Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali (Kokila, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Alice Childress by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I write about those who come in second, or not at all—the four hundred and ninety-nine and the intricate and magnificent patterns of a loser’s life…My writing attempts to interpret the ‘ordinary’ because they are not ordinary. Each human is uniquely different. Like snowflakes, the human pattern is never cast twice.”

Capstone Editions

The Shelf Care Interview: Alex Sanchez with Maggie Reagan from The Booklist Reader. Peek: “[M]y muse is my inner teenager…who says, ‘Okay, now I’m able to say all the things I wish I could have said when I was a young person.’ That’s the voice that speaks through me, that writes my stories…I’m writing the books that I wish…would have told me, it’s okay to be who you are.”

Interview: April Harrison by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “My inspiration for my work comes from my family, my spirituality, love, [and] my willingness or desire to represent our people in a very favorable light so that our children can see how special they are. Anytime I can show…the beauty of a child, I will do that….It’s what I live for.”

Your Kids Aren’t Too Old for Picture Books, and Neither Are You by Pamela Paul from The New York Times. Peek: “[A]ppreciate what picture books…do. With remarkable economy, they excel at the twin arts of visual and textual storytelling. Anyone who has ever read a picture book to a child has witnessed this magic firsthand….[T]he child will laugh, not at anything you’ve read but at something she has read in the pictures.”

HMH Books for Young Readers

Interview With Vivian Kirkfield, Author of From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves by Bianca Schulze from The Children’s Book Review. Peek: “I didn’t start writing for children until I was 65—and now I am living my dream. Whether you are 8 or 80, I encourage you to follow your dreams because the only failure is the failure to keep trying—and because nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.”

A Boy Named “Milo” Reminds Us To Choose Imagination Over Impressions by Samantha Balaban from NPR. Peek: “Making pictures was certainly my way of having some say over the world and what things could look like…It was a way to have some control over my circumstances….[A]ll I’m doing is just reminding that, yeah, there’s challenges, there’s greediness, but there’s also beauty. And there’s joy in all these experiences.”

Equity & Inclusion

Home is In Between by Mitali Perkins and Lavanya Naidu by Travis Jonker from School Library Journal. Peek: [Mitali Perkins:] “[O]nce I grew up, I realized that switching between…codes as a child had been a gift. It’s like learning a new language—kids are faster and better at it than grown-ups….The space between cultures doesn’t have to be a barrier…[I]t can become a threshold of gratitude to celebrate the best of many worlds.”

Balzer + Bray

“Concrete Rose” Is Angie Thomas’ Follow-Up To “The Hate U Give” with Noel King from NPR. Peek: “[M]y main priority is to think about the young people who will pick my book up and see it as a mirror….As a writer—as a Black woman writer specifically, I have to think about the Black kids who pick up my books first…Because…publishing hasn’t thought about them enough….The numbers show it.”

Time for Black History Month Here and Now: Author Guest Post by Brian Pinkney from Harper Stacks. Peek: “[A]s a child, I couldn’t help but wonder if Black history could be celebrated in the everyday experiences of just being a kid….[R]ight now is a gift bestowed by the hand of history.…[T]his is the power of what’s at the heart of stories…that Black history lives and thrives in the daily pleasures children experience….”

The Leaf Detective Blog Tour by Michele Knott from Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook. Peek: [Heather Lang:] “There are too many trailblazing women who have been forgotten, overlooked, or ignored by history. It’s…an honor to write about them! When choosing someone to write about, I must feel a strong connection to the topic as well as the person. That connection might come from a passion, a fear, or a fascination.”

Salaam Reads

Q&A With Hena Khan by Namera Tanjeem from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[A]s someone straddling two cultures and trying to figure out where I fit in…I feel like it’s a very common feeling among children of immigrants, whose parents may hold on to the culture they bring with them. You feel a connection to it…but you may not always know…how much of it belongs to you….”

Alex Wheatle by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I want to represent the everyday persons who feel they might not be included, who feel that they might be an outsider….[T]hey can be heroes too in their particular way. You could be heroes just by overcoming a difficult childhood or a difficult home, difficult situation…I’m trying to…say that these lives absolutely do matter….”

In My Mosque & Muslim Representation in Children’s Books by Meeg Pincus from Solutionary Stories. Peek: [M.O. Yuksel:] “There is so much misinformation about Muslims…By writing about my experiences attending mosques…I wanted to celebrate the diversity of people who practice the religion of Islam around the world and shatter the stereotype of a Muslim monolith. There is no one kind of Muslim. Muslims come in all colors, shapes, and sizes.”

Writing Craft

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Friday Live Extra: Author Ray Shepard with Genevieve Randall from NPR. Peek: “I was looking for a way to tell a story that would engage young readers and their parents and their teachers, and I felt that telling it in verse, telling it as a poem, was a way to get at the difficult questions…Telling the story in verse was [the] way…the story came to me.”

Q&A With June Smalls with Deborah Kalb from Deborah Kalb Books Blogspot. Peek: “I watched hours of National Geographic, checked out a ton of books at my library, and even drove to a zoo to speak with an elephant keeper. Finally, I had my manuscript vetted by a wonderful person at the Amboseli Elephant Trust, to be sure I had the most up to date information….”

Interview & Preview: John Jennings on After the Rain with Avery Kaplan from The Beat. Peek: “[W]henever you are adapting something into another medium you are already inherently changing the nature of the narrative. Each medium has its own set of affordances….[Y]ou have to…assess which aspects of the prose story transfer well into the comics medium and then decide how to articulate the atmosphere of the story with comics.”

Inkyard Press

Sisters Maika and Maritza Moulite on Co-Writing One of the Good Ones with Seth Meyers from YouTube. Peek: “We’ll make a really extensive outline before we…get started. Then we just hop in. I might choose a chapter. She’ll choose a chapter, a paragraph, a page. And then we go back and reread what the other person wrote to make sure it’s cohesive…and make it sound like one person wrote the entire book.”

Illustrator Julia Kuo Draws for Us & Talks I Dream of Popo from We Need Diverse Books on YouTube. Peek: “When it comes to picture books, authors and illustrators don’t really interact much during the actual making of the books. My process…started once [the author] was done with hers although…she was shown the art at various stages and was able to give feedback. I…worked a lot more closely with [the editor] and her team.”

Ben Philippe by Paula Chase Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I wrote a full version…and it was so bad my editors gave me time to go back and rethink, rework, and reassess….[T]he mistake was that I didn’t know the character’s voices. I had written a full book of ‘shadow’ characters…without taking the time to get to know them and understand them.”

Rick Riordan Presents

An Interview with Sarwat Chadda with Samuel and Diego from Read Riordan. Peek: “You don’t want your writing to be ‘on the nose.’ The best way to get the message across is actually by what’s not written. Because then the reader fills it with their emotions and their experience and it ends up becoming more powerful because…you’re not telling, you’re showing…and then it works so much better.”


Creating Fairness in Publishing by Kia Harris from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[W]e have a duty in this industry to widen our doors, erase lines of biases, and seek ways to collaborate…Agents, editors, writers, acquisition experts, and retailers need to cast their nets wider to find those writers and stories that envelop transformational narratives for the millions of readers who yearn for them.”

Rick Riordan Imprint Moves into YA Fiction With Daniel José Older by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “For years, Daniel José Older has been writing novels for middle grade, YA, and adult readers…Disney Publishing Worldwide imprint Rick Riordan Presents is dedicated to publishing [middle-grade] novels that are retellings of myths from around the world. The two are now joining forces as Older…has negotiated a two-book deal [YA titles] with the imprint.”


The Innovative Way a DC Bookstore Has Stayed Afloat Without Any Layoffs Using a “Grab Bag” by Samantha Mitchell from ABC7 WJLA. Peek: [Store Co-Owner Kyle Burk:] “We’ve been offering personally curated grab bags of books for our customers based on their interests…We have a simple form where readers…tell us what kinds of books they enjoy, and how much they want to spend…[B]ased on the books they’ve liked in the past, we put together a stack of books for them….”

Nominations Sought for 2021 PW Bookstore, Sales Rep of the Year Awards by Sydney Jarrad from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Publishers Weekly has opened the call for nominations for the 2021 PW Bookstore of the Year and PW Sales Rep of the Year awards. Authors, booksellers, publishers, distributors, and others with ties to the book industry are invited to nominate their favorite bookstores and sales representatives….” The winners will be announced at the U.S. Book Show in May.


Where Are We: The Latest on Library Reopening Strategies by Erica Freudenberger from Library Journal. Peek: “[L]ibrary leaders share how things have changed since March 2020…Public libraries are continually recalibrating and reinventing services, plans, and procedures to keep up with a roiling landscape….[They] have been on the front lines, negotiating how to address those ever more urgent issues and provide essential community services while keeping staff and the community healthy.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Crown Books for Young Readers

The virtual Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference, which will have a huge, incredible lineup of editors, agents, authors and illustrators working in the children’s book publishing world, is scheduled to take place April 9 to April 11. Peek: “We continue to honor the legacy of Walter Dean Myers with a conference that celebrates and supports our unique voices, our nuanced stories, our truth.” You can register here.

The Michigan Reading Association’s virtual Annual Michigan Reading Conference, titled “Power of Story,” will be held March 12 to March 14. The event will include keynote and featured speakers, 50+ breakout sessions, lounges and meetup rooms with other attendees, exhibitor booths and more.

Apply to Attend The Brown Bookshelf Presents: Amplify Black Stories from the Highlights Foundation. Peek: “In partnership with the Highlights Foundation, The Brown Bookshelf presents this year-long program set to amplify Black stories, with a focus on supporting Black storytellers while confronting industry challenges and fostering change. There will be two cohorts/tracks in the program: one for Black creators and one for publishing professionals.” The application deadline is March 15.


Author/illustrator Dav Pilkey and a team of teachers will be holding a free Create Comics With Dav Pilkey Global Classroom Event, during which readers will create their own comics inspired by Cat Kid Comic Club, Dog Man and Captain Underpants. The event will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. pacific, 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. central, 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. eastern on March 22. Registration is now open.

The Texas Library Association’s 2021 Conference will take place from April 22 to April 24. The virtual event will include educational sessions, live speakers, social networking, and more. Some of the children’s authors include Linda Sue Park, Gary Paulsen, and Tiffany D. Jackson.


Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the Golden Kite Awards in the categories of Middle Grade/Young Readers, Picture Book Text, Nonfiction Text for Young Readers, Picture Book Illustration, Nonfiction Text for Older Readers, Illustrated Books for Older Readers, and Young Adult. Congratulations also to the winner and honoree of the Sid Fleischmann Humor Award.

Macmillan Audio

Congratulations to the 2021 Audie Award finalists, especially in the Young Listeners, Middle Grade, and Young Adult categories. The winners will be announced at the virtual Audies Gala on March 22.

Congratulations to the nominees of the 2021-2022 Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards, sponsored by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. The purpose of the awards “is to promote the reading of quality books by young people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to promote teacher and librarian involvement in children’s and young adult literature, and to honor authors whose works have been recognized by the students of Pennsylvania.”

National Book Award Winner Charles Yu Establishes Prize for Young Taiwanese American Creative Writers from Peek: “Created in collaboration with Taiwanese American author Charles Yu, the Prizes are intended to encourage and recognize creative literary work by Taiwanese American high school and college students, and to foster discussion and community around such work. Submissions may be in any literary genre including fiction, poetry, personal essays or other creative non-fiction.” Submission deadline is 11:59 p.m. pacific time March 31. For central and eastern time, submission deadline is 1:59 a.m. and 2:59 a.m., respectively, on April 1.

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the winner of the 2021 Robin Smith Picture Book Prize: The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020). The prize was launched in memory of Robin Smith, who was a second-grade teacher, reviewer, and co-author of The Hornbook’s blog, Calling Caldecott. Every year, Calling Caldecott selects one picture book that exemplifies what Robin looked for in picture books.

Scholarships & Grants

PEN America Opens Applications for 2021 Emerging Voices Fellowship. Peek: “The program provides a five-month immersive mentorship program for early-career writers who are traditionally underrepresented in the publishing world….The program includes curated one-on-one mentorship; introductions to editors, agents, and publishers; and workshops on editing, marketing, and other professional skills.” The 12 chosen fellows will be awarded an honorarium of $1,000. The application period for this newly-expanded fellowship ends March 17. Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection & starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly & Shelf Awareness!

Greetings from newly thawed Austin! What a relief it is to report that I have reliable electricity, internet service, drinking water and that groceries have arrived! Thanks to everyone who reached out to check on how I was doing. Your caring and support came as a tremendous comfort during the winter storm and the series of systemic failures that made it more challenging.

To my fellow impacted friends, I hope you’re likewise enjoying brighter days!

In book news, I’m honored to report that Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021) is an Amplify Jr. Book of the Month at BookPeople in Austin. The subscription box program celebrates the work of BIPOC writers & creators for kids! Please check it out and be sure to support independent bookstores in your community and around the world.

★ “…this uplifting assembly affirms the vitality of Indigenous life today and offers accessible situations and characters to all young readers.” —Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness, starred review for Ancestor Approved

“This anthology offers readers a variety of images of Native children while also introducing them to vocabulary from several different Indigenous languages, compiled in an appended glossary. According to Rogers’s poem: “A powwow is / friends and family / …a way to remember those / who’ve passed on / …a place for belly-laughing / …healing / and soul-soothing,” and this volume reflects all of those elements and more.” —Horn Book Magazine

Episode 436 (Podcast): Curating a Middle Grade Anthology of Intertribal Stories: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Gabriela Pereira from diyMFA Radio. Peek: “In this episode, Cynthia and I discuss… What elements are important to include when writing specifically for Middle Graders and how MG is distinct from YA. Why it’s important to create an inclusive feeling  of a ‘we’ not ‘me’ book within diverse literature.”

This podcast interview is both a glimpse into the story behind the anthology and a thoughtful reflection on literary considerations in writing Native characters and topics for young readers. It is especially recommended to Native children’s-YA writers and the teachers, librarians, booksellers, and academics whose work includes careful consideration of books for kids and teens.

Enter to win an ARC from HarperKids at Goodreads!

Heartdrum Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan by Nancy Bo Flood from Bookology. Peek from Rosemary: “We are publishing in all genres and for all age groups, from birth through young adult. We’re open to everything: picture books, board books, fiction for all ages, nonfiction, graphic novels. We’re not concerned with over-explaining to a non-Native audience, but we’re including back matter that will be helpful to readers and the adults who read the books with them.”

Thanks to Karen Jensen at Teen Librarian Toolbox at School Library Journal for Introducing Heartdrum: A New Publishing Imprint That Centers Native Voices and highlighting our new and upcoming releases!

Cyn’s Links of the Week

Suggest a children’s book for The Global Read Aloud: One Book to Connect the World. Peek: “Many things but some of the ones that are important to this project are books that open up our experiences of the world, that are often written by own voice authors, and that are short enough to get through in six weeks.  I am always looking for international authors as well!”

Kidlit Against Anti-AAPI Racism Auction: “We are a group of Kidlit writers and publishing professionals who are horrified about the intense rise in anti-Asian violence  after a year of xenophobic rhetoric and racist attacks….Kidlit Against Anti-AAPI Racism Fundraiser (#KAAAR) includes items from bestselling & award winning authors & publishing professionals, such as signed books, query critiques, manuscript critiques, naming a book character, author virtual visits, calls with editors and agents, and more!”

More Personally – Stephani

I am enjoying reading Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain (Dutton, 2020) this week. It is the story of a girl whose family moves to a mountain after the stock market crash. Ellie’s persistence and determination to help her father who suffered an accident have won me over completely. It makes me even more excited to share Lauren’s upcoming interview with Cynsations readers in March.

More Personally – Suma

Yesterday was the last meeting of my six-week Highlights Workshop. Cordelia Jensen’s verse novel class was amazing, and I’m inspired to dive back into my manuscripts. I also met some wonderful novelists who are working on beautiful stories for children and young adults.