Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (Holiday House, 2020).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Norton Young Readers

Katie Yamasaki Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “With this book, part of what I’m really hoping to communicate is when things are hard, and when kids—or any of us—go through a change that’s painful or that brings up big feelings, that community is one of the most important things to help find our way through.”

In Which the Blogger Conducts an Interview With a MacArthur Fellow (Hint: It’s Jackie Woodson!) by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: “The responsibility has always been to write good books that respect the reader and that impact the greater good while telling a good story….What does this book in the world mean and who is it going to help…[H]ow do I use it to make the world better?…[T]hat’s the question I ask myself every day.”

Jonathan Auxier Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “The defining experience of childhood is stepping out of a childlike wonder into a different threshold….That threshold, where you are leaving something behind, and it hurts, but you need to move forward—that never ends….Children’s literature that deals with that sensitively and smartly and artfully never loses its resonance to the universal human experience.”

Greenwillow Books

“I Want Teens to Recognize Their Own Power”: Questions For Liara Tamani by Petra Mayer from NPR. Peek: “I want people to feel like they have the power to create the lives they want for themselves. Not to say that things are fair and we all have the same opportunities, because they’re not and we don’t. But even so…I want them to recognize their own power and take charge of creating their…destinies.”

2020 BGHB Interview With Fiction and Poetry Winner Kacen Callender with Roger Sutton on YouTube. Peek: “In this day and age, I do think that writing can save lives and I do think that writing can change minds, and that’s always going to be important…in allowing you to know you are not alone…[T]hat does so much to help a person feel like they do belong in this world.”

If You Come to Earth: A Conversation With Sophie Blackall by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “It is through details that we come to understand the big picture, but we need to constantly zoom in and out to make sense of both. We can’t properly understand a beach without studying a handful of sand….When we learn the details of our friends’ experiences, we…appreciate the urgent need for social justice and equality.”

Equity & Inclusion

Regal House Publishing

Carol Coven Grannick’s Turn: A Student Success Story by Esther Hershenhorn from Teaching Authors. Peek: “Most of us want to live in a world in which we are valued and for our character rather than our shape or size, skin color, religion, ethnicity, and more. I believe size and weight stigma…and the diet culture’s impact on young children, beg for inclusion in diverse middle grade literature.”

The Rise of Gender-Inclusive Pronouns and Language in Literature by Maya Sungold from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For many trans, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people, our pronouns are…an affirmation that people see us exactly as we are….In middle grade and young adult fiction, more stories than ever are being published that introduce gender-inclusive pronouns and language. It cannot be overstated how important these books can be for young queer readers.”

Illustrator Spotlight: James Ransome from KidLit411. Peek: “There have been a number of changes including less conferences and school visits than when I began….[T]here are fewer publishing houses and less opportunity to develop more interpersonal relationships with art directors and editors….[T]here is also a greater need and interest in publishing a wider range of stories by diverse authors and illustrators.”

Adiba Jaigirdar on Conversations Around Sexual Orientation in South-Asian Stories—Author of Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar from Fanna for Books. Peek: “[Q]ueerness has had a part in our history and culture long before Westerners became involved….I am only now learning about most of this, and trying to process what it means for me, a queer South Asian person, and what it means for the stories that I want to tell….”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With A. J. Sass, Ana on the Edge by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Sometimes you don’t realize it’s okay to be your authentic self until you see your identity reflected in someone else….One great way to be inclusive, particularly when kids are in a new setting…is to include your pronouns when you introduce yourself….Sharing your pronouns gives kids an opportunity to similarly share who they are….”

Author and Earth Scientist Darcie Little Badger on Her New YA Novel and the “Explosion” of Native American Fiction by John Roche from Connecticut Magazine. Peek: “I appreciate that this rise in stories and books by Native and Indigenous writers is being called ‘a movement’ and not a trend…There are hundreds of tribes and nations, and they all have different cultures, plus a range of individuals with their own histories, perspectives and ideas within each tribe or nation.”

Writing Craft

Three Tips for Those Interested in Illustrating Children’s Picture Books by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl. Peek: “Read a lot of picture books, especially those published in the past 5-10 years. Look closely at how text and art interact….Practice a lot. Be able to show that you can draw the same character consistently in a story sequence, from different camera angles….Network. Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).”

Five questions for Grace Lin from The Horn Book. Peek: “I illustrate slightly differently for each book, and…the story dictates everything. Am I telling a story with cultural elements that calls for folk-art influence…Or a fantastical story that calls for a kind of magical realism…Or one that speaks directly to a child reader and calls for a mixture of sophistication and naiveté?”

Feiwel & Friends

Why Aminah Mae Safi Wrote a Book About Saving Indie Bookstores by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’m the most excited to take people on an adventure. I think we all need an adventure right now—the fun and delightful kind. So constructing a merry band of misfits and getting to take them rollicking through their mishaps as they journey along, that has been the thing keeping me going….”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #135: Michaela Goade by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “My process from book to book definitely changes….What works visually with one might not be the best path for the next….[S]o much of my illustration journey so far has been learning how to illustrate and now I’m beginning to explore the space around that. Currently, I’m having fun playing with pencil, pastels and graphite….”

Grand Prize Children’s Author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich on Coast Live from WTKR. Peek: “I do write a lot about the things that kids are thinking about and talking about right now. I write about compassion and empathy and the ways that kids are thinking about justice and how to do the right thing….I always recommend…reading what you love. Focus on what you love and study it…And just write.”

Illustrating Fangirl: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell from VIZ. Peek: “Stylizing the cast of characters…was no easy feat, but Gabi Nam embraced the challenge, skillfully illustrating each character’s distinctive characteristics….[Gabi Nam:] ‘I imagined a lion at first. A very confident person…whose expressions are very diverse, there’s no hesitation in showing those feelings…I thought his energy was like a strong magnet that leads his relationships….’”

Ulysses Press

Bad Dates Turned Into Book by Sam Waller from Odessa American. Peek: [Rebekah Manley:] “They say write what you know and I’ve had a lot of bad dates. It’s just fun to write about it and laugh. I can either laugh or cry and I choose to laugh. I just write down stories and ideas. I also collect friends’ stories…[with] hints of truth that I’ve… experienced.”


A Makeover for Jimmy Patterson Books by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Little, Brown has made changes to its Jimmy Patterson Books imprint…Under the reorganization, the imprint will focus on publishing Patterson’s children’s books as well as looking for collaborations and partnerships….[T]itles by other authors acquired by the Jimmy Patterson team…will now be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as Jimmy Patterson Books….” See also, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group Closing Imprint.

…IDW’s New Publisher Looks Ahead by Brigid Alverson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [VP Sales Blake Kobashigawa:] “As a whole, our book market sales have almost doubled from this time last year, with ecommerce revenue leading the way. Our demand for digital has gone up significantly as well, with requests from digital retailers as well as librarians and educators absolutely exploding….[W]ith virtual learning being used…we’ve seen tremendous growth [in] the past six months….”

Getting a Job in Publishing: What Does a Social Media Manager Do? by Tyler Breitfeller from Epic Reads on YouTube. Peek: “One of the most important responsibilities I have…, being in the digital space and seeing all these books, is…get[ting] the right books into the readers’ hands. There are all these different channels, where thanks to social media…we can only hope that one of them will hit the target and find that reader.”


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

Jan Brett Takes New Promotional Tack for “Cozy” by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Historically, Jan Brett has visited bookstores, schools, and libraries throughout the Northeast to promote each of her new picture books. But…Brett and her publisher, Putnam, have charted a new course to bring personalized copies of her new release…to booksellers who have long supported the author and her work. Brett is currently…autographing…4,000 copies of the book….”

Kidlit Community

An Insider’s Guide to the Austin Children’s Book Community by Leila Sales from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Austin has a number of institutional structures that make it welcoming to children’s book writers. One of the most significant is BookPeople, Texas’s largest independent bookstore and the winner of this year’s WNBA Pannell Award,…given to the nation’s best children’s booksellers….The Texas Book Festival and Texas Teen Book Festival are [also] annual events….”


School Library Journal is hosting a Virtual Summit on Oct. 24 to discuss how librarians “can create a culture that promotes an equitable world and closes the opportunity gap for all children….Practical applications toward antiracism will be a major element of this full-day online conference….”

Library Journal and School Library Journal are sponsoring LibraryCon Live! from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 5. The event is “a virtual festival for librarians, book nerds and fans of graphic novels, sci-fi, and fantasy…panels with popular series authors [and] up-and-coming new comics creators, and off­er librarians tips on how to plan and host a ‘ComicCon’-style event.”

Education/Other Resources/Events


HarperCollins Children’s Books is sponsoring the Shake Up Your Shelves Sweepstakes, in which one reader will receive 26 incredible books by BIPOC authors for readers of all ages. You can complete an entry form here. The last entry will be accepted at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Oct. 31.

DVpit, a Twitter event created “to showcase pitches from marginalized voices that have been historically underrepresented in publishing,” is holding a Twitter pitching event from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 26 for children’s and teen fiction and nonfiction. Participating agents/editors will be looking for a variety of work. Submission guidelines are here.


Congratulatons children’s-YA author Jacqueline Woodson, who was named one of the 2020 MacArthur Fellows. Jacqueline Woodson, Writer | 2020 MacArthur Fellow from YouTube! Peek: “I write books that I hope young people can see themselves inside of and see their experiences inside of. And if they can’t, hopefully they’ll see other experiences. And when you see other people on the page, and…learn their stories, you gain empathy, you gain an understanding, and your world becomes bigger and better.”

Congratulations to the 2020 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards nonfiction winner and honorees, recognized at this week’s virtual Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards CelebrationInfinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2019)(winner), Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikii Grimes (Wordsong, 2019), and It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (HarperCollins, 2019).

The previous week, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Celebration recognized the fiction and poetry winner and honorees: King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press, 2020)(winner), Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree Books, 2020), and When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020).

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Celebration continues from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28, to recognize the picture book winner and honorees: Saturday by Oge Mora (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019)(winner), Birdsong by Julie Flett (Greystone Kids, 2019), and Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2019).

Congratulations to Walter Mosley, who received the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The foundation describes Mosley as “one of the most versatile and admired writers in America. He is the author of more than sixty critically acclaimed books that cover a wide range of ideas, genres, and forms….” His work includes a young adult novel called 47 (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006).

Congratulations to the winners and nominees of the 2020 Anthony Awards. The awards are for mystery writers and are presented every year at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. The winner in the YA novel category is Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry by Jen Conley (Down & Out Books, 2019).

Scholarships & Grants

Center for Fiction Debuts Susan Kamil Award for Emerging Writers by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Center for Fiction has announced the establishment of the Susan Kamil Award for Emerging Writers…The new…literary prize will provide ongoing support to the Center for Fiction’s Emerging Writer Fellowship Program, which provides grants and other services to up to nine writers each year at an early stage in their careers.”

In Memory: Bette Greene

Penguin Young Readers Group

Bette Greene, who was a newspaper writer, reporter, and highly-esteemed author of numerous children’s and YA books, died Oct. 2. She was 86. She received multiple awards and honors for her work, some of which included the Golden Kite Award, the ALA Notable Book Award, the Newbery Honor, the Massachusetts Children’s Book Award, and the Parents’ Choice Award. She was also a National Book Award finalist.

Known for her strong voice, she tackled serious themes such as injustice, prejudice, alienation, domestic violence, and religious intolerance. She once told Carroll Stoner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I hope that I convey one thing to young people. Failure is not the worst thing. The worst thing is not to try.”

Obituary: Bette Greene by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bette Greene’s novels have a common thread: her characters showed empathy for those treated unjustly….[H]er books…were constantly censored, but were also embraced for classroom discussion that made kids think….Bette’s hard-hitting exploration of prejudice still rings true.”

Remembering Bette Greene from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Peek: “[Her] ground breaking YA novel, Summer of My German Soldier, won the initial SCBWI Golden Kite Award in 1972…In 1975, she won Newbery Honors for her classic Phillip Hall Likes Me I Reckon Maybe (Dial)…The SCBWI is proud to have recognized this extraordinary author with our very first Golden Kite Award….”

In Memory: Colby Rodowsky

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Colby Rodowsky, author of numerous distinguished books for children and young adults, died Oct. 5. She was 88. She taught in public schools and in a school for special education, was a librarian’s assistant and a children’s book reviewer, and contributed fiction and essays to periodicals and anthologies. She began writing for children when she was forty years old, and was praised for her warm, likable characters and her portrayal of real-life situations.

Carol Edwards, in the School Library Journal, wrote, “Rodowsky makes her readers work, never patronizing or condescending, yet always revealing inner layers that poke through the surface.” Her books have won numerous awards, including the ALA Notable Book citation, the ALA Best Book citation, the SLJ’s Best Book for Young Adults, and the SLJ’s Best Book of the Year. She also received the Horn Book Fanfare Award and the Hedda Seisler Mason Award.

Colby Rodowsky, Children’s Book Author, Dies by Jacques Kelly from The Baltimore Sun. Peek: [Linda Lapides:] “She…wrote with honesty and perception. She didn’t shy away from poverty, mental illness, absent parents and death. Her stories resonated with her readers.”

This Week at Cynsations

Keith & Larissa

More Personally – Cynthia

Wow. I’m deeply grateful to have been named the 2021 NSK Laureate for Children’s Literature. My “representative text” was Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020). Peek:

World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature and culture, today announced Cynthia Leitich Smith as the winner of the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature.”

My fellow 2021 NSK Prize Finalists were Laurie Halse Anderson, Eric Gansworth, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park, Mitali Perkins, Jason Reynolds, Laurel Synder and Alex Wheatle, all of whom are amazing authors! Peek:

“Since 2003, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature has been awarded every other year to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young-adult literature.”

In other news, I was delighted by An Insider’s Guide to the Austin Children’s Book Community by Leila Sales from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Energized by [Kathi] Appelt’s instruction, Meredith Davis went on to establish the local SCBWI chapter. ‘We didn’t have big names,’ Smith said. ‘None of us knew what we were doing, but we loved each other, and we loved books, and we just sort of held hands and found our way through it.'”

Art by Nicole Neidhardt; design by Molly Fehr

Are you on Goodreads? Enter to win one of five advance reader copies of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids. Ends: Nov. 9. Sponsored by HarperChildren’s. Peek: “Bursting with hope, joy, resilience, the strength of community, and Native pride, enter for your chance to win an advance copy.” Learn more about Ancestor Approved.

What else? Remember illustrator Nasaġraq Rainey Hopson, who designed the Heartdrum logo? She was also at the LoonSong: Turtle Island and WNDB Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive. Check out this fascinating story about her: Pandemic Pauses This Arctic Gardening Guru’s Plan for Growth by Erin McKinstry from PBS NewsHour.

Finally, a quick reminder! The ebook editions of my novels Tantalize ($1.99) and Hearts Unbroken ($0.99) are currently on sale this month from major book retailers.

More Personally – Stephani

This week I am carving out time and space to write. This little sign is helping me establish those boundaries and mindset. I’m also finding time to read, enjoying the short stories from Rural Voices edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter (Candlewick, 2020).

More Personally – Gail


This week, as an assistant editor, I finished reading the dozens of wonderful YA stories submitted to Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine for this season. It really is true that reading teaches you craft—both as to what works and what doesn’t.

I’m currently reading War Girls (Razorbill, 2019), a YA novel by one of my favorite authors, Tochi Onyebuchi. War Girls grabs your attention immediately:

“The first thing Onyii does every morning is take off her arm. Other War Girls have gotten used to sleeping without their arms or their legs.”

I studied and wrote about Onyebuchi’s outstanding worldbuilding skills in my MFA creative thesis—specifically, about the dystopian world he created in his YA novel Beasts Made of Night (Razorbill, 2017). His sequel to War Girls, Rebel Sisters (Razorbill, 2020), is coming out next month.