Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithGayleen RabukukkStephani Eaton, and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations


Author/Illustrator Insights

Artist Kadir Nelson’s Evocative Response to the Crisis by Gabriel Falcon from CBS News. Peek: “I would challenge everyone…to fill their days with creating something that’s going to help themselves get to the next moment, to the next hour, to the next day…so that by the end of this experience, we’ve created this beautiful document that shows where we’ve been, who we are, and how we’re going to move forward.”

Holding On to Sunshine by Renée Watson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I believe young readers need books that help them process what is happening in the world, books that show characters facing devastating circumstances and how they handle those hardships in healthy ways. I do not write books for children to escape reality, I write to help them cope with it.”

Write the World, LLC

The Importance of Globalizing the Youth Climate Movement Through Writing by Brittany R. Collins from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day…when young people around the world continue to connect and mobilize for climate action…[W]e must look carefully at the stories…about youth and our climate…Sometimes, it’s as simple as providing a platform or a pen, empowering young people to share the stories that they have lived or imagined….”

Meet Anna Staniszewski, Author of the Once Upon a Fairy Tale Series from New Readers Rock 2020. Peek: “I love that I can take ideas out of my head and put them on the page and then other people can read about those ideas and have them in their heads too! It feels like some sort of magic, and it allows me to connect with people in a way I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”

Equity & Inclusion

National Groups Condemn Attacks on LGBTQ Stories from National Coalition Against Censorship. Peek: “The [NCAC]…and over 40 organizations have issued a statement condemning nationwide attempts to block young people from accessing LGBTQ stories in schools and libraries….NCAC advocates for the rights of students, teachers and librarians to read freely…A strong education demands exposure to diverse viewpoints, ideas and experiences.”

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

Colorism, Internalized Racism, and the Power of Privilege: Malla Nunn Discusses “When the Ground is Hard” by Sara Lissa Paulson from School Library Journal. Peek: “Setting the story in a mixed-race boarding school made class tensions and internalized racism an inevitable part of the landscape. [They]…were, in fact, the primary themes of my entire childhood. I wrote from experience. I drew on my memories….I wrote through my fears with the strength of my female ancestors standing at my back.”

How Educators Can Talk About Inclusive Language With Young People by Andrea Ruggirello from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “If you’re a supporter of diversity in children’s literature, then you understand the power of story to empower and affirm all identities….[C]hanges to the smallest bits of those stories—words, format, punctuation, letters—matter…Tiny tweaks to words do have the power to both affirm and include.”

Diverse Autistic Authors Are Changing Neurodiversity Representation in Books by Haley Moss from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Autistic and disabled authors [are] seeking to change the conversation surrounding neurodiversity in children’s literature, especially multiply-marginalized writers. Publishing overall shows a lack of disabled industry professionals…’We have to look for and lift up those voices because we’re here…The ways in which autistic #ownvoices are dismissed or erased are legion’…[author Mike] Jung explained.”

Norton Young Readers

2020 Nonfiction Award Winner: An Interview with Rex Ogle on Free Lunch by Whitney Etchison from The Hub. Peek: “I think that most kids—regardless of popularity or who they sit with at lunch—deal with those same feelings of loneliness and feeling like an outsider.  It’s a universal experience to feel that you don’t measure up.  But hopefully, kids can discover that they aren’t alone, and that most of the situations are temporary.”

The Shelf Care Interview: Susan Muaddi Darraj and Siman Nuurali with Ronny Khuri from The Booklist Reader. Peek: Siman Nuurali: “I just wanted this kid to be like any other kid and for any child that picked up a Sadiq book to be able to see themselves in him, even if they were not Somali… [or] American. I just tried…to enmesh the two identities together to the point where you couldn’t tell them apart.”

Writing Craft

Cassie Interviews Camryn Garrett, author of Full Disclosure by Cassie Schulz from Brazos Bookstore. Peek: “I basically ignore everything else until the book is done. I would definitely recommend changing your story if it isn’t working; I’ve been halfway through one story and not feeling it before deciding to change in the middle of the month….I also wouldn’t put so much pressure on yourself.”

Q & A with Deborah Wiles by Ingrid Roper from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I decided that it would be easier not to label the voices because…[they] were each going to be a stand-in for a particular train of thought or a particular point of view. The way I delineated them was by putting them on different sides of the page and by using different size type and fonts….”

Scholastic Press

Q&A: Alex Gino, Author of “Rick” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I’m a ‘block of marble’ writer, so I write a bunch of words to start from (the block) and then cut and sculpt until the story takes shape….My first draft is usually a rough idea…Then I make big structural changes as I make sense of what I want each part of the story to do.”

The Shape of Stories by Holly Jackson from Peek: “[T]he epistolary novel isn’t dead. Far from it. But it has had to modernize and adapt…Instead of letters exchanged between two characters, or a story told in diary entries, we can incorporate all sorts of material from the modern world: emails, social media posts, interviews, digital art, photographs…Facebook posts, an annotated map…and more.”

How Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome Find Inspiration in the Little Things by Ashleigh Williams from School Library Journal. Peek: “Jane Kenyon once wrote, ‘Read good books, have good sentences in your ears,’ and that is the mantra I live by. When I feel stuck with my writing…it is because I haven’t been reading enough. Reading feeds my writing and helps me see how others have solved issues of dialogue, character development, plot, and voice.”

Harry N. Abrams

Inside Scoop on the Creation of the Picture Book, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks from YouTube. Peek: “Editing is the longest and most important step in writing a story. When I edit, I will go in and look at my word choices, think about the most compelling, interesting, clearest way to share my story. Editing will go on for many months….through many versions, as I work with critique group members….”


Publishing Needs to Face Its Ableism Problem by Alaina Leary from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “While there are definitely functions in publishing that can’t be performed entirely remotely…many tasks can be completely or at least partially remote…Moving forward, the publishing industry needs to better value its disabled and marginalized employees by expanding remote opportunities and thereby making publishing an industry for all.”

With School Closures, Book Fairs Go Online by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[N]ear-total nationwide school closures [have] led to creative workarounds as companies re-envision what a book fair can be. For Scholastic, which runs the nation’s largest book fair program, virtual book fairs have replaced in-person ones….[T]he publisher has translated the entire workflow of running a book fair onto a new digital platform….”

From The Desk of a Not-Terribly-Secret Agent by Victoria Wells Arms from 88 Cups of Tea. Peek: “When I send out a client’s project it’s because I can think of at least one editor who might like it and buy it. There are more than 200 children’s editors in my database and new ones cycle in (and out)…[I]t’s my job to have a pretty good sense of them and their house.”

Education/Online Resources/Events


Kids’ Authors Go Digital: April 21, 2020 by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[S]tay-at-home orders may have forced the nation’s readers inside, but children’s and YA authors and illustrators have stepped up in unparalleled ways. From storytimes to drawing lessons and online festivals, the work these authors do each day ensures that those who are fortunate to have digital access can discover new worlds….”

Everywhere Book Fest. Day 1: Friday, May 1 will feature almost fifty picture book, middle grade, and young adult authors and illustrators who will share their books, inspirations, writing processes, and more. Included in the incredible lineup are Meg Medina, Jacqueline Woodson, Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Jason Reynolds. Festival content is free to view in your browser or through YouTube.

Julie’s Library. Peek: “Every week, Julie Andrews and her [children’s author] daughter Emma Walton Hamilton will settle into the reading nook for a new story. Coming April 29…Every story comes to life with sound, music and activities. Authors, kids and other special guests chime in, too!”

Smithsonian Learning Lab

How Kids’ Lit Is Responding to the Coronavirus by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Children’s authors and publishers are going digital to provide kids with ways to read, draw, [and] engage…Updated for the April 21 issue, this list includes Candlewick’s Stay Home site, YALLFest’s virtual book festival, Highlights’ e-newsletter, and more.”


Print Unit Sales Had Double-Digit Gain Last Week by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The last week before Easter gave another boost to unit sales of print books…[S]ales rose 13.7 percent in the week ended April 11…[T]he juvenile categories posted the strongest results. Print unit sales of juvenile fiction titles rose 26.2 percent in the week…The juvenile nonfiction category had a 15.9 percent increase in the week.”


Public Libraries After Social Isolation by Sari Feldman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Predictably, e-books, digital audio, and other streaming services have become essential during this crisis. OverDrive has reported a surge in the number of libraries now offering instant library cards, and a massive increase in books borrowed. In the last week of March…an astonishing 250,000 readers installed OverDrive’s Libby app.”


Public Libraries See Uptick in Digital Checkouts of YA, Kids’ Books. Juvenile Fiction Jumps 68 Percent by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal. Peek: “YA and kids’ books have been among the most popular genres in public libraries. Ebook checkouts of juvenile fiction went up 68 percent; juvenile nonfiction, 71 percent….Most checked out titles in North American public libraries via OverDrive… [include] Everything, EverythingNicola Yoon.”


What It’s Like to Promote a Book in the Middle of an International Shutdown  by Amy Klein from Electric Lit. Peek: “[T]he community is coming together…Many in the writing community are offering to help others out….[Zibby] Owens has compiled a list of over 100 March and April releases on Bookshop…Authors can boost themselves, each other, and small bookstores on social media, and reach a captive audience…searching for distraction during a socially distant time.”

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books Announces Children’s Day, Book Day Mini-Grant Winners from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]he ten winners of the 2020 Children’s Day, Book Day mini-grant…will receive $250 to hold a Children’s Day, Book Day event. Some planned events…include book bingo, a storybook parade, and book battles. Online events will also take place…including a virtual read-a-long and a live-stream story hour.”



Congratulations to the authors whose books were selected by the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Children’s Poetry Award Committee to be on the 2020 Notable Poetry List! Peek: “[The award] was created to recognize the work of outstanding poets who write for children….This year, members of the committee are pleased to recognize 28 outstanding books of poetry and 11 novels in verse.”

2020 Bologna Prize Nominations Announced by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The nominees for the 2020 Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year have been revealed….The awards are presented by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in collaboration with the Association of Italian Publishers.” U.S. nominees include Abrams, Candlewick Press, and Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Forgive my brevity! Today I must rush off after posting to meet online with Kekla Magoon. We’ll be revising the graphic novel script of book 2 in the Blue Stars series, to be illustrated by Molly Murakami and published by Candlewick in 2022.

Authors’ Corner: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Rebecca Ballenger, The University of Arizona from Worlds of Words. “Smith feels the approach to canon by adult scholars and young readers does not need to be the same. Adult scholars should study how the body of literature has changed and ‘to ask critical questions about what has been elevated, why, and to what extent that needs to continue.’ Educators should present young readers with carefully selected texts and guidance to build critical-thinking skills.”

Link of the Week: Jennifer Hudson performs “Hallelujah” | One World: Together At Home.

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I hosted my very first author visit!

Varsha Bajaj
Varsha Bajaj

Varsha Bajaj chatted with the young writers who have been reading, discussing, and writing about Count Me In (Nancy Paulsen, 2019) in an online creative writing workshop sponsored by the Austin Public Library Foundation.

And I’m already working on lessons and writing exercises for my next Book Crush Workshop, focusing on Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson (CBAY Books, 2018). The workshop begins May 4 and is open to students in fourth-to-sixth grade. Scholarships are available to help families impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis.