Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Stephani EatonSuma Subramaniam, and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Cover Reveal for Jo Jo Makoons: The Used to Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Heartdrum, 2021) from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Jo Jo Makoons Azure is a spirited seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation.”

Author Interview With Katie Zhao by Leelyn from Sometimes Leelynn Reads. Peek: “Write what you love. Write the stories of your heart. Write fearlessly, write unapologetically, write authentically. And above all, write for you….It was only in letting go of any hopes of being published that I unlocked my unique writing voice, which I believe was my key to being published.”


Process Talk: Shveta Thakrar on Star Daughter by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing With a Broken Tusk. Peek: “There’s room in the world for every single one of us. Don’t ever let anyone silence your voice or tell you you’re not good enough….[Y]ou’re the light the world needs exactly the way you are, and you absolutely deserve love and magic. No matter what anyone else might think, you belong….”

Mikaila Ulmer Releases First Book (Bee Fearless: Dream Like a Kid) by Jennifer Hill Robenalt from Moms. Peek: “I couldn’t find an entrepreneurship book…that was for kids, by kids…[T]hat’s why I saw a need. I could explain it in a way that I understood when my parents taught it to me…What if I can do that for other kids who…are interested in making a difference and want to know where to start?”

Q&A: Aminah Mae Safi, Author (This Is All Your Fault) by Ankara C from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I think stories are rarely original, but the way we tell them and the way we see the world—that is a way that I can tell a story that no one else can. And also, the way you can tell a story that no one else can.”

Is Even My Imposter Syndrome Fraudulent? by Eileen Manes from Sarah Foil. Peek: [Ben Clanton] “Where I’ve found the most success … is when I focus on the small things (and yet big things) …how fun it is to come up with a character…The more I focus on the experience and the less on the perceived result, the happier I tend to be with my work.”

Equity & Inclusion

Levine Querido

Mike Jung: This Is the Last Time I Write a Neurotypical Protagonist from A Novel Mind. Peek: “[A]utism is one of the many things that define me as a human being, and if I don’t write about autistic characters, I won’t bring all of the truly meaningful facets of my humanity into my writing….I think there’s a decent chance that readers, neurodivergent or not, will see important, deeply felt aspects of themselves….”

Why We Need More Latinx Autistic Stories by Adriana White from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The publishing industry needs more stories by Latinx autistics. Books that truly capture what autism is like, within our cultures, and in our family dynamics. Autistic Latinx writers are out there, and increasing their visibility will help spread awareness and acceptance of autism in our communities.”

Brandy Colbert Talks With Christina Hammonds Reed about The Black Kids by Brandy Colbert from Los Angeles Review of Books. Peek: “I wanted to write a Black girl who was able to be vulnerable, who didn’t always do the right thing, who defied the oftentimes damaging stereotype of the ‘strong Black woman,’ which in many ways denies us our humanity….[A] lot of her concerns were my concerns as a Black girl in predominantly non-Black spaces.”

Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From Explores Latinx Identify, METCO Program by Zoë Mitchell and Tiziana Dearing from WBUR. Peek: “I think many children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, students of color, they often are very fluent in the language of code-switching, and the micro aggressions can really pile on and take their toll.”

DC Comics

2020 LGBTQIA+ Graphic Novels for Young Readers by Michael Moccio from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “2020 has shown a strong increase in LGBTQIA+ representation in graphic novels, especially in middle grade. Supporting queer youth by making them feel seen is an important endeavor, and we’ve gathered a selection of noteworthy graphic novels from this year that do just that.”

Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi Stories Featuring South Asian Characters: Interview… by Suma Subramaniam from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: [Sheela Chari] “[M]y mystery novels…are rooted in my experience of growing up Indian-American. I also make an effort…to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness I see and cherish as a part of being an American immigrant…[The protagonist] gets to do those very things that ALL kids should be seen doing in novels: sleuthing, pranking, laughing, messing up….”

Writing Craft

Q and A: Tami and Debbie Interview Each Other! from Brown and Dunn. Peek: [Debbie Loren Dunn:] “I could spend years researching and getting to know the person or people I want to write about. Their lives are never as simple as so-and-so did this-and-then-this happened. They seem to always have challenges or overcome obstacles to get to their accomplishments….The challenge…is understanding why someone is the way that they are.”

Cover Reveal for Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’m deeply invested in trying to do my part to help make people feel seen and represented…I didn’t feel like I saw enough complex, nuanced depictions of fat girls and wanted to do what I could to help change that. Us fat girls deserve good things, too, you know?”

Cynthia Kadohata and the Redemptive Power of Change by Kristin Brynsvold from School Library Journal. Peek: “[M]y research begins with a lot of energy and optimism, then morphs into pessimism and a lot of flailing around…In terms of turning…information into a story…I feel like the story is already out there, in the ether, and I just get into the zone and see the story out there and pull it in….”


Author Interview: Duncan Tonatiuh by Sachiko Burton from Salt & Sage Books. Peek: “For my illustrations, I draw by hand, but then I collage my images digitally. I use textures from things I scan or photograph, or from images I find on the internet. You can see how I do it in this short video…Hopefully the result is an interesting combination of something…ancient, but also modern.”


Q&A With Malinda Lo, C.B. Lee, and Misa Sugiura by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Misa Sugiura:] “[T]here is so much more to publishing a book than just writing it and printing it….[M]y agent champions my books with the publisher, my editor and her team are the only reason that people don’t have to read…nonsense between the covers;…my marketing team makes sure my book gets seen and talked about….”

Ramona Quimby and the Art of Writing From a Kid’s Mind by Annie Barrows from Literary Hub. Peek: “How do you enter the kid-world so thoroughly?…[T]here are three major routes. The first is a willingness on the part of the author to be erased (which most grown-ups don’t have; they want more attention, not less); the second is a deep and serious sympathy with kids; and the third is a pretty good memory.”

WBP Survey: How Do You Approach Notes After First Receiving Them From CPs, Agents, and/or Editors? by Axie Oh from Writer’s Block Party. Peek: “Day One: I first skim read them…Day Two:…I read the whole thing over once carefully. Day Three: I go in with a highlighter and pens and make notes, highlight important parts….[I]f the book needs big revisions—I’ll take the rest of the week (or two) to brainstorm solutions…Then I break ground on the manuscript….”


Follett, Baker & Taylor Offer Business Update at Annual Summit by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Britten Follett, executive v-p for Follett School Solutions…[says] the good news for publishers is that, whether it’s print, digital, or databases, ‘kids need materials, whether they’re learning at home on their couch, or in a classroom…[B]ook fairs, eFairs, and My Destiny are the three strategic growth areas and initiatives for the school business.’”

One-in-Five Americans Now Listen to Audiobooks by Andrew Perrin from Pew Research Center. Peek: “Americans are spreading their book consumption across several formats, and the use of audiobooks is on the rise….according to a Pew Research Center survey…[T]here has been an uptick in the share of Americans who report listening to audiobooks, from 14 percent to 20 percent.”

Nicola and David Yoon Launch YA Romance Imprint Starring Heroes of Color by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “YA romance readers have a new reason to swoon: Random House Children’s Books has announced the launch of an imprint led by bestselling authors and married couple Nicola and David Yoon. Debuting in 2022, the imprint, called Joy Revolution, will be devoted to publishing teen love stories by and about people of color.”

Neal Porter Books


Love and Adventure Served Up at PNBA Children’s Authors Dinner by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “September 30, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association sponsored a virtual ‘Dinner at the Kids’ Table’ with four authors and an illustrator taking turns presenting their books to indie booksellers…[A] common theme to the five books introduced…is that every human being is unique, and that living a good life begins with accepting people despite their flaws….”


Online Book Events: A Necessary Pivot in 2020, But How Do You Compete? from Jane Friedman. Peek: “[T]he publishing community has turned its eye toward online events as a way to spread word of mouth about books…Decide what you want from the event. Former literary agent Mary Kole…says you need to decide if you want readers or if you want sales—the two are not necessarily the same thing.”


Picture Window Books

Surrounded by Story: A Conversation With Minh Lê, Siman Nuurali, Bao Phi, & Kao Kalia Yang by Katie Clausen from The Association for Library Service to Children. Peek: “What can librarians do [about racism]? Here’s what the authors said: Provide books that aren’t white-centric. Expose non-BIPOC kids to BIPOC books. Use your influence to demand that more books reflect all children that come through the library doors. My own thoughts about what we can do: remember…how it felt to wade through childhood….”

School Library Journal’s virtual event, Day of Dialogue, will take place Oct. 15. “[The] daylong program of author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks will keep you informed, inspired, and entertained. Attendees will hear about the latest and most exciting forthcoming titles for children, tweens, and teens, from picture books and nonfiction to graphic novels and YA, and engage in Q&A sessions with authors and illustrators.” Note: Speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Survey: School Libraries Adjust to Continue Services, Support Teachers and Students by Shawna De La Rosa from Education Dive. Peek: “[L]ibrarians are keeping students engaged with reading through audiobooks….However, librarians also stress the importance of physical books. Nina Livingston, library media specialist at North Shore Middle School on Long Island…believes hardcover books are ‘magical,’ as they can be brought outside, go in the car and don’t run low on battery power.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual member promotion, SCBWI BookStop, is open from Oct. 6 to Nov. 30, with more than 1,000 books—written and illustrated by SCBWI members—that have been published from 2018 to 2020. The books are traditionally published and self-published. Popular categories are YA, middle grade, picture books, nonfiction, chapter books, and graphic novels.

On Oct. 22, the American Library Association will host a free webinar titled The American Indian Youth Literature Awards: Discussion and Reflection. “This session will give an overview of the American Indian Youth Literature Awards, highlight the 2020 award winners, and reflect on the impact of the awards on kidlit publishing.” The instructors are Cindy Hohl and Naomi Bishop.

The free virtual Boston Book Festival is taking place from Oct. 5 to Oct. 25. In addition to the 140+ presenters, the festival will also feature children’s activities and events that include costumed characters and storytellers. Some of the children’s/YA presenters include Jerry Craft, Sandhya Prabhat, Oneeka Williams, and Jason Chin.


HMH Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the 2020 National Book Awards finalists for Young People’s Literature: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callendar (Scholastic Press, 2020), We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020), Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2020), When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020), and The Way Back by Gavriel Savit (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020).

Congratulations to children’s/YA author Jacqueline Woodson for being named a 2020 MacArthur Fellow for “redefining children’s and young adult literature to encompass more complex issues and reflect the lives of Black children, teenagers, and families.” The MacArthur Fellowship is “a five-year grant to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.”

Congratulations to this year’s recipients of the 2020 Harvey Awards, including Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2020)(Book of the Year), The Nib edited by Matt Bors ( Book of the Year), Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru (DC Comics, 2020)(Best Children or Young Adult Book), Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama (Kodansha Comics)(Best Manga), and Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong (Drawn and Quarterly, 2019)(Best International Book).

Congratulations to the authors/illustrators whose books were named to the Goddard Riverside/CBC Youth Book Prize for Social Justice short list: All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Sourcebooks Explore, 2020); For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World by Michael W. Waters, illustrated by Keisha Morris (Flyaway Book, 2020); Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood by Tony Hillery, illustrated by Jessie Hartland (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020); and Lizzie Demands a Seat! Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Calkins Creek, 2020).

Candlewick Press

Congratulations to Meg Medina (author) and Sonia Sánchez (illustrator), whose book Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away has been selected for Jumpstart’s 15th Annual Read for the Record. This event “brings together millions of adults and children around the world each year to read the same book on the same day in order to raise awareness about the critical importance of early literacy and access to high-quality books.” This year’s Read for the Record takes place on Oct. 29.

During the Neustadt Lit Festival from Oct. 19 to Oct. 21, a jury of nine writers will choose the winner of the 2021 NSK Prize for Children’s Literature. The prize is awarded every other year “to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young-adult literature….[T]he NSK Prize celebrates literature that contributes to the quality of children’s lives.” Note: Finalists include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The virtual Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards celebration is lasting all of October, including Picture Book Week, Oct. 26 to Oct. 30. Every week there will be posting of “judges remarks, video interviews with the winners, acceptance speeches by the honorees, archival material, and more!” The event can be followed on Twitter: @HornBook, Facebook: TheHornBook, and Instagram: @thehornbook.

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books is giving away classroom sets of Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (Abrams, 2020), and Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher (G.P. Putnam, 2020). Winning classrooms will receive a set of 30 books of either book. Applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Oct. 12. “WNDB in the Classroom provides free diverse books to low-income schools around the country.”

This Week at Cynsations

Peek into Flavia Z. Drago’s illustration process. Used with permission.

More Personally – Cynthia

What a joy it was share Floyd Cooper’s gorgeous cover art for my upcoming middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021)! Learn more about the book and check out the story behind the illustration in the cover-reveal post from We Need Diverse Books.

Peek [Floyd Cooper]: “Working on the cover of my sister and friend Cynthia Leitich Smith’s enchanting book, Sisters of the Neversea, was something special for me. Special in that I have never had a chance to tap into my Native American heritage to a great degree for a book. I am, like Cyn, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation by way of my paternal ancestors.

“Initially, I considered several different approaches in an attempt to create art that was a departure from my signature style to honor this christening of my expression of this part of me. After further thought, however, I decided to hold onto my visual voice and let the subject of the art carry the moment.”

Speaking of books, thank you to the California Independent Booksellers Alliance for your hospitality on Tuesday! I’m wowed by all you’re doing for your communities and young readers.

It was an honor to speak with you on a panel with Heartdrum imprint family members Christine Day, Dawn Quigley, Brian Young and our editor Rosemary Brosnan. We appreciated your questions, comments and enthusiasm.

On a related note, please read, reflect on and share “How Native Writers Talk Story: Honoring Authentic Voices in Books for Young People” by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Traci Sorell in the October 2020 issue of School Library Journal. Peek:

“We are the first storytellers on this continent. But despite the increasing visibility of Native and First Nations today, many readers are still new to our ways of making sense of the world through literature.”

You can also access the digitized edition, and find pages 46 to 48. Read also “Native Perspectives, Books By, For, and About Indigenous Peoples” by Kara Stewart on pages 49 to 51.


I’m also please to report that Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults is now at its midterm point. Whew, the time zips away! Let me take this opportunity to give a shoutout to all the educators and students out there who’re teaching and learning in unprecedented times.

Are you ready for Halloween? Here’s an e-book sale! It’s the season for spooky reads, and the e-book edition of Tantalize (Book 1 in the Tantalize series)(Candlewick, 2007) will be available for $1.99 this month only. Readers can purchase from a number of vendors, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play, to take advantage of the sale price.

To learn more about YA e-book sales from Candlewick, sign up for the monthly E-Vot newsletter.

Last time I checked, the e-book edition of Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018) was still on sale for $0.99, too.

More Personally – Gayleen

Join me tomorrow at 10 a.m. (Oct. 10) for a panel discussion on self-publishing at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting. I’ll be moderating discussion with authors P.J. Hoover, Britta Jensen and author/illustrator Mariya Prytula. We’ll talk nuts and bolts on the process, plus marketing and rebooting out-of-print books. A Zoom link will be posted on event page Saturday morning. Everyone is welcome for this free event.