Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: We Dream Medicine Dreams by Lisa Boivin (HighWater Press, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Elizabeth Acevedo Understands That “People Read Like They Eat” from The New York Times. Peek: “I find ultimate delight when a story is matched by equally riveting language, but people read like they eat: Sometimes we want comfort, sometimes we want to work to crack something open. And so I know that the writing pivots I might dislike are someone else’s bonbons.”

Roaring Brook Press

Joan He Previews Her Second Novel…. by Magdalena Becker from Grid Magazine. Peek: “[S]hould someone deserve more happiness…or deserve more of our attention…and action, just because we see ourselves more in them?…There’s so many people in this world that we are never going to personally identify with…because their experiences are just so far away from us. But does that mean that they deserve any less than us?”

Small Room, Big Dreams: The Journey of Julián and Joaquin Castro by Monica Brown and Mirelle Ortega with John Schu from MrSchuReads. Peek: “Picture book biographies are opportunities for children to be inspired! Rudine Sims Bishop wrote that quality children’s literature ‘keeps alive the connections between wisdom and magic and imagination the way no other medium can.’ I hope my picture book biographies inspire children to imagine their own lives and dream big…despite many challenges.”

Interview…With David Bowles! by Aixa Perez-Prado from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “Write the story you need to tell the way only you can tell it for the people that deserve to have it told. That courage and integrity will make your story resonate for all people, regardless of their backgrounds, because universal human truths always emerge from honest, culturally and geographically specific writing.”

Equity & Inclusion

Inkyard Press

Queernorm Fantasy Worlds: Writing as an Escape by Alexandra Overy from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “In a world where there are queer saints, why would homophobia have taken root? Once I started really pulling apart and examining the culture I was creating, it allowed me to understand…how much of my writing was affected by the unconscious bias of our own world, and how I had to actively…unlearn that.”

New Study Looks at Race, Gender Representation in Award-Winning Children’s Books by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “Educators know that representation, among authors and within the pages of each book, matters. In recent years, the landscape is changing with more diverse…books published…A recent study, however, shows any progress has been limited….Males, especially white males, are persistently more likely to be represented by every measure, with little change over time.”

Ten Ways to Add Diversity in Aging to Picture Book Collections by Lindsey McDivitt from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: “Somehow our naturally increasing years are tainted with a sense of doom and failure. This is ageism, not reality….[P]icture books can be an important tool to counteract ageism….Simply changing how children think about growing old is better for them than eating all their veggies….Here are some actions parents, grandparents, librarians and teachers can take….”

Crown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Jodie Patterson and Penel, Born Ready by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I]t’s important to share family stories of triumph and success….Sometimes gender and trans experiences are made to feel complicated and scary, sad, and tragic. Our story and millions of other stories are beautiful, uplifting, and powerful….Our story needs to be heard, and I hope it travels across gender, race, and socioeconomic lines!”

Manitoba Author’s Picture Book About Motherhood, Indigenous Tradition…. by Sam Samson from CBC. Peek: “Spillett-Sumner, who is Inninewak (Cree) and Trinidadian, says she’s proud to have a book for her daughter that reflects her culture. ‘[I]t’s so important that people have access to Indigenous stories that are told from Indigenous people—from our own voices that highlight authentic teachings from our experiences…[W]e’re the experts in our own experiences….’”

When Animals Are Used as Stand-ins for Transgender Humans, People Are Diminished by Parrish Turner from School Library Journal. Peek: “As a transgender sensitivity reader…I am tired of reading picture books about animals. Usually, these have some plot about an animal, say a bear, wanting to be another animal, say a tiger….[T]hough animals have little to do with trans lives, readers will see trans…The one-animal-yearns-to-be-another construct…is a misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender.”

Lee & Low Books

Challenging Damaging Stereotypes About Refugees by A.M. Dassu from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to challenge the narrative that refugees are needy and desperate and instead show the reality of their lives, the choices they’re forced to make, to explore how hard it is to leave home and show that if it weren’t for the war, most Syrians would never have left.”

Q&A With Ciannon Smart, Witches Steeped in Gold by Kaley Kiermayr from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Why didn’t I ever think that I could have a Black protagonist?…[W]hat nurtured that ‘seed’ was years of reading fantasy with this growing desire to see myself as a central character. I read all of these fantasies…and I wanted to write my own. I thought: What would you like to read about?”

Why I Wrote a Children’s Book About Black Hair by Ain Drew from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Everything in film and print told me that textured hair was ‘less than’…[T]the omission of girls and women who looked like me sent the clear message that straight hair was the preference….Hair discrimination is still very real…I’d like to arm [children] with the love of their natural hair that I just didn’t possess….”

Writing Craft

Tor Teen

Q&A With Charlie Jane Anders by Sanina Clark from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[In writing YA] the pacing is a lot faster!…The teenage characters have to drive everything; they have to move the action forward. They have to be making choices that are shaping the narrative…Things have to be very emotional and very intense. You have to really plug into the emotion of every moment.”

Emiko Jean: Searching for Belonging from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “I don’t speak any Japanese, other than the phrases my father yelled at me when I was young. (Ha!) I did a ton of research from royal biographies, actual memoirs, big historical books, and some generic royal romances…I pulled in some friends from Japan…[who] read drafts of the novel and helped with my translations.”

Five Questions for Linda Sue Park from The Horn Book. Peek: “[M]y creative process…[is] a cross between a storm cloud and an octopus….When I begin developing…characters in my stories, one of the things I spend a lot of time on is their stuff—the actual material objects that are important to them. I try to picture what their rooms or personal spaces look like.”

Abrams Books for Young Readers

Bringing Unsung Heroes to Light: Talking About The People’s Painter With Cynthia Levinson and Evan Turk by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: [Evan Turk:] “[I] play around with several different techniques until I land on one that feels like just the right blend…It’s usually a combination of the different types of art I’m looking at as influences, and what feels right…The illustrations for this book are predominantly gouache…I [also] used a bit of pencil, acrylic, and linoleum block printing….”

Meet-the-Author Recording with Chris Barton: All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing from TeachingBooks. Peek: “I began my research by doing lots of database searches. Back to the LexisNexis at the University of Texas library, looking for articles about all sorts of aspects of the event,…of the recovery, of specific individuals…[After] getting a really solid background…I began reaching out to people who were directly affected by what happened.”

Meet the Author: Louisa Onomé by Afoma Umesi from Reading Middle Grade. Peek: “I’m…good about having working hours and then, within that, days for specific jobs. I only work on writing tasks from Friday to Monday (unless I’m drafting something new and my excitement takes over). I reserve the other days for my day job. It helps to divide things like that…so I don’t get too overwhelmed.”

Harry N. Abrams

University Book Store Presents Ali Stroker & Stacy Davidowitz with Dan Doody on YouTube. Peek: “We had to establish our characters and then we had to break down each chapter and what would happen…. [W]e divided up the chapters,…[each] really touch[ing] on certain parts of the book that we thought were our strengths. I wrote the sections…about what it’s like to be a young girl in a wheelchair.”


HarperCollins has extended the reading of its children’s books through Dec. 2021. See, Online Reading Harper Collins Childrens Policy Update April 2021. This extension applies to authors who would like to do recorded or live readings of their books online, to teachers and librarians who request permission from authors/illustrators to read their books online, to educators and librarians who would like to read a HarperCollins children’s book online, and to booksellers who would like to stream a live online reading of a HarperCollins children’s book. The update sets forth the permission guidelines and conditions.

Q&A With Olivia Funderburg, Managing Editorial Assistant by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]his work [in Scholastic’s Education division] gave me a new appreciation for nonfiction children’s literature, which…is a less celebrated…part of the children’s book market but is an integral part of a classroom library. I’ve read some really amazing picture book biographies—many about influential women and people of color I had never heard of….”

Happy Yak

With Two New Imprints, Quarto Is Ready for Summer Reading from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Just in time for summer vacation, Quarto is meeting the needs of our youngest readers with two dynamic children’s book imprints. The company’s Ivy Kids line of children’s books is relaunching in 2021 with a renewed focus on ecological content…Happy Yak is a new imprint specializing in books for children up to age seven.”

Disney Reimagines Its Book Business by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Disney Hyperion children’s imprint is…undergoing some reimagining, with an eye toward expanding its offerings and reach….[and finding] new potential bestselling authors….Disney Hyperion will also look to develop original stories in-house…The new push at Disney Hyperion [will] focus on books and authors that can take advantage of the media giant’s many platforms.”


How to Build an Author Email List in Six Simple Steps from Reedsy Blog. Peek: “Email lists (or mailing lists) are incredibly powerful tools for authors….Your list, unlike social media platforms, is entirely within your control, and leveraging it well means you won’t be losing readers who can be turned into life-long fans….[T]ake a look at how you can build your own mailing list in six practical steps.”


Choosing Bookshops by Nels Abbey from The Bookseller. Peek: “[I]t was not until I was part of the [British Book Award] judging…that I realized just how far from a straightforward business running a good bookshop is.…The way …many bookshops innovated their way through lockdown was so impressive…especially the children’s retailers, [which] offered a truly magical experience as far as equality and diversity is concerned.”


Optimize Engagement While Reading Ebooks Aloud With Toddlers by Jessica Ralli and Rachel G. Payne from School Library Journal. Peek: “When a trip to the library is difficult, the ability to check out ebooks increases access. Many parents don’t know about the availability of ebooks for children…Some may need pointers on how to read ebooks…such as setting controls on devices so kids stick to the story, and turning down blue light when reading….”

Austin Independent School District Librarians Looked Outside To Get Elementary School Students Reading Together Again by Claire McInerny from KUT. Peek: “One of the casualties of social distancing…has been the ability for elementary school students to read together….[One] creative solutions is a story stroll. The idea is to take a picture book and blow up each page, print it out, laminate it, and place each page a few feet from the next outside a school.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Orca Book Publishers

Join School Library Journal for its much anticipated Spring daylong event, Day of Dialogue. Author panels and keynote speakers will share industry trends to help grow and diversify your collections. You’ll hear about upcoming, exciting titles for children, tweens and teens, and can participate in Q&A sessions. Some of the dozens of presenters include Angeline Boulley, David Robertson, and Jen Sookfong Lee. This free virtual event takes place 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.

Indigenous Voices: Authentic Children’s Literature in the Classroom & Library. The San Diego County Office of Education is hosting a free virtual event highlighting Indigenous voices, with some of the most recognized names in children’s literature presenting. The event will take place 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. central, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. eastern on May 25 and May 26. Register here.

Independent Bookstore Day: “…a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April.  Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Nowhere else.”

Check out Diverse Verse, a resource to support and amplify diverse voices and poetry for young people. Peek: “Mission Statement: We believe diversity in all its forms is important and worthy of respect. This resource was born out of a desire to highlight and celebrate diversity, especially with regard to poetry and verse novels for young people. We have begun with a focus on BIPOC diversity….”

Roaring Brook Press

Asian Author Alliance Announces AAPI Book Month 2021 from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Asian Authors Alliance has announced its second annual AAPI Book Month. The slate of virtual events featuring Asian American and Pacific Islander children’s book creators will kick off in May, which the United States designates as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and will be streamed via YouTube and Instagram Live.”

Join three Kidlit For Growing Minds Picture Book Panels as creators of nonfiction and informational fiction picture books discuss their books and share the ways these books help kids learn. Panel One includes Rajani Larocca, Nancy Churnin, Jeanette Bradley, and Keila V Dawson. Panel Two includes Traci Sorell, Tina Cho, and Beth Anderson. Panel Three includes Rita Hubbard, Vivian Kirkfield, Laurie Wallmark, and Zeena Pliska. The events take place from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. pacific, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. central, 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. eastern on April 24, Independent Bookstore Day.

Join the Whodunit Murder Mystery Party for middle grade readers with Fleur Bradley and her mystery novel Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020). Dress up as your favorite Clue character or any mystery character, grab your notebook, try to spot clues in everyone’s backgrounds, and solve the mystery! The event takes place from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. central, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. eastern on April 24, Independent Bookstore Day.

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Join A Very YA Evening: In Conversation With EB Vickers & e E Charlton-Trujillo as these authors chat about writing YA and getting published, and introduce their books: Fadeaway (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021) and Fat Angie (Candlewick Press, 2015). The event takes place from 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 April 24, Independent Bookstore Day.

Join Litte, Brown Books for Young Readers for a Middle Grade Graphic Novels virtual event, during which Young Adult/Teen Services Librarian Karen Jensen and illustrators Niki Smith, Molly Brooks, and Natasha Donovan will discuss the craft and artistry of graphic novels in the middle grade genre.  The event takes place at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern on April 24.


Congratulations to the shortlist finalists for the Crystal Kite Awards! Round 2 voting will close at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern on April 30th. See website for voting guidelines.

Balzer + Bray

Congratulations to the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prize Winners and Finalists, especially in the Young Adult category: The winner is Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam, illustrated by Omar T. Pasha (Balzer + Bray, 2020), and the finalists are The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (Balzer + Bray, 2020), Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020), Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams (First Second, 2020), and The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party by Allan Wolf (Candlewick Press, 2020).

Scholarships & Grants

2021 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 application deadline for this grant program has been extended to May 7. Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a contributor to Thanku: Poems of Gratitude (Millbrook, 2019).

Summer reading is almost upon us, and I’m delighted to announce that Publishers Weekly has selected Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, June 1, 2021) as one of its Most Anticipated Middle Grade Reads of the Summer.

Quote of the Week: “Start a Reach Out and Read program in AI/AN clinics and any clinic serving these families. Include books representing AI/AN and Indigenous children and families.” From Caring for American Indian and Alaska Native Children and Adolescents by Shaquita Bell, Jason F. Deen, Molly Fuentes, Kelly Moore and the Committee on Native American Child Health Pediatrics (April 2021). Or, in other words, Native children’s-YA books are good medicine!

More Personally – Gayleen


I loved Midnight at the Barclay Hotel by Fleur Bradley (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2020)—a haunted hotel and a mystery, count me in! And I am looking forward to the Murder Mystery Party on Saturday hosted by Second Star to the Right Bookstore.

More Personally – Stephani

I am eagerly looking forward to the replay of Julie Hedlund’s Social Media Master Class for Kidlit Creators with Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Greg Pincus so I better digest all they had to offer. Thank goodness for the pause button and their useful handouts!

More Personally – Suma

Happy Earth Day! Linda Sue Park wrote a wonderful poem for Poetry Magazine’s Young People’s Poetry issue that was published in March 2021.


Here is also Miranda Paul’s One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lerner Books, 2015), a picture book that tells the story of the creative and determined women who brought beauty and prosperity back to the village of Njau, Gambia.

More Personally – Bree

I absolutely had a blast at the #kidlitsocialmediaclass taught by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Greg Pincus, and Julie Hedlund. I can’t wait to put that knowledge to use!

Roaring Brook Press

In honor of Earth Day, I want to highlight an article from Today with 11 thoughtful children’s books to read out loud including We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook Press, 2020).