Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithGayleen RabakukkStephani EatonSuma Subramaniam, and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: The Mysterious Stones by Enrique Pérez Díaz, illustrated by Yayo (Crocodile Books, 2020).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Literature Is a Bridge for Dreams by Enrique Pérez Díaz from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It doesn’t matter what the adults tell us if we are able to keep the dreams in a magic box or in the mysterious song of a snail, that encourages us to trust that the most impossible thing becomes possible when we least expect it….Nobody should let the flower of hope die….”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A: Mara Fitzgerald, Author of Beyond the Ruby Veil by Kibby Robinson from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Keep your eyes on your own paper. It only takes one ‘yes’ and you never know if yours is right around the corner. And most importantly: don’t self-reject…because society has made you feel like a person like you, with books like yours, can’t get published….[A] lot of us out here want to read them.”

Revisiting Katherine Paterson on Happy Endings in Children’s Books from The New York Times. Peek: “As a writer I have a responsibility always to come humbly and childlike to the empty page….[M]ost often [the young] will come to my story eager to be surprised, to be taught, to be changed and to give their unique vision to the filling out of my imperfect one.”

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks: Featuring [Illustrator] Sarah Williamson by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “As we know in real life, not everyone is kind. But I think it’s vital for children (and adults) to read and explore positive messages so that we can all work on being better people and kind to one another. We are living in such a divided time, and this feels timely and essential.”

Equity & Inclusion

Roseanne A. Brown: “But Even Though I Loved Fantasy, It Did Not Love Me Back” by Aurora Dominguez from Frolic. Peek: “When the world is telling you that your skin color is wrong, your sexuality is wrong, your ethnicity, your nationality, your religion or any other core part of what makes you a…vibrant being is wrong, there is power in saying ‘I deserve happiness, exactly as I am now.’…[R]omantic stories give that to us….”

Reycraft Books

Salima Alikhan Talks Soraya, Friendship, and Respecting Difference by Jacqui Lipton from Raven Quill Literary Agency. Peek: “[B]oth kinds of books are vitally important—the kinds in which characters’ ethnicity and culture…play a significant role, as well as the kind in which children of color do not need to center their ethnic heritage, and can exist among their peer groups without a spotlight on their cultural or racial roots….”

60 Years Later, Ruby Bridges Tells Her Story In “This Is Your Time” by Scott Simon from NPR. Peek: “None of our babies are born into the world knowing anything about disliking one another, or disliking someone because of the color of their skin. Babies don’t come into the world like that….[S]o if babies are not born that way, then we as adults are the ones who are passing it on to them.”

Interview: Daven McQueen, Author of The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones from Shelf Media Group. Peek: “At the end of the day, it’s not on Black folks to convince and educate. White people and non-Black people of color have to do the work of learning, supporting, and stepping back (whether symbolically or literally, like from a professional role) to let Black folks lead. That work is difficult and uncomfortable…but it’s nonnegotiable.”

Q&A With Amyra León and Molly Mendoza, Freedom, We Sing by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Amyra León:] “[C]hildren learn how to read, share, express themselves…from children’s books. It is often the first place a child is taught to recognize themselves…as someone. Black children often do not see themselves reflected, nor do their peers, which builds further erasure and distancing when it comes to understanding self and other and not self as other.”

Writing Craft

Agent of the Month Interview: Jennifer Herrington of Harvey Klinger Agency from Kathy Temean. Peek: “I think the first step [to getting an agent/getting published] is to learn the craft. Take classes, find a critique partner or critique group, read books in your genre, and study them. Find out what makes those books great or what makes others not so great. I also think being well-read…is essential….”

A Conversation With the Creators of Love Is Powerful with Heather Dean Brewer and Mari from YouTube. [LeUyen Pham:] “What I always do when I get a story is I pick it up and I read it out loud, because if it passed the read-out-loud test…it’s going to make a good picture book. That sounds like a silly test, but you would be surprised at how many people fail the test.”

How David A. Robertson Manages to Write as Much as He Does by Ryan B. Patrick  from CBC Radio Canada. Peek: “I can write 1,500 words in an hour or edit two chapters in an hour and then…be done for the day. I make sure to make it habitual, where I’m doing it every day….I do have three or four projects on the go at any given time, so I have to be disciplined.”

Interview With Desmond Hall, Author of Your Corner Dark—YA Thriller Con 2020 with Madeline Dyer from YouTube. Peek: “When I start…I write the character in the middle of the [first] page—what he or she wants, the physical thing and then the internal thing—and then I write down what their flaw is…I surround the protagonist with the forces of the antagonist…because the power of the story is in the negative side.”

Calkins Creek

Interview With Debut Author Lindsay H. Metcalf by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit. Peek: “I get a lot of my ideas from reading the news. I subscribe to four newspapers…Email newsletters are also essential for nonfiction ideas. My favorites include the Smithsonian, JSTOR, Library of Congress, and the National Archives….Whenever…[my kids] say something clever, I sneak away to record it on my phone.”

A Breathtaking Tale by Tatat Bunnag from Bangkok Post. Peek: [Christina Soontornvat:] “I wrote…[All Thirteen: The Incredible Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (Candlewick, 2020)] in a style to make the readers feel as if they are there living every moment….I also talk a lot about the science and the engineering that was involved in the rescue…[T]here are photographs every few pages, so it’s a very visual story….This story has all the elements of being something great.”

I Believe I Can & I Am Enough: Interview With Keturah Bobo by Michelle Meadows from Picture Book Builders. Peek: [Illustrating Tips:] “Set a schedule. Have good sketches. Communicate with the art director and author if you can. Know your target audience—develop the style/layout based on that because you want the children to be engaged with each page. Don’t work on multiple projects at once. Pace yourself. Check for consistency within characters….”

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Q&A: Laura Taylor Namey, Author of “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I never thought I possessed the ability to write a full length novel. About six years ago, I changed my mind…I simply decided to teach myself how to pen a young adult book by writing one. That book now lives in a drawer, but it taught me so much about craft and character.”


Expect the Unexpected From Enchanted Lion’s “Unruly” Imprint by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Enchanted Lion has announced the spring 2021 debut of Unruly, an imprint dedicated to the expansion of the picture book format to more experimental visual territory and to older age groups. Well versed in the international picture book marketplace, publisher Claudia Bedrick…wants Unruly to introduce picture books that defy traditional categorization.”

Licensing Hotline: November 2020: Crayola Adds Color to Four Running Press Imprints by Karen Raugust from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A conversation between Crayola and Running Press’s Black Dog and Leventhal imprint about a DIY craft book quickly expanded to a broader discussion about…the brand collaborating with other areas of the company…That ultimately led to a deal in which four of the five Running Press imprints…are introducing Crayola titles in 2020 and beyond.”


Creativity Corner: A Girl Named Rosita with Terry Shay from KidLit TV. [Author Anika Aldamuy Denise:] “Some of the marketing really does fall to the authors to do: Get yourself out there on blogs, do school visits,…planning the launch. Now everything is virtual so you can go to festivals virtually…You really have to have good relationships with the independent booksellers. They are key. They are going to hand-sell your book.”

Amulet Books

Partnering with Independent Bookstores and Libraries, Nathan Hale Kicks Off 10-City Virtual Tour from School Library Journal. Peek: “Fans of Nathan Hale can travel the country with the best-selling author in a virtual book tour. Starting Nov. 16, the month-long campaign…[makes] stops throughout the U.S….Partnering with independent bookstores and libraries, Hale invites readers to join him in ten U.S. cities….”

Non-ALA Book Awards for Children’s and YA Books by Sarah Hannah Gómez from Book Riot. Peek: “I hope an author considers it a sincere compliment if they win or receive an honor for an award. Even if there’s no check to take to the bank, winning an award does have implications for that author’s career. Often, authors on award lists are invited to festivals, conferences, and ceremonies…That’s exposure and networking.”


Indie Booksellers Thriving…Thanks to New Ways of Connecting With Customers by Eli Glasner from CBC.CA. Peek: “[W]ith the fall came a flood of new titles while booksellers across Canada are finding new ways to connect with customers….The Bookshelf in Guelph, Ont[ario] came up with a complementary pairing of books and wine….At children’s bookstore Mabel’s Fables in Toronto…manager Lizzie McKenzie started juggling a slew of weekly virtual book clubs. ‘It keeps kids reading.’”


#FactsMatter: The 2021 Project Focusing on Nonfiction and Information Literacy by Karen Jensen from School Library Journal. Peek: “Each year Teen Librarian Toolbox announces a yearly project, an area of focus to guide us. This year we will be focusing on juvenile and teen nonfiction and information literacy. If you are an author, a teacher, a librarian or a publisher, please contact us to write a guest post….”

ALA Partners With Humble Bundle to Support ALA and the Freedom to Read Foundation from American Library Association. Peek: “The American Library Association (ALA) and Humble Bundle are teaming up to offer library supporters and advocates an opportunity to fund ALA initiatives supporting social justice and intellectual freedom, including the Spectrum Scholarship Program. The campaign will also support the Freedom to Read Foundation….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Asian Author Alliance hosts an Asian Author Directory “as a way to help others discover and amplify Asian voices and stories!” The directory features multiple Asian children’s-YA authors from around the world.

Registration is now open for the virtual American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits, which will be held Jan. 22 to 26, 2021. Registration will close at noon central, 1 p.m. eastern on Jan. 15.

Join Kim Johnson (This Is My America (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020)) and Francisco X. Stork (Illegal (Scholastic Press, 2020)) for their Portland Book Festival No Justice No Peace event scheduled at 2:30 p.m. pacific, 4:30 p.m. central, 5:30 p.m. eastern on Nov. 14. The authors will discuss their new young adult novels that expose racism in the United States’ criminal justice system. Kenrya Rankin will moderate. The event is free with registration.

Join Nnedi Okorafor(Ikenga (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020)) and David A. Robertson (The Barren Grounds (Puffin Canada, 2020)) for their Portland Book Festival Middle Grade Mythology event scheduled at 11:45 a.m. pacific, 1:45 p.m. central, 2:45 p.m. eastern on Nov. 14. The authors will discuss their mythology-infused fastasy stories. Folklorist/novelist Kate Ristau will moderate. The event is free with registration.

All scheduled Portland Book Festival events, which run through Nov. 21, can be viewed here.


Congratulations to the Kirkus Prize 2020 winners. The Young Readers’ Literature Award went to I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020).

Balzer + Bray

Congratulations to the semifinalists of the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards, especially the children’s-YA books. Voting for the semifinal round ends Nov. 15. Voting for the final round takes place Nov. 17 to Nov. 30, and the winners will be announced Dec. 8.

The 71st National Book Awards Will Be an Exclusively Digital Ceremony from National Book Foundation. Peek: “[T]he National Book Foundation is spacing out its traditional National Book Awards week throughout October and November….In partnership with the Miami Book Fair, the Teen Press Conference will go live on…Nov. 16. The events will culminate with the 71st National Book Awards Ceremony on…Nov. 18.” See also: Jason Reynolds, Author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, to Host 71st National Book Awards.

Inaugural PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship Recipients Announced from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “PEN America has announced that Benjamin Frandsen and Noelia Cerna, Elizabeth Hawes and Jeffrey James Keyes, Derek Trumbo and Agustin Lopez, and Seth Wittner and Katrinka Moore are the inaugural recipients of the PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship….[T]he award honors four mentor/mentee pairs in PEN America’s Prison Writing Mentorship Program.”

Scholarships & Grants

Supporting Diversity Through the Spectrum Scholarship from Young Adult Library Services Association. Peek: “The  Spectrum Scholarship Program…provides scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, and/or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students to assist them with obtaining a graduate degree and leadership positions within the profession and ALA.” Applications are accepted from Sept. 1, 2020 to March 1, 2021.

The Authors League Fund is accepting applications from writers experiencing income loss due to COVID-19. “Recipients of Authors League Fund assistance must be career writers with a substantial body of work in one of more of the following categories: Book authors with at least one title published by an established traditional publisher. Authors with multiple titles are given [funding] priority….”

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsations Reporter Rebecca Kirshenbaum with VCFA classmates Brynn Spear and Barb Crawford

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you, Austin SCBWI, for the lovely congratulatory flowers.

Reflecting, sharing! This week in my author’s life has been mostly filled with responding to questions about my books and the Heartdrum imprint for media interviews. Five of them—four online Q & A interviews and one over Zoom. My thanks to those coordinating and conducting them. What a pleasure to visit with you! I also had a couple of Harper events this week, one in-house dialogue and one with librarians hosted by Booklist.

On the writing front, I finished first pass pages for Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021). I’m still getting used to editing in PDFs, which is probably a sign of my age (or at least generation in publishing). Between us, part of me really misses sticky notes.

Beyond that, I’m asking you all to make an extra effort to support indie bookstores this holiday season:

Independently-owned bookstores are essential to our communities, and now more than ever they need your help. The best way to support an indie is to buy from them directly. Most are open to the public for at least limited browsing, or you can place your orders by phone or through their website. To find a store near you, visit Indiebound or purchase through Bookshop, an online website offering support to indie bookstores.

More Personally – Gayleen

Holiday House

Lately I’ve been indulging in the abundance of craft opportunities available! A recent favorite was the SCBWI Mid Atlantic Conference with Hollins University where I discovered Claudia Mills‘ strategy of having a joyous creative career in An Hour A Day (also the name of her blog).

She reminded us about the power of consistency, quoting Anthony Trollope, “It has the force of the water drop that hollows the stone.” By being consistent, Claudia has published more than 50 titles, including a new chapter book series, After-School Superstars (Holiday House).

More Personally – Stephani

This past weekend I attended SCBWI’s Nonfiction Workshop presented with the Smithsonian. What a conference! It was full of inspiration and information. I am busy organizing my notes and digesting some of the key takeaways for me. While I miss in-person events like this, I do love that I can go back and listen as well as pause the presentation as I get ideas or just to get my notes caught up.