Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

A Hero Like Thurgood: Author Guest Post by Kekla Magoon from Harper Stacks. Peek: “Considering the human behind the hero…makes it seem much more possible that anyone can be part of creating change. It reminds me that, in my own way, by doing my small part—writing, teaching, speaking, sharing truths with young readers—I can be a hero….And so can you!”

Quill Tree Books

On Her Debut Novel “Clues to the Universe:” Interview With Christina Li by Ellie Wong from The Stanford Daily. Peek: “Read a lot in the genres you want to write, and take your time….Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You have the entire rest of your life to write….Just be patient with your craft, and take as much time as you need.”

Meena Harris…Wants Her New Children’s Book to Inspire Ambitious Women (and Girls) Everywhere by Dominic-Madori Davis from Business Insider. Peek: “[A]ll women have to do to be ambitious is to simply not hide their ambition…It’s about wearing that sweatshirt embroiled with the word ‘ambitious’ on it…It’s about naming what you want and claiming it for yourself—writing your dreams and building toward what you want….”

Four Questions With Laura Amy Schlitz by Lynda Brill Comerford from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I don’t know why my imagination seems to be more wired to the past. I like finding a different world to write about than the one where I’m living. This world is lovely, but I like to find other times and places to exist. I guess I’m kind of an armchair traveler.”

Grand Central Publishing

“What’s Mine and Yours” Navigates the Boundaries of Family and Race with Crystal Hana Kim from Electric Lit. Peek: “If you’re friends with anyone for long enough, you begin to see that the things they say about themselves out loud don’t always map onto what you know of them. It’s intimacy that uncovers those contradictions and sticky parts. I try to create that intimacy with my characters….”

Equity & Inclusion

Picture Books to Help Kids Understand Physical Disabilities and Differences by Melissa Taylor from Brightly. Peek: “[W]hen parents don’t talk about physical and intellectual differences, it becomes the elephant in the room, which gets translated for children as a taboo topic….Let’s prioritize discussing and educating children about all kinds of physical differences. One way to do this is to read children’s books that show respectful and accurate representation.”

Teaching Your Kids Body Positivity? Learn to Practice It Yourself by Shelly Anand from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I want both my children to know that there is nothing about their appearance they have to change. That they are brilliant and beautiful just the way they are….I have to model it and overcome my own insecurities…. [by] celebrating my melanin and…being grateful for my body, its journey around this world….”

Groundwood Books

Brittany Luby’s New Picture Book Is a Love Letter to the Natural World and Anishinaabe Family Life from Open Book. Peek: “I hope that readers—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—feel the love and warmth that can fill Anishinaabe households. Headlines in mainstream Canadian media tend to emphasize the challenges faced (rather than the successes celebrated) by Indigenous families….But, we also need stories that show us that culturally-appropriate care enriches life.”

Interview: Traci Sorell with Julia Smith from Booklist’s Shelf Care Podcast. Peek: “I want to make the invisible visible. When I was growing up…I did not see Native people in books. What you saw were really caricatures and stereotypes, if they were included at all….I am just one small pebble going into the pond…working to share our stories….I want to ensure cultural accuracy….”

Three Keys to Writing a Novel From a Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence by Autumn Allen from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I needed to write this book in order to learn something I didn’t know: To address my burning questions about my family, about how our different paths reflect and respond to our position as Black people in America. It was through writing that I could explore and possibly grasp something close to understanding.”

Make Me a World

Q&A: Safia Elhillo, Author of “Home Is Not A Country” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I’ve been obsessed…a long time with the idea of alternate or parallel selves, especially in the context of diaspora—who would I be if I had only grown up back home, how would I be different…[O]nce I’d finished the one poem, I realized I’d only scratched the surface of everything I wanted to say….”

Black History Is Made Year-Round by JoAnn Yao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Whether Black authors are unearthing forgotten stories and calling attention to systemic inequalities or sharing moments of joy and community, they are making history by writing their narratives into being. In honor of this, here are the Black voices who have shared their personal stories and work with us over the past year.”

Writing Craft

Nathan Bryon by Tracey Baptiste from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I sometimes do an exercise I was taught by the incredible playwright Simon Stephens where you hot seat your character and you ask them 51 questions…[T]hose questions can be as random as you want and I feel that exercise often helps me learn things about the character that are more than surface deep….”

Peachtree Publishing

Q&A With Nizrana Farook, Author of The Girl Who Stole an Elephant… with Kirsty Stansfield from Nosy Crow. Peek: “[T]he action scenes were a pleasure to write…, although I did feel quite tense when writing about some of the more dangerous situations [the characters] got into. Sometimes I’d come to the end of a scene and realize how rigidly I was holding myself, and have to tell myself to relax!”

Q&A With Auriane Desombre, Author of I Think I Love You by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]he rivals-to-lovers banter and the matchmaking chaos…were the elements I wanted to translate into a contemporary LGBTQ+ context….Two characters who are clearly into each other but refuse to admit that to themselves gives so much room for humor while setting up the opportunity for emotional depth when they eventually realize their feelings.”

Butterflies Are Pretty…Gross: A Q&A With Rosemary Mosco by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I have a background as a science writer, and I did a ton of research for this book. I read books and scientific papers. I spoke with butterfly scientists…The hardest part was choosing the most appropriate and interesting facts. There’s so much more than I could fit in the book.”

Lee & Low Books

Darnell Johnson by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’ll start to doodle and take notes on the characters and environments of the story….After designing the characters I sometimes move onto rough thumbnails of the pages. To figure out composition. Then I do tight sketches of the page layouts. Next I’ll do rough color comps…From there I move to rendering the final illustrations….”

Let’s Talk Illustrators: Qin Leng by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “This was my…first wordless picture book….I had no idea how the process was going to be….The biggest challenge was to make sure that with my images alone, the reader would be able to follow and understand the basis of the story line….I just started roughing out ideas, stitching them together and trimming the fat.”

Theanne Griffith, Ph.D. by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “When I do begin writing, I usually follow a very loose outline….I suppose you could say I’m an organized pantser! One thing I’ve learned to not do when I am drafting is over-edit myself….I try to just let it flow and edit later. I will even leave certain parts of dialogue blank….”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Author Chat With Bethany Mangle with Rose Quinn from Rose Quinn Co. Peek: “I’m a super pantser….I will write the big scenes…the really big dramatic ones that stick out to me very clearly in the beginning. And then I will try to sew those together…I use Save the Cat Writes a Novel to check my plot beats when I’m done…to make sure the pacing is there.”


Random House Studio Unveils Launch List by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Random House Studio plans to release books across all formats, with its primary focus on picture books….[E]stablishing Random House Studio involved a balance of the new and the familiar…[Its] first list, which will be released between May and August, affirms the imprint’s emphasis on picture books featuring wide-ranging topics and diverse collaborators.”

Is Women’s Empowerment Coming to Publishing? by Diane Patrick and Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Long before the #MeToo movement…titles focused on the real issues facing women were finding publishers and readers. That movement’s uncompromising demand for social justice is echoed in a wave of new titles focused on women’s and girl’s empowerment…[Bloomsbury’s Sarah Parvis:] ‘Empowering titles for children…is a key subcategory in the market of books on women.’”


How to Master Tweets Faster: A 5 Step Twitter Guide for Writers from KidLit Crossing. Peek: “[W]hat writers need to know is that Twitter is a busy hub of literary agents and editors…Would you like to follow decision makers?…Share your thoughts with readers? How about extending your online presence? Or promoting your books and events?…[T]hen it’s time to master Twitter and do it in five steps.”

Stone Arch Books

Advice for…Debut Authors from KidLit in Color. Peek: [Susan Muaddi Darraj:] “Writers love doing the work of writing, but there’s a business side to it as well. Spend a couple of hours a week networking, looking for publishing opportunities, attending face-to-face or virtual conferences, and spending time on social media promoting your own work and that of others!”


Online Retailer Makes ‘Remarkable’ £1m for Indies in First Four Months by Mark Chandler and Ruth Comerford from The Bookseller. Peek: “The site, which opened for business in the U.K. last November, is…giving indies 30 percent of the cover price from each sale they make through the platform alongside a share of profits from affiliate sales. Of the £1m, which was hit…on 1st March, £633,000 came from sales bookshops made through the site….”


How School Librarians Adjusted to Remote Learning by Rebecca Torchia from EdTech Focus on K-12. Peek: “As schools across the nation shifted to distance learning—and then again to a hybrid model—library staff have taken creative approaches to foster student engagement and give students access to literature…. Some schools set up e-book circulation options. Others…created curbside delivery…[Librarians] have also taken on enhanced responsibilities regarding digital resources and technical support.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

The 2021 Virtrual Tucson Festival of Books takes place March 6 to March 7. A celebration of literature, the event’s mission is to improve literacy rates among children and adults. There is a full lineup of featured Children’s/Teens authors and illustrators, including Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gene Luen Yang, Desmond Hall, and Juana Martinez-Neal.

The Writing Barn is hosting a craft webinar titled Rockin’ Your Revision with Cynthia Leitich Smith. It will take place from 9 a.m to 10:30 a.m. pacific, 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. central, 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. eastern on March 10. Drawing on her expertise as a best-selling writer, teacher, and the author-curator of the Native-centered Heartdrum imprint at HarperCollins, Cynthia will help writers navigate revisions, understand editors’ feedback, and more.

Applications for the We Need Diverse BooksBlack Creatives Revisions Workshop will be accepted until March 19. This opportunity is for unpublished and unagented writers who identify as part of the African diaspora and who have a full draft of a middle grade, YA or adult novel. There will be a Twitter Q&A about the workshop at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on March 5.

Knopf Books for Young Readers

The Children’s Literacy Foundation’s End-of-Winter Virtual Storytelling Series will take place from March 10 to April 7, during which time presenters will help make reading and writing fun through sharing, encouragement, and related activities. The first event will feature author/genealogist Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. You can register here for the events, which take place every Wednesday at 10 a.m. pacific, noon central, 1 p.m. eastern.

Children’s Book Insider—Write for Kids is the host of “Kidlit Distancing Social,” a free virtual webcast for the children’s book community that takes place every Tuesday at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, and 8 p.m. eastern. The webcasts feature authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and more, who discuss writing, publishing, and other children’s book news. Replays dating back to April 2020 are available to view.

Birchbark Books and Native Arts will host a conversation between Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper’s Daughter (Henry Holt and Co., 2021), and author Cherie Dimaline at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern on March 18 during Firekeeper’s Daughter’s Virtual Launch Event.

Feiwel & Friends

The North Texas Virtual Teen Book Festival 2021 is taking place March 5 and March 6. Featuring almost a hundred authors, the festival mission is “to connect our reading community, adding dimension to the reading experience through diverse author panels and dynamic discussions in a safe and fun environment.” The keynote speaker on March 6 is Katherine Applegate.


Congratulations to the Young Adult, Middle Grade and Picture Book category winners of the Texas Institute of Letters 2021 Literary Awards. The TIL was founded to to celebrate Texas literature and recognize distinctive literary achievement.

Congratulations to the finalists of the 41st Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, in the category of Young Adult Literature. Winners will be announced in a virtual ceremony on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter on April 16, the day before the 26th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which takes place from April 17 to April 23.

Kids Can Press

Congratulations to the nominees of The Nature Generation’s 2021 Green Earth Book Award, “which is bestowed annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship.” The categories include Picture Book, Cadmus Children’s Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Children’s and Young Adult Nonfiction, and Young Adult Fiction.

Scholarships & Grants

SCBWI Austin is offering two full scholarships for its upcoming 2021 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference to be held May 1 and May 2. The scholarships are for pre-published, unagented SCBWI Austin members and nonmembers. Apply here. The application deadline is March 14.

The Highlights Foundation is offering a Diversity Science Scholarship for full tuition to an illustration workshop offered through the Highlights Foundation (virtual or in-person). The scholarship is “designed to encourage the artistic growth of Indigenous, Black, and people of color who are interested in science and nature illustration.” The application deadline is April 20.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Congrats, Jen!

Exciting news! From Publishers Weekly: “Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith at Heartdrum have bought, in a prempt, The Summer of Bitter & Sweet by Jen Ferguson (Métis/white). In this debut YA novel, a demisexual Métis teen is settling in to spend the summer before college working at her close-knit family’s ice cream shack with her best friend, ex-boyfriend, and newly back-in-town crush, when a letter from her white biological father, recently out of prison, threatens to destroy everything she cares about. Publication is scheduled for summer 2022. Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary did the two-book deal for world English rights.”

What else? Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories For Kids (Heartdrum, 2021) is among Editors’ Picks: Best Books Ages 9 – 12. Bookplate signed copies are available at my local independent bookstore, BookPeople in Austin.

More Personally – Gayleen

I’m enjoying the audio version of The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga, #1)(Puffin, 2020) by David A. Robertson, a rich portal, fantasy with echoes of Narnia featuring Indigenous child heroes. Vivid description transported me to the frozen world, making me appreciate Austin’s warm days and sunshine even more after our recent winter storms. Check out Cynthia’s interview with David to learn more about his worldbuilding and writing process.

More Personally – Stephani

This week I’ve been drafting and revising with a new furry friend at my feet. We welcomed puppy Lucy into our family on Tuesday. So far everyone is enamored and exhausted!

More Personally – Suma

I’m excited and humbled to share a space with beautiful poets whose writing filled me with hope all these years. This is the first Young People’s Poetry Issue of Poetry Foundation & Poetry Magazine, and it’s free for all to read.

Video of the Week