Cynsational News

Quill Tree Books

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Voices of Change by Roxanne Fequiere from Elle. Peek: Elizabeth Acevedo: “We need more writers of color who are given space beyond their first book… editors, copy editors, graphic designers….If it’s just writers, the creativity is there, but the machines behind them that get these books into the spaces they need to be in—mindfully—will be lacking.”

Jacqueline Woodson: “It’s Important to Know That Whatever Moment We’re In, It’s Not the First Time” by Joanna Scutts from The Guardian: Peek: “I know when I’m writing something poetic and the voice feels young, it’s going to be a picture book…If there’s an immediacy to it, I know it’s probably going to be for middle graders. If there’s a spareness to it, I know it’s probably young adult or adult….”

Jerry Craft’s Newbery Win Was an Unforeseeable Dream by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[It’s] crucial for a kid to see a mirror for themselves…I do books that I wish 10-year-old Jerry Craft could have had that might have made me a reader at an early age…A book that a kid can take and hug the way that other kids hug Wimpy Kid or Smile or Percy Jackson….”

Balzer + Bray

Q & A with Sara Pennypacker by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Kids need books more because, at that stage in their lives, they have a smaller field of experience and books widen [that field]. Sometimes that’s critical. You think you’re alone? Nope, this book says you’re not. This book says you are the way you are for a reason.”

Equity & Inclusion

Announcing the 13th Class of 28 Days Later Honorees by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Our signature campaign, 28 Days Later, is designed to celebrate Black children’s book creators and raise awareness of those who may be under the radar of librarians, educators and families….Each day of Black History Month, we shine a spotlight on an outstanding author or illustrator.”

DC Comics

How I Drew From My Family History in Vietnam to Create a Superhero by Minh Le from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “When we diversify the heroes in our stories, we expand who we collectively imagine being heroes in the real world. Thanks to…advocates…future generations of readers will have an easier time seeing the potential heroes in themselves and everyone around them.”

Black Books: Chris Barton by Edith Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek: “I’ve invited non-Black people who are in some way connected to youth literature to share a list of 5-10 books written or illustrated by Blacks that will appeal to children…Today, children’s book author Chris Barton is sharing some of his favorites.”

Day 2: Ashley Franklin by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: Ashley Franklin: “Black children need to see more books written by Black authors…It can be difficult to get your authentic voice out there if your work must pass through multiple hands belonging to those who aren’t familiar with that voice or have preconceived notions about the people behind that voice.”

“Loveboat, Taipei” Chronicles Nostalgia of Debaucherous Taiwanese Summer Camp by Kimmy Yam at NBC News. Peek: “Abigail Hing Wen…was once a participant in [a cultural exchange program in Taiwan] and told NBC News that the experience helped her better understand different aspects of her Asian American identity….‘It was really eye-opening for me to meet all these really cool Asian Americans who were super excited about their culture.’”

Writing Craft

Day 1 ~ Siman Nuurali by Gwendolyn Hooks from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: Siman Nuurali: “I almost always start with a concept and then build within it because I find that the concept creates the boundaries of your story for you almost like an enclosure. You can then place your plot and characters within and move them around at will.”

Balzer + Bray

Q & A with Elana K. Arnold by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I don’t sit down and say, today I’m writing a picture book or young adult novel and, so, therefore I need to be this edgy or this constrained. Later, during revisions, I might let the reader into the room, but the reader is never there during the first manifestation of a book.”

PW KidsCast: A Conversation with Robert Repino conducted by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly PW KidsCast. Peek: “Learn to embrace revision….[L]earn to love it. Revision is where most of the real writing takes place….[B]ecause we see ourselves as artists, you tend to think of [the draft as a] moment of genius, where you’re producing this amazing work of art. But really, it’s the tweaking that later makes it really good.”


HBG Buys More Than 1,000 Disney Book Group Titles by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In a move that dramatically increases its presence in the children’s publishing market, the Hachette Book Group has acquired more than 1,000 titles published by Disney Book Group. The deal involves bestselling authors and award-winners as well as backlist and recently published books plus a number of unpublished titles.”

Literary Agent Interview: Erin Murphy (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) by Ryan G. Van Cleave from Only Picture Books. Peek: “[H]igh stakes are…valid when they are internal, especially for kids who are figuring out the world and their place in it, and I find that very compelling. I also find it especially compelling when it concerns voices that have rarely been heard in U.S. children’s publishing.”

Where is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2019 Diversity Baseline Survey Results by Jason Low from Lee & Low Books. Peek: “[S]eventy-six percent of publishing staff, review journal staff, and literary agents are White. The rest are comprised of people who self-report as Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (7 percent); Hispanic/Latino/Mexican (6 percent); Black/African American (5 percent); and biracial/multiracial (3 percent). Native Americans and Middle Easterners each comprise less than 1 percent of publishing staff.”

Candlewick Press

2020 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People from The Children’s Book Council. Peek: “The selection committee looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to…cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic, are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and…illustrations that enrich the text.”


People Don’t Have to Read Your Book to Support It by Jane Friedman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[H]ere are two things that do not have to happen for people to support your book: They don’t have to read the book or have a copy of it….[T]hink about what you’d like to see happen if they agree to support the book….They don’t have to review the book to help spread the word….”



Exploring Equity with Those Shoes by Jennifer Sturge from Knowledge Quest (American Association of School Librarians): Peek: Laurel Lynn (elementary school librarian): “A lot of people think that a multicultural book has to talk about an experience of someone who is African American or another group. But a multicultural book can be a book that simply has characters of different skin tones living their regular lives [and problems].”

Pura Belpré, the First Puerto Rican Librarian in NYC (and My Library Hero) by Rachel Rosenberg from Book Riot. Peek: “[S]he wanted to share with the children the same stories that she’d been told as a child, but was disappointed to discover that the library’s children’s collection lacked Puerto Rican folktales. Her goal became to ensure that the children didn’t lose their cultural heritage.”


Wi15: Children’s Books, Authors Make Attendees Happy by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: American Booksellers Association Winter Institute: “[O]rganizers seemed intent upon educating general booksellers both on selling children’s books and on accommodating young customers…Two sessions…neatly bookended the conference schedule: Wednesday morning’s panel of four booksellers, ‘Training General Booksellers in Kids’ Book Sales,’ and Friday afternoon’s workshop, ‘Brain Exchange: Creating a Welcoming and Open Space for LGBTQ+ Youth.’”

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)


Congratulations to the winners and honor recipients of the 2020 Golden Kite and Sid Fleischman Awards, including Padma Venkatraman, for her middle-grade novel The Bridge Home (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019), and Remy Lai, for her middle-grade novel Pie in the Sky (Henry Holt, 2019) Check out a Cynsations guest post with Padma and a Cynsations interview with Remy. The awards will be presented at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at the SCBWI New York Winter Conference.

Congratulations to the 2020 Audie Awards Finalists in the categories of Young Listeners, Middle Grade, and Young Adult, which finalists include We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell (Live Oak Media, 2019), Lovely War by Julie Berry (Listening Library, 2019) and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (HarperAudio, 2019). Learn more about Traci, Julie, and Angie on Cynsations.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Today I’m on my way to the Wisconsin State Reading Association conference in Milwaukee. I hope to meet some of you there!

In other news, the paperback release of Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick) has been moved up a month to April 14, and the large-print hardcover edition is due out April 1. Pre-order today!

More Personally – Gail

AULA Lobby – I just finished the residency.

In December, I started a new writing journey: becoming a college creative writing teacher. I am taking Antioch University Los Angeles’s Post-MFA Certificate in the Teaching of Creative Writing course. I did my residency there that month.

In my first meeting with my awesome advisor, Tammy Lechner, she made an insightful statement that I carried with me throughout the residency: “It’s not how good a writer you are, it’s how good a thinker you are.” From the start, Tammy challenged me to think.

I was soon introduced to multiple aspects of teaching: lesson plan objectives; ways to engage students; active learning; pedagogical theories, methods, and approaches; human motivation.

The residency was an exciting, jam-packed ride through the introductory world of teaching creative writing.

Greenwillow Books

In January, I started two teaching internships. One internship is with an undergraduate advanced fiction writing class at Cleveland State University. The other is with a graduate advanced fiction writing workshop at Case Western Reserve University.

The professors, who are fantastic, have already handed over the classes to me at times. For example, last Wednesday, I presented a 45-minute lecture on plot structure to the graduate class.

Shout out to my VCFA advisor, David Macinnis Gill, for his five-part, three-act Plot Structure and his Sticky Note Plotting process, both of which he covers, complete with pictures, on his Plotcasters site.

I’ve been using David’s structure and process for over a year now, and by charting my key scenes in this way, I’ve seen major improvements with the story’s framework (so now the events dramatically and causally build to the end), and also with the development of my main characters’ goals, arcs, and desire lines.

The students enjoyed learning about the structure and process, and were excited and stimulated as we plotted a new young adult story using sticky notes. They are now David Gill fans! Check out his latest book, Uncanny (Greenwillow, 2017).