Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: It’s Halloween, Little Monster by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by Bonnie Leick (Two Lions, 2020).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Making a Joyful Noise Through Writing by Ashley Franklin from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I often turn towards memories and the emotions they evoke for the seeds of my writing….While I cannot control what happens in the outside world, I can certainly control how I let it affect me….I try to capture moments of joy in my writing because [they] are crucial during the…turmoil that we all face.”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Interview: Author Chloe Gong on Writing About Identity and Colonialism in “These Violent Delights” by Isabelle Philip from The Young Folks. Peek: “[T]he ideas and tropes which get me excited are also what’s exciting to current readers. To me, it’s not just about the content and the plot, but what I do with it and how it can stir up the most amount of rapid-fire discussion and obsession that characterizes the internet-dominated YA reading experience today.”

PW Talks With the Renegades of Middle Grade by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [James Ponti:] “[The Renegades of Middle Grade site] started with laughter. It’s always so much fun when middle grade authors get together. There’s also a wonderful sense of…common purpose….One of the greatest things about the MG community is that we do not have to be competitive with one another….In MG fiction, a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Upper-MG Historical Fiction: Interview…. from A. B. Westrick. Peek: [Malve von Hassell:] “[T]here is absolutely nothing that compares to the joy of coming up with a sentence in your work of fiction that seems completely right—at least in its first draft—or to walk through the woods and suddenly come up with a solution for solving your main character’s predicament.”

Equity & Inclusion

The Radical Act of “Normalizing” Black Lives by Varian Johnson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As a Black creator, I want to push back against the industry’s antiquated notions of Blackness. I want to write books that define my culture as I see it. That’s why I’m so excited about my newest project…The book sounds very normal, doesn’t it? And that in itself is a radical notion for children’s publishing.”


Cover Reveal and Q&A: The Sea in Winter by Christine Day from Rec-It Rachel. Peek: “I wanted to create a beautiful, supportive blended family. I think lots of MG books tend to lean towards dysfunction or disillusionment, when step-parents take a prominent role. And I wanted to resist that….I also wanted this family to be touched by tragedy, but not defined by it.”

SLJ Summit: Challenging the Classics to Create an Inclusive Curriculum by Melanie Kletter from School Library Journal. Peek: [Kimberly N. Parker:] “So many of us have just taught books because…those are the books that our departments just teach, without taking the time to think, what are we communicating when we put these books in front of children?…Who are we leaving out?…We are enforcing beliefs by the books we choose to teach, or we don’t teach.”

Debut You: A 2020 Debut Author Series: LaRonda Gardner Middlemiss from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “I know that children want to be entertained while learning. They want a connection to the story, to see themselves, and something relatable. So, representation is important to me, creating stories about children on and beyond the margins so they can see themselves reflected in a book.”

Cover Reveal for The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wish I were asked more…: [W]hy did I write about two kinds of SA [sexual assault] survivors who we may not see as often in mainstream narratives, a queer girl of color and a boy?…[B]ecause that’s how I identified when I was assaulted….And it’s still part of my experience as a nonbinary survivor.”

Random House Graphic

The Magic Fish Author Trung Le Nguyen Discusses the Heroism of Fairy Tales: “It’s a Fantasy of Growth” by Christian Holub  from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: “[Y]ou want to be able to give boys the same opportunities [as girls] to empathize with people and characters that are different from them….Why don’t we tell more stories and allow all of our students and all of our readers to exercise empathy and to latch onto stories that don’t interface with their day-to-day existence…?”

Interview Raymond Antrobus from Granta. Peek: “[W]hile I was visiting deaf schools I would always look at the libraries and I remember feeling let down by the lack of representation for D/deaf children…Then I had a vision to rewrite what I considered a failed poem as a children’s story, something that could be useful and fun for D/deaf children….”

So Your Favorite Children’s Books Didn’t Age Well. Here’s What You Can Do About It. 

Writing Craft

Debut You: A 2020 Debut Author Series: Daka Hermon from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “I’m an early bird, so I get up before work, maybe 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., when I’m on a deadline. I also write in the evenings after work. The weekends are when I’m most productive. I treat the weekends like a workday and…write eight-to-ten hours. All I need is a comfortable seat, snacks, and silence.”

Ryoji Aria from Life Book Hobonichi Techo. Peek: [About standing while drawing:] “My mind clears up when I draw with a light hand. If I strain my hand too much when I’m drawing, I become too conscious of what I’m drawing, and it messes me up. So I find it’s better to relax your muscles and clear your mind, and just draw free-flowing like this.”

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Gloria Chao On Finding Inspiration & What To Write Next from Mindy McGinnis. Peek: “For all three of my books, I draft with only the big points planned out…However, the path to those points has taken some very surprising (and very fun!) turns. My favorite part of drafting is when you come up with an idea that ties everything together and you suddenly can’t type fast enough.”

Earning the Respect of the Materials: Clarksville Artist Billy Renkl Illustrates His First Children’s Book by Julie Danielson from Chapter 16. Peek: [Billy Renkl:] “When I was young and always broke, junk stores and flea markets were essential to my studio life….At that time, much of my work was specifically a response to the papers that I found. I get to be more intentional now and…seek out a particular image or material because it feels necessary to my idea.”

Process Talk: Cordelia Jensen on Writing and Teaching the Verse Novel from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: “I think verse novels challenge the author with very specific limitations—such as, how do I create three-dimensional secondary characters with much less access to dialogue?…There are also a lot of liberations found in the form—like using white space to create story tension or font play to emphasize certain emotions….”

The Pot Boileth Over: An Interview With Daniel Nayeri by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “There’s a…Persian [phrase] about making stews. You sear the meats and greens, then you add water and boil it down. This is a basic structure….I love storytelling as a cooperative game….The reader becomes a finicky customer. The writer becomes the intractable chef….They are working together to make a dish that will please them both.”

Running Press Kids

Let’s Talk Illustrators: Khoa Le by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “Often when I receive a new project, I would not get started on it right away. I read, and then let…the idea/the words sink[] in my head…I think I have evolved an intuition to feel a certain ‘tone’ of a story…Then with that, I just imagine a style that would support the texts the most.”

A Chapter 16 (and 7-Imp) Visit With David Wiesner by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I always make models of the characters in my books. I want to see them from all angles and under different lighting situations. You can now do this on the computer, but I like to make them so that I can hold them and have them on my desk as I work.”


Cecily Kaiser Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: [Cecily Kaiser, Publishing Director of RISE:] “It is the priority at RISE to create books that are elegant and respectful of their audience, and to work with expert artists and writers and really bring experts into this realm…But aside from that, it is truly important to think about the gatekeepers when you are choosing a title, and…creating a cover.”

HarperCollins Children’s Books has announced the launch of Quill Tree Books. This imprint will focus on authors with a strong point of view and also often-underrepresented authors. You can view the launch list here.

Fierce Reads Presents First All-Virtual Tour by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Fierce Reads, the brand umbrella…under which Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group hosts its YA online community and twice-yearly group author tours, has kicked off its latest season with…an all-virtual lineup….[Morgan Rath, publicist at MCPG:] ‘We pulled tactics—such as interactive fan games and the use of Zoom breakout rooms for more intimate conversation.’”


Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

2020 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Titles Announced. Peek: “The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has announced the official titles of the 2020 Teens’ Top Ten….Teens aged 12-18 can nominate their favorite titles to be considered as a 2021 Teens’ Top Ten nominee via the public nomination form by Dec. 31.” For books to be considered for 2021, they must be published between Jan.1 and Dec. 31.


“Animal Crossing” Antics: Four Children’s Authors on Finding Community by Sarah Yung from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Animal Crossing, a life simulation video game…drew worldwide attention in March when Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released….Many people in the publishing industry are utilizing the platform as a creative way to connect with colleagues, friends, and fans, especially with the new game allowing players to invite other players to one’s island….”


After Digital Conferences, Booksellers See Hybrid Future by Alex Green, Jason Boog, and Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he slate of regional bookseller conferences that took place this fall were charting largely new territory by going totally virtual. Now, organizers and participants are looking ahead, and while their experiences suggest that in-person gatherings will make a return someday, they will be part of a hybrid model that includes enhanced virtual programming.”

Children’s Bookselling…Shipping Tips, Book Boxes, and Giving Back by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “In a Zoom call with other members of the American Booksellers Association earlier this month, Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music…said that she…[is] giving customers a choice between free shipping and paying shipping costs. ‘I’m thrilled to say…that about 40 percent of people are opting-in to pay for shipping.’”

Scholastic Paperbacks

Education/Other Resources/Events

A free Virtual Halloween Party with R.L. Stine will take place Oct. 31, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Fun activities include: “A reading of a never-before-heard scary story by R.L. Stine, Q&A—Ask R.L. Stine a question, Goosebumps trivia game, and Spine-tingling facts about the series.” The event will be streamed to the Novel Neighbor’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

The virtual Texas Book Festival will take place as follows: Texas Teen Book Festival Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, Children’s Program Nov. 2 to Nov. 6, Adult Program Nov. 6 to Nov. 15, and Lit Crawl Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 and Nov. 13 to Nov. 15.

Mark Your Calendars! The virtual Latinx Kidlit Book Festival—a celebration of Latinx kidlit authors, illustrators, and books—will take place Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. Welcome: kids, parents, educators, and children’s book lovers.


2020 CCBC (Canadian Children’s Book Centre) Book Awards Ceremony. Peek: “All are invited to attend the 2020 CCBC Book Awards virtual ceremony, broadcasted live from the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto on Oct. 30 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST with a virtual bar held afterwards. Partnering with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, the winners of the English-language awards will be announced….”

The SCBWI 2021 Golden Kite Awards deadline to submit books published between July 2020 and December 2020 is Dec. 15. Categories include: Young Reader and Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Nonfiction Text for Younger Readers, Nonfiction Text for Older Readers, Picture Book Text, Picture Book Illustration, and Illustration for Older Readers. One Golden Kite Award Winner and one Honor Book will be chosen per category. Submissions deadline for the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, given with the Golden Kite Awards, is Dec. 15 for books published between July 2020 and December 2020.

2020 Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards: Voting is open for kids and teens to vote for their favorite books in four categories: Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year, Third to Fourth Grade Book of the Year, Fifth to Sixth Grade Book of the Year, and Teen Book of the Year. Voting will close Nov. 15.


Six Writers Were Awarded a New Fellowship for Disabled Artists by Aaron Robertson from Lit Hub. Peek: “A number of writers were named Disability Futures Fellows as part of a new initiative that supports disabled artists working in various media. Each…begins the 18-month fellowship with a $50,000 grant. A coalition of philanthropic organizations created the fellowship after a year of conversations about how best to serve disabled artists.”

The BookLife Prize’s annual writing contest, sponsored by BookLife and Publishers Weekly, is open for submissions from Oct. 1, 2020 to Feb. 1, 2021 for nonfiction entries of “unpublished or self-published books—works for which the author has subvented the cost of the book’s publication—in the English language.” The grand prize winner receives $5,000 cash and an author profile in Publishers Weekly. Enter your book here.

In Memory: Jill Paton Walsh

Front Street/Boyds Mills Press

Highly-esteemed English novelist and children’s writer, Jill Paton Walsh, died Oct. 18, 2020. She was 83. Her honors included Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to literature, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Children’s Literature Association Phoenix Award, the Whitbread Prize, and more.

Jill Paton Walsh Obituary by Julia Eccleshare from The Guardian. Peek: “Writing…adventure stories with a strong sense of place and often a historical setting—she had an unpatronising literary style and was ambitious about what children would enjoy. She began by writing the kind of books she liked, ‘dreams of action told in simple narration,’ which was best suited to children’s literature.”

Obituary: Jill Paton Walsh by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “She produced children’s novels in quick succession in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many incorporating stories from history or her own memories, with WWII and Cornwall among the backdrops she used as staging for her work.”

This Week at Cynsations

Welcome reporter Elisabeth Norton!

More Personally – Cynthia

Happy Halloween, my bookish friends!

Good news! The ebook edition of Indian Shoes (Heartdrum, 2020) is now available! The paperback edition is due out in February. This chapter book collection of short stories is one of the very few books that reflects contemporary urban Native people. The updated edition features a new author’s note and new art by Cherokee illustrators Sharon Irla and MaryBeth Timothy. You can find out all about the repackage here.

Cover by Sharon Irla, interior art by MaryBeth Timothy.

Check out Talks with Roger: Cynthia Leitich Smith & Rosemary Brosnan from The Horn Book. Peek: “…there used to be conversations—and there still are to an extent, particularly with BIPOC creators—where authors would struggle with: Can I get away with saying this? Will this alienate too much of the mainstream audience? Will the reviewer get it? There was that effort to navigate what’s sometimes called the white gaze. That has started to fall away, and the work is stronger because of it.”

On a related note, I’d like to recommend Unteaching the Native Narrative by Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. Peek: “curate authentic and contemporary texts and materials about Native people; to make full use of those materials in the same way as other materials; and to educate themselves with available resources before designing a lesson, display, collection, or presentation with Native content….”

From all of us at Cynsations, welcome reporter Elisabeth Norton! She will be covering the European children’s-YA book market.

Reminder for those 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.”

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 – Gayleen

Albert Whitman

I’m thrilled about my local leaders’ cooperative efforts to “overcome the digital divide” as reported by Miriam E. Jewell in Austin Libraries Receive Funding to Help Low-Income Students. I also love Catherine Stier‘s new picture book, A Vote is a Powerful Thing, illustrated by Courtney Dawson (Albert Whitman, 2020). If you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to exercise your power in this election!

More Personally – Stephani

I virtually attended Salima Alikhan and Art Coulson‘s book book launch this week. I am so excited about both of these titles Soraya and the Mermaid and The Reluctant Storyteller both from Reycraft Books.

More Personally – Suma

Happy Halloween, friends! My first introduction to vampires was through a series of stories called Vikram Aur Betaal in which a spirit analogous to a vampire told stories to a king. These set of stories were originally written in the 11th century by a poet called Somdev Bhatt.

Later, the stories were produced as a television series as well as in a magazine called Chandamama. Chandamama was published in twelve Indian languages and English since 1947. It sold at every grocery store, as well as train and bus stations in India. My dad grew up reading the magazine. I grew up reading the magazine. The low cost enabled thousands of people to buy and read the magazine.

Recently I learned that the only surviving artist from the Chandamama team, KC Sivasankar passed away. He was ninety-seven. Sivasankar contributed to the magazine for over sixty years. It was a great honor to read about him as his illustrations touched many hearts including mine. The stories he created in the magazine are eternal and they will live on in my memory. The digital edition of this magazine is now available online.