the protagonist’s goals and, in turn, to every other pertinent characters’ goals.”

Practical Mindfulness Exercises to Hone Your Craft by Heather Demetrios from Wild Things. Peek:

“To me, poetry is what happens when mindfulness and words make love. You would do well to read more poetry, to look at the attention to detail that the writers bring to the text, and to use poets’ advice on how to go deeper.”

This Week on Cynsations

Author Becky Cattie with muse, Weird Al Yankovich.

More Personally – Cynthia 

It’s wonderful to be home in Austin for a while. I’ve spent the past few days reading essays and manuscripts for my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA advisees.

This week’s highlight was the launch of The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek by fellow Austinite Mari Mancusi (Hyperion, 2019) at BookPeople. It’s a must-buy for the holidays!

I’m honored to report that my YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019) will be included in #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019 on Jan. 25 (the last January Friday in 2019). The event is sponsored by Multicultural Children’s Book Day and the Children’s Book Council. See more information from Pragmatic Mom.

The Must-Reads of 2018 from We Need Diverse Books. Contemporary YA recommendations include my novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

Best Books of 2018 from American Indians in Children’s Literature. YA recommendations include Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

#BookADay from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Don’t miss her oh-so creative rec of my YA novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

Holiday Gift Guide: All The World’s A Stage from Rec-It Rachel. Recommendations of books that revolve around the theater. See also New Kids Books Titles to Wrap Up This Holiday Season by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman.

Native Authors Meet to Discuss Future of Children’s Literature by Stacy Wells from Biskinik Newspaper of Choctaw Nation. Note: Scroll to read.

Personal Links – Cynthia

More Personally – Robin

I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of scenes, side writing, and plot outlines for my YA novel. It’s been a hard year with a lot of health problems but NaNo gave me the social pressure I needed to sit down and commit to my novel anyway.

I now feel more motivated than ever to finish this project.

More Personally – Gayleen

I attended volunteer orientation at Bookspring, an Austin nonprofit that distributed more than 180,000 books to young readers in central Texas last year. Their goal for next year is 225,000.

This dynamic organization builds early literacy through three distribution avenues: healthcare, education and community outreach.

Orientation class was the first step in providing opportunities for Austin SCBWI members to volunteer with Bookspring in 2019.

I’m very excited that our chapter will be working with an organization focused on getting more of the right books to the right children. Books are curated for literary value, topical relevance, reading level, target language in the home and likelihood to engage, inspire and motivate young readers. Bookspring’s mission is similar to SCBWI International Books for Readers project.