Cynsational News

Lerner Books, September 2019

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabukukk, Stephani Eaton and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Illustrator Spotlight: Marlena Myles from KidLit 411. Peek: “Saturated colors is one of the trademarks of my work; I wasn’t intentionally trying to illustrate for children, but…became aware of how attracted kids were to my art organically on their own. That made me want to combine a couple of my passions (teaching and art)…”

Real-World Anchors in a Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity from The Lerner Blog. Peek from Nicole Valentine: “A real-world anchor is something that exists in the novel’s universe but also exists in our world in a more ordinary way. It can tether the reader to reality as they fall into the alternate universe of the novel….It ties the fictional realm to the real one.”

Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Tex-Mex, Movies, and Gnocchi…the Dog Kind from The Booking Biz. Peek: “The afternoon is my primary writing time, which stretches until eight or nine o’clock at night with a break for dinner. On alternating days, I pause to lift hand weights while catching up on episodes of ‘iZombie‘ or my current retro/reboot show, ‘Veronica Mars.’”

To the Barricades | Writing and Reading in the Trump Era by Laurie Halse Anderson from School Library Journal. Peek: “Readers learn to recognize Evil quickly in fiction….But recognizing and confronting Evil in real-time, in our daily lives? That’s a much bigger challenge. …the notion that Evil must be battled in our homes, in our communities, and on the job every day can be a shocking one.”

Q&A with Michaela Goade from Christine Day. Peek: “In a fortuitous turn of events, the opportunity to work on my first picture book, Shanyaak’utlaax: Salmon Boy, presented itself… since then I’ve been able to illustrate five other books and am now working on writing and illustrating my own.”

Kate DiCamillo: How She Became a Bestseller After 473 Rejection Letters by Linda Morris from The Sydney Morning Herald. Peek: “‘No matter what you do when you tell a story you reveal yourself whether you intend to or not, but I think that I have become ever more revealing with each book, DiCamillo says.”

Peachtree, October 2019

Donna Janell Bowman on Being Scooped from Kirby Larson. Peek: “The goal of any picture book biography is to share a true story…. My original focus in King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagra (illustrated by Adam Gustavson (Peachtree, 2019)) was the remarkable and daring feats that Blondin performed…Though the determination and imagination themes remained intact, through re-envisioning the story, the focus shifted to the hows.”

Q&A with Angie Manfredi: The (Other) F Word from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “There is a real dearth in the YA market of books that say, ‘This is what your real life can be’…So much of talking about fat people centers around fiction stories. These stories are the real challenges and the real joys of being fat.”

Interview with Kendra Fortmeyer, Author of ‘Hole in the Middle’ by YA SH3LF from YA SH3LF. Peek: “Love and honor your weird! If an idea seizes you and won’t stop talking, listen to it, and fie to anyone who tells you otherwise…. If you’ve got an idea that won’t let you go, cling to it like your life depends on it.”

Q&A: Neil Gaiman by Tara Welty from Scholastic Teacher. Peek: “When I write for children, I’m always thinking about the adults who have to read them…. [T]he editor says, ‘Well, this word isn’t on grade level—why don’t we change it?’ And I say, ‘But it’s a wonderful word. Let’s keep it in. It’s fun.’”

Workman Publishing, September 2019

Diversity & Inclusion

Mermaids Have Always Been Black by Tracey Baptiste from The New York Times. Peek: “As a young child growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, within sight and walking distance of the Caribbean Sea, I was gripped by the intrigue of mermaids.”

Five Questions for Kevin Noble Maillard from The Horn Book. Peek: “Fry bread connects us to an ongoing history of adaption and survival, and it reminds us that we have been, and still are, here.”

35 Black Middle-Grade Books by Afoma Umesi from All My Beautiful Things. Peek: “In this list of Black middle-grade books, you’ll find only books by Black authors featuring Black protagonists. I’ve included everything from contemporary to historical middle-grade fiction.”

31 Children’s Books to Support Conversations on Race, Racism, and Resistance by The Conscious Kid from Noteworthy—The Journal Blog. Peek: “To counter racist socialization and racial bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations.”

The Tip Of The Neurodiversity Iceberg by Kate Piliero from A Novel Mind. Peek: “What you can see from outside those identities or communities is only the tip of the iceberg—the 25 percent that’s visible above the surface. If we don’t belong to that minority…then all we can do is see and describe the small portion visible from our perspective.”

How We Need Diverse Books Changed the Literary World, According to 15 Publishing Pros by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. Peek from Cynthia Leitich Smith: “It’s a critical conversation that’s more than talk. It’s disruptive, enthusiastic, effective action in service of every young reader to proclaim the truth that any kid can be a hero that everybody cheers.”

Penguin Random House, July 2019

An Indigenous Peoples History from KidLit These Days (BookRiot podcast). Peek: “Karina and Matthew talk about looking honestly at history, tribal land acknowledgements, and engaging young people in the history going on today. Joining are special guests Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, authors of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People (Beacon Press, 2019)….”

Native Stories: Books for Tweens and Teens By and About Indigenous Peoples by Kara Stewart and Dr. Debbie Reese from School Library Journal. Peek: “…wonderful middle grade and young adult #OwnVoices titles that will help readers understand Indigenous life and culture. They include historical and contemporary fiction as well as anthologies, graphic novels, and speculative science fiction.”

Internment Author Samira Ahmed Shares 6 Muslim YA Contemporary Authors You Should Have On Your Radar by Sona Charaipotra from BNTeen Blog. Peek: “…Islam is the most diverse religion in America…. Many think of Muslims as ‘foreign’ yet nearly 90 percent of us are United States citizens and no racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of Muslims in America. Our bookshelves should reflect our world.”

An Updated Look at Diversity in Children’s Books by SLJ Staff from School Library Journal. Peek: “An updated infographic on diversity in children’s books has been released…. [T]his 2018 version shows improvement in representation since 2015…. [T]he quantity of books may have gone up, but it isn’t all good news as that doesn’t necessarily indicate accuracy and quality in the titles.”

Writing Craft

Failure If You Let It: A Tale of Extreme Revision by Laurel Snyder from The Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “…this needed to be a new book, and not a remix of the old one. I stared at the screen of my laptop, at the icon for my junk file, and made myself a promise. That I would begin fresh, with a basic concept, two girls, and nothing else.”

Scholastic, 2019

MG Novels in Verse: Five Authors Share Their Love for the Genre by Melissa Roske from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek from Aida Salazar: “I remembered that poetry, like love, is powerful and deepens the meaning in our lives. The story I wanted to tell about the blossoming of brown and queer kids lent itself perfectly to the form. I followed the muse in this way until I finished the manuscript.”

Angela Shelf Medearis Interview Transcript by students from Peek: “If you want to be a writer, your first stop should be the library. You should read as much as you can and check out books about writing. Writing is a very important skill—if you can write well, you’re just as gifted as any other type of artist.”


Popular Asian-American Young Adult Novel ‘Finding My Voice’ To Be Republished in 2021 by Rachel Kramer Bussel from Forbes. Peek: “In spring 2021, Soho Teen, an imprint of Soho Press, will republish the popular young adult novel Finding My Voice by Marie Myung-Ok Lee, originally published in 1992 (under Marie G. Lee). The book is widely considered the first contemporary Asian-American YA novel written by an Asian-American author.”

Author-Illustrator David Kirk Launches Pipweasel Publishing by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Author-illustrator David Kirk, who is best known for his Miss Spider series of 23 books—which have sold five million copies in the past 25 years—has decided to break free from corporate publishing and be his own boss.”

Editor Spotlight—International Edition–Meira Firon from Tal-May Publishing! by Jonathan Rosen from From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: “When the story is fascinating, when the writing is accurate, when I am completely immersed in the world created by the author and I feel the characters are part of my life while reading…I can fall in love with any kind of genre as long as it captures me.”

How to Get Published in a Magazine: Tips for Increasing Your Chances for a Successful Submission by Jan Fields from Institute for Writers. Peek: “Magazine writing differs from book writing in a number of ways, but one way is that you can learn so much about everything the magazine publishes from studying a sample. That’s not true of book publishing. Reading…one issue of a magazine can offer many useful insights.”


Before You Market Your Book, Set Your Objectives by Boni Wagner-Stafford from Jane Friedman. Peek: “The very first thing you want to nail are the marketing objectives for your book. …you will have examined your objectives for the book early in the writing process, as objectives will affect everything including your content, tone, design, and length.”


Children’s Book Recommendations From Children’s Bookstores by Rachel Kramer Bussel from Forbes. Peek: “With students heading back to school this month, here are 10 children’s book recommendations, all released in 2019, from children’s bookstores across the United States. These books range from picture books for the littlest readers plus early readers up to middle grade and young adult novels.”

Hachette, May 2019


Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Awards 2019 awarded in August by Sainsbury’s and Book Trust. Peek: “Judged by a panel of experts, the awards aim to encourage parents and carers to spend more time reading with their children… Book of the Year: My Pet Star by Corrinne Averiss, illustrated by Ros Beardshaw (Hachette, 2019).”


Pflugerville Librarian Wins State Innovation Award with Special Reading Desks from KVUE. Peek: “Librarian Jennifer Coleman was able to help her students succeed in learning with the bike-desk hybrids…’The book takes your mind away from the things happening around you and then all the anger gets put into pedaling’ (says fourth-grade student Cooper Lebakken).”

Want Kids to Learn the Joy of Reading? Barbershops and Laundromats Can Help by Christine Hauser from The New York Times. Peek: “This developing movement, supported by nonprofit groups, entrepreneurs, libraries and community fundraising, is redefining the borders of traditional neighborhood public libraries by creating literary spaces in places where children find themselves with time on their hands. It is bringing the book to the child, instead of the child to the book.”

Importance of Diversity from the Association of Library Services for Children. Peek: “The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) has announced the release of ‘ The Importance of Diversity in Library Programs and Material Collections for Children’ white paper. This paper explores the critical role libraries play in helping children…develop skills necessary to function in a culturally pluralistic society.”

Chronicle Books, October 2019

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Welcome back to Cynsations!

Huge thanks to Cynterns Gayleen and Stephani for all of their hard work this summer! Most appreciated.

We’re delighted to have Gail Vannelli joining us as a Cyntern, Kim Rogers incoming as a reporter on the Native voices beat, and Linda Joy Singleton taking on the role of reporter at larger. Plus, former Cyntern Robin Galbraith is in a new role, as a reporter covering climate-related books. Deepest thanks to Robin for all she did as a Cyntern. I look forward to her new interviews.

VCFA at sunset, July 2019

This summer was a hot one in more ways than one! I joyfully returned to Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier to teach the summer residency in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Congratulations to our latest graduating class, The Guardians of Mischief!

Molly Murakami

I also had the pleasure of serving on the faculty of SCBWI’s 48th Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Thank you to everyone who came to my breakout session, “Writing Within and Across Identity Elements.”

As a long-time member, I must say the level of programming just keeps getting better. Keynotes by Yuyi Morales and Meg Medina were standouts. On a related note, I’m honored to have joined SCBWI’s Board of Advisors. I had a pre-existing scheduling conflict for the winter conference in NYC but will join in the fun again next summer in LA.

Coming up sooner, you can find me at BookFest @ Bank Street Oct. 19 in New York City, the USBBY Conference Oct. 26 in Austin, and the NCTE Convention Nov. 22 in Baltimore.

What else? Huge news, Cynsational readers! I’m teaming with co-author Kekla Magoon and debut middle grade illustrator Molly Murakami on The Blue Stars, a middle-grade, graphic-novel series for Candlewick Press.

The series stars two cousins, Riley Halfmoon and Maya Dawn, who embrace their different strengths to become a superhero duo in their school and in their community. The first book, The Principal Problem, will be published in fall 2022.

With regard to now or soon-to-be available releases, I‘m honored to report that Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018) was named the 2018 Foreword Reviews Silver Medal Award Winner in Young Adult Fiction.

This summer-fall I’m also celebrating the publication of a short story and two poems.

My short story, “Girl’s Best Friend,” appears in the middle-grade anthology The Hero Next Door, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Random House).

My poem “Stories for Dinner,” appears in the picture book anthology Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Miles (Millbrook).

And coming soon, “Amazing Auntie Ann” will appear in the picture book anthology I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Lee & Low, Oct. 22, 2019).

These books are all getting terrific reviews, and I’ll share a few quotes in the weeks to come.

More Personally – Gayleen

I’ve had a fantastic summer full of writing, reading and teaching! In June, I taught a three-week creative writing camp for fifth and sixth graders through the Austin Public Library Foundation‘s Badgerdog program.

Campers chose Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz (Tor, 2018) as the group read aloud, and I posted about it on my blog, Creative Writing Summer Camp and Everlasting Nora.

I attended the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. We always hear the advice, “Be brave, sit with people you don’t know.” I stepped out of my comfort zone and took that advice and ended up meeting award-winning author Andrea J. Loney, who happens to also be my agency sibling! We’re both represented by Andrea Cascardi at Transatlantic Agency.

More recently, I gave a presentation on connecting with bloggers and other media outlets for Austin SCBWI‘s Marketing and Career Day.

In addition to sharing information about Cynsations, I also drew on my journalism and public relations background with tips for contacting newspapers, magazines, television, radio stations and podcasts.

Faculty and attendees at the recent Austin SCBWI Marketing and Career Day.