Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Carolrhoda Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Norton Young Readers

Peter Sís: Uncovering a Story of Hidden Heroism by Julie Danielson from BookPage. Peek: “I think we all know what heroism is—we just have to think about it. It is solidarity, empathy, kindness—quiet acts in our time of very loud proclamations. It makes me think about times I could have done something and just did not dare to think differently.”

B.B. Alston on Writing Amari and the Night Brothers Middle Grade Fantasy with Adron Buske from YouTube. Peek: “There’s a lot of fun to being a kid, a lot of magic to it. Who’s to say there aren’t fairies that hide in the woods or there’s not a ghost in your attic? Me writing for middle grade lets me stay a kid for as long as I can.”

Q&A: Crystal Maldonado, Author of “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I really wanted to create a positive and supportive friendship that also felt real. It’s imperfect, but so are real-life friendships, and that’s what makes them so beautiful….The support and love and validation you get from your friends is every bit as real and important as any other relationship….”

An Interview With Kosoko Jackson, Author of Yesterday is History…. by CW from The Quiet Pond. Peek: “[W]e expect teens to always make the right choice and too many stories…show there is only one path. I wanted to write a story that…rebuked that [and] also emphasized who we are depends on the people we surround ourselves with, and that’s what life is really about…the people we meet along the way….”

Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Why J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony Is So Powerful in 2021 by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’d never seen my neighborhood painted as magical in a book, magic was always somewhere else…There’s something incredibly impactful, even more on a subliminal level for a kid, when they see the world that is familiar and normal for them painted as magical.”

Equity & Inclusion

Linda Sue Park Discusses the Scarcity Myth with Linda Sue Park from YouTube. Peek: “For books for children and teens…if the scarcity myth were true…the increase [in publication] for each ethnicity was taking away from white creators [and] there would be fewer books by white creators…What did happen to books by white creators in 2019? The biggest increase of all in terms of sheer numbers.” Cyn Note: Especially if you are an ally, please watch and share broadly. This myth is too often weaponized against marginalized creatives to minimize their struggles and achievements.

Day 1: Tricia Elam Walker by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “[I]t is important to promote black literature for all people! That said the offerings should be expanded to include more books about black children doing everyday things as well as magical things without race being a factor. In other words, keep showing black children just living their lives.”

Day 2: Candice Iloh by Tracey Baptiste from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: [Tracey:] “[W[ho inspires you as a writer?” [Candice:] “All the kids I’ve ever met while teaching…But my first inspiration was me. The things I went through as a teenage black Nigerian-American femme made me bubble over with things I needed to say. Things I wanted people to look at up close.”

Henry Holt and Co.

Juliet Menéndez’s Latinitas by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “I was working as an art teacher in Upper Manhattan. Like me, most of the students at the time were bicultural…[T]he posters on the walls were of historical figures like Einstein, Benjamin Franklin…I asked myself: What if some fresh, new faces, that looked more like my students, were up on these walls?”

Writing the Books You Needed as a Kid by Rajani LaRocca from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I read stories about Americans in America, and Indians in India. But I never found any books about Indian American kids like me….And one day, as an adult, I finally saw something of myself and my experience reflected in a book…And that story touched me in a way nothing else had.”

Grace Lin Was Early to Champion Diversity in Children’s Literature by Victoria Zhuang from Boston Globe. Peek: “‘[I]t doesn’t matter if I’m Grace Lin, multicultural author-illustrator. I want to create books that people care about…that really matter to people.’ Lin believes her work accomplishes an important mission in our polarized time: helping children appreciate from a young age that cultural differences are beautiful, to be cherished and respected….”

Why Every State Should Require LGBTQ+ History Be Taught in Public K-12 Schools by Sarah Prager from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “LGBTQ+ history education is absolutely vital for LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ K-12 students alike to understand our community’s undeniable contributions to society. From Alan Turing’s invention of the computer to Glenn Burke’s invention of the high five, there is no field or culture untouched by our input….[Q]ueerness has existed as long as humankind.”

Writing Craft

Roaring Brook Press

Wisdom of Trees: An Interview…for the Latest From Lita Judge by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I read a lot of the latest research papers, talked to scientists, and traveled extensively into different forests…so that I could create the illustrations for this book….I felt it was important to paint the trees as they are, rather than putting my own style into them. I wanted to give them a voice….”

Q&A With Tami Charles, Muted by Nithya Ramcharan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “My research included lots and lots of reading. I read many poetry books…[and] a ton of news articles that featured personal interviews and stories of young women who were exploited by some of the top men in power…I also watched documentaries…I also personally interviewed a pilot and a police detective to ensure authenticity….”

Henry Holt and Co.

Interview With Angeline Boulley with Emma Kantor from YouTube. Peek: “After so many drafts, I outline in Excel. One column is my plot beats and then [there’s a column for] my main characters and…a column for the day or time of day, so I can keep track of who is where and what’s happening…And each row is a scene.”

Humanizing Nonfiction Writers: An Interview With Melissa Stewart by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “To craft high-quality prose, nonfiction writers have to dig deep….We have to get in touch with our passions and our vulnerabilities and use them to fuel our work. The topics we choose, the approaches we take, and the concepts and themes we explore are closely linked to who we are as people….”

Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance—Nikki Grimes in Conversation With Susana Morris from YouTube. Peek: [Nikki Grimes on writing using The Golden Shovel poetic method:] “Each piece was its own journey, its own exploration, and had it’s own ‘aha’ moments. And I love for me to have my own surprise…as a writer, because you don’t always have that. You’re always so much in control and…you have a few surprises…but nothing like…when you’re working with this kind of form.”

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found: An Interview With Three Authors at Once! by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: [Harold Hayes:] “[Collaborating] started with Theo taking the first three chapters we had written and doing a pass on them. He changed what we had written from third person to first person…[and] presented it back to us in a completely fresh way. That exercise in collaboration…[has] been the foundation for our process ever since.”

Levine Querido

When Family Stories Resonate Far Beyond: Daniel Nayeri Talks About His Printz Award Win by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “It’s a book that is clearly holding a very narrow lens in the mind of a very particular 12-year-old…In that sense, I wanted the universality to come out of the specificity, but sometimes it’s just too specific. Sometimes, people are just like, ‘Yeah, that is a very particular flavor.’”


Are Book Biz Diversity Efforts Starting to Kick In? by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Publishers appear to have responded to calls last year to increase their diversity efforts…Seventy-five percent of the 404 employees [surveyed] at publishing companies…said their company had increased their diversity programs in the last 12 months….In general, the larger the publisher, the more likely the company had made a change to its diversity…programs.”

“The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing” Revisited by Shelly Romero and Adriana M. Martínez Figueroa from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Over the past quarter-century, book publishing has made some strides in diversifying its workforce and the authors it publishes, thanks in part to the efforts of many recently founded advocacy groups and movements…But while the book business’s stance on, and dialogue surrounding, race has improved, there is still work to be done….”

Authors Guild Asks DoJ to Stop PRH Purchase of S&S by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Authors Guild, along with five other writers’ groups and the nonprofit Open Markets Institute, has sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking the government to block Penguin Random House’s pending acquisition of Simon & Schuster….PRH believes its purchase of S&S is in the long-term best interests of book publishing.”


Embracing BookTok by Georgia Henry from The Bookseller. Peek: “Marketing books during a pandemic brought about many challenges, including re-directing campaigns, getting cut-through and navigating the suddenly massive world of TikTok…[P]ublishers [were] becoming curious about what exactly TikTok had to offer…[T]he average user spends 50 minutes at a time scrolling. There’s comedy, dancing, politics…and BOOKTOK! The hashtag #BookTok currently has 3.4 billion views.”


A Year for the (Record) Books in Publishing by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Combined print book and e-book sales hit 942 million units in 2020 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan, a 9 percent increase over 2019 and the most unit sales recorded in a single year by BookScan since the service was created in 2004….E-book unit sales…rose 12.6 percent over 2019.”

Indie Bookstores Gear Up for 2021 by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Buoyed by strong holiday sales and an unprecedented consumer shift to online ordering, independent bookstores have weathered more than 10 months of the Covid pandemic, with some even posting sales gains in 2020….[M]any remain concerned…but booksellers expressed a determination to continue to assert their presence as effectively as they did in 2020….”


Absent Live Events, Publishers Keep Creators and Librarians Connected by Marlaina Cockcroft from School Library Journal. Peek: “Events on Instagram, Crowdcast, and other platforms are here to stay…because they draw a much larger school and library audience…than is possible in person. The focus is less on swag, more on deep connection with readers. Since librarians can tune in from anywhere…, a broader, more diverse group is engaging and providing feedback.”

New Nonprofit to Advocate for Digital Content in Libraries by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he Library Futures Institute officially launched this week, a new 501c3 organization chartered to fight for a ‘technology-positive future’ for libraries—including broader access to e-books and other digital content….[The] Institute will seek to…ensur[e] that libraries…provide open, non-discriminatory access to information to benefit the general learning, research, and intellectual enrichment of the public.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Join HarperCollins, We Need Diverse Books, the National Indian Education Association, and Birchbark Books for an evening celebrating the launch of Heartdrum, a new Native-focused imprint led by award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern on Wed., Feb. 10.

Southern Breeze Critique Fest 2021 from SCBWI Southern Breeze. Peek: “Have you ever gotten a manuscript critique, but wanted more insight on how to use those notes to take your book to the next level? Or wished you could have a professional’s eyes on your manuscript, but you weren’t sure it was ready for the world? Well, here’s your chance.” Submission deadline: Feb. 14. Critique faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The free virtual 29th Annual African American Children’s Book Fair, hosted by the African American Children’s Book Project, will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. pacific, 10 3 p.m central, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m eastern on Feb. 6. More than 30 authors and illustrators will be featured, and youth programs include book fairs, book signings, workshops, and more.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Giveaway for Educators: Virtual Author Visit from Mitali Perkins. Peek: “Educators! Win one of three virtual author visits with Mitali Perkins. ‘Kids Who Code Switch Rule the World’ is an engaging talk about finding power in space between cultures. To enter, post something about your immigrant or refugee students by Feb. 23…on Instagram or Twitter with #homeisinbetween.”

We Need Diverse Books has announced its virtual ​2021​ ​Symposium on Diversity in Children’s Literature, titled “Listening, Learning, Creating Communities.”​ It will take place at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern on March 12, on the Library of Congress’s Facebook page and its YouTube site. Submit your questions to the 2021 Walter Award honorees about their craft, their books, or more by tweeting them at We Need Diverse Books #WalterAwards21.

ALA Announces 2021 Annual Conference Will Be Virtual Only by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The American Library Association has announced that its 2021 Annual Conference & Exhibition, scheduled for June 23-29 in Chicago, will now take place online only….Registration for the virtual show will open March 1, with advance rates ending April 16.”

Penguin Workshop

Penguin Kids Facebook Live presents WHO HQ authors Sherri L. Smith and Varian Johnson for a discussion and Q&A at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on Feb. 8.

Scholarships & Grants

Emergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing. We Need Diverse Books is accepting new applications, for grants ranging from $500 to $1,000 for diverse children’s/YA authors and/or illustrators with at least one book-length title at a traditional publishing house. Submission will be open until 70 applications are received.

Scholarships are available for the Kweli 2021 Color of Children’s Literature Conference to be held from April 9 to April 11. The scholarship application window closes on Feb. 15. You can apply here.


Huge congratulations to the winners and honorees of the ALA Youth Media Awards, which include the Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, Printz Award, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and more.

Roaring Brook Press
Random House Books for Young Readers

Congratulations also to the winners and honorees of the ALA Affiliate Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature:

Congratulations also to the Gold Medal and Silver (Honor) Medal recipients of the ALA Affiliate Sydney Taylor Book Award. The Gold Medalists are:

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2021 Walter Dean Myers Awards. Winners include Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, illustrated by Omar T. Pasha (Balzer + Bray, 2020)(Teen category) and When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, illustrated by Victoria Jamieson and colored by Iman Geddy (Dial Books, 2020)(Younger Readers category).

Swoon Reads

Congratulations to the Middle Grade and YA winners of the 2021 Pacific Northwest Book Awards: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido, 2020), This Is My America by Kim Johnson​ (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020), and Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads, 2020).

Congratulations to the 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Award winners and honorees who were recognized and celebrated at the Jan. 25 American Indian Library Association’s Virtual Ceremony. Winners included:

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were named to the Association for Library Service to Children’s 2021 Notable Children’s Books list. The categories included Younger Readers, Middle Readers, Older Readers, and All Ages.

Congratulations to the children’s and youth/teens nominees of the 2021 NAACP Image Award. Peek: “[T]he prestigious awards honors actors, actresses, singers, authors, and activists of color, in and out of the entertainment industry.”

Congratulations to the recipients of the Children’s Book Committee’s annual awards for work in fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Quill Tree

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors for Celebrating Heartdrum Launch: Cynthia Leitich Smith and the opportunity to reflect deeply on topics ranging from the need for a Native imprint to “troublesome classics” to writing during a pandemic. Peek:

“The existence of a Native imprint is a statement. It says we belong in the world of books.”

Likewise, thanks to the Austin American-Statesman for this thoughtful profile by book reporter Sharyn Vane, Austin Author Shares Native Stories in New Children’s Book Imprint. Peek: “’It’s not a radical idea, really. It’s just the idea of treating Native people as people in books, like other people have been treated, as opposed to these mythological props for one stereotype or another….'”

This interview features me and editor Rosemary Brosnan by Stephanie at BookPage! Peek from Rosemary: “We needed to see dramatic changes not only in the industry but also in society to be where we are now. I credit We Need Diverse Books and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Madison, Wisconsin, for helping me as an editor and for giving me talking points about demographics and about lack of representation, points that I could take into acquisitions meetings.”

How about one more? Ancestor Approved: An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Founder of Heartdrum by Joy Preble from Brazos Bookstore. Peek: “I’m especially aware that, with the conversation of books expanding, it’s important to really think about how I can best make the most meaningful contributions. I’m stretching more creatively, and I have more courage to do that.”

Cover art by Nicole Neidhardt; cover design by Molly Fehr

Hooray! In addition to the already announced starred review in Kirkus Reviews, my own upcoming book, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021), has also received a starred review from Booklist. Peek:

★ “With exceptionally strong writing throughout, and appended with glossary, author notes, and acknowledgements, this makes an appealing choice for those just learning about contemporary Indigenous life as well as readers well-versed with the powwow circuit.”

And it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

★ “…a wonderful introduction to the included authors’ work and a persuasive encouragement to seek out more Indigenous stories.”

What else? Ancestor Approved was named a 2021 Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection!

Reminder: Ancestor Approved, Sisters of the Neversea, and the paperback and e-editions of Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, and Rain Is Not My Indian Name are all available for pre-order. If you order from Birchbark Books, you’ll receive a free art print (while supplies last!). Are you on Goodreads? If so, check out the book giveaway for Sisters of the Neversea!

In other news, The Hero Next Door: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Random House, 2019, 2021) is now available in paperback. It’s a collection of stories about everyday kid heroes (without superpowers) who make the world a better place. My story is entitled “Girl’s Best Friend.”

Would you like me to offer feedback on your manuscript in progress? Register for Southern Breeze Critique Fest 2021! Deadline: Feb. 14.

More Personally – Gayleen

I’ve been revising (doesn’t it seem like we’re always revising?) My process got a huge boost recently at a fantastic workshop with Julie Berry from Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Julie offered the right balance of pragmatism and passion to keep me pushing forward. Check out her blog for ongoing practical tips.

And I’m looking forward to Paige Britt‘s webinar, Creating in the Midst of Chaos: How to Transform Stress into Energy and Inspiration, from Austin SCBWI. It’s 7 pm central, Feb. 9 and just $10 for SCBWI members, $55 for non-members.

More Personally – Stephani

After conducting and formatting countless Cynsations interviews that have extolled the resources and the community that the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge provides, I took the plunge and became a member this week. Already I am wowed! I’m excited to learn more and participate.

More Personally – Gail

Happy 2021! While on hiatus, I joyfully celebrated the holidays with my family—my sister, son, daughter-in-law, and precious grandson. It was a time overflowing with laughter, playing, and singing.

In late December, I started my new role as Lead Editor of Flash Prose for Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine, and on January 1, the awesome submission pieces started rolling in. Shortly thereafter, my interview with Alex Temblador, author of YA novel Secrets of the Casa Rosada, was published in Lunch Ticket. Peek: “If publishing is your goal, you don’t have to be the best writer—you just need to work the hardest.”

In January, I began a course with the Children’s Book Academy called The Craft & Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books, led by the amazing, award-winning children’s author/illustrator, acquiring editor, and art director Mira Reisberg. My mind has been (happily) swarming with ideas and plans, inspired by the priceless information, insights, and advice I’ve received.

Chronicle Books

In addition, I joined a critique group and have been putting finishing touches on a nonfiction picture book I’ve been working on. I’ve also been reading dozens of picture books, and one of my newest favorites is Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales. Captivated by its unique hook, a witty main character, and a clever twist at the end, I laughed my way through it while learning about Mexican cultural traditions.

More Personally – Suma

I’m doing a verse novel workshop at Highlights Foundation and can’t recommend Cordelia Jensen enough. The workshop is inspiring and lets me experiment with this new form in my own stories. I’ll leave you with a picture from my writing desk for this week’s World Read Aloud Day.