Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithGayleen RabukukkStephani Eaton and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Katherena Vermette Interview by James Feder from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “‘Indigenous teachings,’ she explains, ‘have a very different take on the wolf and what it does.’ Rather than something threatening and dangerous, wolves, like many other animals in these traditional stories, are helpful and wise creatures.”

Melanie Crowder Interview by Robin Kirk from Wild Things. Peek: “I’m always hunting for metaphor, for layers of resonance in my stories. In this one, metaphor and magic and science were hopelessly intertwined. Take a look at one of those enormous old-timey Fresnel lenses and tell me there’s no magic there—I dare you.”

Exclusive Cover Reveal: It Is (Not) Perfect by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant by Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes. Peek: (Anna Kang) “The pursuit of ‘perfection’ is such a self-defeating one, as most of us know, since there is no such thing as ‘perfect.’ I really hope children will learn that practice makes progress, not perfection, and to always follow their instincts and their joy.”

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Committing to Anything by Eloisa Amezcua from Forge. Peek: “I recently tweeted the secret weapon I use to protect myself from overcommitting…Here are the questions…How much is being asked of me? Is this a good use of my time? Does this make financial sense? Is this geographically feasible? Does this disrupt my time at home?…”

Author Interview & Review: The Scoop On Lindsey Stoddard by Noemi Vallone from Sarah Scoop. Peek: “The advice that worked for me was to try focusing less on my audience…to think back to little Lindsey, ten-year-old Lindsey, some time in my life where I was feeling things big, and that if I could use those emotions to fuel my characters, then my story would be honest.”

Maira Kalman: “If You Don’t Digress And Go Off The Point, I Think You Miss The Point” by Greg Cook from Wonderland. Peek: “‘There’s absolutely nothing you can’t talk to children about. They want to know the truth,’ author and illustrator Maira Kalman says…‘You can say anything to kids if you like them….You can’t talk to kids about the world and make it [just] this ridiculous, funny place because that’s not the whole story.’”

Diversity & Inclusion

Keynote Speakers Ask Librarians To Support Diverse Representation and Defuse Bias by Sarah Bayliss, Priscille Dando, & Jennifer Sturge from School Library Journal. Peek: Ellen Oh opened the…Conference with a resounding message: ‘We need to read diversely, every single one of us,’ in order to help kids grow into the best version of themselves…”

Registration is now open for Kweli’s The Color of Children’s Literature Conference set for April 3-4, 2020. Note: The faculty will include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Introducing … The 2019 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities from the Toronto Public Library. Peek: “This biennial selection draws attention to books published around the world, in an extensive variety of languages and formats, that address special needs and situations and which encourage inclusion at every level.

Shedding the Labels in Fiction and Life by Julian Winters from Book Riot. Peek: “I owed teens who are ready to strip themselves of defining labels more than just a lighthearted comedy. I owe queer teens of color the right to walk down sidewalks, and be who they are with the knowledge that…there is no right when it comes to their sexuality or identity.”

Finding Diversity on the Page as a New YA Reader by P.N. Hinton from Book Riot. Peek: “More light is being shed on gender identities other than cis, be it nonbinary, fluid, or trans. There’s more exposure to the different sexualities outside of hetero-, homo-, or bisexual. There are novels about asexuals, demisexuals, and even pansexuals, such as Technically, You Started It. The possibilities, much like human beings, are endless.”

Writing Craft

Interview with Editor Jonah Heller – Peachtree Publishing by Suma Subramaniam from The Mixed-Up Files. Peek: “You can really latch onto someone’s journey and empathize with their trials and triumphs if the writing lets you step close enough. It’s not really theme or topic that drives fiction for us; it’s a fully satisfying story and arc of growth.

Middle Grade Ninja Episode 50: Author Mariama J. Lockington hosted by Robert Kent from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: “I share the perspective of my character. A lot of the things I’m writing about were taken from core emotional things that happened to me growing up; emotions I was going through and then translating them into a specific scenario that didn’t necessary happen to me that way but is about micro-aggressions….”

Ronni Davis’s Debut YA Novel Is About Second Chances by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:“‘I am deeply interested in people’s stories and their lives,’ she said. One of her top places to people-watch is at Disney World, (‘one of my favorite places in the world’), where she loves to observe those around her and wonder what their lives are like outside the park.

Author Interview: Artemis Roehrig from Only Picture Books. Peek: “Science books are tricky since new studies are constantly coming out. It’s important to always check dates on resources! Nonfiction takes just as much time to write as fiction, but you need spend lots of time on research too. I use a totally different part of my brain when writing fiction versus nonfiction.”

Kimberly Gabriel Interview and Every Stolen Breath Giveaway by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “When I started Every Stolen Breath, I was still writing for me. I drafted the first half of it as a pantser with no idea where the story was going. Then when I hit the middle, my vision became very clear, and I plotted the rest of the book.”


The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2019 by Jim Milliot from Publisher’s Weekly. Peek: “The publishing industry made more incremental improvements in 2018 in several areas that have been long-standing trouble spots…”

FTC Issues Guidelines to Social Media Influencers for Endorsement Disclosures from School Library Journal. Peek: “Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand. Financial relationships aren’t limited to money. Disclose the relationship if you got anything of value to mention a product.”

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 ….Though publishers recognize the hard work that’s still to be done in all facets of achieving more diversity, their newest titles offer hope that the world of YA fiction is becoming a more welcoming, inclusive place to be.”

Teen Authors Encourage Boys to Express Their Hurt Feelings by Mary Quattlebaum from Kids Post of The Washington Post. Peek: “Riley Campbell, Shirelle Hurt and London Jones noticed that boys and girls are sometimes given different messages . . . It’s okay for girls to cry . . . Boys are often told to hide these feelings. . . . The Washington teens saw this happening . . . So they decided to write a book . . .”


B&N Launches Book of the Year Award by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[U]nder the leadership of new CEO James Daunt, Barnes & Noble has announced the shortlist for a new Book of the Year award. Books are nominated by B&N booksellers, who will also choose the winner. Booksellers are ‘voting for the title for which they are most proud to be selling,’ said Daunt.”

Points of Sale: Helping General Booksellers Sell More Kids’ Books by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Children’s booksellers in general bookstores have long searched for effective ways to allow those who lack their expertise to feel comfortable selling kids’ books…Kate Reynolds, general book buyer at Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton, N.Y…. devoted a large section of the back wall, which is visible when customers enter the store….”


Cover Reveal Checklist: How to Run One & What to Update After by Diana Urban from BookBub. Peek: “Cover reveals are often how books make their first impression on readers, building excitement and buzz months before launch. They can also be a great way to jump-start prerelease sales if your book is available for preorder on retailer sites….[Y]ou want to get it in front of potential readers as often as possible.”


The Positive Impact of Author Visits on Students by Lucas Maxwell from BookRiot. Peek: “Bringing in authors to meet students humanizes them, it tells the students that they can aspire to be creative and successful and put something great into the world.

Outreach with Early Education Organizations as Library Advocacy by Nate Halsan from ALSC Blog. Peek: “I’ve started to ask to speak to the teachers and aides about library services and early learning. We discuss my…storytime kits that offer a collection of exceptional, diverse, thematic books and song ideas they can use. These teachers, aides, and administrators begin to see me more as a collaborator than an occasional visitor.”


Congratulations to Martin W. Sandler on winning the National Book Award for 1919: The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury,2019).

Congratulations to the many 2019 School Library Journal Best Book winners, in the categories of picture books, transitional chapter books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and graphic novels. School Library Journal describes the writing in the middle grade book winner, I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (HarperCollins, 2019), as “powerful.”

Entries are now being accepted for SCBWI’s Spark Award, recognizing “excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Greetings from the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Baltimore! The theme this week is “Spirited Inquiry,” and today I’m signing from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Candlewick Booth #1025 and speaking on the panel “Native Authors: Bringing Indigenous #OwnVoices into the Classroom” with fellow authors Kevin Noble Malliard, Rebecca Roanhorse, Traci Sorell, educator JoAnne Powless and moderator Jillian Heise from 3:30 to 4:45 in room 314.

Logo by Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Big news! From the HarperCollins media release (Nov. 19, 2019): “HarperCollins Children’s Books announced today the launch of Heartdrum, a new Native-focused imprint led by award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), and Rosemary Brosnan, Vice President, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Launching in Winter 2021, Heartdrum will offer a wide range of innovative, unexpected, and heartfelt stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes.”

Congratulations to our first-list authors Christine Day, Dawn Quigley, and Brian Young.

HarperCollins to Launch Native-Focused Imprint by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “‘’Knowing Rosemary for so many years, I know that she has been actively and thoughtfully advocating for and publishing in areas of diverse representation, including Native authors,’ she noted. ‘Rosemary has been genuinely committed to driving that editorial wagon for a long time, with wisdom, savvy, and heart.’”

In other terrific news, I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Lee & Low, 2019) was named a Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019. I’m honored to count myself among the contributors.

More Personally – Gayleen

I loved our recent Austin SCBWI Full Novel Workshop! Huge thanks to faculty Jessica Lee Anderson, Varsha Bajaj, Nikki Loftin and Cory Putman Oakes for fabulous, inspiring presentations. The event included writing time along with deep dives into character, world building, plot structure and revision. I left the workshop with several pages of character sketches and an outline for a shiny new idea!

Austin SCBWI ARA Gayleen Rabakukk, Cory Putman Oakes, Varsha Bajaj, Jessica Lee Anderson, Nikki Loftin and RA Samantha M Clark

Personal Links – Gayleen