Cynsational News

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

Author/Illustrator Insights

Cover Reveal for Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover by Shonto Begay (Heartdrum, 2021) from We Need Diverse Books. “Indigenous people in the United States, my people included, were not legally allowed to practices their belief systems until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 came to be. My culture is still recovering from colonization. I hope that while readers may recognize the structures of the hero’s journey with urban fantasy elements, they also recognize that my culture isn’t something to be taken lightly. I have taken much consideration in how I want to share it.”

Quill Tree Books

A Conversation With Booked & Printed Columnist Laurel Flores Fantauzzo by Jackie Sherbow from Trace Evidence. Peek: “It’s healthy to think out loud about books; to join in conversation about them, to express our praise and reservations and questions about books. It’s also healthy to point out works that may have gone unnoticed….”

Ger Duany Author Essay from Random House Teachers and Librarians. Peek:“I learned to create alternate realities in my mind…safer places in my imagination….At our core, we all have the same dream of a good life, free of war, pain, and suffering. We all crave happy, peaceful times with family and friends and the opportunity to connect to one another through storytelling.”

Cherie Dimaline on Representing Native Youth in Her Work with Mitzi Rapkin from Literary Hub. Peek: “I was developing the story…And I thought, god, what is missing?…[I]n our communities we need young people. They give us hope, and we always are conscious of leaving if not a door then a window open for them, so that…there’s always light….And I thought, ah, there it is, I’m missing a young person.”

Sennah Yee by Rachel Stadder from savoircare. Peek: “How can I learn to sit with my power and privileges and use that to empower others?…I’m scared of making mistakes as I try to do so, but I need to remember that sometimes…those mistakes are part of it….I recommend being kind and patient with yourself, and others.”

Nancy Paulsen Books

Author Jacqueline Woodson on the Power of Storytelling by Hilary McQuilkin and Anthony Brooks from wbur. Peek: “[J]ust knowing that small bit that we have inside of us, this survival mechanism, is really important. And I think that’s…important for all people to know about themselves as a means of like, yeah, we’re in a moment. And we can move through this moment because people have moved through moments similar or worse before.”

Equity & Inclusion

Why Kati Gardner Chose to Have Her Character Not Wear a Prosthesis by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “‘I wanted to write a book where the characters go to cancer camp and where nobody dies of their disease,’ Gardner said. ‘You see a lot of cancer books; you don’t see a lot focused solely on just being a survivor and what that’s like, and how that changes your perception of things.’”

Q&A: Kelly Yang, Author of “Three Keys” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “It’s critically important for children to learn antiracism and about the immigrant experience at a young age so they can understand what other kids around them are going through and have more empathy….[O]nly by understanding what’s happening can we start to make things better. I love that my books are conversation starters for families.”

New Picture Book From RH and American Ballet Theater Inspires Boys to Dance by Krystyna Poray Goddu from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Dancer/book contributor Calvin] Royal hopes that the book will help him in his goal ‘to inspire the next generation, especially those who are Black and brown, who may see themselves in me. My hope is that my presence and my art will allow them to dream and make their own dreams a reality.’”

Tor Teen

Identity, Perseverance, and Setting: A Latinx Heritage Month Celebration by Sarah Yung from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Mark] Oshiro aims to center queer Latinx characters in their work….Oshiro spoke about the pushback they had received against novels with teenage characters in adult situations. By saying that gatekeepers don’t want to expose kids to that kind of negativity, ‘it erases all of the children who are experiencing those things….’”

New Groups Aim to Get More Latinx Stories to Young Readers by Mandalit del Barco from NPR. Peek: “Children don’t often get to read stories by or about Latinos….But several new groups of writers, editors and agents are trying to increase Latino representation in children’s literature. They’re working in different ways, and have their own stories to tell. I spoke to a few of them—and got some reading recommendations, too.”

#Worldkidlit Month: Why We Need Translated Lit for Kids! by M. Lynx Qualey from Book Riot. Peek: [Alexandra Büchler, Director of Literature Across Frontiers:] “By reading beyond our borders we explore the vast diversity of voices and perspectives that complement and contrast with our own. Global kid lit offers a window onto the world and a reflection of other cultures, but it also expands the opportunities for children to find the texts that speak personally to them.”

Writing Craft

Q&A With Brandy Colbert, The Voting Booth by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For the first time…I followed a strict outline. I’m used to writing books with a pretty loose timeline, so it was definitely a challenge to not only map it out…[but] actually follow the outline. I was more worried about cramming too much into one day, so I had to slow down at times….”

Book Trailer Reveal: Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters by Don Tate (Illustrator) and Suzanne Slade (Author) by CBethM from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: [Suzanne Slade:] “I was intimidated by the research this project would require. I wanted to get every detail right…I kept track of where I found each fact in the story in a ‘sources document’ which eventually grew to 14 pages. (I create a source doc for every book project to preserve my sanity…).”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #157: Naoko Stoop from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “Each project starts with a slightly different approach. When I worked on a story about the ocean, I went to an aquarium…and spent all day staring at creatures, and I slept with ocean sounds…When I did a wolf story, I went to the Wolf Conservation Center…and I learned how to howl to them….”


In Conversation: Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Varian Johnson:] “[T]here are…parts of the [graphic novel] process that are entirely different, like breaking down a book by panels. Instead of setting up the panels as I went along, page by page, I would write out an entire scene with dialogue, and then I would go back and break it up into panels.”

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Tracy Deonn by Mariana Calderon from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “I spent a long time making sure that the magic could conceivably exist, and fit in believably….So, my first step was to write them out in prose form first…to test whether I could actually verbalize them! Then each system was moved to whiteboards to play out generational examples or work out problems.”

Interview: Space Battle Lunchtime by Rachel Weiss from POMEmag. Peek: [Illustrator Natalie Riess:] “Color is really important to how a scene ‘feels,’ so I like to…match up the colors I use to the feelings and emotions I want to evoke in the reader. Clashing bright colors for intense sequences, appetizing golden colors for food…, pastels for romance/big emotion and jewel tones because I like them.”


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Examining the Impact and Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from School Library Journal. Peek: “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg[‘s] most famous quotes filled social media. One speaks volumes to educators, particularly, librarians. ‘Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.’…Educators who want to explain her work…and legacy can turn to one of the many biographies of her life.”

Beyond the Pandemic, Libraries Look Toward a New Era by Ellen Rosen from The New York Times. Peek: “Many companies and public institutions were unprepared for the…lockdown. There was one notable, perhaps even surprising, exception: the nation’s public libraries. For more than a decade…[they] had been investing in a range of technologies….With a wealth of electronic books, streaming platforms and of course Zoom, many were ready, with some adjustments, to provide services….”


Nicole and David Yoon Launch YA Romance Imprint Starring Heroes of Color by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “…the imprint, called Joy Revolution, will be devoted to publishing teen love stories by and about people of color. Wendy Loggia, senior executive editor at Delacorte Press, will oversee the imprint. The Yoons will partner with a soon-to-be-hired editor within Delacorte to acquire titles and shape the list, working with the team at RHCB throughout the publishing process.”

Wellesley Writes It: Interview With Patrice Caldwell…Founder of People of Color in Publishing by E.B. Bartels from Wellesley Underground. Peek: “I founded People of Color in Publishing…to allow people of color clearer access into the book publishing industry, better support networks, and professional development opportunities. It really is about sending the elevator back down for others after climbing…the stairs.”

PRH Launches “The Conversation” to Sustain Antiracist Engagement, Collaboration, and Action from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Penguin Random House has announced the launch of a new website to support families, educators, communities, organizations, and readers who are working to combat…racial inequities in our daily lives. Named ‘The Conversation,’ this website brings together a curated array of resources and programming…A primary focus will be young readers….”

IBPA Publishing University 2021 has been scheduled to take place online from April 7 to April 10, 2021. “Through numerous online educational sessions and networking opportunities…you will create, learn, and connect as you move your book publishing program forward…” Registration is open and applications for scholarships for complimentary tickets will be taken until Nov. 30.


Quill Tree Books

Cover Reveal for Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[B]uild your connections early….[W]hen you sell/announce your book, things fluctuate between slow and way too fast, so trying to build up a platform on top of everything else is just so stressful, and building a strong, organic platform takes time so you’ll miss out on the opportunity to build that base.”


ABA Joins With Publishers to Launch Virtual Reading Series This Fall by Sydney Jarrard from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “The American Booksellers Association’s ABC Children’s Group is working with publishers to present a virtual reading series to facilitate bookstore events for educators, students, and readers during the fall and winter of the 2020–2021 school year….The ABC Group will provide all of the… links, marketing materials, and educational resources that bookstores need….” Launches in the UK from Books + Publishing. Peek: “In the UK,, a retail site for independent booksellers, has launched to the trade ahead of its planned opening to consumers in November…UK bookshops can create their own online shop profiles for the site, earning 30 percent of the cover price on any sales that come via their links, book lists or shop page.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Colorín Colorado, a bilingual site for educators and families of English language learners, celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month (from Sept. 15 to Oct.15) with “dynamic booklists, classroom activities, and multimedia resources. These are great materials for the curriculum year round!..Our Hispanic Heritage collection features more than 50 booklists for kids and teens….”

Bloomsbury YA

The 2020 Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word will take place online from Oct. 1 to Oct. 11. More than 100 authors are on the lineup, including several children’s/YA authors such as Kalynn Bayron, Victoria Bond, Kacen Callender, Lamar Giles, and Rita Lorraine Hubbard.

The Portland Book Festival will take place online from Nov. 5 to Nov. 21. The event will feature authors for all age groups, and include children’s/YA authors such as Adib Khorram, Evette Dionne, and Aida Salazar. On Nov. 11, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Portland public high school students will read from their work featured in the 2019-20 Writers in School anthology, The Seeds to Plant the Future.

Stay at Home With Candlewick Press: Rain Before Rainbows from Candlewick Press. Peek: “Candlewick Press is pleased to be providing the e-book of Rain Before Rainbows free for a limited time in order to raise awareness for Save the Children’s work in bringing resources to the most vulnerable children in rural America, now so disproportionally affected by…school closures.” Download here.


Submissions for the SCBWI 2020 Narrative Art Award are open through Oct. 20. The narrative sequence theme is “Silver Linings.” The general goal is to show sequence and narrative. You must be a current SCBWI member to submit.

Congratulations to children’s author/illustrator David McKee, the 2020 recipient of the Children’s Book Charity BookTrust’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is well known for his Elmer and Mr. Benn picture book series, and Not Now, Bernard. The award celebrates the work of an author and/or illustrator who’s made an outstanding contribution to children’s literature.

Museum of NM Press

Congratulations to the 2020 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards Finalists and Winners. Winners in the categories of Bilingual Children, Children’s Picture, Juvenile, and Young Adult include No More Bullies! /¡No Más Bullies by Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by El Moisés (Museum of NM Press, 2019), Goodnight, Los Alamos by Whitney Spivey, illustrated by Brenda Fleming (Whitney Spivey LLC, 2018), Heroes of the Rio Abajo: A History Book for Young People by Richard Melzer and John Taylor (Valencia County Historical Society, 2019), and Between Wild & Ruin byJennifer Edelson (Bad Apple Books, 2019).

Submissions for the 2021 Green Earth Book Award are now being accepted! The nomination period is from Oct. 1 to Dec. 15. The judging panel will select books that “best convey the message of environmental stewardship” in the categories of Picture Book, Children’s Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Children’s Nonfiction, and Young Adult Nonfiction. The short list will be announced in March 2021, and the winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

Scholarships, Grants & Donations

We Need Diverse Book Mentorships. Peek: “For the 2021 year, we are offering mentorships to 15 rising voices—twelve aspiring authors and three illustrators (or author/illustrators)—who personally identify with an underrepresented community or are working on a book with a diverse protagonist….Applications will be open from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 2020….”

James Patterson Donates $2.5 Million to Teachers… by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In an effort to assist teachers and students…James Patterson is donating $2.5 million through his Patterson Partnership program with Scholastic Book Clubs. As part of the initiative, 5,000 teachers throughout the U.S. will receive grants of $500 and 500 Scholastic Book Clubs Bonus Points to help create classroom and at-home libraries for students.”

Young, Black & Lit Impacting Future Generations from Enspire. Peek: “‘Young, Black & Lit’…[has] two programs, Lit Year and Lit Monthly. Lit Year partners with an elementary school, or a school district, to provide one…book every month to kids between the grades of kindergarten to third grade. Lit Monthly partners with low-income or Title I schools and offers them 50 free books each month.”

Artist Relief Distributes $13.5 Million in Pandemic Grants by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Artists Relief, a funding initiative created to assist artists struggling under the pandemic, has distributed more than $13.5 million in emergency grants to more than 2,700 individuals since it was launched in April. In response to demand, Artist Relief will extend grant distribution through the end of the year.”

This Week at Cynsations

In a three-part series, Debbie Gonzales teaches fellow children’s authors how to turn Pinterest into a powerful marketing tool for their books.

More Personally – Cynthia

seasonal decorations on Cyn’s staircase

As Cynsations readers, you may be interested to know that, in 2020-2021, review copies sent to me for coverage consideration will be going to BookSpring, “…the only Central Texas charitable organization focusing on building literacy skills and the motivation to read through increasing book ownership and reading activities for children at home.” If you’re likewise someone who regularly donates books, you may want to double check on C19-guidelines and make sure any previous recipients are still accepting physical copies.

What else? Don’t miss the cover reveal for Navajo debut author Brian Young’s middle grade novel, Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, 2021). The gorgeous cover art was done by legendary Navajo illustrator Shonto Begay, of whom I’ve been a fan since I first began writing for young readers in the late 1990s. Debut books are so special! Please consider signal boosting this cover reveal by sharing the We Need Diverse Books’ posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

As for me, drafting continues on my next young adult novel. Of late, I’ve also been reading work by my advisees in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Probably my personal highlight of the week was watching “Enola Holmes,” on Netflix, which is based on the YA mystery series by Nancy Springer (Penguin, 2006-2010). It’s a timely, thoughtful adaptation. If you like YA historicals and gender empowerment, you’ll love it.

Enola Holmes author Nancy Springer on her popular mystery series and the Netflix adaptation by Suryasarathi Bhattacharya from Firstpost. Peek: “Conan Doyle may not have been a total misogynist; he might have been merely as short-sighted as other male writers of his generation – but for whatever reason, he created Sherlock Holmes to be almost entirely ignorant of what went on regarding the female half of England’s population.”

Speaking of YA stories, the ebook edition my novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020) is now on sale (Kindle, Nook, etc.) for $.099—it’s also available in hardcover, paperback and large-print editions—and there’s a thoughtful new review in from a highly respected Native source.

“…the most vivid, timely, gut-wrenchingly realistic YA novel…this finely-crafted book; Hearts Unbroken promises to foster rich intellectual conversations in our scholarship and our classrooms. Smith’s novel will also be a breath of fresh air to her young readers from Indigenous and other oppressed communities whose experiences—both joyful and painful—are affirmed by this book.” —Mandy Suhr-Sytsma, Studies in American Indian Literatures (Vol. 32, Nos. 1-2, spring-summer 2020)

Six Diverse Voices to Add to Your Reading List by Megan Stolz from Amendo: Reconnecting Life and Spirit. Peek re Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020): “…I appreciated spending time with a protagonist who is a Native teen living in suburban America today, which busts the stereotype of Native Americans only living on reservations or tribal lands.”

More Personally – Gail

This has been a busy week reading multiple YA story submissions as an assistant editor for Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine, working on children’s/YA author interviews, and attending the impressive Northern Ohio SCBWI Friends in Rectangles 2020 Online Conference. This year’s week-long conference, ending Oct. 3, featured publishing-industry experts who included editors, art directors, a literary agent, and Ben Sapp, Director of the Mazza Museum, The Museum’s mission is “to promote literacy and enrich the lives of all people through the art of picture books.”