Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales, illustrated by Aphelandra (Albert Whitman & Company, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

“Ambitious Girl” Reminds Kids: Your Dreams Are Not a Drawback by Michel Martin from NPR. Peek: [Meena Harris:] “‘Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are.’ That is actually something my grandmother used to say often…You are the only person who has power to define who you are—what your ambitions are and what your impact on the world will be.”

Wednesday Books

YA Grows Up: Teen Protagonists Step Into Adulthood by Katy Hershberger from School Library Journal. Peek: “YA books, particularly those with older characters…, can exist in a liminal space that appeals to many different ages of reader: Teens wanting to grow up, and adults who may never truly feel grown….[Librarian Lalitha Nataraj:] ‘A lot of [these books] serve as primers for self-development, self-actualization, learning to do the right thing, making certain choices in our lives….’”

Four Questions for Jon Klassen by Antonia Saxon from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Kids want to work for you. They’re excited to be entrusted with that task. ‘Yeah, you want me to figure it out. You’re not going to spoon-feed me.’ They’re so excited, and you can feel it, almost, when they realize what you’re asking them to do.”

Interview With…Children’s Author Linsey Davis by Ana Campos from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “I want children to know that they were perfectly knit together in their mother’s womb…that they were designed intentionally and purposefully. I want kids to celebrate the uniqueness of who they are and who they are destined to be.…[and] not shy away from their skin, shape, or what makes them special.”


Community, Nature, and Wonder as a Balm…. by Summer Edward from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I hope the story draws folks together whenever it’s read. I hope it draws you, dear reader, a little closer to wonder…to nature…to what truly matters. I hope it helps you remember the balm, perhaps even the cure…we’re all searching for in these times: community, nature, the simple things in all their undeniable power.”

Equity & Inclusion

Therapeutic Storytelling: How a Book About Queer Witches Helped Me Heal by E. Latimer from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “My therapist…[and I] discussed my…past terror of going to hell for being queer. One of the first things he suggested was writing it all down. In a journal at first, perhaps, and then later, into my actual work….There was a kind of healing beginning from the moment I typed out, ‘Chapter One.’”

Why It’s Important to Talk to Kids About Disability and “What Happened to You?” by James Catchpole from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I hope this story will both reassure disabled children and empower them to set their own boundaries….That’s what books do, of course: Lend readers other people’s shoes. And that’s the power of diverse books….[S]tories written by disabled writers for disabled readers…have something true to say to disabled and nondisabled kids alike.”

Scholastic Press

Q&A With Sabina Khan, Zara Hossain Is Here by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Writing characters who exist at the intersection of many identities comes with its own set of challenges. Some perceive them as not being authentic enough and others think they are unrealistic. It is…exhausting to constantly feel the need to justify your own existence and…lived experiences simply because they are different from the mainstream.”

New Young-Adult Novel Brings Traditional Deities Into Modern Times by Cindy Yurth from Navajo Times. Peek: [Brian Young:] “I know how important a book like this can be because I was a young Navajo reader who could not find a single story that had characters who resembled me and who lived in my environment…So, this book is for you, ’ashkiiké dóó ’at’ééké…Your experiences and your existence are important.”

Q&A With Meg Medina, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance by Asha Sridhar from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Twelve years old] is about the age when kids…look at the adult world and the structures around them…They know the rules of when they’re supposed to speak, let’s say Spanish, at school, at home…To be a child from a marginalized community is to understand so many complicated rules from a very young age.”

Zest Books

No Way They Were Gay Book Launch with Lee Wind and Alex Sanchez on YouTube. Peek: “[H]istory has been sanitized for the protection of the people in power, and it’s left out women and…people of color and…disabled people. And in particular, it’s left out men who loved men, and women who loved women, and people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender boundaries.”

The Importance of Intergenerational Storytelling and Learning Self-Love From Our Elders by Sihle Nontshokweni and Mathabo Tlali from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Stories of identity, where we come from,…[can] redeem us from the places where we continue to hide…Stories shared across generations have the power to heal and free us, bringing us back to the essence of who we are, outside of the frivolous false identities we grab hold of as we navigate the world.”

We Need Books That Center Black Joy by Sonja Cherry-Paul from Chalkbeat. Peek: “[I]t is…important for Black children to know that they are precious and brilliant. And one powerful way to affirm Blackness and Black identities is through reading….As parents and caregivers, we understand…how important it is that Black children feel seen, valued, and loved in their reading lives.”


Marginalized People Are Taught To Be Embarrassed by Our Mothers by NoNieqa Ramos from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Society continues to teach children that successful Latinx women are the exception, not the rule—and when they do succeed, it is at the expense of friendship, family, cultural heritage, and community….Our books only begin to excavate the dynamic, complex, powerful, unstoppable force that is the Latinx woman….”

Writing Craft

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross With Traci Sorell, Natasha Donovan, and Carol Hinz from Picture Book Look Podcast. Peek: [Illustrator Natasha Donovan:] “I start[] with the most difficult part [of] putting pencil down on blank paper and forcing myself to draw really, really rough drafts…and try[ing] to get over the words in my head that are telling me that I forgot how to draw. Every new project, I’m totally convinced that…I [am] a fraud….”

Malinda Lo on Writing a Coming-of-Age Love Story by Todd Wellman from Lambda Literary. Peek: “I always write for myself first, and then I want to reach readers who are like me,…readers who are queer women and girls, queer Asian women and girls. And then it goes out from there. It’s a historical novel, so I’m hoping people who love historical fiction will enjoy it.”


Debut Author Interview: Tirzah Price and Pride and Premeditation by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “When creating my outline…I usually start out with the broad strokes. I know who the villains are, and their motives, and I work backwards to the moment when the protagonists learn of the crime….[M]ake sure that all of the characters have a secret or two that may or may not relate to the mystery….”

The Writer’s Page: Hello Again by Kimberly Willis Holt from The Horn Book. Peek: “Sequels and companion books can be rewarding and risky for writers. True, they are usually books that have a built-in readership by way of the original story. However, they come with heavier expectations, not only to satisfy readers with a new story but also to do justice to the old one.”

Q&A With Brittney Morris, The Cost of Knowing by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Can I cheat and say I’m a plantser…? While plotting, I draw big boxes—parameters—[of] what has to happen in the chapter and what the hook is at the end of each….I plant seeds during plotting and let them grow into whatever they end up growing into while writing.”

Quill Tree Books

“When You Look Like Us” Interview: Pamela N. Harris on Crafting Realistic Characters…. by Sabrien Abdelrahman from The Young Folks. Peek: “Characters and dialogue are my favorite elements of the writing process. There were a couple of scenes that did not make the final cut in the novel, but those scenes help[ed] me learn more about my characters….It not only helped me figure out my characters’ individual voices, but also their motivations.”

Sidewriting Takeover: Time Traveling With Jennifer Ziegler by Erin Nuttall from Kid Lit Craft. Peek: “[S]idewriting…help[s] me understand my world, my characters, and the structure of my story…I do most sidewriting early—either before I’ve started drafting or when I’m just a few chapters in. I always start with character….Once I know the protagonist (their personality, goals, backstory, etc.), that’s when I start the structural work.”

Interview With Ciannon Smart, Author of Witches Steeped in Gold…. by CW from The Quiet Pond. Peek: “I’ve always been a fan of characters who tend to subvert a reader’s expectation…[I]t was a deliberate choice to create a world…that doesn’t really have a place for the traditional hero. Instead, it needs characters…who, while not villains, certainly don’t shy away from taking greyer paths in pursuit of what they want….”


Balzer + Bray

Middle Grade Snapshot:…Editors In the Field Share Their Latest Observations by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The editors we spoke with unanimously mentioned a distinct uptick in the number of diverse…manuscripts they are receiving. [Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Alvina Ling:] ‘So many different voices are telling stories…It’s been wonderful to see more underrepresented characters and stories in middle grade, especially with LGBTQIA+ characters.’”

Macmillan Children’s to Add Neon Squid Nonfiction Imprint by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Macmillan Children’s Book Group will dive into new waters next winter with the launch of London-based Neon Squid Books, an imprint dedicated to publishing gift nonfiction books that make complex topics—such as archeology and medicine—accessible…to young readers….Neon Squid’s debut list reflects the team’s emphasis on subject diversity and innovative storytelling angles.”

Catapult Launches Vertical To Help Writers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Catapult announced…the launch of Don’t Write Alone, a craft and resource-focused vertical for writers that is a joint venture of Catapult’s digital magazine and writing programs. The website, which will be updated five days a week, will provide a toolkit for writers at every stage of their projects, processes, and careers.”


Graphic Universe

LibraryPass Offers Libraries Digital Access to Humanoids Graphic Novels from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “LibraryPass, a digital content vendor serving libraries and schools…reached an agreement with…European comics publisher Humanoids to offer access to its backlist via LibraryPass’s ComicsPlus digital comics unit. The distribution agreement will provide library patrons digital access to…more than 500 graphic novels. LibraryPass’s ComicsPlus…offer[s] access to more than 20,000 digital comics, graphic novels, and manga.”

The Future of Libraries Is in the Community by Linda Poon from Bloomburg CityLab. Peek: During the pandemic, American public libraries found ways to continue providing services to their communities—particularly…internet access. They gave people access to WiFi from their parking lots…and gave out portable devices for home use. [New America Lisa Guernsey:] ‘Libraries are going to recognize that their role is…across the landscape of their community….’”


Sign Up for April 27 Marketing Meetup on Join the American Booksellers Association for a special Marketing Meetup to learn about optimizing your page. The session, led by Bookshop Partnerships Manager Sarah High, will take place at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern on April 27.

Top 10 Tips for Using Twitter by Emily Behnke from American Booksellers Assocation. Peek: “[T]he American Booksellers Association held a session called ‘Twitter Engagement: To Tweet or Not to Tweet,’ which covered what booksellers should keep in mind when using Twitter to connect with customers, build community, and more….A recording…can be found on the Education Resources page on Here are the top 10 takeaways from the session….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Lee & Low Books

Earth Day is April 22. We Are Teachers has prepared a list of 42 of the Best Books for Celebrating Earth Day. Peek: [Lindsay Barrett:] “From animals, plants, and ecosystems to environmental change, conservation, and notable environmentalists, there are so many topics related to our environment that are important to explore with students.”

Join Brazos Bookstore’s panel event to learn about HarperCollins’ newest imprint, Heartdrum. Panel members are Dawn Quigley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Brian Young. Peek: “Launching in Winter 2021, Heartdrum will offer a wide range of innovative, unexpected, and heartfelt stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes.” The virtual event will take place at 1 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern on June 5. Register here.

For a limited time, watch replays here of the Penguin Random House, Library Journal, and School Library Journal Spring Book & Author Festival presentations. The Kids Corner Author Panel: An Exploration of History, Conservation, Life Stories, & More, features Andrea Debbink, Gail Jarrow, G.Z. Schmidt, and Traci Sorell.

Scholastic Press

Asian & Pacific Islander American Book Month. Peek: “To celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we present AAPI Book Month! It is a month-long celebration of AAPI identities and cultures. AAPI authors and artists will come together for virtual panels and events throughout the month of May! Join us for discussions and celebrations of Asian and Pacific Islander identities and cultures!”

Native Writing Intensive Is a Community and Career Building Opportunity by AJ Eversole from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[O]nly about one percent of characters in children’s books are Native/First Nations….[Stacy Wells:] ‘Native writing spaces are needed. This type of programming is not one-and-done. Collectively, we are stronger together, we inspire each other, we encourage each other, we understand each other.’” The 2021 Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive will take place virtually Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. Applications will be accepted until June 1. Scholarships are available.

Call for Papers: Indigenous Young Adult Novels (Summer 2022) from Studies in the Novel. Peek: “Studies in the Novel seeks submissions for a special issue on ‘Indigenous Young Adult Novels,’ guest-edited by Christopher Pexa (University of Minnesota), Angela Calcaterra (University of North Texas), and Eric Gary Anderson (George Mason University)…The deadline for submissions is Nov. 1.”

Minnesota Historical Society Press

Join the free virtual launch event for Josie Dances by Denise Lajimodiere, illustrated by Angela Erdrich (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2021) at 1 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern on May 20. The author and illustrator will share their coming-of-age picture book, in which which Denise highlights her daughter’s experience at a powwow, and Angela’s artwork features Josie and her family, and also “the animals, seasons and heartbeat of Aki, Mother Earth….”

Some sessions of the San Antonio Book Festival, which took place from April 9 to April 11, will be available for replay on SABF’s YouTube channel. Subscribe to the SABF newsletter to receive news of when the replays are accessible.

Looking for an author for a virtual event? Check out Phil Bildner’s Author Village, a community of children’s book authors/illustrators/educators “available for in-person and virtual school visits, library visits, festivals, conferences, panels, workshops, professional development, and special events.” Author Kate Messner also maintains a list of children’s authors who offer free or low-cost virtual webinars and Q&A sessions.


FlowerSong Press

Congratulations to the 2021 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award winners: The Spirit of Chicano Park: El espíritu del Parque Chicano by Beatrice Zamora, illustrated by Meza Maira (Tolteca Press, 2020)(Works for Younger Readers), Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams, 2020)(Works for Younger Readers), and Dreaming with Mariposas by Sonia Gutiérrez (FlowerSong Press, 2020)(Works for Older Readers).

Congratulations to Kate DiCamillo, winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters‘ 2021 E.B. White Award for achievement in children’s literature. A virtual 2021 Ceremonial to recognize the Academy’s award winners will be held at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on May 19.

Congratulations to the 2021 Hugo Award Finalists, and also to the six finalists of the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. The winners of the awards, which are presented by the World Science Fiction Society, will be announced at DisCon III, which will be held in December.

Scholarships & Grants

FundsforWriters, an online resource for writers, has a list of grants “that cover a simple conference fee or a six-month retreat to write and get away from it all. Some pay for specifically designed projects and others exercise your ability to match writing with a social cause. No two are alike, so keep coming back to see what might suit your fancy.”

Recently at Cynsations

Recommended Read

Be sure to pre-order We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by former Cynsations Native beat reporter Traci Sorell and illustrator Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, April 2021). From the promotional copy: “Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of an ongoing story. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native American people’s past, present, and future.”

Featured Video & Giveaway

This week on “This One’s Dedicated To…” Chris Barton and Jennifer Zielger chat with Kekla Magoon about the dedication of The Highest Tribute.

Peek from Chris Barton: “In this episode of ‘This One’s Dedicated to…,Jennifer and I share our quick conversation with three-time Coretta Scott King Book Award Honoree Kekla Magoon about the dedication she wrote for her new picture book biography, The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy, illustrated by Laura Freeman (Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins, January 2021). Subscribers to my monthly Bartography Express newsletter (folks can sign up at are eligible to win the copy of The Highest Tribute to be given away at the end of May 2021.” Find giveaway details and the full list of available conversations and upcoming “This One’s Dedicated to…” videos on Chris’s website. 

More Personally – Cynthia

I’m grateful to report that the first major trade review for my upcoming middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, June 1, 2021), was starred from Booklist.

★ “Smith has brilliantly reshaped the Pan story with a modern, inclusive sensibility. The usual elements are there—Merfolk, Fairies, pirates, lost boys—but all reimagined for the better, especially the Native characters.”

This was immediately followed by another major trade review for the book, this one also starred, from Kirkus Reviews.

★ “The poignant dislocation of the Lost and the fierce familial love of the stepsisters illustrate the importance of remembering where you come from and to whom you belong. A refreshing adventure that breathes new life into a classic text.”

What an honor it was to spot two 2021 Heartdrum books, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, an anthology which I edited, and THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day on First Contenders: The Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Reading List…So Far by Steven Englefried from School Library Journal! I highly encourage you to check out all of the titles mentioned as well as those 2021 releases that might be flying more under the radar.

On a related note, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021) was named a Kids Indie Next List Pick and Booklist praised the audio edition of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021).

“Narrated by Kenny Ramos (Kumeyaay) and DeLanna Studi (Cherokee), characterizations flow naturally and vocally capture the depth of the youngsters, elders, and everyone in-between (including a rather spunky canine!).” —Beth Rosania

Congratulations to Heartdrum author debut author Brian Young on a likewise lovely review from Booklist for Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, May 1, 2021).

“Young’s narrative weaves traditional folklore, language, and mythos with modern emotion to craft a poignant tale of family, friendship, and protecting what you love most.”

This same middle grade novel was also celebrated by the Navajo Times in a major review by Cindy Yurth:

“Young…consulted with traditional elders and medicine people to make sure he only used characters and stories it was OK to put in print. The book contains some good lessons for elders too. We tend to idealize childhood as a carefree time and forget that children see all the horror and dysfunction going on in their families, no matter how hard we try to hide it from them.”
With Christine Day and moderator Deborah Taffa at San Antonio Book Festival.

Thanks to Deborah Taffa for moderating my panel about Ancestor Approved with Christine Day at the San Antonio Book Festival!

Thanks also to Laura Pengram and everyone at last weekend’s Kweli: The Color of Children’s Literature Conference. I had the honor of participating on two Publishing Track panels. I moderated “Tips on Crafting a Short Story for an Anthology,” featuring Christine Day, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Renee Watson and Brian Young. I also participated as a panelist on “Reimagine,” also featuring Denene Millner, Christopher Myers and Namrata Tripathi; moderated by Zareen Jaffery.

More Personally – Gayleen

I was thrilled to get the last copy of Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price (HarperTeen, 2021) from my local Barnes & Noble. And the display worked, I also bought another copy of Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt, 2021).

More Personally – Stephani

I’ve been enjoying reading Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World (Catapult, 2021), which calls into question how writers and instructors approach the writing workshop and the overall craft of writing.

More Personally – Suma

I attended the Kweli Conference while I was on vacation last weekend, and I’m now excited to dive back into revisions. Our own Cynthia Leitich Smith was one of the fabulous speakers at the conference.