Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Shonto Begay (Schwartz & Wade, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Chrystal D. Giles on Her Debut MG Novel, Take Back the Block by Sara Truuvert from Inkygirl. Peek: “I hope young readers walk away with the knowledge that their voice matters! And not to be afraid to speak up, even when talking to adults, just share what’s on your mind. As for social justice…[I]t doesn’t take a huge, weighty cause or a large group—it takes one person, one voice.”

Sourcebooks Fire

Queer YA Debut Interviews…Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson from YA Pride. “[D]ebuting is a real accomplishment. There will always be people who get more press, more buzz, more…everything than you. But you wrote, edited, and sold a book. Few people did that. Even getting this far puts you in such a small subset of people. We accomplished something so many people only dream of….”

Interview With Author Roseanne A. Brown by Denise Mealy from The Children’s Book Review. Peek: “I hope that readers get what I wished someone could have told me…there is life and hope on the other side of extreme trauma. And also that you can often find your greatest strength in the very parts of yourself you find the most broken and wounded.”

Happily Horrified: Why Tweens Crave Horror in Scary Times by Julie Shatterly from School Library Journal. Peek: “Ellen Blum Barish examined why…people find horror appealing….‘[T]hey can always close the book if the story gets too frightening’…That resonates with tweens…[who] are just starting to establish their own freedoms and choices; it would make sense they would flock to this easy method of ‘controlling’ the horror they experience by simply closing the cover….”

Neal Porter Books

In Conversation: Andrea Wang and Jason Chin from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Andrea Wang:] “Life is hard. Tragedies happen….We all want our children, our students, to be happy, and the temptation is to only give them the fun books, to share only the sweet family stories. But…[s]haring difficult stories gives them a way to process their feelings and the words to talk about them.”

Equity & Inclusion

How a New Generation of LGBTQ Young Adult Books is Reshaping the Literary Landscape by Lauren Emily Whalen from Edge Media Network. Peek: “Increased LGBTQ visibility in YA has long been [Librarian Ari Gofman‘s] passion….In 2018,…[Gofman] and a group of colleagues developed the website, Queer Books for Teens, which Gofman describes as ‘an almost comprehensive bibliography of books with queer representation for teen readers that is searchable from about 50 facets.’”

More Than a Footnote: Challenges for BIPOC Nonfiction Authors by Carole Boston Weatherford from The Horn Book. Peek: “The business of equity remains unfinished and urgent….I asked some of my award-winning peers…to bear witness to the challenges, inequities, and opportunities that confront us individually and collectively. Their concerns ranged from the industry’s deficits in BIPOC representation and its discomfort with harsh historical truths to its dismal marketing expectations for BIPOC books.”

Levine Querido

Anton Treuer on Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (YRE) from Levine Querido on YouTube. Peek: “I wrote this book…to help all of us navigate the brambled, racial borderlands of our country and better understand the first people of the land….It’s high time for us to abandon Native-inspired imaginings that have created so many misunderstandings in the past and come learn from an inspired Native….”

Saying It Louder for the People in the Back: Kids Need Queer Books by Mikkaka Overstreet from Book Riot. Peek: “Kids need queer books. Adults need queer books. The following humans need queer books: Queer kids and adults; Folx who might be queer; People who are not queer; Kids and other folx who have queer friends and family members; People who don’t know they have queer friends and family members….Everyone needs queer books….”

Racial Diversity in Children’s Books Grows, But Slowly by Christine Fernando from the Associated Press. Peek: “In the world of children’s books…dark skin is as beautiful as the night sky, and a little girl’s two puffs of hair can make her feel like she’s floating above the clouds. Kids are seeing more of these possibilities in the books they read…Racial diversity…has been picking up…[but] progress has been slow.”


Definitely Dominguita—An Interview with Author Terry Catasús Jennings by Julie Phend from GROG. Peek: “My hope is to reach children and cement the belief that there are no ‘others.’ Dominguita is every child. Whether she is American, Cuban or the descendant of a purple popsicle, she loves and misses her grandmother…She is just a kid who happens to live in a household where black beans and rice…are a staple.”

Q&A With Ruth Forman, Curls and Glow by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Despite…all of the work that has been done, children of color at a very young age—even three to four—are still often viewing themselves and their hair and skin color as less than….I recommitted to write stories for children of color, and especially girls of color, that would reinforce self-love and identity.”

Brooklyn Librarian Becomes Unlikely Star With Her Bilingual Story Time by Sally Herships from NPR. Peek: “When Brooklyn librarian Tenzin Kalsang’s story time for kids—in which she reads in both Tibetan and English—moved online last year, she was so nervous she couldn’t sleep the night before.…Her storytimes soon attracted viewers from around the world…Kalsang says bilingual storytimes signal to people that libraries celebrate diversity.”

Writing Craft

Sourcebooks Explore

From Crowd-Sourced to Sourcebooks: Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity by Karla Valenti from Tara Lazar. Peek: “I began to explore the idea of writing a book [about] a super science hero whose super power was persistence. Leveraging superhero tropes…the story came together—a book designed as a superhero concept, focusing on the person more than their accomplishment, focusing on how difficult it actually is to follow our dreams….”

Painting a Navajo Narrative by Matthew Brady from American Lifestyle. Peek: [Illustrator Shonto Begay:] “I come from a family of spiritual artists…Navajo healing chants offer an amazing healing journey within, and that is what I try to see when I paint. All the strokes, circles, lines, squiggles, curlicues, dots, and slashes I use are part of a visual chant through the spirit world.”

Steve Sheinkin Explains His Nonfiction Storyboarding Process by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. Peek: “[I]ndex cards? Very twentieth century, I know, but they work for me…I tried lots of conventional outlining techniques, but things kept getting muddled….I decided to try using the kind of storyboarding I’d learned about in a screenwriting class. Break your story into scenes…and use one index card or sticky note to represent each scene.”

Six Foot Press

Cover Reveal—It Doesn’t Take A Genius by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from We Need Diverse Books. [Cover Artist Gordon C. James, to young persons who want to be artists:] “I think you should draw. I think you should carry a sketchbook with you….The more you practice drawing from life, the easier it will be to do any style of artwork….You can get very good, very fast, by taking advantage of those little stolen moments when you’re…sitting around, instead of fiddling…on your phone.”

In Conversation: Sandra Nickel and Laurie Wallmark from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Laurie Wallmark:] “[O]ne of the reasons I write about women in STEM [is] so kids can see that scientists and mathematicians are regular people just like they are. By making the facts and concepts accessible to children, it makes them less scary….I think when STEM is presented in an inviting way, many children will embrace it.”

Nonfiction Writing Tips: Look for the “Oh, Wow!” by Melissa Stewart from Celebrate Science. Peek: “After reading widely about his topic without a specific approach in mind, Jason Chin decided to visit the canyon. And the first time he walked up to the edge, he had an ‘Oh, wow!’ experience that inspired him and guided his creative process as he wrote and illustrated the book.”

Clarion Books

Interview: Evan Griffith from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “It’s so tempting to think there’s some kind of perfect way to approach the writing habit, or plotting, or revision. When the process feels convoluted, my brain longs for an epiphany that will make it all easier, structured, straightforward. I have to remind myself…to embrace the mess and all of the imperfection.”

Light It Up…With Special Guest Kelka Magoon! from On Lines. Peek: “My feeling is that the first line of a book should ideally encapsulate something essential about the story, or the theme, or at least nod toward something significant about what is to come. Even if it seems relatively innocuous in the moment, or perhaps especially if it seems innocuous in the moment.”


Schools, Libraries To Receive Billions in Funding…. by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: [ALA President Julius C. Jefferson Jr.:] “This is a historic win for libraries…Every single library in every state will benefit. Plus—and this is huge—we have $7 billion–plus available for libraries and schools to purchase and distribute technology necessary for remote learning, working from home, virtual health care visits, and more.”



Olivia Chadha Interview and Rise of the Red Hand by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “Promo seems to have gone into hyperdrive now that all events can be done virtually….[T]here are even more opportunities to connect with a larger audience now….[f]rom podcasts, to interviews, IG live events, online classes, and live panels…The best advice someone gave me…was to say ‘no’ to promo opportunities that don’t bring you joy.”


Bologna Announces First BB+ Program from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “BolognaBookPlus is the new professional program announced earlier this year by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair….[I]ts first event…will be a new rights and licensing training program focused on selling rights for children’s books. The event, called ‘How to Sell Rights and Understand Licensing in Children’s Books,’ will take place on June 13.”

Law & Authors: Jacqueline Lipton in Conversation With Jane Friedman from 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book on YouTube. “If you use someone else’s work for purposes like scholarship, teaching, news reporting, commentary…it could be a fair use…[T]here’s…four factors: the nature and character of the work you copied, the amount you took, the purpose that you took it for, and what kind of impact you might have on the market for the original work.”

Kickstarter Publishing Sets Up on from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Kickstarter…is partnering with to set up a Kickstarter Publishing Bookshop page offering the growing list of comics, graphic novels, prose books and other titles funded by the site for sale….Sales generated via the…Bookshop page will deliver revenue to the independent artists/publishers; while Kickstarter’s commission…will be donated to NYC Books Through Bars.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Deborah Noyes

Deborah Noyes Editorial Services offers developmental editing, editorial mentoring, editorial assessment, and query-letter reviews. Deborah is a former executive editor, focusing on manuscripts from picture books to YA novels. She’s currently on the faculty of the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition, she’s a writer and anthologist published by Candlewick, Viking, Random House, HMH Books, Unbridled Books, and Little, Brown Books.

Join the Oklahoma Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Monthly Twitter Chat, #okscbwichat, featuring guest children’s author Kim Rogers, contributor to Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum, 2021). Rogers’ debut picture book, Just Like Grandma, will be released in 2023. The chat will take place at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. central, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. eastern on March 23.

We Need Diverse Books is giving away book sets to schools, libraries, and educational organizations. Winners will receive one classroom set (for a total of 30 books per winner) of one of the following 2020 Walter Award winners: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero O’Connell (First Second, 2019) and The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019). Apply here. Application submissions will close at 8:59 p.m. pacific, 10:59 p.m. central, 11:59 p.m. eastern on March 22.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Indigenous Comics Creators Symposium. Join teachers, scholars, and Indigenous comics creators as they discuss their work and share their skills and insights during this free, virtual event. Some of the presenters include Tasha Spillett, Darcie Little Badger, David Alexander Robertson, and the creators from the This Place: 150 Years Retold collection. The event will take place 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. pacific, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. central, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. eastern on March 24. Registration is required here.

We Need Diverse Books’ virtual ​2021​ ​Symposium on Diversity in Children’s Literature and Walter Awards, co-sponsored with the Library of Congress, and titled “Listening, Learning, Creating Communities,” is available for replay here. ​“The panelists demonstrate how diversity in children’s books can help us better understand each other and our communities.”

The All-Virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book, which “brings together writers and readers to promote and celebrate books, reading, literacy, and literary culture,” is currently taking place and will end on March 26. You can explore the festival’s full schedule and watch past-event replays. Some of the children’s/YA author speakers include Mahogany L. Browne, Yamile Saied Méndez, Ed Lin, and Hena Khan.

School Library Journal is presenting Disrupting Literary Hegemony: Trans and Nonbinary Author Spotlight, a one-hour Zoom event during which “trans and nonbinary authors will discuss their work, their creative process, representation in literature” and more. The event will take place 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern on March 25. Register here.


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the short list for the Barnes & Noble First Annual Children’s & YA Book Awards, in the categories of Picture Book, Young Readers, and YA. “These awards will spotlight and celebrate outstanding new and emerging talent in children’s publishing….”

Congratulations to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s 56th Annual Nebula Award Finalists, especially those named for the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction, which include: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books, 2020), Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger( Levine Querido, 2020), A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions, 2020), A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese (Henry Holt and Co., 2020), and Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar (HarperTeen, 2020).

Congratulations to the finalists for the 2021 Lambda Literary Awards in the categories of LGBTQ Children’s/Middle Grade, LGBTQ Young Adult, and LGBTQ Comics. “Notable in this year’s finalists is the depth and breadth of books for young people, which give LGBTQ youth a sense of belonging and teach those who are not LGBTQ how to respect those who are.”

Indy Pub

Congratulations to the winners and honors of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2020 Spark Award. The winners are Mama’s Waves by Chandra Ghosh Ippen, illustrated by Erich Ippen Jr. (Piplo Productions, 2020) and Sometimes Brave by Trista Wilson (Indy Pub, 2020). “The Spark Award is an annual award that recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route.”

Scholarships & Grants

Numerous Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Awards & Grants are open for submissions. Some of these include the Ann Whitford Paul Writer’s Digest Manuscript Award, the Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award, the Work-in-Progress Awards, and the Don Freeman Work-in-Progress Grant, which are all accepting submissions until April 15. See website for all awards and grants, details, and submission deadlines.

We Need Diverse BooksEmergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing is accepting new applicants and has broadened the eligibility criteria so more diverse creators qualify. Grants range from $500 to $1,000.

We Need Diverse Books Internship Grant Program. WNDB will be awarding up to 30 grants of $3,000 to help diversify the publishing industry. The internships must take place between June 1 and Aug. 31. “The Internship Grant Program’s purpose is to award supplemental grants to applicants from diverse backgrounds to help further their goals of pursuing a career in children’s and adult publishing.” Applications will be accepted through April 30. Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Visit Best of Books in Edmond, Oklahoma.

I’m delighted to report that Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids is The Oklahoman’s #2 Bestseller in Children’s Books. (The Oklahoman is the largest daily newspaper in the state and the only regional daily that covers the Greater Oklahoma City area. Oklahoma is the U.S. state with the second highest percentage of Native people (17.4%) after Alaska (27.9%).) Thanks to my friends at Best of Books, a wonderful independent bookstore in Edmond, OK, for sharing and promoting the good news!

It’s been an especially busy week for me as an author-speaker, and I’ve really enjoyed it!

  • Thank you to Alaina Lavoie for hosting me at a meeting of the Personal Marketing for Authors class at Emerson College this week. Basically, all of my answers boiled down to respecting and prioritizing the needs of the young-reader audience and erring on the side of lifting up one’s community.
  • Thank you to Dr. Allison G. Kaplan for hosting me at a meeting of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Information School Multicultural Literature course. It was an honor to reflect on changes in the conversation of Native children’s-YA books over time and the corresponding literary, artistic, and industry landscape.
  • Thank you to Sara Gold for hosting me at a meeting of the Wisconsin Schools Digital Library Consortium. I appreciated your asking about my full range of work and learned from you about digital needs.
  • Thank you, Christina Dorr and Sarah Ressler Wright, for hosting me at a Virtual Author Webinar for Hilliard and Delaware, Ohio Public Schools! It was a pleasure to share information about Native children’s-YA literature.
Dr. Debbie Reese with an ARC of Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert (Heartdrum)

On Tuesday, I attended a UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center talk “focusing on the importance of teaching children about American Indians through appropriate children’s literature and animated programs.” Featured speakers were “Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo), a critic and scholar and founder of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature, and Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in) a producer of PBS’ Molly of Denali, and the moderator was UCLA graduate student Clementine Bordeaux (Sicangu Lakota Oyate).

Congratulations to Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert on this wonderful, spot-on Review of the Day: Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend from Betsy Bird at A Fuse 8 Production from School Library Journal, which also address more broadly the need for humor in Native books for young readers. Peek:

“The first early chapter book to come out of the new Native focused imprint of Harper Collins, Heartdrum, this is a hoot. Funny and smart, with a sly sense of humor that’s entirely its own, prepare for a series that you’ll want to see much more of in the future.”

Congratulations to Laurel Goodluck and Madelyn Goodnight on the sale of “Rock Your Mocs” to Heartdrum! This celebratory picture book highlights Rock Your Mocs Day, an annual Native American and Indigenous peoples’ movement promoting Native pride, which takes place during Native Heritage Month. Publication is slated for fall 2023.

Visit the official website for the book, which offers resources.

Congratulations to my friend, fellow Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA faculty member, and co-author of the upcoming Blue Stars series Kekla Magoon on the cover reveal for Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People (Candlewick, September 2021) from We Need Diverse Books.

Link of the Week: Donating, Volunteering, Reporting Hate Incidents: Here’s How to Help Combat Anti-Asian Violence by Kat Moon from TIME.

More Personally – Gayleen

I’ve attended a lot of online events recently, but I’m especially looking forward to Pat Cummings webinar on weaving fact into fiction, hosted by Nebraska SCBWI on Saturday. I adored her MG novel, Trace (HarperCollins, 2019) and can’t wait to get a behind-the-scenes peek into how she crafted the story.

More Personally – Suma

I enjoyed reading Evan Griffith’s debut picture book biography, Secrets Of The Sea (Clarion Books, 2021). It is the story of Jeanne Power, a pioneering marine scientist of the 19th century.