Cynsational News

Black Sheep

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Fraser-Pryce Shares Her Story in Poignant Children’s Book by Lois Elfman from Amsterdam News. Peek: “I’m a young girl from an inner city…and there are many girls and boys like me who are trying to get to where I am. I need to be that light, that face they can see that this is possible…[I]t doesn’t matter where you’re from…if you want to make it, you can….”

“It Would Have Changed My Life:” Questions For Cartoonist Tillie Walden by Mallory Yu from NPR. Peek: “In…everyone’s [life]…people come in and out. What really interests me about that concept is when there’s someone in your life who you both desperately miss and have learned to live without. I love having characters go through challenges, then learn to live with them, and let their desires grow and change.”

A Chat About Gloom Town by Author Ronald L. Smith from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “What do you do when the writing just isn’t flowing? Walk away for a while. Read someone else’s novel. Take a walk and clear my head….Sometimes when I get stuck I imagine that the book is a film. What would happen next if this were a movie, I ask myself. Sometimes it works, Sometimes it doesn’t.”

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Q&A: Renée Watson, Author of Some Places More Than Others, interviewed by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[R]ead, read, read. The more you read the stronger writer you’ll become. If you love a book, read it twice so that you can study it and figure out what the author did to pull you in, to make you want to keep reading and then, apply those techniques to your own writing.”

Equity & Inclusion

The Importance of Celebrating Trans Stories from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We need stories about trans people that don’t only see trans lives as being inherently tragic. We need stories about trans people making friends, falling in love, and finding community. We need stories with trans people that transition in all kinds of ways, including not transitioning visibly at all.”

Kacen Callender: Creating Space for Queer Readers by Alex Heimbach from Kirkus  Reviews. Peek: “[M]y motivation for every book that I write…[is] wanting to create space and stories for myself for all those years that I really needed them—but also for all of the teens and young readers that I know are struggling…I want to let them know that they do matter and they do belong.”

Scholastic Press

Q&A with Ann Clare LeZotte: Show Me a Sign from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Deaf kids don’t get to see representation where their lives and language are normalized—and they’re doing fun things like haunting and spying adventures, or even having fights with their besties in sign! For young hearing readers, it’s an introduction to the concept that d/Deaf culture exists and it’s not something to feel sad about.”

The Hate U Give Author Angie Thomas Announces New Novel, Concrete Rose: “I Expect It to Get Banned” by Sam Gillette from People Magazine. Peek: “I hope that young black people pick it up [my book] and they walk away feeling empowered. I hope they walk away with a better understanding of themselves… Also, I hope that it gives other readers a better view of what it means to be a black person in America.”

Heartstopper: An Interview with Alice Oseman from The Reading Realm. Peek: “My school didn’t educate its students at all on LGBT+ issues and there weren’t any teachers that I knew of who were particularly looking out for LGBT+ kids….As long as there are gay and transgender people, we will always need books that star gay and transgender characters.”

Child’s Play: International Children’s Literature from Words Without Borders (April 2020 issue). Peek: “From ageless witches to teenage cliques, in settings ranging from Fascist Italy to the contemporary Middle East, the writers here offer characters and themes both fantastic and familiar.”

Writing Craft


Interview of Talented Author, Marcie Colleen by Kirsti Call from Writers’ Rumpus. Peek: “Take classes, join a critique group, seek out mentors, attend conferences. If you keep the focus on constantly improving your writing, exactly that will happen. And better writing increases the chances of any publication dreams you might have. Every day, think: ‘What can I do today to move the needle on my writing dreams?’”

In Conversation: Joanna Cotler and Harry Bliss from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Harry Bliss: “Anytime I begin composing a book, I simply start drawing without looking at anything. And that’s really the hardest part for me, roughing out the pacing of the book. It can be really crude, near stick figures or…stick animals, but that is very important. It’s like a first demo of a song.”

Interview with Adalyn Grace from Tomi Adeyemi. Peek: “My best advice to querying author…[R]emember that this is a business partnership….It’s so important to know who you’re doing business with. What are their sales like? Who are their clients? What kind of deals are they making, and with what publishers? You can find this information on publishers marketplace, or by talking to writer friends.”


American as Paneer Pie: Interview with Author Supriya Kelkar by Patricia Bailey from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I start with character journals, getting to know each character while writing a journal entry from their point of view. I then use the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet to get my important beats down….[T]hen I work on a detailed outline using the three-act structure I was taught to use in my college screenwriting classes.”

Supporting Authors & Illustrators

Five Ways to Support Books and Authors Right Now from Malinda Lo. Peek: “Stories are entertainment, yes, but they’re also connection and empathy, and the longer we practice social distancing, the more it becomes clear that connection and empathy are essential.”

Authors League Fund: “Since 1917…has helped professional authors, journalists, poets, and dramatists who find themselves in financial need because of medical or health-related problems, temporary loss of income, or other misfortune.” Note: apply or donate.

SCBWI Emergency Fund: “established to provide assistance to SCBWI members in times of emergency or hardship. The emergency or hardship could involve, for example, matters of health, family issues, or natural disasters that are in any way restricting or preventing an SCBWI member’s ability to work as an author or illustrator.” Note: apply or donate.

The Coronavirus Small Business Loan Program by Danielle Kurtzleben from NPR. Peek: “Who is eligible? A lot of businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees, including sole proprietorships and freelancers, as well as nonprofits.”


The Publishing World, Rocked by Controversy, Seeks More Diverse Voices by Corinne Lestch from The Story Exchange. Peek: “With the publishing industry in flux about which writers and books deserve to be promoted, a slew of new imprints run by women and those who identify as nonbinary are racing to fill a gap.”

Bologna to Launch Virtual Fair, Rights Platform by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[The administrators of the] Bologna Children’s Book Fair…are launching a series of new digital initiatives on May 4. These include a virtual book fair, complete with stages and exhibitions, and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Global Rights Exchange, a platform that will offer opportunities for licensing and other business transactions facilitated through”

Binc Steps In for Booksellers in Need by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC) has emerged as one of the few reliable sources of financial support, raising more than $700,000 to support [booksellers] since early March….[A]ccording to Binc executive director Pamela French…a thousand booksellers will need at least $1,000 in the initial stages of the outbreak response.”


Author-Tested Middle Grade Marketing Tips by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Kate Messner: “Ask yourself how you can best serve teachers, librarians, and families via your social media feeds….I’ve heard some people suggest a 20/80 rule, spending no more than 20 percent of your online presence promoting your books and/or visits and at least 80 percent offering other useful content, and I think that’s a decent guideline.”


Viking Books for Young Readers

Amazing Audiobooks Nominees Round Up, April 1 Edition by Young Adult Library Services Association. Peek: “2021 Amazing Audiobooks Nominees. Each year, YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks Blogging Team selects and annotates an annual list of notable audio recordings significant to young adults from those released in the past two years. Click on the title of each book to be taken to the blog post featuring a review….”


Indie Bookstore Partners with Nonprofit to Give Hundreds of Books to Atlanta Youth by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bookstores are among the few retailers receiving essential business exemptions to continue operating…Atlanta’s Little Shop of Stories is taking its ability to provide an essential service to heart. On March 27, the bookstore worked with nonprofit Page Turners Make Great Learners and the YMCA to provide 300 books to young readers at no cost.”

Powell’s Rehires Some Employees to Handle Online Orders by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A surge in online sales at Powell’s Books…has allowed the bookseller to rehire some of the more than 340 staff it had laid off earlier this month. [CEO Emily Powell]: ‘We love nothing more than connecting readers and writers…Your orders allow us to keep working and keep our team of incredible booksellers employed.’”

Print Units Held Steady Last Week by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A huge gain in unit sales in the juvenile nonfiction category helped to offset declines in adult nonfiction and juvenile fiction. Print sales of adult fiction rose 4 percent over the previous week. The 66 percent jump in juvenile nonfiction unit sales was led by the education/reference/language segment….”

How to Support Independent Bookstores Right Now from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Many independent bookstores still have their online stores open, where you can buy books and more. If you don’t have an indie local to you, use IndieBound to search for bookstores you can support, or you can check out this crowdsourced list from Publishers Lunch about which stores are delivering orders.”

Education/Online Resources

KidLit TV has created a virtual library of free storytime videos, podcasts, crafts, and drawing and writing resources for kids!

Napoleon and Co.

Picture book writer Rukhsana Khan provides a free Home School workshop series on YouTube where she reads and discusses her book, Many Windows. “Many Windows is a collection of short stories, sensitively written and focusing on six classmates of different faiths and cultures, sharing friendship and a love of basketball.”

Children’s Books for Social Distance Powwow by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek: “Most of you probably know that powwows are gatherings of Native people. One response to COVID19 is the Social Distance Powwow. If you’re Native, you know what I’m talking about! Videos of Native people dancing–alone–are in our social media threads.”

Starting Thursday, Dolly Parton Will Read Bedtime Stories to Your Kids by Amanda Jackson from CNN. Peek: “Beginning this Thursday [April 2], she will read bedtime stories to children in a new virtual series called ‘Goodnight with Dolly.’ Each week, Parton will read a new book selected from the Imagination Library, her book gifting program which mails free books to children.”

StayHomeWriMo Rallies Writers by Emma Komlos-Hrobsky from Poets & Writers. Peek: “StayHomeWriMo invites writers to find comfort in their creativity and stay inside while the battle with COVID-19 continues. The initiative launched on March 23…A writing prompt provides structure and guidance for creative work; three other activities promote social, mental, and physical well-being. Participation is free, and no sign up is necessary.”

First Second

Tillie Walden’s YA epic graphic novel, On A Sunbeam (First Second, 2018), is free to view in its entirety here.

We Need Diverse Books has compiled a list of home resources (which will be updated continuously) for authors, booksellers, publishers, parents, and educators.

SCBWI Free Digital Workshops. Peek: “SCBWI is offering members a series of no-charge digital workshops to support our members during this time….Starting April 2, SCBWI will provide weekly one-hour webinars with renowned children’s book creators, editors, agents, and art directors….[A] video recording of each workshop will be available on the SCBWI website for one month afterward.”

“The Perfect Time to Start”: How Book Clubs Are Enduring and Flourishing During Covid-19 by Elle Hunt from The Guardian. Peek: The internet has allowed new book clubs to form, in spite of self-isolation and lockdowns….Communities have not just formed online; they have migrated there. ‘Real life’ book clubs…have already relocated to virtual meeting rooms…The relaxed formality of book clubs might be a boon as we adjust to the age of the ‘video hang’….” This article provides a list of book clubs you can join.

Henry Holt and Co.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Translated YA Book Prize: The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathi Hirano (Henry Holt, 2019), and Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff, translated by A.A. Prime (Pushkin, 2019).

Baek Heena Wins 2020 Astrid Lindgren Award by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: South Korean author-illustrator Baek Heena has been named the winner of the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest children’s book award…Baek Heena is one of Korea’s most acclaimed picture book creators.”

Congratulations to Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover (HMH Books, 2014), for winning the 2020 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award!

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaway

In celebration of the April 14 paperback release of Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2020), we’re giving away seven copies! One purchased by Cyn from Birchbark Books (a Native-owned independent bookstore), one purchased by Cyn from BookPeople of Austin via Bookshop (her local indie bookstore), and five from Candlewick Press.

To enter, send Cyn a message on the contact form and say “I want to win Hearts Unbroken!” Deadline: April 12.

Note: a large-print paperback edition will be available July 2.

Honors include:

More Personally – Cynthia

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles (Millbrook, 2019) was named to the Bank Street Best Books List (in the Poetry category). Contributions include my poem “Stories for Dinner.”

Nancy Paulsen

More Personally – Gayleen

For the past two weeks, I’ve been busy teaching online creative writing classes for third and fourth graders through Austin Public Library Foundation‘s Badgerdog program. I’ve had a blast, but I’m even more excited about what’s coming next.

Beginning Monday, I’m teaching a Book Crush Online Workshop wherein students will discuss a variety of story elements, including character, plot, point of view, dialog and more, using examples drawn from Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj (Nancy Paulsen, 2019) to write their own stories. Workshop registration includes a copy of the book.