Cynsational News

Random House, 2018

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q & A with Kekla Magoon by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “If you recognize the power of your own voice and your good qualities, you will be able to discover and stand up for what you believe in…. [M]y novels may appear different, but I hope that readers take away the same message…. [Y]our voice matters, and you can make a difference.”

The Power of Story – Yellow by Elsie Chapman from School Library Journal. Peek: “[T]aking back that slur and using it in a way to express beauty instead of hate, strength instead of weakness. This…is the power of story. The ability to reclaim a voice. It can be the reader’s, who is empowered. Or the narrator’s, who grows. Or the creator’s, who heals.”

Writing the Past: An Indie Success Story (Anthony Perry) from BookLife by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “‘I started writing my thoughts, trying to make sense of his (father’s) death,’ he says. ‘Chula the Fox came from a deep need to connect with my Chickasaw culture. I took my ancestry for granted growing up, thinking I would always have a chance to ask questions and learn more—and then I couldn’t.'”

Simon & Schuster, 2019

Q&A with Hena Khan by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: “…when I sat down to write the book, which I imagined as a young adult novel, I couldn’t capture the voice…I didn’t like my protagonist, Jameela, as a high schooler, and realized I didn’t want to immerse myself in marriage proposals or romance or struggles against societal rules.”

What Reading Slowly Taught Me About Writing by Jacqueline Woodson from TED. Peek: “As a child, I knew that stories were meant to be savored, that stories wanted to be slow, and that some author had spent months, maybe years, writing them. And my job as the reader — especially as the reader who wanted to one day become a writer — was to respect that narrative.”

Q&A with Brittney Morris from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As long as people can stay anonymous on the internet…there will be trolls…Since there’s not much we can do to get rid of them…here’s how I deal with them: Ignore them. Block them. To extinguish a fire, starve it of oxygen. Attention is their oxygen.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

The Search for Mirrors in Children’s Literature by Dr. Debbie Reese from National Center for Families Learning. Peek: “See the shards of glass by the children on the left? Not only are their mirrors small, but they are also broken. When we created this graphic, we wanted to show that many of the books about them are not good mirrors. Instead, many of those books have stereotypical images and words, factual errors, and biased storylines.”

From the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. Diversity in Children’s Books 2018

All-American High School Stories Centered Around Students of Color by Stephanie Jimenez from Electric Lit. Peek: “I wrote my book They Could Have Named Her Anything (Little A, 2019) in part out of my love for teen dramas, but also in defiance of the erasure of students of color in pop culture.”

Reasons Why You Should Read a Diverse Book for Your Next Community Read by Danielle Yadao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Not every book featuring a diverse character spotlights that diversity as a different experience. Sometimes these books are simply a slice of normal life that demonstrates that when it comes down to it, we’re all much more similar than we are different.”

Holt, 2018

Tomi Adeyemi: “We Need a Black Girl Fantasy Book Every Month” by Sarah Hughes from The Guardian. Peek: “I had a lot of different reasons for writing the book but at its core was the desire to write for black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from. That was my experience as a child. Children of Blood and Bone (Holt, 2018) is a chance to address that.”

The Reality of Being Adopted: Validating Stories for Adopted Kids by Liz Latty from Books for Littles. Peek: “The dominant narrative of adoption is one of unquestionable good, a one-time event, and win-win for everyone involved.”

We Need Diverse Nonfiction by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. Peek: “Even though there has been an encouraging uptick in diverse fiction in recent years, nonfiction has lagged behind. In some cases, far, far, far behind. In fact, we couldn’t find any active or browseable books written by BIPOC authors.”

Writing Craft

Shorter Doesn’t Mean Easier–Four Things I Learned About Writing Chapter Books by Christina Soontornvat from MG Book Village. Peek: “Chapter books might be shorter in word count, but they still pack just as much story and character into their pages. And chapter book authors must build a compelling story not just once, but multiple times for a series.”

Penguin Random House, 2019

Q & A with Lynne Kelly by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[G]etting to know the character is important. Not so much her hair color or what’s in her closet, but what makes her sad? What is her relationship with her family? What is she afraid of? Getting to know the character’s backstory, even though it won’t make it into the book, matters.”

Magic Central from Gail Carson Levine. Peek: “An easy-peasy way to introduce magic is to include a magical creature or a species of magical creatures in our world. These can be ogres, dragons, elves, and so on. Or we can bring in a kind of creature never before seen in the pages of a book….”

Who Is Your Target Audience? Use This Simple Trick to Figure Out If They Actually Exist by Dana Sitar from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “A major conundrum that trips up many green writers—I’m including my younger self—is defining your target audience before you have any actual readers… [I]f you can’t name real people you know (or know of), you have to face the possibility that your hypothetical target audience doesn’t exist.”

Advice For Young Writers, Green-Eyed Monsters and Celebrating The Moment: Bev Katz Rosenbaum by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: “[T]ry not to get too overwhelmed by all the writing systems and ‘rules’ floating around out there…. [A]s long as your book has a theme around which your main plot and subplots revolve, a basic three-act structure, conflict, tension, drama, strong voice and three-dimensional characters, you should be fine.”

Cinco Puntos Press, 2018

Unplanned Wonder: Writing Güero by David Bowles from Mackin Books in Bloom. Peek: “…I had to figure out how to be as efficient as possible with my morning writing. I became a planner. I map out everything I can ahead of time: characters, setting, backstory…and definitely plot. First this plan is just a rough, bulleted outline, but it expands so that there’s a paragraph for each chapter, detailing the major points.”

LitLinks: The Power of Love in Creating Story – Yes, Even STEM Stories by Carrie Pearson from Patricia Newman. Peek: “…I needed engagement in the form of visual verbs, descriptive adjectives, and sensory connections. Finding those words meant spending time in the world of the ecosystem. It meant touching, smelling, watching, and listening to a coast redwood forest.”

Even A Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used To Gender Neutral Pronouns by Geoff Nunberg from FreshAir. Peek: “In everyday speech we often use that pronoun for a single person, though only when the word or phrase it substitutes for—its antecedent, as it’s called—doesn’t refer to a specific individual.”


Web of Life Books, 2018

The Author World: How It Works from Janet S Fox. Peek: “An advance is really an ‘advance on royalties’…What this means is that the publisher is giving money to the author…under the assumption that enough books will sell so that this ‘advance’ is paid back to the publisher–after which earned royalties do go to the author.”

“What Kind Of Book Should I Write?” An Editor’s Plea to Ignore Trends by Jillian Manning from Editor Says. Peek: “The real point of this post is that writers should ignore trends no matter how enduring those trends seem to be…. Although publishing moves slowly, reading fashions move quickly. By the time you’ve written, queried, edited, and published a novel, whatever trend you were chasing is probably long gone.”

How to Establish a Long-Term Writing Career: Insight From Two Literary Agents (Sarah LaPolla & Kim Lionetti) by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Peek from Sarah LaPolla: “A smaller advance might not be as exciting, but it can mean an author has a better chance of earning out, proving their monetary worth to the publisher, and potentially having a longer career overall.”

Wednesday Books, 2018

Author Spotlight: Adrienne Young Talks Sky in the Deep by Megan LaCroix from Megan Write Now. Peek: “Querying–do not just sign with any agent who will take you. Make a dream agent list of qualified agents who have good reputations and make consistent sales. Query them. If they don’t bite, then write another book that they might want…it is worth waiting for the right agent!”


The Ultimate Guide to Book Trailers: How To Produce a Killer Book Promo Video by Julia Drake from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “[P]ublishers and authors are increasingly leveraging video to tap into an exploding audience. But as much as a good book promo video makes that lasting first impression, a bad video…can ruin a reader’s expectation of a book before they’ve even had a chance to crack into that first page.”


BookNet Canada’s First “State of Independent Bookselling” Report: Print Revenue Up by Porter Anderson from Publishing Perspectives. Peek: “BookNet Canada has happy news today (Sept. 9) reporting that between 2017 and 2018, 65 percent of independent booksellers surveyed say they saw increased revenue from sales of new print books. What’s more, 28 percent of booksellers said…they’d seen increased revenue from remaindered books….”


Shelving Debate: To Separate or Integrate? by Kara Yorio and Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal. Peek: “Eight percent of libraries shelve at least some books with diverse content separately from other collections. It is slightly more common in public libraries…. Shelving separately might make it easier for students and patrons to find those books, but the ‘othering’ creates a problem…. [L]ibrarians need to find a better way.”

K–12’s Digital Transformation Is Giving Libraries a Modern Makeover by David Andrade from EdTech Focus on K-12. Peek: “Today’s school libraries are being reinvented. No longer just a haven for dusty books and stern shushes, the library is now a place for digital resources and makerspaces and flexible learning. They’re alive with activity and are agents for collaboration and creativity. Librarians are I.T. help desk masters….”


See a Cynsations post with Margarita Engle

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

This week I’m deeply honored to learn that author Chris Barton has dedicated his upcoming picture book, Fire Truck vs. Dragon, illustrated by Shanda McCloskey (Little, Brown, 2020) to me. It’s a companion to Shark vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010), which is one of my all-time favorite picture books. I couldn’t be more honored.

Thank you to The Booking Biz for my most recent interview:

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Tex-Mex, Movies & Gnocchi…The Dog Kind. Peek: “…sometimes stories simply bubble up, like my forthcoming middle-grade graphic novel series, The Blue Stars, co-authored by Kekla Magoon and illustrated by Molly Murakami. My affection for superheroes no doubt played a role in its genesis, but so did, say, a bit of imaginative play, which can be as important to grownups as kids.”

The Hero Next Door inspired me to adopt Gnocchi from Austin Pets Alive! It’s also available in an audio edition (the book, not the Chihuahua).

I’d also like to tell you a little bit more about my new short story, poem, and the anthologies they respectively are included in.

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

Kirkus Reviews (starred): “A stellar collection that, in celebrating heroes, helps readers find the universal in the specific.”

Penguin Random House, 2019

Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books (starred): “…collection of thirteen impressively varied short stories highlights diversity both in the identities of its young protagonists as well as in its eclectic storytelling forms. …a consistently solid anthology that introduces and then celebrates the efficacy of short fiction as much as it does diverse voices.”

School Library Journal: “Heroes with superhuman powers wear capes and save the world from destruction. That’s not the kind of hero this book focuses on…. A great anthology with a message of spreading kindness and hope.”

The Washington Post: “This warmhearted middle-grade collection celebrates not the ‘larger-than-life icons’ but ‘the risk-takers, the friend-makers, the dreamers and doers’ whose caring and courage help create a kinder world. . . . As with the two previous anthologies from We Need Diverse Books, this collection admirably succeeds in making available to all readers a wider and more representative range of American voices and protagonists.”

The Hero Next Door is featured in NEA’s 2018-2019 #ReadAcrossAmerica calendar.

Millbrook Press, 2019

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

Kirkus Reviews says: “The poets not only select a wide array of objects inspiring gratitude…but employ incredibly varied lyric forms…. Lovely lyric lessons in appreciating the ordinary.”

Booklist says: “Myles’ full-color digital illustrations exhibit variety as well, and she is equally adept at creating panoramic vistas, playground close-ups, and inventive collages.”

American Indians In Children’s Literature says: “The poem from Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation) is ‘Stories for Dinner.’ It spans two pages, and in its verses, it spans time. The stories in the chant, free verse poem are about boarding school, war, and the ‘everyday heroes’ who plan for future generations.”

More Personally – Gayleen

I loved celebrating the launch of Austin author P.J. Hoover‘s  newest adventure novel, The Hidden Code (CBAY Books, September 2019)! I just know her protagonist, Hannah Hawkins and my protagonist, Phoebe Fogg, would make a great duo, deciphering clues and mining secrets from the past…if only they lived in the same century.

More Personally – Stephani

My daughter, our exchange student, and I had a great time volunteering at the Bookmarks Festival this month. The highlight for me was meeting and talking to author Margaret George. My father gave me one of her books when I was a teenager and it ignited my passion for historical fiction. My daughter has since discovered her work and is excited to read her novel Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997).