Cynsational News

Scholastic Press

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Author Interviews: Aida Salazar from Bridget and the Books. Peek: “If you are a kid wanting to be a writer…listen to the world around you. Open your heart and pay attention to people’s stories….And live, remember to play, to dream, to build, make mistakes, and try things many times until you get it right. These lived experiences are what will make your writing rich.”

Ibi Zoboi, Yusef Salaam: Unlocking the Mystery of “What It Means to Be Free” by Justin Barisich from BookPage. Peek: [Ibi Zoboi, speaking to young people:] “Your very presence in the world is enough change for now. You are here, and you matter. Don’t be ashamed of being silent and being still. This is where art and creativity are born…Create something new. That is change, too….There is power in that.”

Interview with Yamile Saied Méndez, Author of Furia by Jen Johnson from Dead Darlings. Peek: “Initially, it was hard to know which words to add in Spanish. I made a point of adding things that were untranslatable. That was a conscious act in the revisions.”

Author Spotlight: Lisa Robinson from KidLit411. Peek: “To aspiring authors, I’d…remind them the importance of dogged persistence with improving your craft, knowledge about the industry, and submitting your work. What kept me going while facing…rejections was the idea that each one was leading me closer…I kept saying to myself: ‘You need to get at least 100 rejections before you get your yes.’”

Equity & Inclusion


Q&A With Nita Tyndall, Who I Was With Her by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Especially for LGBTQ+ authors, I would say, stick to your vision of the book…It’s absolutely okay in every stage to stay firm to how you envision the book to be—you don’t have to make the queer experiences in the book ‘palatable’ for a straight audience if that’s not the story you’re telling.”

Q&A With Corinne Duyvis by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[M]arginalized authors feel emboldened by…the [#OwnVoices] hashtag, saying it gave them the faith that people actually wanted to read the kind of novels they hoped to write. It makes it easier for agents and editors to prioritize…manuscripts to represent and acquire, and readers have a[n] easier time finding books with respectful, accurate, nuanced representation.”

Q&A With Marieke Nijkamp, Even If We Break by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Trans and disabled teens deserve to see themselves in narratives that aren’t just about being trans or being disabled. They deserve to see themselves in narratives that aren’t just about identity and trauma. (And it’s equally important for cishet non-disabled folk to see us in other narratives too.)”

Torrey Maldonado on: The Talk by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “[W]here I was born and raised, schools and books killed the love of storytelling in kids. [They] didn’t let us see ourselves and didn’t encourage our affinity to storytell outside…the white canon’s constricting norms. My mom did the opposite—she encouraged any form of storytelling that powered me up. One medium was Hip Hop.”

Q&A With Julian Winters, The Summer of Everything by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wish people would ask, ‘Why do you write stories so centered on joy?’ The answer: because…[y]oung readers need them. Every day is a reminder that racism exists, homophobia exists, people will hate them for…the way they look, talk, etc. They need a reminder that they deserve joy.’”

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

Misty Copeland Gets to the “Pointe” of Representation by Amy Carlton from American Libraries. Peek: “Copeland said she wrote Bunheads in part to celebrate diversity in classical dance…All the characters are based on fellow classmates and include kids from different cultures, including boys, who are underrepresented in dance. ‘Representation gives you power,’ she said. ‘You know it’s okay to look this way.’”

Family, Identity and a Hot Ghost: Questions for “Cemetery Boys” Author Aiden Thomas by Petra Mayer from NPR. Peek: “A big part of the story that pulled from my personal experiences were the family dynamics. I feel like [with] most stories about trans kids, either their families fully support them without so much as a blink, or they completely reject them. I wanted to show how it can be more nuanced than that.”

Writing Craft

Optimism Works: “I Didn’t Wait for an Opportunity, I Just Started Doing It!” by Don Tate from Texas Optimum Project. Peek: “When I (finally) decided I wanted to become a writer…words always seemed to fail me….Negative thinking was the biggest obstacle. Still, I wanted to write. I joined the SCBWI…[and] started writing in a blog, which helped me to build up confidence in putting my words out into the world.”

Katherine Tegen Books

Q&A With Tiffany D. Jackson, Grown by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’m inspired by real cases that I stumble upon…and I dig deeper….I’m definitely a plotter, through and through. Since I’m a filmmaker by trade, I create detailed outlines/storyboards. Of course, all rules were made to be broken, so it’s rare that I stick to the script, but it helps to keep me on track.”

Rewriting as Discovery by Mark Oshiro from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I]n rewriting…I was reminded of the joy I get from the act of writing. In a way, it was like discovering my own magic was buried deep within me. I had to unearth it by making mistakes, by being misguided, by accepting dissatisfaction. Yet once that magic was released…there’s nothing quite like it.”

Jarrett Krosoczka: Revise, Then Revise Again from YouTube. Peek: “I did learn early on that you can’t just write something once and be done with it, because every time you rewrite a story, it gets a little bit better. So when you rewrite the story a lot of times, it gets a lot better. With every revision that you make, the story grows stronger….”

Witches of Brooklyn Creator Sophie Escabasse Explains Her Rules for Magic by Samantha Puc from “When I was writing and sketching the story, I wasn’t able to listen to anything at all. But when I entered the inking and coloring phase, music and audio books came back into my life….I don’t have a particular genre that I listen [to] more than another….”

How an Illustrator Makes Room for Children to See Themselves by Ashley Swansong from PBS NewsHour. Peek: “[Leo] Espinosa spends a great deal of time coloring, rendering and perfecting the textures of his illustrations—but that’s only one part of creating a children’s book. Espinosa [says] that he needs to ‘leave enough space…to allow children to have their input into the story, to make the story even more personal for themselves.’”

Nancy Paulsen Books

Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James by Stephanie Appell from BookPage. Peek: [Derrick Barnes:] “I made a running list of everything that embodies the emotions, actions, goals, desires, strengths and weaknesses of my own sons. Every tangible and intangible quality covers a broad spectrum of what it means to be a little boy…I wanted…young readers to see themselves in all of these emotions and scenes….”


PRH Releases Workforce Report on Diversity by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A report that Penguin Random House released…on its U.S. workforce demographics shows that 78 percent of its non-warehouse employees and 80 percent of its warehouse employees are white, pointing to the obstacles that publishing must overcome to diversify its workforce….’Change is overdue,’ PRH wrote in the report, ‘and we…have a responsibility to make that change happen.'”

The Literary Arts Emergency Fund Awards More Than $3.5 Million to 282 Literary Arts Organizations, Magazines, and Presses… from Peek: “The Literary Arts Emergency Fund, launched and administered by the Academy of American Poets, the Community of Literary Magazines & Presses…and the National Book Foundation, will be distributing $3,530,000 million in emergency funding to 282 nonprofit literary arts organizations, magazines, and presses across the nation that have experienced severe financial losses…”


Pushing for Action on LSFA by Kevin Maher and Shawnda Hines from American Libraries. Peek: “[L]ibrary advocates are continuing to press elected leaders to support the Library Stabilization Fund Act (LSFA) before the election in November. LSFA…would establish a $2 billion emergency fund to address financial losses and bolster library services for libraries of all types, with priority given to the hardest-hit communities.”

Libraries Employ Low-Tech Programming to Engage Children and Families by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[M]any libraries have…halt[ed] in-person gatherings and events to keep their communities and staff safe. In the place of this standard programming, libraries have been exploring and revisiting low-tech options to keep connected and engaged with their communities. Growing trends include scavenger hunts, StoryWalks, Dial-a-Story, obstacle courses, and I Spy windows.”

HarperCollins’s Epic Reads HarperTeens

If You’re Listening: YA Read-Alouds Online by Katy Hershberger from School Library Journal. Peek: “Read-alouds are usually the domain of picture books, but teens also enjoy being read to…While…many young people gear up for virtual school, here are some read-aloud videos of YA titles—classic, new, and upcoming books—from publishers, authors, and librarians.”


Inaugural Sceptre Bookshop Award Shortlist Revealed by Ruth Comerford from The Bookseller. Peek: “The shortlist for the first Sceptre Bookshop Award shortlist has been revealed, featuring [eight] independent retailers across the UK. Launched by the Booksellers Association and Hachette UK, the award recognizes shops that ‘are…functioning as valuable community hubs that encourage personal connection and…greatly enrich the lives of the people they serve.’”


Authors Get Real About Going on a Book Tour…From Their Living Rooms by Michelle Hart and Elena Nicolaou from The Oprah Magazine. Peek: “[T]he process of promoting books will never be the same…But…it’s also possible the online book tour offers something even better than ‘before’…Clearly, one benefit of online events is accessibility….Authors are willing to do online events, and audiences are willing to show up—perhaps more willing than they had been before.”

Education/Other Resources/Events


8 YA Comics Perfect for New Comics Readers by Alice Nuttal from Book Riot. Peek: “As well as being an art form in their own right, comics are an ideal pick for anyone wanting a shorter read, and whether you prefer stand alones or long-running series, you’ll find something in YA comics to fit your reading tastes. Here are a few of the best YA comics of recent years…” Recommendations include Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011).

YALSA’s 2020 Young Adult Services Symposium will take place virtually Nov. 6-8. The theme is “Biggest Little Spaces: How Libraries Serve the Expanding Worlds of Teens.” The symposium is open to everyone, not just YALSA members, and will cover a variety of topics “related to providing services for and with young adults.” You can register here.

The Annual Library of Congress 2020 National Book Festival will be held online Sept. 25-27 and will feature “[m]ore than a hundred best-selling authors, novelists, historians, poets and children’s writers.”

The Texas Book Festival, virtual this year, will take place from Oct. 31 to Nov. 15. Children’s programming will run from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6 and will feature an all-star lineup of children’s/YA authors.

The Kids Ask Authors weekly podcast, which began in March, 2020, continues to provide child readers with information and entertainment as book author/illustrator Grace Lin and a guest author answer one question from a reader in each episode. Most episodes end with a book review, poem, short story or a joke by kids.


Levine Querido

Congratulations to the authors featured on the 2020 National Book Award Longlist for Young People’s Literature. All of the authors are first time nominees to the NBA; three are debut authors. Five finalists will be announced Oct. 6.

Congratulations to Kweli Journal for winning the 2020 Whiting Literary Magazine Digital Prize. Kweli’s mission is to nurture emerging writers of color, including creators of literature for young readers, and create opportunities for their voices to be recognized and valued.

Congratulations to Lamar Giles, winner of James River Writers’ 2020 Emyl Jenkins Award, which is presented to an outstanding individual “who inspires a love of writing and writing education in Virginia.”

Jhalak Prize Launches New Award for Children’s and YA by Katherine Cowdrey from The Bookseller. Peek: “The Jhalak Prize, which annually awards the Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour, has launched a new, second prize for books by children and young adults.” Submissions for both prizes opened Sept. 15. The Jhalak Children’s and YA Prize invites books for children and young adults written by British or British-resident BAME writers.

Scholarships & Grants

WNDB Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: WNDB is still offering emergency grants of between $500 and $1,000 “to diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals who are experiencing dire financial need.” Apply for assistance here.

This Week at Cynsations

Team Cynsations

Pre-order upcoming releases from children’s author and former Cynsations reporter Traci Sorell. First up is a picture book biography, Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Lerner, March 2021). From the promotional copy: “Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.”

Next up is a middle grade picture book, We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, April 2021)(cover reveal from We Need Diverse Books). From the promotional copy: “Twelve Native American kids present historical and contemporary laws, policies, struggles, and victories in Native life, each with a powerful refrain: We are still here!”

More Personally – Cynthia

Art by Nicole Neidhardt; design by Molly Fehr (Heartdrum, winter 2021)

Welcome back to Cynsations. It’s been a summer like none before, but we still have books to celebrate. The hope inherent in writing for young readers is a beacon to us all.

For me, highlights included the We Need Diverse Books Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive. My deepest appreciation to WNDB, especially COO and speaker Dhonielle Clayton and president and CEO Ellen Oh; our faculty—author Traci Sorell, literary agent Linda Camacho, Heartdrum editor Rosemary Brosnan, my assistant Gayleen Rabakukk, and all of the participants for their participation and contributions. It was an honor reflecting deeply on the craft of writing, books for young readers, and Native literature in particular with you all.

Thank you to We Need Diverse Books for hosting this summer’s cover reveal of my upcoming middle grade anthology, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2020). From the promotional copy:

A collection of intersecting stories set at a powwow that bursts with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride.

In a high school gym full of color and song, Native families from Nations within the borders of the U.S. and Canada dance, sell beadwork and books, and celebrate friendship and heritage. They are the heroes of their own stories.

Featured contributors: Joseph Bruchac, Art Coulson, Christine Day, Eric Gansworth, Dawn Quigley, Carole Lindstrom, Rebecca Roanhorse, David A. Robertson, Andrea L. Rogers, Kim Rogers, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Monique Gray Smith, Traci Sorell, Tim Tingle, Erika T. Wurth, and Brian Young.

I love the fluid motion and vibrant color in Nicole Niedhardt‘s cover art as well as the expression of the character depicted. She is the protagonist of Kim Rogers’ short story, making the art part of the collaborative effort.

This anthology was created jointly by the writers and illustrator, using an online message board, texts, phone calls, and emails. The pieces reflect a wide span of tribal identities and perspectives as well as genres and styles, showcasing mostly short stories, beautifully bookended by poetry.

Speaking of cover reveals, learn more about Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA, edited by Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin, Oct. 2020). From the promotional copy:

A trove of unforgettable fiction makes up the beating heart of this book, and the accompanying essays offer an ode to young adult literature, as well as practical advice to writers.

In a Rumpus Exclusive, designer Sarah J. Coleman says:

Design by Sarah J. Coleman (Algonquin, fall 2020)

“I knew I wanted it to have atmosphere; the “foreshadowing” of the title needed to be felt as soon as you saw the cover—a distant threat, the forewarning of something over the narrative horizon—and that informed my choice of ink and bleach, making textures and skies. I focused in on my single most favorite grammatical mark—the apostrophe, comma, or single quotation mark—as a clear motif suggesting speech, dialogue, and storytelling.”

Short stories were written by Tanya S. Aydelott, Tanvi Berwah, Gina Chen, Linda Cheng, Mayra Cuevas, Nora Elghazzawi, Desiree S. Evans, Rachel Hylton, Adriana Marachlian, Sophie Meridien, Maya Prasad, Flor Salcedo, and Joanna Truman.

Works were introduced by Melissa Albert, Becky Albertalli, Laurie Halse Anderson, Roshani Chokshi, Gayle Forman, Heidi Heilig, Jandy Nelson, Jason Reynolds, Adam Silvera, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Sabaa Tahir, and Nicola Yoon.

Kirkus Reviews: “Ranging from deliciously creepy to glowingly hopeful, this collection offers a master class in short stories.”

Congratulations to debut author Patricia Morris Buckley and legendary illustrator Floyd Cooper on their forthcoming picture book, To Walk The Sky (Heartdrum)! This picture book will celebrate Native ironworkers (including Patricia’s great-granddad) who walked high steel to create iconic skylines.

Congratulations to debut author Kim Rogers and award-winning illustrator Julie Flett on their forthcoming picture book, Just Like Grandma (Heartdrum)! It’s the story of a contemporary Wichita girl who wants to be just like her grandmother.

Congratulations to Carol Kim, winner of the Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award! This year’s mentor is Liz Garton Scanlon!

More Personally – Gayleen

Tomorrow I will be leading an online writing workshop for middle grade readers using Homer’s Excellent Adventure by P.J. Hoover (CBAY Books, 2020) as an inspirational mentor text. The workshop is part of The Library Foundation‘s Mayor’s Book Club programming and will feature an author visit.

This workshop is a bite-size version of the three-week workshops I taught over the summer using Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly (Delacorte, 2019) and Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson (CBAY Books, 2017) as mentor texts. In addition to daily writing exercises, students also created projects inspired by the books that were showcased on The Library Foundation’s blog.

More Personally – Stephani

I am thrilled to share that over the summer I signed with literary agent Lori Steel of Raven Quill Literary Agency. We’ve been hard at work and I’m so excited to partner with her. RQLA has built quite a warm community of writers and agents and I am happy to be part of the flock.

When I’m not editing my own work, I’m busy formatting Cynsations posts. I am excited about the season we have ahead for our readers. Our reporters, interview subjects, and guest reporters all have such inspiring messages and great information to share!

More Personally – Gail

It’s been a busy, wonderful summer packed with discovery, reading, writing, and literary journal work.

I completed my Post-MFA Certificate in the Teaching of Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles (AULA). The June online residency was superbly planned and I learned a great deal from the many stimulating presentations. One of my favorite lectures was given by Matt de la Peña, who demonstrated—by explanations, stories, and writing exercises—how a writer can discover his or her own unique point of view.

During the residency, I presented my lecture, “Is the Creative Writing Workshop’s Gag Rule Choking Student Authority?”, which was culled from helping teach dozens of student workshops, conducting and documenting extensive research, and engaging in deep pedagogical discussions with my mentor extraordinaire, Tammy Lechner. The Post-MFA program lit a fire in me that I hope to keep stoked through teaching and continued pedagogical inquiry.

Orchard Books

Soon after, I joined the staff of AULA’s Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine as an assistant editor of both stories written for young adults, and stories written by teen authors ages 13-17.

I also became an author interviewer and blog writer/editor. I love reading and working on the stories and interacting with my fellow staffers. My first blog craft essay, “Tick Tock, Tick Tock – Ways to Wind Your Narrative Clock,” was published Aug. 28.

I also attended the incredible and inspiring SCBWI Summer Conference in August. I gained an abundance of specialized knowledge from the expert authors, illustrators, agents, editors, and publishers, and the positive energy was contagious.

I enjoyed some great laugh-out-loud moments while listening to humorous authors like Mac Barnett, Lin Oliver, and Henry Winkler.