Cynsational News

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Harry N. Abrams

Q&A with Amy Spalding: We Used to be Friends from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I love the feeling of storytelling that drops you into someone’s present and dares you to imagine things differently. Not in a ‘what if’ way, but in a ‘things used to be different, so different they’re unimaginable now’ way.”

Rebecca Elliott On Comedy In YA & Why Girls Are Pretty Funny! by Kate Oldfield from United by Pop. Peek: “[Y]ou can’t…re-read what you’ve already written every time you write another chapter…[It] becomes a bit unwieldy, like trying to run with a wobbly jelly in your hands that just keeps getting bigger. But you have to trust that as long as you don’t drop it, it will hold together…[and] be worthwhile in the end….”

Joint Author Spotlight: Francesco Sedita & Prescott Seraydarian from Kidlit 411. Peek: “[S]trap in and hold on. It sounds cliché, but working on a graphic novel is truly a marathon with new obstacles around every turn. Because of the process of marrying the story, manuscript and art together it can be a very long and detailed process…[E]xpect the unexpected [w]ith…twists and turns….”

Equity & Inclusion

Rick Riordan Presents

Q&A: Roshani Chokshi, Author of Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes by Anuska G from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Part of me was just sick of boys getting all the adventures, and the other part was deeply annoyed with the treatment of women…. So often, their POV isn’t explored or they’re randomly demonized…for the mistakes of the men who came before them….I loved the idea of celebrating found family/sisterhood….”

The Power of Stories: What I Learned from My Students About Diverse Books by Samantha Alul from School Library Journal. Peek: “[I]n our well-intentioned attempt to share LGBTQ+ stories, we were sharing an abundance of stories showing characters in crisis while offering few uplifting stories where LGBTQ+ identities were normalized. While the LGBTQ+ experience certainly contains struggle…limiting our selections…reduces the LGBTQ+ experience to a single story of struggle rather than sharing the diversity of LGBTQ+ experiences.”

Writing Responsibly About Mental Health and Suicide in Children’s Fiction by Rocky Callen from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “When we think about diversity and representation…we need to remember that nearly fifty percent of chronic mental health conditions develop by age fourteen…[M]any young people within our readership are grappling with complex and nuanced mental health experiences….[I]t’s critical to create stories for young people that honestly yet sensitively reflect the struggles of many.”

Interview with Kit Rosewater, Author of The Derby Daredevils from Liv’s Wonderful Escape. Peek: “I want to see queer middle grade books not as a niche subcategory or genre but as ingrained in classic middle grade themes as friendship, first crushes, changing relationship dynamics, etc….I’m hopeful that kids today will get to find lots of mirrors and windows in current queer middle grade fiction.”

Writing Craft

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Zoraida Córdova Talks Her Epic New YA Fantasy, Incendiary by Kate Oldfield from United by Pop. Peek: “I use the theory of the cultural iceberg to shape my…fantastical civilizations. I don’t think that you can create something from true scratch because everything has an analog….Using the cultural iceberg, I think about what is surface culture (the things we see like clothes, food, music) and what is deep culture (…values, religion, politics).”

Majority of Authors “Hear” Their Characters Speak, Finds Study by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek: “[W]riters have always claimed they can hear their characters speaking…[A] new study has shown this uncanny experience is very widespread, with almost two-thirds of authors reporting that they hear their characters’ voices while they work. Researchers…[found that] sixty-three per cent said they heard their characters…with 61% reporting characters were capable of acting independently.”

It’s Wrong to Use Two Spaces Between Sentences, Microsoft Word Says by Scottie Andrew from CNN. Peek: “Microsoft has made its typographical decree: Two spaces between sentences is too many. The style choice will now be marked as an error in Microsoft Word—and users who press the space bar twice after a period will be met with those dreaded blue squiggly lines. The change…is rolling out gradually across Word….”


Q & A with Katherine Applegate by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I…like revisiting characters. In a way, it is so much easier than creating new characters….[W]hat I most liked was going back to that weird, first-person narrative style. It lets me write in small spaces, and cherry-pick the best scenes to include. It’s a writing style I am very comfortable with….”

Q&A: Melissa de la Cruz, Author of Gotham High by Nathalie DeFelice from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[G]raphic novels tell a story through images—so I [have] to think about how the images land[] on a page, the experience of reading it is very tactile—when you turn a page you want a surprise, that sort of thing. Very much closer to writing a screenplay than a novel.”

Ramona Kaulitzki from Other Cool Birds. Peek: “I still love to draw and paint with traditional mediums, but I really like the advantages of working digital. So, I sometimes combine these two worlds….I also have a variety of textures that I like to use in my illustrations to get a more traditional look.”


Jimmy Patterson

How These Three Genres Are Becoming Diverse Book Hubs by Rachel Werner from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]he American publishing industry has consistently lacked equitable representation in terms of books featuring diverse characters or culturally-sensitive themes…Curbing this damaging trend is even more critical for literature created for children and teens….Thanks to talented writers…these three genres are quickly becoming diverse books hubs for younger readers: Middle Grade…YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy…YA Romance….”

Print Unit Sales Rose 10.1% This Week by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “BookScan estimates that it captures about 85% of print books sold through physical and online retailers who sell books. The service, however, does not record sales to libraries—and with many libraries closed, trade publishers who do significant business through that channel are likely seeing softer sales.”

New Agent Spotlight: Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency by Jonathan Rosen from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “Worry more about your craft than your platform. There are lots of ways to market an author, but there is no way to sell a book that is not outstanding.”


Library Programming for Teens Goes Virtual by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Unable to open their doors…youth services librarians have taken their programs online. Some have reimagined tried and true programs, while others have tapped into rising trends, setting up community spaces in unexpected places. PW has compiled…innovative [library] approaches to teen programming, including fresh takes on trivia, gaming, scavenger hunts, and social media challenges.”


Scholastic Press

Authors Dance for Indies 2020 with Lindsay Lackey on YouTube. Peek: “In celebration of the original Independent Bookstore Day of 2020, a bunch of authors and illustrators showed their love for indies by dancing up a storm. #IndieBookstoreDay may be postponed, but nothing can stop the writing community from celebrating anyway!” Also enjoy Independent Bookstore Day’s #VirtualBookstoreParty on YouTube with Victoria Schwab and Sean Doolittle!

Bookshop Hits $1 Million Raised for Independent Bookstores by Aaron Robertson from Literary Hub. Peek: “[Online retailer] Bookshop…shares a percentage of each purchase with independent bookstores…[and] officially reached an incredible milestone—$1 million raised to support struggling booksellers all across the country…More than 600 bookstores have become Bookshop affiliates as online sales have become practically the only way to buy books….”

The Campaign That Saved the Oldest Black Bookstore in America by Morgan Jerkins from Zora. Peek: “Folasade Adesanya, creator of The Black Syllabus, created a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign to save Marcus Books from closing amid the pandemic. Several others across the nation have done the same, with goals ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $100,000….Marcus Books was able to surpass its goal, but the fight is still not over….”

Scholarships & Grants

Applications for We Need Diverse Books’ Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing are still open. Peek: “The emergency fund will provide financial aid to diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals who have lost income.”

Education/Online Resources/Events


Animorphs Books Now Free: Read Kids Shapeshifting Into Rats and Cats by Bonnie Burton from Cnet. Peek: “The popular book series by Katherine Applegate and her husband Michael Grant…follows the lives of kids who had the power to transform themselves into any animal they touch. All 54 books in the Animorphs series are now available to download for free, in both ePub and PDF format….”

How Kids’ Lit Is Adapting by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Updated for the April 28 issue, this list includes…Bookshop website lists for debut YA titles, Lectura’s Bilingual resources for parents and educators, Beanstack’s reading challenge with Lerner sports titles, and more….KidLit TV has created a virtual library available to readers on their site. The virtual library includes tutorials, read-alouds, podcasts and other activities.”

Project WISE—”Peeking Into Picture Books and Playing with Rhyme” with Liz Garton Scanlon from YouTube. Peek: “Children’s author and poet Liz Garton Scanlon will use a few of her books to demonstrate how she writes in rhyme, from brainstorm to book. You’ll hear a read-aloud, see a demonstration of process, and be given a writing exercise to try on your own afterward.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Random House Launches Virtual “Magic Tree House” Program by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Random House Children’s Books and Mary Pope Osborne…have announced a new online program, aimed at keeping young readers engaged…. Magic Tree House Home Adventures will run from April 27 to May 22, featuring weekly themed videos, crafts, games, reading challenges, recipes, trivia, and other activities tied to the series….”

Join Dav Pilkey at Home to “get creative and have fun with some of your favorite characters from Dog Man and Captain Underpants!” New videos and activities for reading, drawing, creating, and having fun are posted every Friday.

Reminder: Everywhere Book Fest—a virtual celebration of authors, books, and readers—will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT on May 1 and May 2. A schedule of live and pre-recorded events is posted on the website. More than 95 authors and illustrators are participating, including Cynthia Leitich Smith. All festival content is free to view through YouTube.

Children’s Book Week 2020 will be celebrated online from May 4 to May 10, and the program will offer “a ton of fun downloadable resources.” The celebration includes activities, bookmarks, downloadable coloring pages, virtual readings, and more.

Book Dog Dog, a virtual two-book release party, will take place at noon CDT on May 6. Featured books are Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Andrea Zuill (Schwartz & Wade, 2020); Hound Won’t Go by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Meg Ishihara (Albert Whitman, 2020). “The first five attendees to order Cat Dog Dog…prior to May 6 will receive a signed copy of the…poster ‘We Are All One Big (Blended) Family.’…; a portion of the proceeds…will benefit COVID-19 relief efforts and Austin Pets Alive!” An Austin Pets Alive! representative will also speak. The free event is sponsored by BookPeople and The Writing Barn. Attendees are encouraged to order from the store; click titles above for purchase pages.

Bologna Virtual Fair Releases Schedule, Opens Registrations by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Bologna Children’s Book Fair has released its schedule for the virtual edition of the fair, which will be held from May 4 to May 7. The online edition includes exhibitions, conferences, and even illustrator portfolio reviews….May 4…[will] feature a panel discussion about the comic book and graphic novel market….”


Feiwel & Friends

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Green Earth Book Award! Winners are:

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia


It turns out that it is possible for me to be at two events at once, so long as they’re both online! This weekend, I’m honored to participate in both Everywhere Book Fest and the Austin SCBWI 2020 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference.

Beyond that, I’m busy reading and responding to submissions and manuscripts under contract for Heartdrum. Apparently, a number of writers have been in social isolation just long enough to finish their manuscripts.

Link of the Week: “If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I” – A Community Poem to Cope During Crisis by Rachel Martin from NPR. Peek: “…poet-in-residence Kwame Alexander pointed to Nancy Cross Dunham’s poem, “What I’m Learning About Grief,” and asked that submissions begin with those same words.”

More Personally – Gail

Federal Appeals Court Declares Literacy a Constitutional Right by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In a potential landmark ruling, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held this week that access to a basic minimum education ‘that can plausibly impart literacy’ is a fundamental, Constitutionally protected right…‘The recognition of a fundamental right is no small matter…Access to literacy is such a right.’”

Personal Links – Cynthia

Father & Son Build “Star Wars” TIE Fighter in Johnson County, Kan.