Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: If Animals Gave Thanks by Ann Whitford Paul, illustrated by David Walker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q & A With David Yoon by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[W]riting a young adult story is all about hope and potential. Generally, YA deals with what we as society have decided is worth our time and concern….In YA, questions of inclusivity and diversity are well-established; just be nice to each other and respect each other’s identities. We can build a case for hope….”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

In Conversation: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Brian Pinkney:] “I’ll never forget the author visit…at a school, where I asked the students where ideas come from….[K]ids were calling out things like, ‘Ideas come from movies, and TV, and your head.’ There was one kid who spoke very quietly…I had to go up close to hear him. He said, ‘Ideas come from your heart.’”

Publishers’ Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Julie Lee by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “[W]hen I read historical fiction, I pay special attention to all the ways historical context is woven in. That is the beauty of this genre—that melding of art and fact. I also savor author’s notes, where I can get a behind-the-scenes look at how and why a story was written.”

Five Reasons Why Children’s Literature Is Not Just for Children by Lisa D from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “There are multiple reasons why children’s literature might be interesting for children and adults equally. 1. It reminds us about the importance of spontaneity, immediacy, and whimsy….2. It constantly repeats [to] us that honesty is the key to everything….3. It reimburses our subconscious wish for a miracle….4. It explains tricky topics easily….”

Equity & Inclusion

Five Questions for Brittany Luby with Verena Rodriguez from Young Adulting. Peek: “I want to communicate the message ‘You are worthy. You are no less than’ to Indigenous readers….[T]here are many ways of being—none better, none worse—in the world. Difference can simply be ‘different.’…[W]e need to be willing to get uncomfortable and learn from one [another] if we are going to build a better future.”


L.A. Libros Fest: Interview With Gabby Rivera by Patricia Valdovinos from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “I always wanted more celebration of queerness in my family….So I try to push what I know of my culture and heritage, and specific family customs, to include all the gay, all the queer, all the genderful magic….My work is for all the queer brown kids who just wanna love and be loved.”

Sanctuary Is a Near Future Call-To-Action…. by Abby Sher from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We imagine teenagers and their parents reading the book in unison and having tough discussions over the dinner table. We imagine young people challenging adults around their ideas and responsibilities…Our country is in dire need of change…[T]o make it happen [i]t will take every one of us listening and honoring each other’s stories….”

When Tigers Smoked: Exploring My Korean Culture Through Folklore by Andrea Ruggirello from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Regardless of whether I would have embraced or resisted the [Korean] stories’ lessons, they remain a window into a world in which I feel I am constantly seeking to claim my place….[T]he story of my connection to Korean culture is one that is still unfolding, one that I have a hand in shaping.”

L.A. Libros Fest: Interview With Raúl the Third by Brook Sheets from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “I feel lucky to have parents who come with different perspectives on what it means to be Latinx, and through my work, I hope to make kids who are like me, proud of where they’re from, and that they will be inspired to tell stories of their personal experiences.”

Flamer: A Conversation With Mike Curato by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I made this book for people who feel they are alone and without options….While this was a very personal project that helped me heal from past wounds, I hope it serves to help others in need of a lifeline…What I can say is you deserve to be here, and I want you to be here.”


Meet the Authors Heating Up This Year’s Miami Book Fair, Part 1! by Aurora Dominguez from Frolic. Peek: [Tochi Onyebuchi:] “How does one maintain one’s personhood when the temptation is so strong to see yourself through the eyes of those with power over you? Having gone to predominantly white schools, attended predominantly white churches, grown up in predominantly white neighborhoods, this has been one of the most enduring questions of my life.”

Writing Craft

Sabaa Tahir Teases the End of Her Ember Quartet…. by David Canfield from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: “The last few chapters poured out of me….Journalists close out stories by writing -30- at the end. When I wrote my -30-…I wept. Apparently, I am a crier. The only emotion that’s come close to that is giving birth. Because metaphorically, that’s what writing a book is.”

Illustrating Picture Books in Tokyo and Toronto—Interviews with Miyakoshi Akiko and Sydney Smith by Okimoto Atsuko from EhonNavi. Peek: [Sydney Smith:] “I keep my roughs to myself for a long time. My editor is the first person to see my roughs. Sketches are placeholders for bigger ideas…It’s hard for anyone but me to see the potential in my roughs…[N]o matter how much I try to describe the final image it’s easier to just do it.”

Author Interview: Anita Amin by Ryan G. Van Cleave from Only Picture Books. Peek: “I thought writing picture books would be similar to writing magazine stories, because the word counts are about the same….[A]fter taking classes and workshops and analyzing other picture books, I found out I was wrong!…In picture books, page turns…are important. The book relies on art work to tell the story as much as the text.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Interview: Niki Smith Talks Color, Queer Rep, & World-building in The Deep & Dark Blue by Avery Kaplan from The Beat. Peek: “I try to keep to normal working hours…I’m usually at my computer and working by 9 a.m.; what I’m doing depends on where I am on my book—a month or two of scripting, a few months of thumbnails and sketches, then inks, then colors….[I]t can take over a year to finish a graphic novel.”

Illustration Inspiration: Charles Santoso, Illustrator of This Way, Charlie by Bianca Schulze from The Children’s Book Review. Peek: “Many things inspired me…These days I do get more and more inspirations from mundane events, little moments that I observe in real life. For example, finding a lone wildflower among concrete or seeing the way light shines on leave surfaces. Seeing different perspectives from different people—especially children—really intrigues me.”


DK to Partner With the Met by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “DK and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have [partnered]…to launch a line of children’s books that will encompass art, history, and culture…DK is commissioning original text and illustrations, which will be supplemented by commentary written by members of the Met’s staff, as well as works from the museum collection and archival assets.”

Hachette Launches BIPOC Imprint: Legacy Lit by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Hachette Book Group has launched Legacy Lit, a new imprint that will focus on books by BIPOC writers…[and] on publishing nonfiction, including narrative titles, memoir, women’s interest, social justice and empowerment titles, in addition to select fiction titles. The imprint will offer 12 to 15 books a year….”

Q&A With Jas Perry, Literary Agent by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It’s near-impossible to remain in publishing as a POC without a real support system—no competition, just honesty, sharing information, and celebrating one another. Only 4 percent of literary agents are Black, and 1 percent are multiracial; the numbers are daunting. Still,…[h]old fast to your values. There are people out there who see you.”


Everyone should be able to see themselves in the pages of a book! Read in Color, a new initiative from Little Free Library, brings diverse books to neighborhoods everywhere. Learn more and sign the #ReadInColor pledge.


How Do We Market Books Now? by Michael Seidlinger from Publishers Weekly. Peek:  “…51 percent of consumers have no intention of returning to [previous] shopping habits….[F]or publishers, creating ‘a virtual shopping environment’ and building their own recognizable branding around it is now a necessity….[P]anelists brainstormed possibilities, from using 3D cover art…to offering digital excerpts that mimic the look and feel of flipping through a book….”

Chloe Gong Wrote a Romeo and Juliet Retelling Set in 1920s Shanghai by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “People can absolutely tell if you’re having fun with your internet life…Social media is only a front-facing version of yourself, and you can absolutely curate it however you like…There’s no need to…post what you don’t want to post. There’s no one-size-fits-all on what the perfect author on social media looks like.”

Author Guide: How (and Why!) to Market Your Audiobook by Kelsey Norris from Peek: “We’ve put this guide together so you can make the most of your audiobook…Below, you’ll find tips for connecting with your readers and listeners, promotional opportunities, and advice for all things audiobooks….Audiobooks offer just as valuable of an experience as engaging with your books in print (and even more for some readers…).”


SelfMadeHero Launches Draw Your Bookshop…Campaign by Mark Chandler from The Bookseller. Peek: “Graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero is launching a social media campaign calling for artists to support bookshops with a drawing of their favorite store. The publisher is…asking them to do ‘a quick sketch, drawing or masterpiece’ of their local chosen shop….‘Now more than ever… bookshops need to be seen and celebrated on social media….’”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Sourcebooks Fire

San Luis Obispo Public Libraries is hosting a free live virtual book club event, Teen Virtual—The Dark Tide With Alicia Jasinska, at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on Dec 1. Jasinska is the author of the YA novel The Dark Tide (Sourcebooks Fire, 2020). Registration is now open.

Candlewick Press and the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University have introduced The Black Creator Series, which highlights the work of Black authors and illustrators. Peek: “Please join us on the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Facebook page on the third Tuesday of each month from November through June from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST for these thoughtful, informative, and powerful conversations.”


Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 National Book Awards! The winner in the Young People’s Literature category is King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press, 2020).

Congratulations to Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Their book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, narrated by Jason Reynolds (Hachette Audio, 2020), was named to’s Top 10 Audiobooks of 2020.

Congratulations to the California Reading Association’s (CRA’s) 2020 Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Award winners (gold) and honorees (silver), announced at the CRA’s recent virtual conference. William Still and His Freedom Stories by Don Tate (Peachtree Publishing Company, 2020) won a silver honor award.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the winners of the VA Reads Awards: Bob Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2017)(Illuminate Award—the fan favorite) and Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018)(Enlighten Award—best inclusive picture book).

Congratulations to the twelve Jane Adams 2020 Finalists for Younger Children. The Award Guidelines state that the award “recognizes children’s books of literary and aesthetic excellence that effectively engage children in thinking about peace, social justice, global community, and equity for all people.”

The Nature Generation, an environmental nonprofit, is accepting nominations for the 2021 Green Earth Book Award until Dec. 15. The award promotes “books that inspire children to grow a deeper appreciation, respect, and responsibility for their natural environment.” Books will be selected in four categories: Children’s Fiction, Picture Book, Young Adult Fiction, and Children’s and Young Adult Nonfiction. Winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

Scholarships & Grants

The Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter is offering two Equity & Inclusion Scholarships (and critiques by Tracey Baptiste) for its online Novel Workshop, Who’s the Boss? Power Dynamics in Characters & Plot With Tracey Baptiste, scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. central, and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. eastern on Dec. 5. The scholarship application deadline is Nov. 27.

The Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators chapter is offering two Equity & Inclusion Scholarships (and critiques by Tara Lazar) for its online Advanced Picture Book Workshop, LEVEL UP: The Kitchen Sink Edition With Tara Lazar, scheduled to take place at 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. pacific, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. central, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. eastern on Dec. 5. The scholarship application deadline is Nov. 27.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsations Reporter Bree Bender

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the HarperCollins Children’s Books Winter 2021 Book Preview, hosted by Booklist, last week. If you haven’t already, check out the Heartdrum brochure.

Art by Nicole Neidhardt; design by Molly Fehr

In other news, the first review of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, February 2021) is by Jaclyn Fulwood from Shelf Awareness. Peek:

“…the importance of family, the solace of tradition and community, and growing personally through supporting others…this uplifting assembly affirms the vitality of Indigenous life today and offers accessible situations and characters to all young readers.”

I’m also honored to report that my YA novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020) was named to the short list of All Iowa Reads! (Iowa Center for the Book) in the Teen category for 2021. Listen to Here Are The All Iowa Reads Book Selections for 2021, featuring Angie Manfredi and Jillian Rutledge, hosted by Charity Nebbe, produced by Katelynn Harrop from Iowa Public Radio.

What else? You may enjoy an article I wrote and a recommendation list of middle grade novels.

Finding Friends (And Ourselves) In Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Harper Stacks. Peek:

“Native fiction…educates young readers, albeit at a slant, and often without them realizing that they are learning per se. Any authentic Native book will shift the knowledge base and mindset of its readers for the better.”

If You Like Judy Blume, You’ll Love These Books from What Do We Do All Day? How flattering to find Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperChildren’s, 2001)(Heartdrum, 2021) on this recommendation list! Pre-order the updated paperback or ebook editions, due out Feb. 9.

More Personally – Gayleen

Roaring Brook Press

Along with re-watching recordings of the SCBWI nonfiction workshop, I’ve been studying the story structure Andrea Balis and Elizabeth Levy used for Bringing Down a President: The Watergate Scandal, illustrated by Tim Foley (Roaring Brook Press, 2019). Script format, illustrations and a “Fly on the Wall” narrator make this YA book truly unique and very engaging.

More Personally – Stephani

Our local indie bookstore, Bookmarks, hosted a conversation with Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller online. I’ve been enjoying Atwood’s book of poetry. I read one poem a day and those short bites of reading time are calming in the face of my long to-do lists. I’ve also been enjoying reading Miller’s Circe (Little, Brown, 2018), so it was fun to listen to them talk.