Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Daisy by Jessixa Bagley (Neal Porter Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

A Women’s History Month Chat With Graci Kim and Roshani Chokshi from Read Riordan. Peek: [Graci Kim:] “For those of you who hold story seeds inside of you…please feed them, water them, sing to them, and give them lots of sunshine. Cultivate your craft, then share your harvests with the world—because we are hungry for your stories!…Remember that you, too, have a voice. You, too, are seen.”

Swoon Reads

Lost in the Never Woods Is a Peter Pan Retelling About Trauma by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Aiden Thomas:] “I love writing because I can just create my own world and disappear into it…Even though I’m stuck at home…I can write these stories with really fun adventures. That’s always been my real driving force behind writing, is just being able to create my own worlds and escape into them, and have fun.”

Good Company by Naomi Shihab Nye from School Library Journal. Peek: “The days rolled by and we all grew more comfortable with Zoom…[B]efore I knew it, I was visiting with kids everywhere…only some aspects were better. I didn’t have to keep packing my suitcase. You could be in Singapore one day, Scotland the next….No one was alone. Hasn’t this been what books can always do?”

Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant Author-Illustrator Interview from Publishers Spotlight on YouTube. [Anna Kang:] “I really wanted to speak to young people like me and others, and its not just about color; it is about size, it is about height, it is about…class. It’s not that you’re ‘not’ something; maybe the other person is the ‘not’….I wanted people to feel everyone is perfect the way they are.”

Feiwel & Friends

Taye Diggs and Shane Evans Discuss Children’s Book “My Friend!” from Today TV on YouTube. Peek: [Shane Evans:] “Sometimes I take on the initiative to do some work on self…I needed some time to break away…so I did a project that entailed 365 drawings and 365 pieces of writing that had the header of  ‘No Complaints.’…It gave me an opportunity to…be grateful for all of the blessings that are in my life….”

“Our Shared Past and Future” James Gladstone’s Halley’s Comet Picture Book Offers Historical Perspective from Open Book. Peek: “The research for this book gave me a broader view of humanity’s relationship with this relatively small object orbiting the Sun. I hope that kids might come to recognize that they are part of the continuity of human knowledge and understanding. Everyone alive now is a link between our shared past and future.”

Equity & Inclusion

Living With Tourette Syndrome Inspired Me to Write My Young Adult Novel by Halli Gomez from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As a kid, I couldn’t find books written about people like me, or written by people like me….[T]hat made for a pretty lonely childhood…It took me a long time to get to the place where I could say [Tourette Syndrome]…and share my story with the world. I’ve come a long way.”

Dial Books

Q&A With Sarah Kapit, The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]here is such a dearth of representation of autistic people who use AAC [alternative and augmentative communication]. Sometimes we see non-speaking autistic people…but usually those characters do not use assistive technology. From spending time in the autistic community, I know that using AAC is hardly uncommon, and I wanted to represent that.”

Announcing DiverseVoices, Inc. Peek: “DiverseVoices, Inc. is a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering and advocating for book creators from marginalized communities in getting traditionally published within an industry….#DVpit is an early program of DVinc….DVcon [is] a free virtual conference for marginalized authors and illustrators. New programs will include mentorships, grants…and more.”

Q&A With Aisha Saeed by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “There’s a power in being seen, and for others to see you as you really are—beyond the stereotypes. Because that’s all I got…growing up…[I]t is important for me to have authentic representation in books. This helps shape how you relate to the world around you—both by being seen and seeing others.”


Five Questions With Morgan Jerkins by University Advancement from Forward Thinking. Peek: “I want to figure out how to reconcile the archival silence of the lives and histories of enslaved African Americans with my creative imagination, as someone who is a descendant of those people….I hope that my work will help create a better future by exposing audiences to different textures of African American lives….”

Bruised: A Q+A With Tanya Boteju with Alexis Zygan from Capilano Courier. Peek: “I hope readers see the value of being vulnerable. Especially for young queer folks, it can be hard to share a piece of themselves when what’s happening around them isn’t welcoming. There is someone out there who is willing to listen and celebrate who they are.”

Resources for Indigenous Representation in Children’s Literature by Donna Sabis-Burns from Children’s Literature Assembly. Peek: “We are obligated to…teach the richness of realistic, authentic, and contemporary literature for children and young adults. We need to promote books where Indigenous characters are up front and visible, not hidden or pushed aside. We want to highlight in a bold, distinguishable manner characters and stories that unveil…the beauty of diverse literature….”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Four Questions for Raffi by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Diversity is a key principle of my Child Honouring philosophy….Each one of us grows from infancy through developmental stages that rely on respectful love, caring community, and safe environments, which are all Child Honouring principles. It’s fun to remember that our human diversity is part of nature’s biodiversity, and that we are all interconnected.”

Writing Craft

Indigenous Authors Making Waves in the Literary World with Falen Johnson from CBC Radio. Peek: [Angeline Boulley:] “Identity, it ties to the language…I wanted to tell a story that felt purely niche. To do that, the language just had to be a part of it….I wanted people to be able to see the language and figure it out from the context and have it feel very organic to the story….”

Vashti Harrison, Author of “Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World”…. by Dina Weinstein from RVA on the Cheap. Peek: “There are…many different ways to make a picture book…Anyone who’s ever tried to tell a short story, or even written a Tweet, knows being concise requires a lot of thoughtfulness and creativity….[E]ach word is chosen carefully for the young reader and crafted to work in tandem with the pictures to create a story.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (Cookie Chronicles) in Conversation from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Matthew Swanson:] “[I]f Robbi hadn’t been…illustrating this book…[it] definitely would have been the story of a white kid, because that was my experience.…Robbi choosing to make [the character] half-Japanese is an act of co-authorship. She wasn’t just illustrating a story I wrote. She was making a choice that expands and deepens the book’s meaning.”

Interview With Sarah Allen Re: Breathing Underwater from MG Book Village. Peek: “[P]art of the reason…[I did] so much revision is that in my initial drafts, the plot devices I was using to pull the story forward were not the right devices for this story….I had to experiment with replacing plot and structural elements while keeping the frame and character arcs of the story….”

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks: Featuring…Illustrator, Jacqueline Alcántara by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: “[The] manuscript didn’t specify who the characters were or what they looked like, so I had…fun dreaming up the cast…. When I had trouble deciding what the main character’s outfit should be, I enlisted some help from a kindergarten class in New York. They voted on their favorite, and that’s the one I used….”


Four Questions for Ambreen Tariq by Libby Morse from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The illustration process was a constant back and forth—I didn’t write the book, send it off and not see it again….I didn’t know how to articulate what I was seeing and what I wanted….[I] had to learn how to give that direction—to say South Asian people have different-shaped features.”


Lerner Partners With Read Woke to Launch Book Series by Pamela Brill from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Lerner Publishing Group has joined forces with Read Woke nonprofit founder Cicely Lewis to develop the Read Woke Books brand, providing librarians and educators with tools to help teens engage in thoughtful conversations about…immigration, and other timely subjects….Lewis has co-authored the first six titles in the Issues in Action series, slated to roll out this fall.”

Sisters Started a Publishing House to Launch a Novel Featuring a Black Muslim Teen by Thandiwe Konguavi from CBC News. Peek: “When Aisha Yusuf finished writing her book about a Black Muslim teen…she couldn’t find a publishing company that would publish it. So she and her three sisters…Samia, Maymuuna, and Juweria started Abāyo House to publish Aisha’s first book…The four Edmonton sisters with Somali roots are hoping the publishing house will turn into a beacon of belonging for other Black Muslim girls.”

University Presses Are Overwhelmingly White by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Association of University Presses, in collaboration with Lee & Low Books, analyzed university press data from the most recent Diversity Baseline Survey of U.S. publishing released last year and found…81% of the university press workforce to be white….[T]his figure was even higher than for general trade publishing, which came in at 75% white.”


How to Get a Wealth of Social Media Content by Terry Whalin from Writers on the Move. Peek: “Haphazard and rare use of social media never works….I use a free tool Hootsuite to schedule my tweets throughout the day. Each communication is focused on my audience and readers (who are writers or people interested in publishing). Your target audience will be different but you must have a specific target.”


Indie Booksellers Launch Interactive Storytelling Site by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This spring, [bookstore owner Jane] Almquist and bookseller Cynthia Salbado will launch the beta version of the Secret Storyworld, an interactive website for kids to learn how to craft their own tales and engage more deeply in the world around them. The site…teach[es] children how to weave their own versions of the hero’s journey.”


Libraries Lead in the New Normal With Mike Eisenberg, Part II from The Skillset Podcast. Peek: [Mike Eisenberg:] “Libraries and librarians have a major role in supporting things now and also down the road….How can libraries and librarians be a force of good in moving to the new normal?…We can’t wait for the…normal library patrons to come to us. The libraries need to reach out into those underserved communities or never-served communities.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Lee & Low Books

Join New York Times bestselling illustrator Jing Jing Tsong and Lee & Low Books editor Cheryl Klein as they casually discuss Jing Jing’s book If I Were a Tree, written by Andrea Zimmerman. The event takes place at 9:00 a.m. pacific, 11:00 a.m. central, 12:00 p.m. eastern on April 9. Register here.

Join Anton Truer and Birchbark Books booksellers Halee Kirkwood and Anthony Ceballos for a reading and conversation about Anton’s book Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition). The event, which will be followed by an audience Q&A, will take place at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern on April 6. Register here.

The 2021 WriteMentor program will be accepting applications from April 15 to April 16. This four-month online summer mentorship pairs children’s literature professionals with pre-agented authors who write in English. Applicants can be international and must have a completed picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult manuscript that they would like to improve and develop. It is free to apply or participate. The application form will appear on April 15.

Candlewick Press

The Seventh Annual Bay Area Book  Festival is scheduled to take place virtually from May 1 to May 9. The Festival’s Youth Program will spotlight young readers “as they share the virtual stage (and ideas, insights, and laughter) with some of the most exciting voices in YA and middle-grade literature today,” including Meg Medina, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Ellen Oh, and Kelly Starling Lyons.

Publishers Weekly and Westchester Publishing Services will be hosting “Publishing Now ‘21: Looking Forward,” a webinar with leaders from the publishing industry discussing current status, changes, and expectations as the industry continues to adapt to the impact of the pandemic and world events. This free one-hour virtual event will take place at 9:00 a.m. pacific, 11:00 a.m. central, 12:00 p.m. eastern on April 6. Register here.

Penguin Young Readers and children’s author Ann Braden are launching The Flight of the Puffin Read Aloud: Connecting Classrooms Coast-to-Coast. “Starting April 19, for five weeks, Ann will be posting videos every week, including read-alouds, ways to connect to a classroom in a different part of the country—and activities to reach out to those feeling isolated.” Sign up here.

Scholastic Press

Mark your calendar! The 2021 UNLV Online Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature: Amplifying and Affirming Joy and Humanity in Readers’ Hearts and Minds has been scheduled to take place June 10 to June 12. Visiting authors include Sharon G. Flake, Mitali Perkins, and Maria Padian. Special guests will be Cynthia Leitich Smith and Eric Gansworth. There will also be a panel of debut authors.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Audie Awards, especially in the Young Listeners, Middle Grade, and Young Adult categories:

Congratulations to the finalists of the Publishers Weekly Bookstore and Sales Rep of the Year Awards. “The five 2021 bookstore finalists reflect the changes that have taken place in the ways that bookstores serve their communities and the increasing role of activism in bookselling today.” The winners will be named in late May.

Two Hoots

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals 2021 Shortlists Announced. Peek: “The shortlists of the prestigious CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the UK’s…best-loved book awards for children and young people, were announced…The Medals celebrate outstanding achievement in children’s writing and illustration respectively…[W]e hope the outstanding books on this year’s shortlists will inspire and empower young readers, offering hope and escapism during lockdown.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to Rain Newcomb for hosting me at her American Indian Children’s Literature class at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. It was a pleasure visiting with students about books, the writing life and the creative process. You know, there’s such an emphasis on audience size, and I understand the importance of reach. But at the same time, I really enjoy chatting a little more informally with inquisitive scholars who’ve already had a chance to read and reflect on the work.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Dawn Quigley by Zach Miller from Indigenous Representations Newsletter. PEEK: “Native and non-Native young readers all deserve better, more inclusive stories—across the board. Heartfelt stories, laugh-out-loud stories, page turning adventures! Any kid can be a hero that everybody cheers. Of course, that includes Native kids and literature!”

Congratulations to Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert on their starred review from Publishers Weekly for Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend (Heartdrum, 2021):

★ “In a winning, straightforward voice (“Ojibwe is my Native American tribe. You say it like this: Oh-JIB-way. See? Ojibwe.”), Jo Jo introduces her growing concerns. Cat Mimi, Jo Jo’s ‘home best friend who ignores me sometimes,’ needs shots, which the girl believes may deflate the feline, ‘just like a balloon letting the air out.'”

More Personally – Stephani

It was super exciting to celebrate my fellow VCFA classmates, Ashley Walker and Maureen Charles, as their YA nonfiction project was announced on Publishers Marketplace this week!

More Personally – Suma

It’s #StandUpForAAPI Book Day. Here are some lovely books by Asian creators from my desk.