Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robin Galbraith, Gayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview with Ibi Zoboi by Edith Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek:

“…the process of placing the stories in a certain order. Like a novel, there has to be a beginning, middle, and end. It works the same way with putting together an anthology. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and it’s definitely a labor of love.”

Interview with Debby Dahl Edwardson by Carole Lindstrom and Debby Dahl Edwardson from M is For Movement. Peek:

“…the buzz word in the industry was ‘multicultural.’ But I did not see much children’s literature about Native American peoples and virtually none of it was authentic…Now the word is ‘diversity’ and the fact that this movement is driven by writers of color is extremely hopeful…”

Interview with William Alexander on Board Games, Neoteny and Dino-Bear Princesses from The Booking Biz. Peek:

“My science-fiction books were inspired by two delightful words: ‘ambassador’ and ‘neoteny.’ The first reminds me of revered and respected characters on ‘Star Trek’ —people who could prevent wars and save entire planets just by knowing the right thing to say. The second word, ‘neoteny,’ means ‘juvenile traits kept in adulthood.'”

Get to Know…Traci Sorell from Jarrett Lerner. Peek:

“…I only started writing for young people a few years ago…It’s never too late to pursue a different line of work—just be prepared to put in the time and effort!”

(Huge Congratulations to Cynsations Reporter Traci Sorell on receiving a Sibert Honor Award for We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018)!)

M.T. Anderson, Eugene Yelchin Come to BookPeople with Story of Goblin, Elf Culture Clash by Sharyn Vane from Austin360. Peek:

“…it was perfect to have something where everybody thinks they know the story. You watch things like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and goblins are the cannon fodder, the redshirts — they march out and get destroyed. They have no world, no culture of their own or anything else.”

Interview with Hena Khan, Author of Under My Hijab by Hannah Ehrlich from The Open Book Blog. Peek:

“I have family members and friends who wear the hijab who I respect and admire…I wanted to write a book that celebrates the women I know who choose to wear hijab… I hoped it would serve to answer very basic questions as well as to represent women and girls who wear it…”

Interview with Mariama J. Lockington by Mariama J. Lockington at 28 Days Later from The Brown Bookshelf. (During Black History Month, the Brown Bookshelf profiles children’s-YA book creators, highlighting quality and underrecognized works by African-Americans.) Peek:

“…as a transracially adopted black girl with white parents, I often felt acutely unseen and hyper-visible at the same time. I was always searching for a place to belong, for stories that mirrored my experiences with racism and grief, and when I didn’t find them I wrote my own.”

Martha Brockenbrough, Author of Unpresidented: A Biography on Donald Trump, on Believing in Yourself and Your Vision by Jocelyn Rish from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek:

“One challenge was to cover his whole life, campaign, and the first 500 days of his presidency and make all of the complexity clear and accessible. I read dozens of books, pored over legal documents and government records, and avidly followed media coverage to make sure I had lots of reliable sources.”

How Katherena Vermette Combined Métis History with Sci-Fi to Write Her Graphic Novel by Katherena Vermette and Scott B. Henderson from CBC. Peek:

“At first, I just outlined what I thought the words would be, but I quickly realized with graphic novels you can tell so much more story than you can in other mediums because the pictures and illustrations do the work for you.”

Trent Reedy ’08 Releases Gamer Army by Robin Herrera from VCFA Wild Things. Peek:

“Of my seven novels, Gamer Army was the most fun to re-write and revise.”


Medina, Blackall, Acevedo Win Newbery, Caldecott, Printz by Emma Kantor and Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“The awards were announced…at the American Library Association’s midwinter conference in Seattle. It was the first ALA win for Medina and Acevedo; Blackall won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie. Acevedo won the 2018 National Book Award for The Poet X.”

2019 Youth Media Award Announced by Mathew C. Winner from The Children’s Book Podcast. Peek:

“You can listen to the stories behind the books through any of the episodes below.”


A Publisher Reflects on the Blurred Line Between Middle Grade and YA by Stacy Whitman from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“…the same types of content that can make a YA book successful with a largely adult audience — things like explicit romance, violence, or certain types of language— can also take it out of the running for curriculum adoption or use in school settings.”

Breaking In As A Picture Book Illustrator and Writing An Illustrator Query Letter by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:

“Picture book illustrators need an illustration query to break into the field. You have several extra considerations when crafting an illustrator query letter and starting to pitch your illustration services, so here’s how you will want to approach the topic of pitching yourself and your art.”

The F-Bomb and the Children’s Librarian by Dawn Finch from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek:

“Publishers – school librarians will not automatically block a book simply because it has swearing….The advice I would give to anyone writing specifically for primary age children is to avoid the F-bomb, and all big swears even if it’s in context… this can stifle reading aloud.”

Interview with Simon & Schuster Editor Sarah Jane Abbott by Samantha M. Clark at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:

“Editors read so many stories that are slight variations of the same theme or idea, so something truly fresh is a pleasure.”

#DVPit Connects Agents and Diverse Authors by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“Phelan says she launched #DVPit because she felt ‘frustrated with my limitations as a single person trying to make a difference, and wanted to corral other agents into some form of action.’”

Sourcebooks Launches Three Children’s Imprints by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

“…Sourcebooks announced today that the company…is launching three imprints under a Sourcebooks Kids umbrella: Sourcebooks Wonderland, Sourcebooks Young Readers, and Sourcebooks eXplore.”


AICL’s Best Books of 2018 by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek:

“Please share this page with teachers, librarians, parents—anyone, really—who is interested in books about Native peoples. As we come across additional books published in 2018 and as we finish reading and writing up reviews, we will add them to this list.”

The Must-Reads of 2018 from We Need Diverse Books by Caroline Tung Richmond from Goodreads. Peek:

“…we need diverse books because we feel like every child deserves to be able to find themselves within the pages. Conversely, reading builds empathy. So for kids in the majority, they also need diverse books just as much as those who are marginalized.”

2018 Proved Black Kids Read (And White Kids Read Books with Black Leads) by Nic Stone from Huffington Post. Peek:

“But what makes ‘The Hate U Give,’ the film, astonishing —and the reason 2018 solidified it as A Thing That will Endure— is the number of middle schools, high schools and colleges that have incorporated the text into curriculums and added it to required reading lists.”

2018 Activist Kids Books Shout Outs! by Innosanto Nagara from M is for Movement. Peek:

“We asked M is for Movement editorial board members, other authors, illustrators, librarians, educators, and scholars to name ‘one or two of your favorite social justice- and activist-themed children’s books to come out this year.’ Here is what they came up with.”

2019 Titles By/For/About Latinx from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek:

“Here it is! The books releasing by/for/about Latinxs. Here are the 60+ titles we know about that are releasing this year.”

16 of the Best Islamic Books For Kids by Alya Hameed from Book Riot. Peek:

“Maybe you want to help your little one understand their culture and faith more. Or, you want to broaden your kid’s horizons and make them more empathetic toward their Muslim peers. Islamic children’s books have been bubbling up for some time, and now there are a lot to choose from.”

2019: The Fat Girl Gets Her Cover by Kelly Jensen from Stacked. Peek:

“Let’s highlight some of the amazing covers featuring fat girls across the range of skin tones who’ll be getting the cover treatment in 2019.”

Can You Hear Us, Now? by Paula Chase from NNPA Newswire. Peek:

“…Paula Chase and Varian Johnson… knew that if they wanted more books about us to be available, we had to do a better job of supporting Black YA literature authors and illustrators. …Today, nearly 12 years later, the Brown Bookshelf is a collaboration of ten authors and illustrators….”

Ten Middle Grade Books With LGBTQ+ Characters by Dr. Donna Bulatowicz from The Nerdy Bookclub. Peek:

“Although representation of LGBTQ+ people in children’s books has increased recently, there are still relatively few published each year with LGBTQ+ characters. This list encompasses about half of the middle grade books published in the past two years with LGBTQ+ characters that I have read.”

The Benefits & Limits of Diversity Audits by Jenna Friebel from Reading While White. Peek:

“Another downfall is that even from the onset, we’re approaching diversity audits from a White-normative standpoint, often looking at the data as White vs. all BIPOC lumped together. Even when separated into further categories (ex. Black, Asian, Hispanic/ Latinx, Native American), they are still so broad.”


What Is the Value of Pre-Order Incentives for Authors? By Julie Daly from YA Interrobang. Peek:

“Ultimately, pre-orders are always going to be important. And pre-order incentives might be flashy and might help boost first week sales for established authors. But they don’t generally create more sales for a book, and they aren’t going to be overly effective for debut authors.”

Painless Self-Promotion: Confidence by Debbie Gonzales from The Mitten. Peek:

“Truth be told, none of us are experts in this field. We’re all stubbing our toes while learning about this stuff. Each of us have strengths to build upon and challenges to conquer. There will be times that our confidence will flounder.”

Writing Craft

The Different Types of Editing Explained by Jim Dempsey from Writer Unboxed. Peek:

“Editors can hardly agree on exactly what’s involved in each type, and that’s because it can be difficult to draw definite lines between each one.”

Interview with Middle-Grade Editors of Angelella Editorial by Suma Subramaniam at From the Mixed-Up Files. Peek:

“I think most writers are surprised at how valuable the feedback of a good editor really is. I also think a good editor shows you how to employ techniques going forward so that you learn deeply for all writing going forward.”

How Much Page Time Can Adult Characters Have in Middle Grade Novels? from Dear Editor. Peek:

“…a satisfying adult/child ‘balance’ usually puts the weight of the story on the kid characters’ shoulders. Why? Because of the target audience’s interests.”

Is It Fiction or Nonfiction? A Twitterchat by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. Peek:

“Should books that are expository and have true and verifiable information with a nonhuman narrator be considered expository fiction?”

Questions to Consider When Plotting a Scene by C.S. Lakin from Jane Friedman. Peek:

“There are  more than a dozen basic scene types, some of which are transition scenes, epiphany scenes, twist scenes, escape scenes, recommitment scenes, and resolution scenes.”

Guest Post: Resolved to Be Prolific by Lyn Miller-Lachmann from El Space. Peek:

“I’m pretty average in that my fourth novel-length manuscript became my first published novel. And I needed all those manuscripts, rewritten over and over, to develop my craft.”

Five Subtle Ways To Bring Your Worldbuilding To Life by Mike Chen from The Mary Sue. Peek:

“When people consider worldbuilding, they’ll often focus on the broad strokes: magic systems and lightspeed science..while those set up the foundation for a world, they’re ultimately hollow without the nuances of day-to-day life.”

Five Ways To Turn Off Your Inner Editor and Get More Writing Done by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:

“Word sprints were designed to ignore the inner editor. You just pick a length of time—ten to thirty minutes is typical—set a timer, and write as fast as you can without stopping until the timer goes off… it’s a way to train yourself to ignore editing as you go.”

What Goes Into Making a Book Cover? An Interview with Zeke Peña, Mirelle Ortega, Jorge Lacera, and Kat Fajardo by Cecilia Cackley from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek:

“When I have time, I like to read the text, but sometimes timelines and my workload don’t allow that. So I’ll usually ask editors and art directors to suggest excerpts to read that will give me a good sense of the scene or character I’m illustrating. I like to do this because it helps me visualize things while I’m working.”

This Week at Cynsations

Ernestine’s Milky Way by Kerry Madden-Lunsford, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Schwartz & Wade, March 5, 2019)

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy New Year, and welcome to our new home at on my main author website. My deepest thanks to the Cynterns and webmaster Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio for their efforts in facilitating the transition.

Central Texans! Please join me for a talk on “Early Novel-Writing Questions” at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15 at the Austin SCBWI meeting at BookPeople. We’ll also be celebrating Cynthia Levinson‘s Crystal Kite Award for The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Marcher, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Peachtree, 2017).

This January, I taught the winter residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and it was a time of snowy magic, highlighted by guest speakers, author-illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi and author-alum Ibi Zoboi.

Then I returned home to Austin and the exciting news that Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018) was named to the 2018 Amelia Bloomer List by the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Roundtable of the American Library Association. Peek: “…an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18.” How cool is that?

Likewise, as a one-time Kansas teen, I was thrilled to learn that the novel is a 2019 Kansas NEA Reading Circle YA Section by the Kansas National Education Association.

I also was deeply honored that Hearts Unbroken was included in many year-end roundups of best books by such respected voices as Ebony Elizabeth Thomas at Penn Graduate School of EducationDonalyn Miller at The Nerdy Book Club, Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature, and Crystal at Rich in Color.

Thanks to everyone who made an extra effort to support the book while it was on the front list. It’s been a tremendous joy to hear from so many of you about the story. Read on!

More Personally – Robin

Over Cynsations winter hiatus, I helped in offering presentations about Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project to address global warming.

It’s inspiring to see how excited people get about the possibility of stopping, and even reversing, global warming if we address all 100 areas studied by Hawken’s team of scientists.

For more information check out or read Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming (Penguin Books, 2017).

For good children’s books on climate change, check out this book excellent list posted by Nancy Castaldo and Patricia Newman at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Writers.

More Personally – Gayleen

My new year started with an amazing group dinner that included author Jane Yolen, who visited Austin in early January. She took time to talk with each of us about our works in progress and offered encouragement. My favorite bit of Jane advice: always have something out on submission (whether it’s a novel or an article); keep sending things out.

Seated: Bethany Hegedus, Jane Yolen, Susie Kralovansky, Rebekah Manley, Susan Johnston Taylor, Debbie Zapata, Gayleen, Meghan Daniels, Noelle McBride, Kyle McBride, Kari Lavelle, Donna Janell Bowman, Don Tate and Dan Marvin.

I was also thrilled to cheer on my VCFA classmate and longtime writing buddy Meredith Davis as she revealed the cover for her nonfiction debut, Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk (Scholastic, Fall 2019). See a Cynsations interview with Meredith.

AndI loved participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day by reviewing Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge, 2018.)

More Personally – Stephani

This week I had the honor of attending a staging of the new musical UNION. It tells the story of the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis that precipitated Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

The musical is still in development as the cast and crew embark on a 20-city tour. In each city, a time of discussion and audience engagement follow the performance of the play.

About 40 churches in our city came together to view the play as well as commit to working together to address inequalities and racism as part of a Forum on Faith and Culture.

After digesting some of the themes and issues presented over the two-day event, I am more confident than ever in the power of stories to bring people together.

Personal Links – Robin

Personal Links – Gayleen

Personal Links – Stephani