Cynsational News

Lee & Low Books

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Day 9: Tonya Engel by Don Tate from The Brown Bookstore. Peek: “[Becoming a professional black female artist]…began when I had the opportunity to work in an art supply store….I was able to explore all of the mediums and materials available. I was exposed…to a variety of new experiences; meeting working artists, participating in exhibitions and art contests, life drawing classes.”

An Interview with Isabelle Arsenault by Linda and Joan from Art of the Picture Book. Peek: “Those moments when I‘m really enjoying what I’m doing, deriving joy from my work, where everything else disappears, then I know I’m heading in the right direction or that I’ve attained my goal. It’s an unmistakable sign.”

Interview: Salina Yoon on Being Tidy, Art, and Ice Cream from The Booking Biz. Peek: “Almost all of my book characters have been inspired by a real person in my life, including my mother, my sister, and my boys….Art is the driving force and motivation behind each and every book I create. And since my books are for young readers, I love visiting kindergarteners and early elementary kids!”

Algonquin Young Readers

How to Build a Heart by Kenny Brechner from Publishers Weekly. Peek: YA author Maria Padian: “[M]uch of what we feel deeply hasn’t changed. I’m sure you’ve all heard that you should ‘write what you know’ and that is true, but only up to a point. You should write what you know and also what you deeply feel.”

Equity & Inclusion

Kyandreia Jones—Day 7 by Crystal Allen from the The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I will…never forget the excitement I felt when I read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school….Years later I would realize that getting a child to care about a book involves showing a child that books care about them: their identities, their histories, their futures.”

(Why) A(n) Anthology: On the Rise and Reach of YA Anthologies by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. Peek: “I believe that the boom in anthologies is coming from the increasingly interlinked sense of community in the children’s world…[W]ith the profound efforts of marginalized writers to stand up and demand to be heard in publishing, anthologies that are linked by identity can be a celebration of community….”

Author Sharna Jackson: Bringing Diversity into Children’s Books by Rebecca Thomas from BBC News. Peek: “All children need to see themselves and others reflected in culture–representation leads to empathy. That visibility is extremely important, but so is moving away from stereotypes and one-note, ‘prop’ characters. I don’t just want to read about Black children in ‘issue-based’ narratives….Why can’t they see themselves being clever, creative and having fun?”

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Where Is All the Asian American YA Historical Fiction? A Conversation with Author Stacey Lee by Stacey Megally from Book Riot. Peek: “When you grow up lacking books or other media that represent you, you start thinking that being anything other than white is a drawback….I think it’s important to show Asian Americans where you don’t usually see them. If we don’t do that, we erase them.”

My Agenda for Middle Grade Books, A Guest Post by Greg Howard by Amanda Macgregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “[D]on’t queer kids deserve…hope that one day they can be themselves openly and without fear of backlash for simply existing. The hope that they won’t be marginalized and othered in their daily lives. And the hope that they’ll have access to a plethora of books in which they see themselves represented, accepted, and celebrated.”

Writing Craft

Writing from an Informed Cultural Point of View by Traci Sorell from Nonfiction Fest. Peek: On researching her upcoming book, Trailblazer: Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Female Engineer: “Even though I had researched her life, I didn’t feel close to the engineering culture she inhabited until I read through thick, three-ring binders of her handwritten equations and the NASA books on interplanetary space travel. I also held her slide rule and thumbed through books she referenced.”

Rick Riordan Presents

Day 12: Kwame Mbalia by Gwendolyn Hooks from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “The only thing I really need to start is a character. Because first and foremost, I am a pantser. I find that creativity flows best when I sit down in front of a blank screen and let the character guide me. I discover their personality, problems, and motivations this way.”

Day 11: Vanguard Honoree Nikki Grimes by Tracey Baptiste from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “When a single word has several shades of meaning, precise language is key for clear communication—unless you are writing to create mystery, in which case, a word with several shades of meaning is precisely what you want to use when weaving a poem!”

Day 10: Sharon Langley by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Before I became a professional writer, my mother used to send me newspaper and magazine articles or photographs that she’d clipped because she thought I might find them interesting. Now I keep folders on my computer desktop for screen grabs of inspiring ideas, including articles, photographs and of course, memes.”

Day 8: Kristina Forest by Paula Chase Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I work full time, so I have to stick to a very strict writing schedule…[I]f I’m on track to hit my deadline—or if I’m not on a deadline at all—I try to stick to something more sustainable: two weekdays after work and Sunday afternoon, and occasionally on Saturday morning.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Parts of the Process—Dapo Adeola on Illustrating His Co-created, Penguin-signed Children’s Book “Look Up!” by Marianne Hanoun from Lecture in Progress. Peek:  “The appeal of the characters I design tends to be in their personality, rather than their appearance….If you can create a well-informed and fleshed-out character in terms of personality, then it’s just a case of slotting them into a story…[A] well-designed and fleshed out character can be put into near enough any situation.”


Should Writers Have a Blog? by Robert Lee Brewer from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “For me, blogging has helped expand my platform and audience, but it’s also helped me grow as a writer and human being….Blogging can lead to incredible connections and writing growth if you find it appealing to share your thoughts, knowledge, and empathy with the world.”


First Second

Thirteen Graphic Novels to Look Forward to in 2020 | Stellar Panels by Brigid Alverson from School Library Journal. Peek: “2020 will be a big year for graphic novels—especially graphic novels for young people. Random House Graphic, the new graphic novel line…will roll out its first four books in the first four months of the year….Two more publishers are launching dedicated graphic novel imprints this year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Etch and HarperCollins’s HarperAlley.”


ALA Takes FY 2021 Budget Cuts Seriously, Urges Members of Congress to Visit Libraries by Wanda Brown from ALA News. Peek: “The White House proposal to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) again dismisses the value of America’s 120,000 academic, public, school and special libraries. The administration’s new budget…decreases funding for other library-eligible education programs….[E]liminating federal funding for libraries is to forego opportunities to…teach our kids to read….”

Is Your School a De Facto Book Desert? by Donalyn Miller from School Library Journal. Peek: “Increasing book access for young people improves their chances for both personal and academic success. Unfortunately, too many children in the United States—disproportionally indigenous children, children of color, and poor children in urban and rural communities—live in ‘book deserts’ without consistent access to engaging, current books to read.”


Knights Of

Congratulations to the authors whose books were selected for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlist for 2020, including Nathan Bryon, for his picture book Rocket Says Look Up!, illustrated by Dapo Adeola (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019), and Sharna Jackson, for her debut young readers novel High Rise Mystery (Knights Of, 2019). The yearly selection by Waterstones’ booksellers celebrates “the finest new talent in children’s writing and illustration today.”


Congratulations to the inaugural 2020 BolognaRagazzi Comics Award winners and special mention honorees. The new, permanent comics section of the award includes three subsections: Early Reader, Middle Grade, and Young Adult.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I spy my novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018; paperback; April 2020) on the shelf next to cast member Aidy Bryant on the Feb. 8, 2020 episode of “Saturday Night Live.” (The paperback release has been moved up a month; pre-order now!)

Thank you to everyone at the Wisconsin Reading Association for your hospitality last weekend. Highlights included a keynote by Monique Gray Smith (“Weaving Love and Joy Into Learning Together”), meeting teacher Aliza Werner, and participating in the Saturday panel discussion, moderated by Jillian Heise.

Attention Austin writers! Join me, author-illustrator Don Tate and author Gabino Iglesias for “Building a Career as a Writer” at the Writers’ League of Texas Third Thursday program at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at BookPeople. Free and open to the public!

23 YA Romance Novels That Are Better Than A Candlewick Dinner by Rachel Strolle from BuzzFeed. Happy to see Hearts Unbroken on this list with books like Odd One Out by Nic Stone (Crown, 2018) and The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta (Viking, 2018).

Links of the Week: Beyond Thanksgiving: Indigenous Books Anytime by Aliza Werner from Classroom Communities; Taika Waititi Makes Oscar History as First Maori Academy Award Winner by Tracy Brown from The Los Angeles Times.

More Personally – Gayleen

Illustration by Kyle McBride.

My week has been filled with finalizing details for the Austin SCBWI 2020 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference on May 2 and May 3 in Austin. Registration opens at noon Feb. 17.

As assistant regional advisor, I’m particularly proud of the scholarship opportunities associated with the conference. The newest scholarship is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Austin author Carmen Oliver. The  Carmen Oliver On-the-Verge Annual Austin SCBWI Conference Scholarship is open to all pre-published and unagented children’s and young adult writers in Central Texas; deadline is Feb. 29. There are also still a few hours left to apply for the Regional Advisor Scholarship (deadline: Feb. 15).

Special congratulations to our Creators of Diverse Worlds scholarship winners! I’ve attended workshops and classes with several of these writers, so it’s particularly rewarding to see their dedication to improving their craft pay off.

More Personally – Stephani

This week I took some time away from the writing desk to meet up with friends at our local indie bookstore for an Alan Gratz book signing.

It was fun to see how many fans Alan had. The line wrapped around the entire store and the bookstore sold out of all the copies of his books!

Luckily, the bookstore had bookplates for Alan to sign for kids who needed to order the book.

Happy Valentine’s Day, book lovers!