Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Jump at the Sun by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Delacorte Press

Author Spotlight: Louisa Onomé from KidLit411. Peek: “Keep going. Whether it’s learning to revise, or trying a new idea, or writing a few words each day, it’s so important to continue. And try not to get so worked up on the idea of time as a measurement of worthiness. Time will pass, anyway, so write something you love.”

Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones Is a Feminist Magic Epic by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[W]hat I’ve always wanted to do for other people, particularly children, is to provide an escape and a safe space…It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re going through, you can be in my books and have a safe space for however long you read my work.”

How We Can Face the Pandemic Together by Ha-Giang Trinh from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We can’t do much about the fact that we’re born unequally. But we can choose to treat each other equally with empathy and kindness. Sometimes it’s more challenging to do so, especially when you’re in a difficult situation….However, if there is something that multiplies and benefits both the givers and the receivers, that’s generosity.”

Closeup On: Ransom Riggs’ The Desolations of Devil’s Acre from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “There are two thematic bells I ring throughout the series: that home is where your family is and that sometimes you have to make your own family….I hope readers take away the idea that, though they might feel isolated and misunderstood now, their people are out there somewhere. Don’t give up; don’t stop looking.”

Walden Pond Press

Root Magic Interview With Eden Royce by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “[Rootwork] is still a living, growing folk magic….So many people who incorporate conjure magic in their work choose to show it as an evil rite with destruction as its only purpose. I wanted to add my voice and my personal experience with rootwork as a nourishing, nurturing, protective practice.”

Equity & Inclusion

Diversifying Your Classroom Books Collection? Avoid These 7 Pitfalls from Kara Newhouse from KQED. Peek: “…seven pitfalls to avoid when deciding what to leave in and out, accompanied by more than 50 title recommendations based on conversations in this piece to help kickstart the journey.”

Jennifer Yen’s YA Novel Is Pride & Prejudice Meets the Great British Baking Show With an All-Asian Main Cast by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[R]elationships between parents and their children are complicated enough, but adding the diaspora experience only makes things even more challenging…Each person who reads [the book] colors it with their own…unique experiences, essentially helping to create a story all their own…I…hope I’ll reach people who are struggling or feel alone—particularly those who are diaspora….”

Interview With The Brown Bookshelf by Gavin Quinn from Texas Book Festival. Peek: “[W]e decided that an outlet was needed to amplify Black children’s literature, specifically those creatives that 1) weren’t the publisher’s pick, what we consider under-the-radar, and 2) those creatives that had blazed the trail for the rest of us. Unsurprisingly, nothing like it existed….There is no reason to perpetuate dulling our voices.”

Roaring Book Press

Interview With Livia Blackburne, Author of I Dream of Popo by Bianca Schulze from The Children’s Book Review. Peek: “[E]veryone benefits from reading books about minority cultures. The point of diverse books is two fold: first for minority children and adults to see themselves represented and their stories told. The second is so that the majority culture can benefit from exposure to corners of the world they might not [have] seen before.”

Interview With Anna Marie McLemore with Stars and Feathers Readalong from YouTube. Peek: “The idea and the understanding of oppression is this concept of finding the beautiful in the midst of the heartbreaking, finding the extraordinary in the midst of the tragic. That’s why magical realism is so special to marginalized communities and marginalized writers. Because we have that shared understanding—it becomes a common language.”

We Wait for the Sun: A Dual Interview With Katie McCabe and Raissa Figueroa by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “It has taken a wrenching and sometimes violent reckoning with our racial past to bring the publishing world, adult and children’s, to an acceptance and more recently, an eagerness, for stories of heroes and heroines of color. This is way past due, and we have not even scratched the surface.”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Ilyasah Shabazz & Tiffany D Jackson Discusses The Awakening of Malcolm X with Ramunda Young on YouTube. Peek: [Ilyasah Shabazz:]: “[W]hat has driven me: meeting young people in my journey and discovering that they may not have had the opportunity to love themselves and to understand the truth in their history and their identity…I am someone who is committed to young people and insuring that they understand the power in their identity.”

Meet Jason June, the Genderqueer Children’s Book Author…. by Tomás Mier from People. Peek: “There’s never an age where it’s inappropriate to talk about queer people….We need…books written by and about queer people for kids of all ages to let them know that they’re seen, to let them know that they’re loved and they can be celebrated…Their life is as worthy of a story as anybody else.”

Writing Craft

Chrystal Giles by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I wanted to approach querying agents in a more strategic way than when I’d queried before. I started by pitching to agents during DVPIT…I got several requests…At the same time, I also applied for PitchWars…and was soon accepted into that program as well….After the PW agent showcase was over I signed with an agent!”

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

On Sustaining a Creative Metabolism—Writer Mary H.K. Choi with Arianna Stern from The Creative Independent. Peek: “I believe in a creative metabolism working in a way where I have ingestion periods. Then, I have gestation periods. Then, I have output periods. I feel like these three things are really, really important, and they work hand-in-hand, but they have to be discreet from one another.”

Valerie Bolling by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “A particular struggle for me was that even though [my book] was acquired relatively quickly (within six months of querying), none of my other stories seemed to garner interest….I began to feel like an imposter and questioned if I’d just gotten lucky. I didn’t want to be a ‘one-book wonder.’”

Children’s Literacy Foundation’s Virtual Visit With Jason Chin from YouTube. Peek: “I did a lot of drafts…in the range of 25 or 30…I write and then I read it and then I think…about what I could make better—what do I like and what do I not like…If there’s things I don’t like, I go back and change them and then I read it again.”

What’s the Deal With Back Matter by Carol Hinz from The Lerner Blog. Peek: “In a picture book, the back matter often delves into ideas that are too complex to fully address in the main text. You might find a timeline, an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, photographs, a glossary, suggested further reading, or all kinds of other components….[T]he right elements are those that enhance the reading experience….”

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Children’s Books Author Matt de la Peña Tells It Like It Is by Nina Garin from The San Diego Union-Tribune. Peek: “One of the ways I approach heavier subject matters…is to put it in the margins, where it’s kind of quiet….[It’s] like turning up or down the volume on a stereo—I turn the volume down on the heavy, so it’s there to be explored but it’s not the only thing to explore.”


IVP Launches a Children’s Imprint by Cathy Lynn Grossman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “InterVarsity Press is launching a new imprint, IVP Kids, with its first titles set to be released in October….Elissa Schauer, an associate trade editor and IVP managing editor, has a mandate to build an inclusive slate of authors offering ‘creative and fun expressions of scriptural themes such as mercy, peace, and justice.’”

A Fall Liftoff for Red Comet Press by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Angus Yuen-Killick, who over three decades in children’s publishing has held key positions at various houses…has opened a new career door with the debut of Red Comet Press…[which] will launch in September with three picture books…Going forward, the list will balance books in translation as well as original titles by American book creators….”

WNDB Launches Black Creatives Fund by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]o bring more change to book publishing, We Need Diverse Books…is partnering with Penguin Random House on a series of programs designed to get more books by Black writers published….[T]he Black Creatives Fund…initiative consists of three parts: a ‘Revisions Workshop,’ a mentoring program, and market symposia conducted in partnership with the Brown Bookshelf.”


Ink Map Press

Guest Post: Debut Author M.L. Tarpley on Marketing and School Visits During COVID-19 from Literary Rambles. Peek: “I had to…reach my audience on a strictly virtual platform….I started a YouTube channel to post my book trailer and my reading of the first chapter…I also had an engaging and attractive website created to send people to so they can learn more about my book…I sold hundreds of signed copies from my home office….”

Four Questions With Loan Le by Gilcy Aquino from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’ve been so grateful to see all of the early love from Bookstagramers especially and bloggers….They are the unsung heroes in the industry; you usually think Amazon or indies, but book bloggers are…spreading the word…BookTokers are also so good at analyzing. They’re not saying things just for the likes, they’re basically making essays….”


Why Bricks-and-Mortar Independent Bookstores Matter by Adam Stern from The Chicago Tribune. Peek: “The twin pillars of independent bookstores are browsing and community….Bookstores—places that nurture learning and discussion, champion diverse voices and ideas, celebrate language, treasure knowledge and connect the past with our chaotic present to show us how we might go forward—are more needed than ever. We must do everything we can to support them….”


New Releases Spark Another Big Book Sales Week by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Sales of print books continued to ride a hot streak into February…[A]ll six major categories had double-digit sales increases over 2020, with sales in the young adult segments skyrocketing…Juvenile fiction sales rose 36.8 percent over 2020, helped by Claudia and the New Girl…which sold more than 25,000 copies in its first week on sale.”


PW Webinar Series “Live From the Library Lounge” Returns March 4 from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “As the one-year anniversary of the first Covid-19 shutdowns approaches…PW’s Live from the Library Lounge discussion series will take stock of where libraries stand. What have…we learned about keeping library workers and the public safe… [and] about library services and library users during this year of closures, limited service, and forced digital experimentation?” Register for the March 4 “Covid-19 and Public Libraries: One Year Later” free event here.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Annick Press is calling for fiction and nonfiction submissions for a Trans Anthology for Young Readers (ages 12 and up), to be published in 2022. Writers of all ages are encouraged to submit, including younger writers. Submission deadline is March 1.

Puffin Books

Tandem Partners in Early Learning is hosting a free live author panel, Celebrating Black Voices in Children’s Literature, at 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. pacific, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. central, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. eastern on Feb. 24. The panel, featuring Angela Dalton, Breanna McDaniel, Robert Liu-Trujillo, and Dr. Khalid White, will discuss “why they write, what their books are about, and what they want children and grownups to take away from reading them.” Register here.

Learning During Coronavirus: The Best Free Online Classes for Kids by Lizzy Francis from Fatherly. Peek: “There are many great, free online education courses for kids available offered by both accredited institutions and long-run and beloved learning companies such as Khan Academy, Scholastic, Epic, Fun Brain, National Geographic Kids, and PBS. Some offer full curriculums, others provide simple activities and educational entertainment, like Adventure Academy.”

Submissions for the 2021 Selfies Book Awards are open for books that have been self-published from January 2020 to December 2020 in the U.S. Launched in 2020 by Publishers Weekly and Booklife, the awards recognize this fast-growing part of the book market. Children’s/YA books are accepted. Submission deadline is March 1.

School Library Journal is holding its third annual 2021 Middle Grade Magic event to celebrate authors and creators dedicated to crafting literature for children ages 8-12. “Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the most anticipated new titles for kids and tweens, from modern coming-of-age tales to eye-popping graphic novels to immersive fantasy.” The virtual event will take place from 6 a.m to 2 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m to 4 p.m. central, 9 a.m to 5 p.m. eastern on March 9. Register here.


Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were selected for the 2021-2022 Tejas Star Reading List, which includes “Spanish and bilingual titles…designed to encourage children ages 5 to 12 to explore multicultural books and to discover the cognitive and economic benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism”.

Congratulations to the winner of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s 2021 Southern Book Prize in the Children’s category: I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020).

Congratulations to Lee & Low’s 2020 New Voices Award winner, Vanessa Lewis, for her picture-book manuscript, Shamu. Congratulations also to the New Voices honor, Jehan Madhani, for her picture-book manuscript, Eli and the Uncles.

Scholarships & Grants

Fresh Funding Aims to Revitalize Indigenous Oral History by Susan Montoya Brya from the Associated Press. Peek: “A major effort is getting underway at several universities, tribal museums and libraries around the U.S. to digitize the oral histories of thousands of Native Americans….Doris Duke Charitable Foundation…has awarded more than $1.6 million in grants…The Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums will serve as the national coordinator for the project.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Courtesy of Eric Gansworth.

What an honor to spot Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids among The Most Anticipated Children’s and YA Books of Spring 2021 from Publishers Weekly.

Thank you to everyone who attended my talk, Writing Within and Across Identity Elements: Minding the Intersections, for SCBWI San Diego last weekend.

A glimpse of subtropical Austin, Texas. We’re cozy, waiting for water service to return.

More Personally – Gayleen

Hearing Wendelin Van Draanen speak at our Austin SCBWI meeting left me incredibly energized and gave me the momentum to plow forward my stalled revision. Check out her book for writers, Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).

More Personally – Stephani

This week I virtually attended an event held by our local indie bookstore, Bookmarks, on writing presidential biographies featuring Lindsey McDivitt, author of Truth and Honor: The President Ford Story illustrated by Matt Faulkner (Sleeping Bear, 2020) and Mike Ford, son of President Ford. I loved hearing about how Lindsey chose to frame President Ford’s story for kids as well as how conversations with the Ford family helped shape the narrative.

More Personally – Suma

I enjoyed reading Punching The Air (Harper Collins, 2020) by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam this week. Ibi and Yusef have created a masterpiece with their incredible lyrical talent. The book is about a boy who uses art as a radical means of reflection of love to overcome racism.