Cynsational News

Make Me a World

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Away From the Wall: Ashima Shiraishi by Owen Clark from Rock and Ice. Peek: “[T]he process of climbing and failure, challenging a climb that’s at your limit…sometimes you succeed and sometimes you don’t, but when you push through and give 110% effort and see that success…it’s the best feeling in the world. It applies to anything you’re passionate about….It’s not about climbing, it’s more about that process.”

Hello, Frog Boots! Jill Esbaum Interviews Illustrator Joshua Heinsz by Jill Esbaum from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “Be kind to yourself and trust your voice! It’s really easy to get swept up in the noise of social media these days, but if you stay true to your authentic voice and what naturally inspires you, your work will shine and the right projects will come!”

Why Do You Write About Dragons? With Tui Sutherland from Kids Ask Authors with Grace Lin. Peek: “[W]hen I’m writing about dragons, I’m writing about teenagers with super powers. I can…make them really human in the inside. So they have all the same problems that we do and the same emotions that we do, but they’re super cool and they can set you on fire when they get mad.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

The Art of Breaking Things: Q & A with Laura Sibson from Elisa Zied. Peek: “[R]eaders are invaluable in helping us understand how our writing is landing, but…we are the best source of solutions for issues that come up. Of course, it’s helpful to brainstorm…But when it’s time to dive in deep with revision, it’s you, the writer, who needs to figure out the best way to implement changes….”

Equity & Inclusion

Black Fantasy YA Authors Discuss How They Are Revolutionizing the Genre with Bayana Davis and Porshèa Patterson-Hurst from She Lit. Peek: Bethany C. Morrow: “[W]hen I do science fiction, I’m always dealing with what it means to be a black American….I think that black American kids need fantasy and science fiction that is black American science fiction, black American fantasy that doesn’t make them feel like it’s second fiddle to something else, like it’s…something to be ashamed of.”

Interview With “My Rainy Day Rocket Ship” Author Markette Sheppard! from So Booking Cool. Peek: “I want to read a story about a little brown child who is having fun, and playing, and living, and breathing, and being creative because that is our day-to-day reality more than it is reading a book about what happened in Selma, Alabama.”

Shout Mouse Press, Inc.

All the Ways I Learned to Become the Night Sky as a Muslim Teen by Salihah “Sasa” Aakil from We Need Diverse Books: Peek: “I imagine a Muslim girl somewhere in this country. I picture that she reads our book and understands that she can be like us. It gives me hope, drive, and pride to think that there could be, even, one girl like her. I write for her and I write for myself.”

Teaching Kids About the Complicated History of Racism with CBS This Morning from YouTube. Peek: Ibram X. Kendi: “We’re able to protect young people so they begin to realize there’s nothing wrong with them or there’s nothing superior about them. So they form an identity that’s really accurate about themselves in that society….We urge young people to be themselves…[T]o create an antiracist society really allow us all to be ourselves with…our imperfections.”

Good Enough: Interview With Author Jen Petro-Roy from YAYOMG! Peek: “Everyone has flaws, which means that they shouldn’t really be called flaws…One person’s ‘flaw’ may be something that someone else admires…It’s only when we open up about what we’re struggling with, about what makes us ‘not perfect,’ that we can…form connections and friendship, and feel the love that will sustain us throughout life.”

Mother’s Day Reads by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Mother’s Day is around the corner. It’s a great time to share picture books by Black children’s book creators that celebrate moms, grandmas, mother figures and family bonds. Here’s a list to get you started.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Bookworm Author Vanessa Brantley-Newton on Girlhood…. from Blue Willow Bookshop. Peek:  “We are living in a time where children see so much of the wrong stuff, and while we think that it’s not affecting them, it is…I wanted every little girl to know that I see you and hear you. The struggle is real, but you are not in it alone.”

Writing Craft

Author Spotlight: Varsha Bajaj from Cedar Park Public Library. Peek: “[Writing space:] I use a desktop, which sits on a gray desk. It’s by a big window, which overlooks the oak tree in my front yard. Squirrels race up and down the tree, sometimes providing welcome distraction. I also have a fairy sculpture on my desk who watches over me.”

Interview With Jennie Englund from MG Book Village. Peek: “I took a huge risk on format…The narration isn’t straightforward, linear, and clear because mental health isn’t straightforward, linear, or clear. Memory is affected—fragmented, jumbled—and thinking, concentrating, and problem solving can be difficult. We piece together moving forward and back—like the ocean’s flow, its vastness and depth, its reach.”

Our Exclusive Chat With Max Brallier by Giselle from Stage Right Secrets. Peek: “[T]ry to write short stuff first—three-page stories with a beginning, middle, and end….Nothing feels better than finishing something—so start small! On that note, finish stuff—write really badly and really quickly and get to the end. You can always go back and make something better….”

Page Street Kids

Author Interview: Lori M. Lee by Raven Eckman from A New Look on Books. Peek: “Everyone says to not judge a book by its cover, and in theory, that’s excellent advice. But in practice, it’s almost impossible not to. A cover has the not inconsiderable responsibility of convincing a reader to pick up a book (or click on it) and read the summary. It’s so important to get right….”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #142: Ana Sender by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[Digital media] gives me great freedom to build things up on the go, even while I’m working on the final art….When I work with traditional (non digital) materials, pencil is what I feel more comfortable with, but digital media has opened a whole new range of opportunities for me…[I]t offers a huge amount of possibilities….”

Make Way for Doodling: A Conversation Between Laura Shovan and Jarrett Lerner from MG Book Village. Peek: “There are so many benefits to a daily creative practice….Posting [my doodles] whether they are good, bad, silly, or awkward is important to me because it quiets the inner critic that so many professional creatives struggle with. The robot doodles constantly remind me that play is an important part of making art.”


Clarion Books

An Interview with Saadia Faruqi by Jennie McDonald from Center for the Collaborative Classroom. Peek: “My own success in writing a variety of stories…makes me believe that publishing trends may be shifting slightly. I think overall, marginalized stories…are gaining more traction; they’re getting awards, they’re getting attention. Publishers are businesses, and when they see that marginalized stories…are making money, the growth trends will continue I believe.”


Online Auction to Aid Comic-Book Shops Raises Over $430,000 by George Gene Gustines from The New York Times. Peek: “A grass-roots charity auction on Twitter in support of comic-book retailers whose businesses have been disrupted…has netted more than $430,000. Up for bid were comics, original art and one-of-a-kind experiences. More than 100 contributors participated…with proceeds going to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation….which grants emergency relief to booksellers….”

Having Survived Amazon, Kansas City’s Remaining Indie Bookstores Scramble to Weather Shutdown by Noah Taborda from KCUR. Peek: “Local independent booksellers are fulfilling online orders, hosting virtual reading groups and even asking customers for donations, in order to sustain them….Both upstarts and established local brands are…search[ing] to find ways to stay afloat and are asking customers for their support,…going so far as to ask directly for donations.”

Frankfurt’s Boos Promises a Reinvented Book Fair by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Fair director Juergen Boos said that the fair…will be a ‘completely different’ experience….[T]he fair is looking at ways of combining…real world and virtual experiences to provide an event that will be valuable ‘not only to those who have come to the fair in the past, but maybe even have never been to Frankfurt before.’”

Some California Bookstores Prepare to Reopen by Jason Boog from Publishers Weekly. Peek: Bookstores…can reopen as long as they follow the state’s forthcoming guidelines….Calvin Crosby, executive director of California Independent Booksellers Alliance [says stores]… ‘are hard at work working on compliance for what the rules will be, from no-touch credit card processing to plastic barriers to establishing sanitation schedules and procedures’….”

Page Turner Publishing


Making Our Own Market: Book Marketing Now and Beyond by Tonya Duncan Ellis from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “When the coronavirus shut down school visits and festivals, I…doubled down on my marketing efforts. I had a new book releasing and wanted to get the word out…Surprisingly, since the U.S. pandemic shutdown began, my daily sales have increased. How’d I do it? Using some of the marketing strategies listed below….”

Making Our Own Market: Troy Johnson on Partnerships & Indie Booksellers by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “[W]e’re reviving our occasional series, Making Our Own Market. All week, we’ll showcase guest posts by children’s book bloggers, independently-published authors and more with inspiring testimonies and tips to raise awareness of work by Black children’s book creators….How do we reinvent marketing strategies and make an impact through children’s literature in these uncertain times?”


Libraries Contemplate Re-Opening by Michelle J. Fernandez from Public Libraries Online. Peek: “Facing a host of unknowns, library administrators are developing reopening plans…[that] will look different across the country, contingent on geography, funding structure and staffing, community needs, and the severity of the virus’ local impact.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Philomel Books

Children’s Book Week continues through May 10. Check out the events, including Write a Fairy Tale with Anna James, author of Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers.

Check out the free video and audio content offered by Charlesbridge, a publisher of books for children ages 0-14. The videos, organized by age range, include author Ruth Spiro reading her picture books that include Baby Loves Gravity and Baby Loves Quarks.

Join Redcraft Books’ Storytime with Wiley Blevins and Eileen Robinson on YouTube as they read aloud children’s interactive books about bravery, honor, and leadership.

Free online cartooning classes with cartoonist, illustrator, author, teacher, and storyteller Joe Wos on his How to Toon YouTube channel.


Congratulations to the winners of the Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year:

University of Arizona Press

Congratulations to Joy Harjo, who has been appointed by the Library of Congress to serve a second term as U.S. Poet Laureate. Peek: “Harjo’s second term will begin Sept. 1 and will focus on her signature laureate project, ‘Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry.’”

Congratulations to the winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Award 2020: Jacqueline Woodson as Author and Albertine of Switzerland as Illustrator. Peek: “the highest international distinction given to authors and illustrators of children’s books.”

Congratulations to the 2021 Carle Honors Honorees, who are “selected each year by a committee chaired by children’s literature historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus.” Honorees include illustrator Raúl Colón, for his “lifelong innovation in the [children’s literature] field.”

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Edgar AwardsMe and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2019)(Best Juvenile), and Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen, 2019)(Best Young Adult).

Congratulations to the 2020 Winners & Honor Recipients of the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award, which recognizes those who contribute to the multicultural literature for youth field. Winners include:

Congratulations to the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Award winners:

Dial Books

Congratulations to international best-selling children’s author Wendy Meddour for winning the 2020 Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature for Lubna and Pebble, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus (Dial Books, 2019)!

CBC and Goddard Riverside Launch Children’s Book Prize for Social Justice by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Children’s Book Council and Goddard Riverside in New York have announced a new literary award: the Goddard Riverside CBC Young People’s Book Prize for Social Justice. The prize will be given in celebration of nonfiction books for young readers that represent urban life and themes of community, compassion, and equality….”

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books is extending its application submission deadline for 2020 Internship Grants to May 31. Peek: “[W]e have at least fifteen $3,000 grants to award, and remote internships are permitted at both publishers and agencies who’ve partnered with us.”

The Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund is accepting applications for grants of between $100 and $500. Peek: “Our goal is to make disbursements once per day after $5,000 is received….[T]he total goal is $100,000 to help at least 100 writers.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Congratulations to Anne Bustard on the release of RAD!, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman (Abrams, 2020)! I’m a huge fan of the characters Esther, Chester, Hester and Sylvester, not to mention Lester! Check out the Book Birthday Bash, hosted by Samantha M. Clark, and enter to win a signed copy!


Speaking of Samantha, she’s the regional advisor of Austin SCBWI! My thanks to her, ARA (and Cyntern) Gayleen Rabakukk, and illustrator chair C.S. Jennings for last weekend’s 2020 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference! Thanks also to my fellow faculty, the volunteers and attendees! Congrats to the finalists/winners for the chapter’s awards, including the Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award!

About last weekend, I’d also like to thank Christina Soontornvat, Ellen Oh, and Melanie Conklin, directors of The Everywhere Book Fest! Thanks also to the team leaders, volunteers and everyone who tuned in to make the online event such a success!

As for me, I’d like to point out the announcement of the upcoming We Need Diverse Books Online Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive. If you’re interested and eligible, please consider applying.

I’m also delighted to report that, after joyful marathon phone calls and shared Google docs, co-author Kekla Magoon and I have turned in our revision of book 2 of The Blue Stars graphic novel middle grade series, illustrated by the brilliant Molly Murakami. Book 1 will be published by Candlewick in fall 2022.

Personal Links – Cynthia

National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

How Native-Business Eighth Generation Pivoted with Purpose