Cynsational News

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Ashley Bryan Revisits His World War II Letters and Sketches to Create Infinite Hope by Mark Athitakis from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: “Drawing was a way of surviving because war was so dreadful….[O]ptimism is conveyed in the colorful paintings…Bryan produced using his sketchbooks as inspiration. ‘Fifty years ago, those paintings would have been dark—grays and blacks…But in really looking at those sketches now, I saw a beauty there—the beauty of the shared experience.’”

Christian Robinson: Creating Art That Matters by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’ve finally found my own voice…What is it that I most want to say? And the answer is ‘you matter.’ That is something I am always trying to say in everything I create….[C]reativity has the power to heal….”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Rise of Magical Realism in Young Adult Fiction by Josie Meléndez from Peek: A number of recent YA titles blend magical elements into otherwise realist novels…There is…a level of intimate wonder when it comes to young adult books mixed in with magical realism. It’s literature that contains endless possibilities capable of creating a true and unique catharsis in the reader.”

Elizabeth Acevedo Writes to Understand the World Better by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Elizabeth Acevedo:] [P]oetry is about the observation of a moment, of a human interaction and I know few forms of art that push us towards empathy as clearly as poetry…[Y]oung people especially need to read text that affirms what they feel is valid, and that also pushes them towards an understanding of how others live and think.”

“Stepping Stones” Interview: Author Lucy Knisley on Writing About Divorce to Middle Grade Readers by Brianna Robinson from The Young Folks. Peek: “It can heal a part of yourself, to write what you wish would have happened—a conversation that you always wished you’d had, vocalizing something that never made it out, or an action you wish someone had taken on your behalf. It’s not rewriting history, it’s telling a different story, and that’s just fine.”


Cover Reveal: Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Writing a book is a journey—filled with highs and lows and frustrations and glories…I love the sweet space between finishing the book and seeing it in the world…And then I love when I begin hearing from the young people who’ve read it. I also love how much I learn from writing a book.”

Black Girl Magic in the Dark: Accessing Inner Healing Through Personal Grief by Yodassa Williams from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As I cried…I realized I already had a way to keep [my cousin] living through me. Through storytelling and writing, I would weave her into my life…Through sadness so deep it stripped all energy from my body, I felt stirrings that I would move forward….Through each reader, she would come to life.”

Equity & Inclusion

Five Kidlit Authors Talk About Writing About and Living with Mental Illness by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Stories representing mental illness of all kinds aimed for children and young adults can do the important work of providing a mirror for those living through the thick of it, showing them they’re not alone, as well as clearing up misconceptions and showing the humanity behind the diagnosis.”

Caught Between Worlds? For Elizabeth Acevedo, It’s a Familiar Feeling by Concepción de León from The New York Times. Peek: “We know what it means to come from families that have these secrets…The scariest thing is feeling like you come from folk who maybe haven’t been represented in a certain artistic form and just wanting to do right…It’s been gratifying to know I can write and not try to hold every single kind of Dominican.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Kids’ Books Where Science Is the Adventure with host Maddie Sofia from NPR. Peek: “[Theanne Griffith:] There [are] these concepts of what a scientist looks like and who is naturally good at science…that often does not include black and brown kids. Black and brown kids are taught they were strong, were tough…But we’re also curious, we’re also creative, we’re also excited about learning how the world works around us.”

Author Spotlight: Interview with Rabiah York Lumbard by Nadia from headscarves & hardbacks. Peek: “I think the biggest takeaway that I want readers to gain…is that as bad as Islamophobia often is in the West, we do have friends and allies and to not give up hope….Be your genuine selves. Find your strength. You have nothing to prove…[T]here is more and more out there on the Muslim bookshelf….”

An Interview with Rena Barron, Author of Kingdom Souls by Silvana Reyes Lopez from Book Riot. Peek: “I write morally grey characters because I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have regrets. People do the best they can with what they have, and my characters are no different.”


Interview with “Given” Author Nandi Taylor! hosted by Jewel Benton from So Booking Cool. Peek: “Black people deserve to see themselves in these kind of mystical, fantastical situations, and especially when it comes to science fiction…You often see these movies and shows in the future and there‘s no one of color in them…I’ll get readers [comments] that they have never seen anything like this in fantasy, with black characters….”

Interview with Laura Pohl by Lili from Utopia State of Mind. Peek: “I think there are degrees of representation and how much you identify with each character and their background….The thing about representation is that we shouldn’t have just one option to pick from, and just overall have more people readers can identify with, be it from their background or sexual orientation or religion.”

Writing Craft

Interview with Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy by Annisha Jeffries from School Library Journal. Peek: “[Debbie Levy:] [P]oetry can excel at opening up a story…to young readers who might otherwise think it’s not for them, because they think that history isn’t their thing or because they find nonfiction dense or boring. Poetry can have white space on the page. It has rhythm; it pulses…through format and shape and sound.”

First Flames: An Interview Between Debut Authors Hafsah Faizal and Nafiza Azad by Katy Hershberger from School Library Journal. Peek: “[Nafiza Azad:] From the names of the characters to figuring out how trash is disposed in the world you have created, all of these are important…The better you know your world, the easier time you will have writing. Not everything has to be included in your narrative, but…you really should know even the tiniest details.”

Greenwillow Books

Vashti Harrison Lets the Light In by Maria Russo from The New York Times. Peek: “I’ve started working with pastels….I’m really attracted to how expressionistic and loose you have to be with pastel. As much as you might like to zoom in, you can’t….I love trying to make things look really rendered with the fewest amount of strokes…to make it look the way you would do it on the computer….”

Author Spotlight: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley by Zoe Ward from Pen2Paper. Peek: “First drafts are always garbage, but you’ve got to be willing to get past that and keep working, and most people aren’t. Curiosity is important. The ability to pay attention to details….[M]any writers feel things strongly, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Having a big ego is just a waste of time.”


Print Unit Sales Post Another Double Digit Gain by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Juvenile fiction print unit sales rose 10.2% last week. Print sales of nearly 27,000 copies of The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate…led to a 26.5% increase in sales in the social/situations/family/health segment. Print unit sales rose 16.9% in the history/sports/people/places segment. That segment also did well in juvenile nonfiction….”

Macmillan Launches Indie Bookstore Assistance Program by John Maher from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Macmillan Publishers will issue promotional terms intended to help independent bookstores…The terms include discounting on all orders placed from June 1 through Dec. 31, extended dating on orders placed through the end of the year, and a longer timeline for repayment of outstanding balances….”


Scholastic Press

YA Authors Move Online by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Debut and veteran novelists dive into the world of digital events…Some publishers have decided to focus on YA graphic novels, whose readers are already accustomed to online engagement.…[Author Leah Johnson:] [V]irtual festivals have given us…a better shot at making sure these stories reach the readers who need them most.”

Children’s-YA Book Marketing and Promotion from Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Children’s-YA Literature Resources. Global planning information, author events, websites, blogs, blurbs, book teasers, media kit, mindset, publicity, publicists, self-care, the school-library market, social media and more for book creators who want to amplify awareness and appreciation of their titles for young readers.


Independent Bookshop Week to Go Ahead in June by Mark Chandler from The Bookseller. Peek: “The Booksellers Association (BA) has confirmed that Independent Bookshop Week will go ahead as planned from June 20 to 27, sponsored by Hachette U.K.. This year’s week-long celebration of the U.K. and Ireland’s indies will focus on their resilient spirit…with virtual author events, online story times, Twitter chats and more.”

Independent Bookstores to Shop at While Sheltering in Place by Christine Hoxmeier from Book Riot. Peek: “[T]here are myriad ways to support indie bookstores right now, but first you need to find one to support. Whether you are a long-time customer…or are just trying to …get a puzzle and some books…they can definitely help you out. We’ve compiled a list of indie bookstores in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.….”


Public Libraries Collaborate with Schools, Other Organizations to Serve Communities from School Library Journal. Peek: “[M]any public librarians are collaborating with schools and other organizations to meet the needs of their young patrons, according to SLJ’s…[s]urvey. More than half of respondents have collaborated with local school systems…Libraries are also collaborating with established partners such as their state libraries,…food banks, mental health organizations, and local nonprofits….”

Summer Reading Programs Going Virtual This Year by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “Summer reading programs are among the most popular events run by public libraries. There are reading logs, prizes, performances, and regular visits by excited young patrons and families….[M]ore than 64 percent [of libraries surveyed] have shifted to online only summer reading…Many mentioned plans to use Beanstack, a reading challenge software program and app.”

Education/Other Resources/Events


PBS Learning Media’s interactive Molly of Denali collection “offers videos, digital games, lessons, teaching tips, and activities…Set in a rural Alaskan village, and featuring the adventures of Molly, her family, and friends, Molly of Denali models the many ways that children can access and create informational text in their daily lives.”

Author and illustrator Nick Bruel has several Bad Kitty activity books available for free download on the Bad Kitty Books website, as well as fun Bad Kitty videos to watch. His coloring book, Bad Kitty: Wash Your Paws, which discusses why it is so important to wash your paws and hands, is also available for free download.

Read and Learn with Simon Kids. Live read-alouds and activities with Snack and Read Live; storytimes, sing-alongs, writing prompts, and other activity videos with Simon Kids on Youtube; downloadable activities on Simon Kids Pinterest; and more.

Comics Relief, a First Second Books festival that took place on April 18, is now available to watch on YouTube or on First Second Books’ website. The next Comics Relief festival will be held on June 6. You can register for that event here.

Rocky Callen, author of A Breath Too Late, provides on her YouTube channel insightful, recorded conversations with her agent and editor that occurred prior to her book’s release.

Pajama Press

Join the MG Lit Online Book Club’s monthly meetings. Read the designated book and join the conversation through Zoom. The next meeting is 6 p.m. CDT May 28, and the book being discussed is Music for Tigers by Michelle Kadarusman (Pajama Press, 2020).

The six-week long Let’s Get Lit Book Fest continues on Twitter through June 6, to celebrate debut and marginalized authors with books coming out in 2020. Check out the games, author interviews, giveaways, and more!

Kelly Yang, author of Parachutes, conducts a free online writing class for teens every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 3 p.m. EDT on Instagram Live. Videos of the classes can also be viewed on her YouTube channel.

Michael Ian Black reads aloud—and Debbie Ridpath Ohi does art demonstrations for—their “I’m” picture book series (I’m Bored, I’m Sad, I’m Worried) on Debbie’s YouTube channel.


Congratulations to the 2020 NCSS Carter G. Woodson Book Award winner and honorees! Peek: “[National Council for the Social Studies] established the Carter G. Woodson Book Awards for the most distinguished books appropriate for young readers that depict ethnicity in the United States.” The winner is The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).

Conundrum Press

Congratulations to the 21 finalists for the 2020 Indigenous Voices Awards (IVAs)! Peek: “The IVAs were established in 2017 to support and nurture the work of Indigenous writers in lands claimed by Canada.” Finalists include Dakwäkãda Warriors by Cole Pauls (Conundrum Press, 2019)(YA), and Phyllis’s Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol (Medicine Wheel Education, 2019)(Picture Book).

Congratulations to the 2020 Spur Awards winners, including Spotted Tail by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Reycraft, 2019)(Juvenile Nonfiction), Someplace to Call Home by Sandra Dallas (Sleeping Bear, 2019)(Juvenile Fiction), and Let ’Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Carolrhoda, 2019)(Storyteller/Illustrated Children’s Book)!

Congratulations to the winners of the KPMG Children’s Books Ireland Awards 2020! The awards “recognize excellence in writing and illustration, in Irish or English and is open to authors and illustrators who are born in Ireland, are permanently resident here, or are citizens of Ireland.”

Congratulations to the winner, first runner up, and honorable mention recipients of the 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Awards in the Children’s category! The winner was Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2019).

HighWater Press

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Manitoba Book Awards, which “recognize excellence in Manitoba writing, book design, publishing, and stories, honoured authors and books published in the last year.” Winners include:

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books will begin accepting applications on May 31 for the Walter Grant, which provides financial support to promising, unpublished diverse writers and illustrators. Applicants must be working toward a career as a children’s author/illustrator. Ten grants of $2,000 will be awarded. Submissions will remain open until 300 entries are in or June 30, whichever occurs first.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

What an honor it was to be named to the Shortlist for the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature! Congratulations to my fellow finalists, and my thanks to children’s author Monica Brown for nominating me. Learn more about the international jury.

Deborah Noyes

Congratulations to the following newly hired faculty members at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults: Loree Griffin Burns, Deborah Noyes and Ibi Zoboi! They will be joining us at the 2020 summer residency and beyond. Fun fact: Deborah was my original YA editor at Candlewick Press.

Q&A with Author & Curator of Heartdrum: Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It’s exciting to brainstorm with writers, to celebrate all they’re doing well and to offer guidance where it’s needed. Of course, Heartdrum is a small, selective imprint, and not everything will be a fit. So, I do my best to offer suggestions and support for those writers who will need to continue forward from us on their search for a home for a given manuscript.”

Candlewick Launches Online Summer Camp by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Camp Candlewick is a 12-week free online education program for kids in grades 1–12. Campers will be divided into virtual cabins by age group and participate in workshops, read-alouds, and other activities. The publisher has created e-newsletters, Pinterest updates, and website materials that will be available to support readers throughout the program. They will be joined by authors and illustrators, including Megan McDonald, Meg Medina, G. Neri, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.”

Enter to win one of two paperback sets, sponsored by Candlewick Press.

In Conversation with New York Times Bestselling Author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Brianna Sugalski from Parliament House Press. Peek: “The vicarious experience of mastering our inner monsters and laughing at our demons offers us an escape from what’s scary in our real world and subconsciously helps to build coping skills.”

Enter to win one of two paperback sets, sponsored by Candlewick Press.

Reminder! We Need Diverse Books Announces Online Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive from Cynsations. Peek: “…will take place from Aug. 13 to Aug. 16. The theme for the Writing Intensive is elevating and empowering Native voices and it will offer an opportunity for reflection, conversation, celebration, and manuscript and career development for participants.” If you’re interested and qualified to participate, apply today!

Personal Links – Cynthia

VCFA Connection in Place: auction includes:

  • conversations with legendary authors like Kathi Appelt and Katherine Paterson,
  • author and agent manuscript and query critiques,
  • an opportunity to audit a VCFA residency
  • and much more.

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s “pandemic reading list,” published in The New York Times, includes the upcoming YA memoir Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth (Levine Querido, 2020).

Eric Gansworth reads his poem “Repatriating Ourselves” for Lit City Voices on YouTube.