Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung, illustrated by Julie Kwon (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Ruth Behar with Deborah Kalb from Deborah Kalb Books. Peek: “I think about all the young people today who are…trying to make the world a better…more livable place. The voices of youth are so important….I hope that young people today will look back and understand how the brave acts of young people in the past can help to shape the struggles of the present.”


Interview With Monica Gomez-Hira, Author of Once Upon a Quinceañera from Eva Langston. Peek: “[T]he main advice I have for writers is to put themselves out into the larger writing world….[H]aving other people in your life who understand the process helps a great deal. I had a…hard time trusting other people enough to let them read my work, but when I finally did…it made all of the difference.”

Virtual Storytime With Richard Ho and Jessica Lanan with Mikaley Osley from Tattered Cover Bookstore. Peek: [Richad Ho—Advice to kids who want to be authors:] “Kids should never think that they can’t do something. It might seem like it’s a really hard thing to do—these people are professionals and must spend years…training to do this. Yeah, but they started somewhere. At one point they were kids, too, and they also had this dream of making books.”

Dancing at the Pity Party: Sydney Taylor.… by Shoshana Flax from The Horn Book. Peek: [Tyler Feder] “[H]umans are able to adapt. If I could go back in time and talk to my earlier self, I think I’d just give her a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay. I think deep inside, she knew that, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a reminder.”

Philomel Books

Five questions for Lesa Cline-Ransome and Andrea Davis Pinkney from The Horn Book. Peek: “The challenge in telling her story was in capturing both her vulnerability and growing maturity, which is the essence of teenage years….By highlighting her tentative steps toward activism, my goal was to remind young readers that courage is not the absence of fear, but finding a way to confront what makes you most afraid.”

Dwayne Reed Talks…[About] New Book Simon B. Rhymin’ with Cyrus Webb on YouTube. Peek: “It’s one thing to have empathy. It’s one thing to have feelings towards someone and want to do something. But our compassion has to be fueled by action as well; it has to be met with action….Your heart can be there, but you have to put your hands to work as well.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Lisa Fipps, Starfish by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]here’s…a stigma simply for seeking help whenever you’re just struggling with emotions. There shouldn’t be. If you break your ankle, there’s no shame in getting help…If the world breaks you, mentally, there should be no shame in getting help so you can heal. The more literature drives home that message, the better.”


Eyes That Kiss in the Corners: A Bestseller With an Empowering Focus by Sarah Yung from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I wanted readers to recognize their…ability to disrupt and dismantle systems that perpetuate oppressive narratives…They have the power to create their own kingdoms of the future….[T]his isn’t just a story about physical appearances, but a story of how appearances are passed down and what they can represent: family, history, culture, relationships, love….”

The Magazine That Helped 1920s Kids Navigate Racism by Anna Holmes from The Atlantic. Peek: “The Brownies’ Book[’s]…images celebrated Black beauty while telling a story of Black childhood as something ordinary and American. Black infants sit, dressed up in their fancy clothes, for portrait photographers, looking adorable. Black children take music lessons. They go to camp. Eat lollipops. Play baseball. Pose for school pictures. Graduate from high school.”

Presently Invisible: The Arab Plight in American Classrooms by Amanda Najib Ibrahim from Learning for Justice. Peek: “Arab Americans are often forgotten when it comes to representation…most commonly—in the classroom….The inclusion of Arab American authors and books with Arab protagonists provides students a chance to read and experience Arab identities. Not only will Arab students start to see themselves in the texts, other students will…have a window into these experiences.”

Shadow Mountain

Meet the Authors of Real with Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard from Goodreads. Peek: [Carol Cujec:] “We’re on a mission to accept, include, and appreciate differences in everybody. We all have difference, but when we come together, we have the opportunity to know each other, to learn from each other, and then we no longer fear our differences….We need to treasure all people because great is each one.”

Q&A With Steven Salvatore, Can’t Take That Away by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[M]any people my age were secretly in therapy. There seemed to be this stigma, and it persists today in many ways, though less so than before. I really wanted to normalize therapy, to make it realistic and approachable. We need to have better representation when it comes to caring for and destigmatizing mental health.”

Finding Nature in the City by Mélina Mangal from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted my students to see kids like themselves…welcoming nature back into their lives….I never saw children like me depicted in books enjoying the outdoors….The power of pictures is so important. Young children need to see images of kids who look like them engaging in nature, in all…its various forms, including in the city.”

Interview with The Comeback Author E.L. Shen by Suma Subramaniam From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “As an editor and an author, I want to dispel stereotypes, and show the beauty and humanity in all of our various histories and imaginations.”

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

At a Time of Vast Human Healing, Writer Vita Murrow Looks to Our Animal Neighbors for Support by Vita Murrow from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[F]or myself, and many who walk through the world as a POC, we know joy is a must. To see joy, feel joy, and create joy, sustains and heals the bruises and scars we incur….[S]o, I began this new series, with animals at the center…but it was joy that I wished to surround them with.”

Writing Craft

Allergic: Interview by Natalie Rompella from From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: [Michelle Mee Nutter:] “I love acting out the emotions of the characters myself to feel them. If you caught me at my desk, you’d find me mimicking all the expressions as I draw them. It helps me understand the character and it’s a lot of fun. That and using reference photos, plenty of reference photos.”

Author Elise Bryant on Happily Ever Afters, Writer’s Block, and Writing Romance by Afoma Umesi from Reading Middle Grade. Peek: “[W]riting is something that brings me joy, so I’ll always make space for it…And I’ve learned to be flexible! Sometimes writing is sitting at my desk for hours; sometimes it’s typing something in the Notes app on my phone really quick…As long as a character’s voice is calling to me, I’ll make it work.”

Wednesday Books

Sophie Gonzales Was Inspired by Attachment Styles for Perfect on Paper by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For writers who aspire to be published themselves one day, Gonzales advised, ‘Don’t get too set on one book. Sometimes a premise isn’t right for the market for whatever reason. If you move on, you’ll improve, and you’ll just be giving your future agent/publisher more back catalog to work with.’”

Author Spotlight: Anuradha D. Rajurkar from KidLit411. Peek: “When I finally finished the first draft, the book was a hefty 165,000 words…twice the length of a contemporary YA!…With the input from my wonderful writing group and critique partners, I streamlined the manuscript by removing an unnecessary side plot, altering it from past to present tense, and trimming the prose down to…85,000 words….”

Q&A With Rafael López by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[We] came up with the idea of flipping back and forth from reality to fantasy, and it was a bit of a challenge to maintain a consistency in the storyline. There is always an element, a visual clue, that carries over between the realistic and the fantastical scenes….At times I did not sleep much….”

Nancy Paulsen Books

The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat and Lauren Castillo with John Schu from MrSchuReads. Peek: [Lauren Castillo:] “Because there is so much outdoor landscape in the book, I visualized very organic printed backgrounds. Gelli printing is a loose form of printmaking that I thought would suit my needs…When you lay colors and shapes down on a Gelli plate you definitely get some unexpected and…fun results. It feels very ramble shamble.”

Meet the Author: Alicia D. Williams with Stephanie Hampton from Kalamazoo Public Library. Peek: “The more that I start writing, the more that I have ideas. I even keep a little book of ideas.…I wonder ‘what if’…The more you start questioning, the more ideas come. The ideas may not even come as a full-fledged book…It may come as one little seedling, one little tiny idea, one scene, one character.”

Interview With Debut Author Sita Singh by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit. Peek: “When I have an idea, I start by studying mentor texts. As the idea brews…, words and lines come to me, and a story begins to take shape. I start with a synopsis….I write in long sentences and paragraphs, without any inhibition….Then, with the process of elimination, I turn it into a picture book manuscript.”


Random House Books for Young Readers

Comics Formats Go Younger by Brigid Alverson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “As sales of middle grade graphic novels continue to grow, publishers are bringing the format to a younger audience, with a new wave of graphic novels for early readers, ages four to eight. Within the past year, the number of graphic novels aimed at the youngest readers has increased sharply….”

Anne Schwartz Books to Set Sail This Summer by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Anne Schwartz has cast her editorial net wide while crafting her eponymous imprint at Random House Children’s Books. The list will include books by established authors and illustrators she has published in the past, others with whom she has never worked, and first-time book creators. Schwartz…will…focus on picture books as…publisher of Anne Schwartz Books.”


OverDrive CEO: Publishers, Librarians Still Searching for Fair E-book Lending Models by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “OverDrive CEO Steve Potash said he was proud of some of the ‘incremental gains’ made in the library e-book market in 2020, but insisted that the work of establishing ‘fair, flexible, and reasonable terms’ for libraries and schools to acquire and lend digital content is far from over.”

School Library Journal Day of Dialog 2021 from School Library Journal. Peek: “Join us…for SLJ Day of Dialog, the most anticipated librarian gathering of the spring 2021 publishing season—fully virtual and free to attend. Our daylong program of author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks will keep you informed, inspired, and entertained, and provide insight into industry trends….” The event takes place from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern on May 20. Register here.


Roaring Brook Press

Debut Picture Book Gets Digital Matchmaking Campaign by Cady Zeng from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Sock on the Loose was launched by Macmillan’s Roaring Brook Press…on February 23….The book…has garnered much attention due to a digital campaign with the hashtag #SockOnTheLoose….During a time where no physical book launches can take place, [author] McGlauflin stated, ‘campaigns like this are necessary and really magical’ in being able to overcome limitations.”

Twitter Guide for Writers by Teri Daniels from Kidlit Crossing. Peek: “Visit the Twitter profiles of peers, competitors, and leaders in your field to eye their follow data. Look for active users who might value your content and follow them. Many will follow back fast; others won’t ever. Some play the numbers game: follow few/gather many. But don’t take it personally, just move on.”


Keeping Connections With Young Readers: Bookselling in the Pandemic by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[O]ne year into the pandemic,…booksellers are finding their own ways to forge, maintain, and deepen their connections with…kids who turn to them for books. Some of their approaches are temporary and some may last…into the future, but all are geared toward ensuring that children continue to know that bookstores are there for them.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Stanford Researchers Identify Four Causes for “Zoom Fatigue” and Their Simple Fixes by Vignesh Ramachandran from Stanford News. Peek: “…users should use the ‘hide self-view’ button, which one can access by right-clicking their own photo, once they see their face is framed properly in the video.”

Clarion Books

The Blue Willow Bookshop is hosting a free virtual event with author Linda Sue Park and illustrator Robert Sae-Heng, who will discuss their new middle-grade novel, The One Thing You’d Save. They will also be in conversation with Dr. Sylvia Vardell of Texas Women’s University. The event takes place at 3 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. central, 6 p.m. eastern on March 16. Registration is required.

Reminder! The 2021​ ​Symposium on Diversity in Children’s Literature and Walter Awards Ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, and 1 p.m. eastern on March 12, on the Library of Congress’s Facebook page and its YouTube site, as well as on as well as on the WNDB YouTube. This is a free live-streamed event.

UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center is hosting an American Indians in Children’s Literature event with Dr. Debbie Reese, founder of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, and Princess Daazhraii Johnson, a producer of PBS’ Molly of Denali. They will talk about the importance of teaching children about American Indians through appropriate children’s literature and animated programs. The event will take place at 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. central, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. eastern on March 16.

Penguin Random House Book & Author Festival. Peek: “Join Penguin Random House, Library Journal, and School Library Journal for a free, day-long virtual book and author festival as we celebrate National Library Week and librarians everywhere! Enjoy a day packed with author panels and interviews, book buzzes, virtual shelf browsing, and adding to your TBR pile….There is something of interest for every reader.” The event takes place from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 10 5 p.m. eastern on April 6. Register here.


Nancy Paulsen Books

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Awards. The winner for writer is Tricia Elam Walker for Nana Akua Goes to School, illustrated by April Harrison (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020). The winner for illustrator is Heidi Woodward Sheffield for Brick by Brick (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). An award ceremony will take place on the first day of the free virtual Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, scheduled from April 12 to April 16.

The British Book Awards, AKA the Nibbies, has named 48 stores to the shortlist for the Gardners Books-sponsored Independent Bookshop of the Year. Also announced are the 40+ regional and country finalists for the British Book Awards’ Small Press of the Year. Congratulation to the shortlisted bookshops and the small press finalists!

Scholarships & Grants

Highlights Foundation Scholarships. Peek: “The Highlights Foundation offers…scholarships to our programs. In addition to the General Scholarships, there are a number of Special Scholarships in support of specific recipients or workshops, and Named Funds honoring those who have had a significant impact on children’s literature….When applying…you do not have to specify which scholarship you’re applying for.” The 2021 application deadline for most Special Scholarships is April 20.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to everyone who joined me, fellow Heartdurm authors Christine Day, Brian Young and moderator Celeste Trimble for last weekend’s panel at the Tucson Festival of Books. If you missed it, you can watch a replay! Thanks also to Bethany Hegedus, the Writing Barn, and everyone who joined me in reflecting on the revision process at Wednesday’s webinar.

Meanwhile, this week School Library Journal said of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids: “All libraries should make room on their shelves for this collection of Native-voiced stories.”

Ready for a few more reviews?

Book Review: Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Ro Menendez at MG Book Village. Peek: “It is uncommon to find plots in middle grade novels where kids are seen by the adults in their family and community as individuals worthy of respect.  This respect was shown by action in this anthology: The adults in these stories not only validated by not only listening to what kids had to say but also by taking their feelings into consideration when it was time to act.”

Congratulations to debut Navajo author Brian Young on his starred review from Publishers Weekly for Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, 2021):

★”Gentle, complex characters and flawed, loving human relationships lend depth to…worlds-spanning novel.” 

More Personally – Gayleen

Inspired by a recent webinar from Laurel Snyder, I’ve been embracing play as part of my creative process. Laurel encourages returning to childhood favorites to tap into your younger self, so I’m enjoying warm spring days outside, blackberries and early ’80s music as I wrap up a revision.

More Personally – Stephani

My writer website launched this week! Come visit me at!

More Personally – Gail

What a busy week this has been! I finished reading and voting on the Flash Prose submissions to Lunch Ticket Literary Magazine (LT), and also organized my team’s votes (I’m the Lead Editor for this genre). The team has found several excellent pieces to put on the Long List and I’m super excited to see which ones make our Short List for the upcoming issue.

I also wrote and submitted the first draft of a MG/YA craft essay (on wordplay in children’s literature) to the LT blog team that will be editing it. I have two other craft essays already published with LT (Tick Tock, Tick Tock—Ways to Wind Your Narrative Clock; Spinning Spooky Facts Into Fiction). I’m always amazed at the significant improvement that takes place throughout the editing process, during which the piece is edited by the blog team, then the Managing Editor, and then the Editor-in-Chief!

More Personally – Suma

I’m enjoying Shaking Up The House by Yamile Saied Mendez (HarperCollins, 2021). The story is about four girls wrapped up in an ever-escalating exchange of practical jokes and things spiraling out of control in the White House.