Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Kenard Pak (Kokila, 2020).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview With Debut Author Saira Mir by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit: Peek: “I tap into the things that bring me joy: science, South Asian culture, family, social issues, food, and art. I also think about how I want my children to grow. There’s such a huge need for social justice kidlit. I’m thrilled to see more books focused on teaching future generations about self-love and equity.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Holly Black by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[P]eople talk about why we like survival stories. They say that we like to try to figure out what we would do in those situations. Would we make the same choices this person or character would make? Or would we choose a different path?…I think that is part of what draws people.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #163: Rosa Osuna by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[The author and I] were in constant contact by phone. We did the book together while in different cities. He searched for the right words like an archaeologist in love. He weighed them, measured them, enjoyed them…and shared them generously with me.”

Author Chat With Chad Sell (Doodleville).… by Beth Edwards from YA Books Central. Peek: “[D]rawing can feel like magic, as if you can conjure incredible cartoon characters out of nothing with just a piece of paper and a pencil! Those characters can surprise you, they can take on a life of their own, and they may even grow alongside you all of your life!”

Equity & Inclusion

Reycraft Books

Art Coulson on Native Stories, Working With Illustrators, and Finding Your Writing Community by Jacqui Lipton from Raven Quill Literary Agency. Peek: “Writing for a broader audience means you sometimes have to explain something in a story that a Native reader would just get. I’ve also had to push back…when [editors] attempted to cut or amend story details that arise from the lived experience of Native people, but might be largely unknown to non-Native readers.”

Why Winning the Walter Award Means the World to Padma Venkatraman from We Need Diverse Books: “I wept. Because at last, I felt seen….I felt as if the girl who left India…had finally been received by a…family that has existed since before I was born. A family that I hope will…never forget to honor pathbreaking diverse librarians, educators, teachers, scholars—and above all—diverse authors of the past.”

Best Children’s Books of 2020 Reveal a Growing Diversity by Christina BarronMary QuattlebaumAbby McGanney Nolan and Kathie Meizner from The Washington Post. Peek: “[C]hildren’s books offer…an opportunity for kids to understand the perspective of someone who’s not just like them. That may come from a friendship story, a head-on look at racism or even a picture book about eating lunch….[Ellen Oh:] ‘Diversity [has] to be for every kid…Otherwise we will never learn empathy, and we will never grow.’”

Why I Hope Readers See Themselves in My Chinese-American YA Protagonist by Diana Ma from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “My YA romantic heroines could not provide me with a roadmap of how to be an Asian teenage girl because their stories were not like mine. Those white heroines never floundered in the face of microaggressions and racial assumptions—so they could not guide me in figuring out the complexities of my own identity.”

Nancy Paulsen Books

Q&A With Torrey Maldonado by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This isn’t just a book about a Black boy. It’s also about young white kids at a crossroads where they can choose empathy or go backwards. It teaches kids to be allies to each other…When I was growing up, I wanted my white friends to see the world that they didn’t live in.”

Writing Craft

On Wildness, Cracked Worlds, Monsters, and the Odd Nature of the Short Story by Kelly Barnhill from PowellsBooks.Blog. Peek: “A short story, on the other hand, is an encounter. We cannot look it in the eye. We have to see with our skin and hear with our bones.”

Q&A With Lily LaMotte, Measuring Up by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Gene [Luen Yang] said that the synopsis needs to be detailed enough to contain the story but broad enough to leave room for new and better ideas during the actual writing of the book. He was totally right. I found that having the plot arc and the character arc worked out in broad strokes gave me a road map to follow.”

Carole Boston Weatherford from Picture Book Summit Podcast. Peek: “My mission as an author is to mine the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles. I look for stories that are close to home and close to my heart. I also write about subjects that I like to read about and want to learn about myself.”

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Donna Janell Bowman from Celebrate Science. Peek: “[M]y heart is woven into everything I write, even when I don’t realize it. After researching the dickens out of my subjects, my inner storyteller frames a narrative through the lens of my own life experiences. During every project, I learn a little more about myself, my people, and about the human condition.”

Entangled Teen

A Curse of Roses Is an LGBTQ+ Retelling of Miracle of the Roses by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Diana Pinguicha:] “I started thinking of experiences that were unique to me and not so much to the rest of the world… One of the stories I really liked was Isabel’s story, about turning roses into bread and bread into roses, and it was in my hometown so I was like ‘who else is going to write this if not me?'”

Inkling Interview: B.B. Alston from Ayana Gray. Peek: “I generally start with a main character, the problem the character is trying to overcome, and a list of things I think are cool. With that, I create the barest possible draft (zero draft) with just the major story beats. Then, with every subsequent draft, I keep adding until it becomes a coherent story.”

Q&A: Melissa de la Cruz, Author of Never After from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I tend to work best in the mornings before lunch and in the evenings after dinner. So that’s been my schedule for the longest time. But on deadline I write all the time, so the last month of deadline I work 15-18-hour days just getting that book in shape.”


Q&A With Samantha Leong, Sales Assistant by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I didn’t expect all the different roles and departments there are in the industry. When people think of publishing, they generally only think of the author and editor, but I learned there’s so much more effort, planning, and people involved in working on a book and introducing it to the world.”

S&S to Launch Two Graphic Novel Lines for Young Readers by Brigid Alverson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Little Simon Graphic Novels, created for readers ages five to nine, will roll out in February 2021 under the Little Simon chapter-book imprint, and Ready-to-Read Graphics will debut next summer with graphic novels for the same audience as its Ready-to-Read leveled readers.”

National Geographic Kids

Interview With Shelby Lees, Senior Editor, National Geographic Kids from Childrens Illustrators. Peek: “I think for too long there’s been a pretty clear line drawn between educational/non-fiction publishing and trade publishing. A successful book needs to have elements of both: all of the trade-book hook, buzz, and energy plus all of the deep knowledge about how to present complex information.”

PRH [Penguin Random House] Purchase of S&S Draws Objections by John Maher from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Authors Guild:] “[T]he combined publishing house would account for approximately 50 percent of all trade books published, creating a huge imbalance in the U.S. publishing industry…”


Literary Agents Discuss Foreign Rights and the International Book Market by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Peek: [Carly Watters:] “It’s… about who the primary market is, what the market value is, what’s best for this particular book and what’s best for the author’s brand and career….[F]or a book to be published at the same time in multiple countries, it needs to be acquired very early with a publishing date that supports the global partnership….”


Diverse-Owned Bookstores You Can Support Right Now by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “If you’re shopping for books to give as…gifts, consider shopping small and give back to an independent bookstore this season, since many are struggling….This list of U.S.-based diverse-owned[] bookstores is meant to be a starting place and a guide. If you have a local favorite, find out if they’re…selling online or doing curbside pickup.”

How Is the Book Biz Supply Chain Doing? So Far, So Good by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “One of the most encouraging trends for the industry going into the holidays is the strong demand for books. According to NPD BookScan, print unit sales were up 7 percent for the year through the week ended Nov. 14 over the comparable period in 2019.”

When You Buy a Book, We Donate a Book from Penguin Random House. Peek: “For every book you buy, we’ll donate one to We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit whose mission is to put more diverse books into the hands of all children.”

Black-Owned Bookshops Call for More Diversity in UK Publishing by Jessica Murray from The Guardian. Peek: “Black-owned bookshops in the U.K. are calling for better representation of black authors…Renewed focus on the lack of diversity in publishing and literature has prompted new initiatives…But bookshop owners say there’s a long way to go before the publishing industry and mainstream bookshops fully reflect the diversity of black talent in the U.K.”


Joy Harjo Will Serve a Rare Third Term as United States Poet Laureate by Walker Caplan from Lit Hub. Peek: “Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden wrote in a statement announcing the reappointment that Harjo ‘has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us’ during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

How the Pandemic Has Impacted High-Risk Librarians by Bianca Gonzalez from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Fortunately, the public has been mostly following the rules…Many immunocompromised people must continue to go above and beyond the mandated precautions…[W]hen we protect the safety of workers and patrons alike, we’re also protecting future access to libraries.”

Unteaching the Native Narrative by Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. Peek: “The three best things librarians and educators can do when representing American Indians/First Nations people are to curate authentic and contemporary texts and materials…; 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….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for “Rockin’ Your Revision” online from 11 a.m. to  12:30 p.m. central via The Writing Barn. Cost: $25. Peek: “Their analysis, your synthesis—how does that work? We want critique, we need critique, we crave critique. Or, maybe the very thought of critique sounds super scary. Maybe we even freeze up at critique and wonder what to do next. Probably, it’s all of the above! Let’s think through how to welcome and engage in fruitful developmental conversations about our works in progress, how to navigate our psychological and artistic responses, and, from there, how to take practical steps toward writing a satisfying revision.”

HarperStacks wants you to “Shake up Your Shelves by retiring books that are offensive or outdated, and by adding titles that reflect the experiences of more underrepresented groups.” Shake Up Your Shelves provides a list of diverse books for various age groups and free downloadable posters and social graphics.

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, scheduled for Dec. 4 and Dec. 5, is a virtual celebration of Latinx KidLit authors, illustrators, and books for all readers and educators. Two free days of keynote sessions, Q&A events, and panels with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novel, and poetry are presented on YouTube.


Harry N. Abrams

Congratulations to winners of the National Council of Teachers of English 2021 Children’s Book and Poetry Awards, including Janet Wong for Excellence in Poetry for Children, I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020) for the Charlotte Huck Award, and Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Harry N. Abrams, 2020) for the Orbis Pictus Award. Also, congratulations to the honor winners for each award.

Congratulations to 2020 finalists of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, which “has annually recognized 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.” Here are links for the 2020 Finalists for Younger Children and 2020 Finalists for Older Children.

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books made the School Library Journal’s Best Books 2020 list. Peek: “[W]e believe that the most important thing we can give the young people who will read these 108 titles is the message that there is still hope in these times of uncertainty.”

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books made Quill & Quire’s 2020 Books of the Year: Books for Young People list.

Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were named to the American Indians in Children’s Literature’s Best Books of 2020. Peek: “We like to make sure teachers have [these] suggestions as they think about what to bring into their classrooms. And as the winter holidays approach, we want families to know what’s new and good in books with Native content, that they can give to the young people in their lives.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books 2020 list. Peek: “Every year, our librarians evaluate the year’s new books and select the very best for Chicagoans—making these the only booklists for Chicago, by Chicago.”

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books were named to the American Library Association’s Booklist Magazine Top 10 First Novels for Youth: 2020. The list includes “dazzling, eye-opening debuts, all reviewed in Booklist between Nov. 1, 2019, and Oct. 15, 2020.”

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best 2020 Picture Books of the Year lists, which include these categories: Best Picture Books of 2020 About Small People in a Big World, Best Picture Books of 2020 That Celebrate Family, Best Picture Books of 2020 for Sheer Fun, Best Picture Books of 2020 for Animal Lovers, Best Picture Books of 2020 About Refugees and Immigration, Best Picture-Book Poetry of 2020, Best Picture Books of 2020 About Friendship, Best Picture Books of 2020 for the Sense of Wonder Shelf, Best Informational Picture Books of 2020, Best Picture Books of 2020 to Get Kids Thinking, and Best Picture-Book Biography of 2020.

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best 2020 Middle Grade Books of the Year lists, which include these categories: Best Middle-Grade Books of 2020 Starring Young Changemakers, Best Middle-Grade Graphic Novels of 2020, Best Middle-Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction of 2020, Best Modern-Day Middle Grade of 2020, Best Middle-Grade Books of 2020 About Immigration and Refugees, Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction of 2020, Best Middle-Grade Books of 2020 About Friendship, Best Middle-Grade Biography and Memoir of 2020, Best Middle-Grade History of 2020, Best Middle-Grade Nonfiction of 2020, and Best Chapter Books of 2020.

Scholarships & Grants

Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold is offering five scholarships for marginalized writers in her virtual masterclass, Revision Season. Applicants should have a finished novel draft to work on during the seven-week course. See scholarship application for more details.

Applications are now being accepted for the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards in partnership with We Need Diverse Books. High school seniors in the U.S. are eligible for a $10,000 college scholarship.

Become a Teen Reading Ambassador at the New York Public Library. The New York Public Library is accepting applications from New-York based teens who dream of being a writer, journalist, or critic, “to produce a magazine written and designed for children aged 6–12.” Upon completion of the five to six hour per week program, participants receive grants up to $800. The application deadline is Dec. 11.

In Memory: Rachel Caine

Bestselling author Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, known by her pen name Rachel Caine, died November 1. She was 58.

Obituary: Rachel Caine by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Lucienne Diver paid tribute to her client and friend on social media. ‘Roxanne is-was-and-ever-will-be one of those rare people every bit as amazing as she was talented,” Diver wrote. “She put others first . . . she was an activist, an ally, a philanthropist, an author uplifting other voices.'”

Morganville Vampires Author Rachel Caine Has Died by Andrew Liptak from Tor: “Conrad published her debut novel, Stormriders, set in the same world as the Shadow World roleplaying game, and published a handful of novels in the 1990s. However, it was after 2000 that her career really took off, and over its entire course, she published 56 novels and numerous short stories.”

This Week at Cynsations

Tashia Hart signs copies of her book

More Personally – Cynthia

Art by Nicole Neidhardt; design by Molly Fehr

Terrific news! My upcoming book, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021), has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“A groundbreaking Indigenous anthology for young people. Readers can join the fun in this collection of 18 contemporary stories and poems about loving families from various parts of the U.S. and Canada who travel to meet, dance, sing, socialize, and honor Native traditions at an intertribal powwow.”

Thank you to Michelle Newby Lancaster for my recent interview, Lone Star Listens: The Heart of Cynthia Leitich Smith, in Lone Star Literary Life. Peek:

“Don’t let anyone else tell you what your writing life should look like, and don’t give them the power to take away your joy. Define what ‘success’ means to you, and celebrate every victory, no matter how small.”

Thank you to Kim Purcell for my recent interview in Wild Things: MFA In Writing for Children and Young Adults Blog. Peek:

“…my online philosophy mirrors my in-person philosophy. I try to be helpful, assume the best of people, err toward forgiveness, lift up spirits, embrace opportunities to play and encourage hope.”

Thank you, Cherokee illustrator MaryBeth Timothy, for sending me this artwork, which appears in the ebook and upcoming paperback editions of Indian Shoes (Heartdrum).

Beyond that, it was an honor to contribute my recommendations to NPR’s Book Concierge Best Books of 2020! Check out my picks in Kids’ Books and Young Adult.

In other news, I was honored to spot this lovely mention of Heartdrum in a fabulous article, Canadian Illustrator Julie Flett’s Books Reveal the Truth About Indigenous Life by Alex Hazlett from NBC News. Peek from Julie: “You’re going to read, whether you recognize it or not, Indigenous values when you’re reading our books.” CYN NOTE: Julie is illustrating Kim Rogers’ upcoming picture book, Just Like Grandma (Heartdrum, winter 2023), and I’m so honored to have both of them on our list.

Thank you to host Jillian Heise, fellow authors Joseph Bruchac and Carole Lindstrom, author-illustrator Shonto Begay, host Pam Margolis and author-curator John Jennings of Megascope Comics as well as all the teachers of NCTE-ALAN. Thanks also to host Alyson Vuley, moderator Mandy Sytsma-Suhr, author Traci Sorell and everyone who joined us at the online North Carolina History Museum‘s American Indian Heritage Celebration.

More Personally – Gayleen

On Saturday I’ll be learning about Power Dynamics in Characters & Plot from Tracey Baptiste at an Austin SCBWI workshop and taking copious notes as I gear up for an end-of-year revision on a middle grade manuscript.

More Personally – Stephani

I’ve been enjoying spending time with my immediate family. We’ve been reflecting on what we’re thankful for and taking time to just be. With no travel and no guests for Thanksgiving, we opted to decorate our table with small pictures of people we’d miss celebrating with this year.

More Personally – Gail

I’ve been greatly enjoying Sue Ganz-Schmitt’s two new picture books: Now I’m a Bird, illustrated by Renia Metallinou (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020) and That Monster on the Block, illustrated by Luke Flowers (Two Lions, 2020). Both books contain captivating storylines that foster diversity, tolerance, and inclusion.

I love Sue’s compelling characters, who have positive traits, yet are also flawed in some ways. While reading, I cheered them on as they struggled and changed. I laughed repeatedly at Monster’s antics as he resolved to reject and oust a new neighbor before finding joy in acceptance (That Monster on the Block recently won the 2020 Northern Book Lights Award for Humor). My heart connected to Julianna, who, in Now I’m a Bird, became an outcast when she started growing feathers, but then learned to use her wings to go to new places and find her new flock.

Sue is a graduate of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

More Personally – Suma

I have been loving the Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic (FSG). Jasmine Toguchi is a spunky, eight-year-old Japanese-American girl who is unafraid to try new things while learning life lessons about family, friendship, and sisterhood. This chapter book series came highly recommended by Angelella Editorial Editor Danielle Sunshine. The stories are funny, entertaining, and full of uplifting spirit.