Cynsational News


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

Author/Illustrator Insights

How Safe Spaces Save Lives with Tobly McSmith from YouTube. Peek: “[In the library] I felt safe enough that I could be myself, and that allowed me the space to dream….[P]eople can also be a great safe space…Books are the ultimate safe space…especially fiction. To be able to see yourself in a book through a character or learn about people through characters, that is a safe space.”

Author Interview and Book Review: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller by Jen from Pop! Goes the Reader. Peek: “In fiction, the reader steps so intimately into a character’s mind, and that creates a window into someone else’s world. It is an exercise in empathy. And especially with…mental health, which is too often misunderstood, empathy is crucial….I want my stories to say: You are not alone. Your feelings are not wrong….”

Q&A: L.C. Rosen, Author of “Camp” by Maša Tome from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[T]eens are at that point where they’re really seeing how the world sees them and how they see themselves and how those two things often don’t reconcile, and what to do about that….[T]hey’re trying on identities, seeing what fits. YA that doesn’t include that kind of introspection…just doesn’t read as very realistic….”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

The Ultimate Guide to YA Short Stories by Your Favorite YA Authors by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. Peek:

“Welcome to the ultimate guide to YA short stories by your favorite authors….This is meant to help you seek out stories by your favorite authors, with a guide to the books in which they appear….It’s my hope to keep this list active and updated annually, as more anthologies publish…more YA writers….”

Note: Check out a complete list of short fiction by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Equity & Inclusion

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! Deadline: June 30.

An Ojibwe Education by the Blue Earth Banks from Dawn Quigley. Peek: “If all students…have a deep respect and joy for Native-authored texts, then no future young Indian girl, like myself, will have to recede away from her identity by being ridiculed for loving a book which reflects herself….”

Why Fiction for Younger Readers Needs to Talk About Suicide by Rukhsana Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I had a lot of reasons to end my life. But…I was a reader. I guess I found enough respite in the books I read that I wasn’t ready to give up yet. That is the power of children’s literature. It can give a desperate child a break from their problems.”

Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing

A Dakota Story to Inspire Young Readers by Tom Cherveny from Duluth News Tribune. Peek: “[Teresa Peterson] wanted to create a children’s book that would be relevant to young people who come from diverse backgrounds. But this is not aimed only for Dakota or other Indigenous readers, she is quick to point out. ‘All people benefit from diverse authored books,’ she said.”

Eric Smith’s Don’t Read the Comments Is About Online Spaces and Harassment by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It was devastating seeing friends and people I cared about leaving their digital spaces because they didn’t feel safe…[M]aybe some kid will read this book and think twice before going after someone online. Or, maybe the person reading it is the one on the receiving end of that and knows that they’re not alone.”

Reading Louise Erdrich to My Son by Rachel Cloues from Rethinking Schools. Peek: “[G]rowing awareness and intolerance of institutionalized racism…along with the continued publication of more diverse perspectives in books for both children and adults…encourage all of us to think more critically. The stories we choose to tell children have great power to frame their understanding not only of history, but also of our present times.”

Q&A With Authors Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Laura Silverman:] Growing up, I never encountered books with Jewish characters unless a book was about the Holocaust. And even today, Jewish representation can be hard to find….I wanted…more of that representation to be available to Jewish teens. An anthology was the perfect tool to get a variety of Jewish stories and perspectives on the shelves….”

Roaring Brook Press

Q&A: Kelly Quindlen, Author of “Late to The Party” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[T]he only ‘right’ way to be a teenager is to let yourself grow into whomever you were meant to be. Don’t box yourself in. Don’t tell yourself a limited story about who you are or who you could be. Give yourself the time and grace to discover who you are and what/who you love.”

Writing Craft

Author Q&A: Ben Clanton from Tundra Books. Peek: “[M]y approach to story has…shifted somewhat….The format inspired me more than [the] specific characters…..When I start on a book now it is much more character-driven from the get-go. I want to get to know my characters (especially the protagonists) very well before trying to figure out what happens in the book.”

Revision Techniques by J. Albert Mann from 88 Cups of Tea. Peek: “I use lists. Lots and lots of lists. Self-Revision: Before anyone sees your work, you need to see your work….Revising To Feedback: (Critique Partners and Critique Groups). You won’t agree with all feedback, but you will list all feedback….Revising To Editorial Notes:…[S]tart with the big issues.”

Wednesday Writing Workout: Befriending the Revision Monster by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors. Peek: “[Shirin Shamsi:] I feel so passionate about revision that I would like to share a few ideas here with you: When you feel your story is complete, put it away….When you read it again, ask yourself if every fact has been researched….Does everything make sense?…Read your story as though someone else has written it.”

Candlewick Press

A Mentee Success Story by Esther Hershenhorn from TeachingAuthors. Peek: “[Amy Alznauer:] My job as a biographer is to imagine the child who will someday be the adult and forge a continuity between these two provinces of being. And even more it is to bring the reader into that younger self first, so they can imagine growing up with the child in the story.”

Q&A With Randy Ribay, Sandhya Menon, and Gloria Chao by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:“[Sandhya Menon] I have lots of plans for well-loved tropes in my future work! I think tropes get a bad rap, but they’re present in virtually all popular fiction. Readers pick up a book within a genre with certain expectations—for instance, the happily-ever-after in romance…There’s nothing wrong with…writers wanting to play to that reader need.”

Thirty-Six Plot Nots: Plot Clichés to Avoid by Amy Jones from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “A lot of writers, when told they are writing stale, cliché-filled, trite formula, cry, ‘How can I tell the new from the old?’…[H]ere’s a head start: a list of story ideas to stay away from…to help you decide for yourself whether your rejection slips have been the result of poor writing or poor plotting.”


Clarion Books

YA Authors Move Online by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “YA book releases and publicity plans have…upended the conventional publishing world’s most tried-and-true methods for publicizing new works….Author pairings…have made it possible for them to appear with [other] popular authors…Natalia Sylvester had a similar experience when fellow author Angie Cruz asked her to take part in…a six-author [online] fiesta reading….”


Restructuring at Simon & Schuster Children’s by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing…will be reorganizing under two publishing entities: a trade publishing group focusing on picture books, middle grade, and YA; and a new branded publishing team to concentrate on the expansion of preschool titles, beginning readers, chapter books, graphic novels, licensing and middle-grade brands, and IP.”

Interview with HarperCollins Senior Editor, Maria Barbo by Christine Van Zandt from Kite Tales. Peek: “Read. Be aware of where the book you are writing fits into the marketplace. What’s its arena? To what other books would you compare yours? And work on a compelling elevator pitch or positioning statement.”

Congratulations to the 13 grant recipients of the 2020 Literary Magazine Fund. The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses and the Amazon Literary Partnership launched this fund to help support the vital work of literary publishers.


Roaring Brook

In Support of Indie Bookstores, Dozens of Illustrators Send Art by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Elisha] Cooper and fellow author-illustrator Ruth Chan are spearheading Kid Lit Art Surprise…More than 50 of the nation’s leading illustrators have joined up, sending packages of art for free to independent bookstores, which the stores are then giving away to customers who place online orders….[T]he effort comes down to one…sentence: ‘We want to help.’”

ABA Children’s Institute Goes Virtual from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The American Booksellers Association has scheduled a virtual edition of its annual Children’s Institute for July 15 and July 16…The programming for the virtual edition will feature a day of education,…an Indies Introduce presentation, a keynote speech, and a virtual gathering. The second day will offer opportunities for booksellers to connect with publishers.”


Looking for Summer Reading Recommendations? Here Are Some of SLJ’s Favorite Lists by Kiera Parrott from School Library Journal. Peek: “The SLJ team is hard at work curating some of our top summer reading picks for a variety of age groups by type, genre, and subject area. Those lists will roll out starting after Memorial Day. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite lists from other organizations and libraries.”

Tech Lending and Truly Mobile Hotspots Extend Library’s Internet Access by Pam North from School Library Journal. Peek: “[Because] internet access [is]…crucial for schooling, many jobs, and applying for unemployment, library staff have been working on creative solutions to bring access to thousands who would otherwise be without, moving beyond Wi-Fi in parking lots…The Washington State Library…is bolstering its existing 300 public Wi-Fi hotspots with an additional 300 parking lot hotspots….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Join Cynthia Salaysay, author of Private Lessons (Candlewick, 2020) and Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019, 2020) for Reading Group Choices Book a Day Live Chat from noon to 12:30 CDT on Friday, May 29.

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 McDonaldMeg MedinaG. Neri, and Cynthia Leitich Smith.”

The resources will be open to anyone who wants to participate and read along. All assets and resources will be made available on social platforms and the Candlewick Stay at Home site. (Camp Candlewick may prompt folks for engagement virtually, but there is no official signup per se.)

Join BookCon May 30 and May 31 for BookConline, “a free virtual event where the book community can stay connected…BookConline will feature sessions…with different authors and publishers to give you a front row look at debut books and behind-the-scenes peeks at some of your favorite titles.” The Diverse Graphic Novels panel, featuring Twins creators Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright, begins at 11:40 a.m. EDT on May 30.

Enjoy BookCon’s free Virtual Author Tour Series, where BookCon hosts authors and publishers “to give you a front row look at debut books, author interviews, and more….” Coming up on June 3 at 6 p.m. is a live panel discussion featuring YA authors Brigid Kemmerer, Sara Holland, Lilliam Rivera, and Kalynn Bayron, who will discuss “refreshing old fairy tales and myths for a YA audience,” and give writing tips and book recommendations.


Check out MacKids School & Library’s free virtual YA author events (past and upcoming). The next scheduled event is June 2 at 6 p.m. EDT and features A.M. Strickland (Beyond the Black Door), Cale Dietrich (The Love Interest), and  by L.E. Flynn (Last Girl Lied To).

Attend the Asian Author Alliance’s awesome virtual YouTube events to conclude the Asian and Pacific Islander Book Month. For example, the Humor and Kidlit event on May 31 will feature authors Gloria Chao, Jessica Kim, Suzanne Park, Sara Farizan, and Mike Jung.

Kidlit Pride, a group of out, queer authors of children’s books, is hosting Kidlit Pride at Home, a virtual global online gathering of LGBTQ+ creators of children’s books, which will take place June 20 and June 21. The goal of the event is to provide connection, community, and support.

Listen to author T. A. Barron read, chapter by chapter, on YouTube, his classic, middle-grade fantasy adventure for young readers, Tree Girl (Philomel).

J.K. Rowling has begun an online story serial for a children’s fairy tale called The Ickabog. Several chapters are already posted to read for free here. New installments will be posted every weekday until July 10. There is also an illustration competition for children ages 7 to 12 to submit drawings or paintings based on one of the themes.


Annick Press

Congratulations to the gold, silver, and bronze winners of the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards, especially in the children’s and YA categories, which include Gold winner What the Eagle Sees by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger (Annick Press, 2019)(Juvenile-YA Nonfiction).

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 William Allen White Children’s Book Awards: Insignificant Events In The Life Of A Cactus by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017)(3rd–5th grade), and Restart: Lose Your Memory Find Your Life by Gordon Korman (Scholastic Press, 2017)(6th–8th grade).

Scholastic Press

Congratulations to the 2020 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honorees. The winners include: Saturday by Oge Mora (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019)(Picture Book), King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press, 2020)(Fiction and Poetry), and Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019)(Nonfiction).

Congratulations to the finalists for the 2019 Chanticleer International Book Awards, including the finalists for the Dante Rossetti Young Adult Fiction Awards, and the finalists for the Gertrude Warner Middle-Grade Fiction Awards. Winners will be announced Sept. 5 at the 2020 Chanticleer International Book Awards Annual Gala that will be held in Bellingham, Wash.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Grand Canyon Reader Awards in the categories of Picture Book, Nonfiction, Intermediate, Tween, and Tween Nonfiction. Given by the Arizona Library Association, the awards are decided by students voting for their favorite books in the given categories.

Balzer + Bray

Congratulations to the winners of the 30th Annual Reading the West Book Awards, which are sponsored by independent bookstores to celebrate the spirit of the west and the rich variety and diversity of writing in the region. Children/YA winners include The Little Snowplow Wishes for Snow by Lora Koehler, illustrated  by Jake Parker (Candlewick Press, 2019)(Picture Books), Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, 2019)(Young Readers), and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe (Balzer + Bray, 2019)(Young Adult).

Reminder—the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards will be announced on June 1. The finalists, including those in the LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult and LGBTQ Comics categories, can be found here.

Scholarships & Grants

Only a few days left (until May 31) to apply for the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) 2020 Internship Grants! Grants are for diverse applicants who have paid internship offers from WNDB participating publishers or literary agencies. Grants are in the amount of $3,000; remote internships are permitted.

Applications for the We Need Diverse Books Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives are still being accepted. Eligible applicants are diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals in children’s literature. Grants are in the amount of $500.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

In case you missed the announcement above, please join me and debut  Cynthia Salaysay, author of Private Lessons (Candlewick, 2020), for Reading Group Choices Book a Day Live Chat from noon to 12:30 CDT today, Friday, May 29. About Private Lessons:

Candlewick, 2020

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups.

In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

Author Cynthia Salaysay composes a moving, beautifully written portrait of rigorous perfectionism, sexual awakening, and the challenges of self-acceptance. Timely and vital, Private Lessons delves into a complicated student/teacher relationship, as well as class and cultural differences, with honesty and grace.

In a standout debut for the #MeToo era, a young pianist devotes herself to her art — and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes.

More Personally – Gayleen

There’s a newly-minted high school graduate at our house! We celebrated with an early-morning hike, highlighted by this giant cypress tree.

The mighty tree’s roots particularly inspired me: a living illustration of tenacity and persistence in seeking out bits of nourishing  soil amidst the hard limestone. A reminder that our (writing) journeys may not be quick or easy, but if we dig in, we can survive – and thrive!

More Personally – Gail

At a favorite hangout at CWRU (Jolly Scholar).

I’m excited about finishing my internships at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University, where I assistant taught a graduate course (Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop) and an undergraduate course (Advanced Fiction Workshop).

The professors (authors) were phenomenal (Mary Grimm and Amber Taliancich Allen) and the students were awesome.

In a few weeks, after I give my residency lecture on creative writing pedagogy, I will have my Post-MFA Certificate in the Teaching of Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.

Summer Reading Giveaways

Twitter only! MG & YA novels by Kekla Magoon. Enter to win the set and/or each individually. U.S. only. Deadline: May 31.
Last call! Enter to win one of two paperback sets by Cynthia Leitich Smith, sponsored by Candlewick Press. U.S. only.
Last call! Enter to win one of two paperback sets by Cynthia Leitich Smith, sponsored by Candlewick Press. U.S. only.