Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithGayleen RabukukkStephani Eaton and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A with Oge Mora: Saturday from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As a picture book maker, I am all about finding the magic present in everyday life. I want to explore the beauty of the small moments we all experience….I think as we zoom through our lives, we can underestimate the power of these moments.”

Advice for Young Writers and Illustrators by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: “I ask the interviewee if they have any advice for young writers and illustrators….‘[R]ead a lot, write a lot, and live a lot.’ –Lauren McLaughlin. ‘Stretch yourself, push yourself, and above all….write’. –Rob Sanders. ‘Form a writers’ group and set self-imposed deadlines for producing work.’ –Pat Cummings.”

STEM Tuesday–Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — Interview with Author Jennifer Swanson by Mary Kay Carson from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “When I write about technology and engineering, I try to find a unique entry point, one that is fun and unexpected….The kid who has tons of questions about how the world works. That’s who I write all my books to. After all, I still am that nine-year-old kid that was full of curiosity….”

Conferences & Workshops

SCBWI 21st Annual Winter Conference registration is now open. Event is Feb. 7 to Feb. 9, 2020. Keynotes include Derrick Barnes, Kate Messner, and Jerry Pinkney. The Golden Kite Awards Presentation Gala will feature special guest James Patterson.

Diversity & Inclusion

Q&A with Kekla Magoon: Light It Up from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[My] goal has been to capture a particular truth about the aftermath and impact of a controversial/wrongful shooting. And, to invite teenagers into a public conversation that often excludes them… [I]f all of us channel our collective will, we do have the power to insist upon…changes that will upend racism….”

My Culture Is Not Your Or Your Kids’ Halloween Costume by David Robertson from CBC. Peek: “Dressing up as another cultural group diminishes that cultural group to a caricature. And for youth, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that can plant a seed that grows into something far worse down the road….At its heart, it’s about respect.”

MG and YA Novelists with Disabled Characters Share What Inspired Their Stories from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: (Jamie Sumner). “I wrote this story so that when my son rolls into middle school, he’ll be able to see a book that represents him and normalizes his experience. I wrote it for anyone who feels like they are different for how they move or learn or speak or what they love.”

Writing Craft

The Science of Pacing: Tips on Pacing Your Novel by Rosaria Munda from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. Peek: “There’s no room to be sentimental about pacing: It is measured purely, 100 percent, by reader response. You can quibble over interpretation or whether a reader ‘gets’ your book but the facts about when they choose to put it down—or when they find they can’t stop reading—are inarguable.”

Identifying Your Character’s Fatal Flaw by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: “The Fatal Flaw is your character’s…ineffective approach to dealing with life that must be adapted or cast aside to make room for successful methods….If you’re writing a character with a change arc, it’s crucial to know their fatal flaw so you can get them to the point of addressing it.”

Overcome Fear to Unbox Your Best Writing by Erika Liodice from Writer Unboxed. Peek: “When fear shows up, acknowledge it. Remind yourself that it is a natural part of the creative process and you are not alone in your feelings and doubts. Then turn your attention back to your work and forget about it.”

Picture Books & Primary Sources: Interview with Donna Janell Bowman, Author of King of the Tightrope by Tom Bober from Knowledge Quest. Peek: “Finding primary sources is like winning Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, though we writers must always balance them against scholarly secondary sources to ensure accuracy….Among my favorite research steps is digging through archived newspapers and books from the era. Free resources like The Library of Congress, Project Gutenberg, and were also helpful.”


YA Publishing Widens Its Lens by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[P]ublishers of YA fiction are striving to amplify a variety of teen experiences and engage and entertain a large, diverse readership….‘It’s so exciting to see underrepresented characters take center stage in worlds that we haven’t already explored thousands of times in YA,’ says Sarah Shumway, executive editor at Bloomsbury.”

Teaching Migration Through Children’s Books by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: “Migration and immigration are in the news every day….One way we at Lee & Low Books have seen schools steel themselves against the whiplash of responding to the latest breaking story or crises is to integrate migration into their curriculum and school communities through the curation and use of text sets.”

Imagine That & Suffolk Libraries Team Up on Storybook Writing Workshop for Kids by Katherine Cowdrey from The Bookseller. Peek: “Woodbridge-based children’s publisher Imagine That has launched a competition with Suffolk Libraries for children to win a place at a special winter storybook writing workshop. There will be 10 winners…who will be given the chance to design and write their own winter-themed picture book at a workshop event.”

Sharjah 2019: Facing the Challenges of Globalization and Translation by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Dominique Raccah, founder and CEO of Sourcebooks, was featured on a panel on the subject of globalization in publishing. She told attendees ‘the book business is healthier than it has been in 50 years.’ She identified the growth in children’s book sales around the world as a primary driver….”


The Dos and Don’ts of Making School Visits: A Writer’s Survival Guide by Alex Woolf from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “School visits can be a wonderful way for a children’s author to connect with their readers, raise their profile, and make a bit of extra money. For children, meeting the creator of their favorite stories can be magical….There are so many things that can and often do go wrong.”


Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Competition in Digital Markets from American Library Association. “Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services…[O]ver the past ten years, libraries have spent over $40 billion acquiring content. But abuse of the market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information….”

Libraries Are Even More Important to Contemporary Community Than We Thought by Eric Klinenberg from Literary Hub. Peek: “Libraries offer refuge and safe space to teenagers…Librarians help students with homework and offer after-school programs in art, science, music, language, and math. They recommend books, authors, even entire genres to young people who are searching for something different but can’t yet name it.”


Children’s & YA Books Inspire at 2019 NAIBA Conference by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The annual gathering featured dozens of children’s and YA authors…Children’s and YA authors set the tone of the conference with books that shared a common theme of finding one’s place in the world…. [A]uthors Ibi Zoboi and Tom O’Donnell extolled the virtues of science fiction and fantasy for younger readers.”

Mountains & Plains 2019: Booksellers, Children’s Authors Inspire One Another by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Of 84 featured authors in attendance, at least 35 were children’s authors and illustrators….Sharon Robinson, the author of Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963 (Scholastic Press), [said] that indie booksellers are ‘really community activists’….”

In Memory

Alison Prince, Prolific Children’s Author and Poet Who Was Best Known as the Scriptwriter of ‘Trumpton’ – Obituary  from The Telegraph. Peek: “She…publish[ed] more than 70 books for adults and children, many of which she illustrated herself….She won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award for her 1995 novel The Sherwood Hero (Pan Macmillan), a modern-day Robin Hood story for young adults….” Alison Price died Oct. 12 at the age of 88.

See also, Touchstones: Alison Prince by Helena Nelson from HappenStance. Peek: “To everyone who knew Alison in her last decades, she was a starburst of creativity. She could turn her hand to almost anything: she could paint, she could draw, she could write, she played clarinet (jazz in a local group), she sang, she sustained friendships, helped and encouraged other writers….”

Dia Reeves, young adult novelist, died Sept. 12, 2019. She was 41. Quote from Bleeding Violet (Simon Pulse, 2010), by Dia Reeves: “Wanting to connect doesn’t make you needy–it makes you human.”


Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Awards! Shout outs to winners Erin Bow for Stand on the Sky (Scholastic Canada, 2019) and Small in the City by Sydney Smith (Groundwood, 2019).

Submissions are now being accepted for the 2020 Green Earth Book Awards, with nominations open until Dec. 6, 2019. Judges will select books based on their message of environmental stewardship. Award includes $500 prize in each category and donation of Green Earth award-winning books to Title I schools.

Texas Library Association’s (TLA) 2020-2021 Texas Bluebonnet Award. Congratulations to the twenty winners who made the prestigious children’s literature Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List. Peek: “Our primary goals are to introduce children to a variety of quality books, develop critical reading skills, and honor and encourage imaginative authors. The committee considers more than 500 books in order to select five outstanding books of various genres for grades 3, 4, 5, and 6.” Shout outs to Austinites illustrator C.S. Jennings and author Chris Barton and VCFA WCYA faculty member Padma Venkatraman!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy belated Halloween from Gnocchi!

Thank you to Ekua Holmes, Baptiste Paul, and moderator Wendy Stephens for joining me in a panel discussion Oct. 26 at the USBBY regional conference in Austin. We talked about activism in children’s-YA literature, art that inspires us and so much more. Check out the free USBBY e-newsletter, Bridges.

More Personally – Gayleen

I had a busy, fantastic bookish weekend: picking up author Adolfo Cordova and illustrator Amanda Mijangos from the Austin airport; co-hosting the Local Author Showcase at the 13th IBBY Regional Conference; working the Austin SCBWI booth at the Texas Book Festival and catching panels and readings in between.

But by far, the best part of my weekend was having dinner with Cynsations Reporter Traci Sorell and author Jenny Kay Dupuis.  We had such a good time, that we all forgot about our phones and taking a picture! Instead, I’ll share Traci’s latest exciting news. Congratulations!

More Personally – Gail

NaNoWriMo Empowers Young Writers: Kids and Teens Will Be Writing Novels This November by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Participants in the Young Writers Program, which launched in 2012, have the same goal as their adult counterparts, but the writers find much of their primary support through their peers in classroom settings….[T]he program emerged from the collective enthusiasm of teachers who had themselves taken part in NaNoWriMo.”

WhoWasHistoryBee is open until Dec. 10, 2019, for schools to sign up their classes. This free trivia contest hosted by brothers Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series) and Patrick Kinney (Lunar Colony (Penguin Workshop, 2015)). On May 4, 2020, ten finalists will compete for a $10,000 college scholarship, and the school will receive a library of Who Was? books.

The highlight of my week was Liz Garton Scanlon’s webinar entitled Not Every Story Arcs: Writing Nontraditional Picture Books That Will Be Read and Re-Read. I learned so much about creating nontraditional concept picture books that have all the depth and interest and emotion and satisfaction of traditional ones. The helpful strategies she shared for achieving this included structure, layers, language, and variety.

See also Survivors: Liz Garton Scanlon on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children’s Author, Guest Post: Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick on Co-Writing Picture Books and Guest Post & Giveaway: Liz Garton Scanlon on Why We Should Think Big from Cynsations.