Cynsational News

Penguin Random House

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

We Are Writing Against Our Own Erasure by Jacqueline Woodson from Electric Lit. Peek: “I wanted the people I loved to have names. And as a child standing in front of that mirror, I already knew that my story had a right to exist in the world. That my characters would have names and people would remember them….”

BookCon 2019: (Re)Making History: R.J. Palacio and Nicola Yoon by Dianna Dilworth from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The past is the rudder to the future. We use it to steer us forward. Without it, we’d be going in circles, or hopelessly adrift. The past teaches us where to go based on where we’ve been, and warns us where not to go based on where we’ve gone.”

Author Spotlight: Sara F. Shacter from Kidlit 411. Peek: “Relax…You don’t have to be perfect out of the gate. You don’t need to publish before you’re 30. Enjoy what you accomplish each day, and soak in the encouragement…sometimes there are advantages to a slow boil.”

‘Just Ask!’ Says Sonia Sotomayor. She Knows What It’s Like To Feel Different by Samantha Balaban from NPR Weekend Edition Sunday. Peek: “‘Coming from Mexico, I grew up surrounded by color,’ [illustrator Rafael] López says….To him, bright colors represent emotion and diversity. ‘The whole idea is that you’re bringing this explosion of color…this explosion of diversity that we ideally would like to have in a community….'”

Roaring Brook Press

Diversity & Inclusion

Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal (on Fry Bread  (Roaring Brook, 2019) by Matthew Winner from The Children’s Book Podcast. Peek: “There is a story behind the entire nature of fry bread and the way Kevin’s text approaches that story is through affirmation statements of what fry bread is and what it means. The book’s narrator walks the readers from the concrete and tangible into the abstract and ineffable, and the journey is helped along with great care from Juana’s beautiful illustrations.”

Representation Matters Mentor Program. Application deadline Oct. 1. Peek: “Two-person teams of editors (one senior and one junior) volunteer to be mentors to self-identified people of color who are considering a career in publishing.” (Open to applicants who self-identify as people of color. Applicants need not live in New York City. Mentoring can be done remotely.)

We Need Diverse Books Mentorships. Applications open Oct. 1. Peek:  “Our mentors work one-on-one with a mentee and their completed draft of a manuscript over the course of a year, offering much-needed support to improve craft and to better understand the publishing industry.” Check out How the WNDB Mentorship Program Helped Me Grow as a Writer by Angeline Boulley from We Need Diverse Books.

AV Interview with Children’s Book Author Zetta Elliott by African Voices. Peek: “I…found the statistics compiled annually by the CCBC; their data proved that institutional racism was preventing many Indigenous writers and writers of color from getting their books into kids hands…. So I started to self-publish some of the 30 manuscripts I had sitting on my hard drive.”

YA Anthologies and You by Katrina Hedeen from The Horn Book. Peek: “Four recent anthologies that celebrate racial, cultural, and religious identities (among others) help address the need for teens to see both themselves—and a spectrum of their peers—represented on shelves.”


Writing Craft

Interview with Meredith Davis: Collaborating Over an Ocean by Samantha M Clark from The Mixed Up Files. Peek: “…we talked a lot about the shape of the book, deciding what scenes to include… In addition to talking to Rebeka, I interviewed her parents, her former teacher, house mother at her boarding school, and staff from the organization who got Rebeka sponsored to go to school (Africa New Life).”

How to Write a Middle Grade Novel by Jenny Bowman. Peek: “Readers on the younger side of middle grade are not too keen on ambiguity. You don’t need to have flat characters, but clear lines can be drawn between doing what’s right and wrong. Plot lines that explore good and evil work well, as do good guys vs. bad guys.”

Middle Grade Sci-Fi: Interview by A.B. Westrick. Peek from Nicole Valentine: “I wanted to use time travel as a metaphor for death. Losing someone in the timeline is similar to having someone pass away. When a loved one dies, you become a Traveler. You go back in time in your head to see them, or you bring them forward in your imagination to show them your life as it is today. ”


Marcie Rendon: Writing the Indigenous Mystery from the Minneapolis Interview Project. Peek: “People are not submitting their work. They fear rejection. You can’t get published if you don’t put yourself out there. Sometimes people want things to happen by magic. I encourage people to keep getting their work out there.”


Publishing and Book Marketing by Valerie Peterson from The Balance Careers. Peek: “Early in a publishing season (or, even as early as shortly after the author submits his or her author’s questionnaire), the marketer gets involved to help determine the potential readers for an individual book, the size of the market for the book, and strategy for how best to reach the readers….”


Author-Tested Middle Grade Marketing Tips by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek from Christina Soontornvat: “…I’ve found that school visits offer the most return on my investment of time and energy. At a school visit, I get to talk directly with young readers and also make connections with educators that can carry on to my next books. Plus, I really enjoy doing them!”


Comeback Story: A New Chapter for Indie Bookstores by Thomas Shults from The Christian Science Monitor. Peek: “While their numbers certainly aren’t what they once were, independent bookstores continue to defend their peculiar niche against slim profit margins, large chain bookstores, and the rising tide of e-book vendors …. In the past decade, the number of independent bookstores in the United States has grown by more than 50 percent…. ”


The Best Books for Six-Year-Olds, According to Librarians by Liza Corsillo from New York Magazine. Peek: “In terms of subject matter, our experts generally agreed that the best books for any six-year-old are the ones they love the most—no matter how silly the story may seem. ‘Any book that a kid likes to read is one that is going to help make them a lifelong reader’.”


Feiwel and Friends

Congratulations to Vermont Book Award Finalists, including Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults faculty member Kekla Magoon and VCFA: WCYA alum Daphne Kalmar!

Errol’s Garden Is an Award Winner from Publisher Spotlight. Peek: “Congratulations to Child’s Play International and author and illustrator Gillian Hibbs! The Junior Master Gardener Program of the American Horticultural Society has honored Errol’s Garden (Child’s Play, 2018) with the 2019 Growing Good Kids Book Award for excellence in children’s literature.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Join me Oct. 19 for Book Fest at Bank Street in New York City. I’ll be speaking on the panel, “Native Voices in Our Time” from 10:25 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. with illustrator Linda Kukuk and fellow authors Yvonne Dennis, Kevin Malliard and Traci Sorell; Loriene Roy is moderating. Joseph Bruchac is keynoting at 2:50 p.m.

Lee and Low

Coming Oct. 22, “Amazing Auntie Ann” by Cynthia Leitich Smith appears in the picture book anthology I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Lee & Low). Pre-order today!

School Library Journal (starred): “Pairing the works of some of today’s most important voices in children’s poetry with illustrations by artists of equal talent makes this is a must-have for all elementary and middle grade collections.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred): “Curated by poet Hopkins, a collection of poems and illustrations sourced from a diverse pool of creators. Each double-page spread or multipage sequence captures a childhood memory, an artist paired with a poet welcoming readers into an expansive space of youth and memory.”

Publishers Weekly (starred): “The corresponding artwork demonstrates a wonderful range of visual language and technique; there is truly something for everyone in these pages.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Over the past year I’ve led numerous creative writing workshops for Badgerdog (a program of the Austin Public Library Foundation). The program recently hosted a reading in celebration of a chapbook including workshop-produced pieces. I was honored to write the publication’s introduction. Find out how authors Neil Gaiman and Donna Janell Bowman inspired my process in Embracing Our Own Experience.

Badgerdog Teaching Artists and Workshop participants

More Personally – Gail

When I attended the 48th Annual SCBWI Summer Conference, I wondered how anything else coming up could compare. The faculty–who awed and amazed the attendees–included accomplished writers (e.g.,Cynthia Leitich Smith), editors (e.g., Bethany Buck), agents (e.g., Molly O’Neill), illustrators (e.g, Christian Robinson), publishers (e.g., Arthur A. Levine), and more.

However, the Northern Ohio SCBWI Regional Conference was likewise incredible. For example, the intensive I attended with Tricia Lin, assistant editor at Simon & Schuster, involved both writing exercises and critique groups that yielded invaluable insights. Author-Illustrator Rosemary Wells enthusiastically shared her seven steps of writing success, which included always writing for your reader, and reading your manuscript aloud to catch your mistakes. Literary agent Sean McCarthy provided inside information from the agent’s side of the table, such as how to break down agent feedback. The conference was terrific: exciting, motivating, informative, and helpful. And I made several new author friends who live nearby.

So what’s next? Well, thanks to my wonderful sons, Michael and Ricky, and my fabulous daughter-in-law, Nicole, I will be attending the online Picture Book Summit on Oct. 5, as my greatly appreciated birthday present. Stay tuned for feedback from that event.

Ricky, Michael, Nicole, and my grandson, Oliver

Personal Links – Gail