Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Grandpa Across the Ocean by Hyewon Yum (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

My Beauty Uniform: Ruth Chan by Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo. Peek: “[Writing and illustrating children’s books]…is the best job in the world—it’s hard but amazing. Children’s books are this tangible art form that you connect with other people over, multi-generationally. They can be funny yet heartfelt, and almost every picture book has some sort of emotional truth.”

Inkyard Press

In Conversation With Tashie Bhuiyan from Sumaiya Ahmed. Peek: “Keep writing! Don’t let one book slow you down. Sometimes we have to write books to learn more about ourselves…and to learn craft, so we can write the next book even better. Don’t stew too long over one idea if it isn’t panning out the way you hoped. There are more books inside you!”

How to Write Science as Entertainment by Susan McCormick from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he world needs science and future scientists, and children’s authors need to do anything they can to encourage them….[Events] have forced kids to experience disease firsthand and…experience the healers and scientists who are heroes and who have sparked a worldwide interest in science….Young people are interested in science….[B]ooks can encourage this interest.”

Equity & Inclusion

LGBTQ Kids’ Books 2021: YA Rom-Coms Celebrate Queer Joy by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Books featuring characters with marginalized identities often highlight pain and adversity, treating identity as a burden….While struggle and survival are important themes to explore in literature, the authors and editors say, so too is joy….[HarperCollins Editor Megan Ilnitzki:] ‘LGBTQ love is beautiful and layered and so worthy of being talked about in books and stories.’”

Rise x Penguin Workshop

Q&A With Jessica Ralli and Megan Madison by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “First Conversations board book series from RISE x Penguin Workshop…introduces tough topics to toddlers and [provides] the tools to discuss them. [Megan Madison:] ‘[Y]oung children have compassion, curiosity, and are ready for these conversations…The growing body of research underscores the importance of talking to young children about race, racism, and other forms of oppression.’”

Platforms Like Wattpad Allow Marginalized Authors to Reach Readers by Chazz Mair from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Websites like Wattpad have the vital power to bridge the gap between reader and writer; what they may lack in quality control, they make up with the ability to get stories to the people who want to read them. They circumvent industry gatekeepers and provide writers with a place to sharpen their skills….”

Q&A With Kalynn Bayron by Idris Grey from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I wanted to show a queer Black family that was very present in their child’s life, because I know there’s no way I could have been doing anything without my dad being in my business when I was a kid. I wanted to show these queer parents being supportive and just being allowed to exist.”

Quill Tree Books

National Bestselling Authors Team Up To Publish Blackout, A Novel Of Interlinked Stories Of Black Love And Joy by HarperCollins Children’s Books from PR Newswire. Peek: [Nic Stone:] “There is no fiercer form of rebellion than telling love stories about kids who are often told they’re unworthy of them….” [Ashley Woodfolk:] “Books have the unique ability to show the world that Black and brown people feel and love and hurt and grow in the same way everyone else does….”

How Black Queer Readers and Writers Nourish the Future by Alexis Pauline Gumbs from Lit Hub. Peek: “We knew we had to love the women we were and the women of our lineages, our grandmothers and our great grandmothers, the women we never got to hold, the people coming after us and ourselves and the bridge and an invitation to all of it.”

Amplify Black Stories Announces 24-Storyteller Cohort by Paula Chase Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “In partnership with the Highlights Foundation, the Brown Bookshelf…announced the cohort of storytellers selected for Amplify Black Stories, a six-month program focused on supporting Black storytellers, confronting industry challenges, and fostering change….The storyteller track kicked off with the first in a series of online workshops, April 25, and runs through November.”

Crocodile Books

Small Acts, Big Impact: 2021 Environmental Books for Young Readers by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “PW spoke with authors and editors…about the importance of narrative nonfiction, and biography in particular, to educate and empower…Hannah Moushabeck, marketing manager at Quarto, emphasizes the need for children to hear positive stories by and about people of color and to understand the links between environmental justice and other social justice movements.”

Anton Treuer: Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians ( Young Readers Edition)…. with Anthony Ceballos and Halee Kirkwood from YouTube. Peek: “What was screaming at me were not the mean words so much as the absent narratives….The absent narratives said you and yours aren’t important, aren’t relevant, and don’t matter. How important it really is for Indigenous people and…all groups to be properly represented…in who’s doing the teaching [and] what’s being taught.”

The Current State of Disability Representation in Children’s Books by Margaret Kingsbury from Book Riot. Peek: “[I] spoke to numerous authors and publishers about disabled representation in the children’s book publishing industry…[I]n many respects, things are improving in terms of disabled representation in children’s books. But there are still many gaps in representation and a lack of both understanding and specific initiatives among some (though not all) publishers.”

Writing Craft


Debut Author Interview: Kaela Rivera and Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “[My] advice for a forward-moving adventure is to constantly change the status quo. That can mean with characters, or with the stakes, or with the socioeconomic setting…[E]ach scene should do something to challenge, change, and advance one of those things toward the ultimate end. Just like in life, change is what keeps things interesting.”

The Pen Ten: An Interview With Renée Watson by Viviane Eng from Pen America. Peek: “I spend a lot of time getting to know my character…before I actually start writing…I interrogate her, asking what her fears are, who loves her, who doesn’t, who makes her smile, who makes her want to hide, what does she want…Once I have a sense of these answers, I start writing.”

Interview With Author Liselle Sambury by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “[I] highly recommend reading and writing craft books. That’s something that I do a lot even now…[R]ead a variety because you may find some you agree with that work for you and some you don’t. They…often have exercises that you can do to experiment with your writing and find what works best for you.”


Interview With Molly Ostertag by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “[S]ome practices that have helped me most in my career: forming connections with my peers, elevating and celebrating their successes, and sharing information with them. Being vocal about what jobs I want, and being ready to leave when I outgrew them. And finally: consistently making work I’m passionate about and sharing it….”

Five Questions for Carole Boston Weatherford by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “My [line] breaks regulate phrasing and impact, based on which words I want to emphasize and the relative strength of positions in a line—the strongest being at the end. I place words—often nouns or verbs—that I want to stress at the beginning or end of the line.”

Q&A With Ray Stoeve, Between Perfect and Real by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I completely pantsed the first draft, and then I learned a LOT as I was revising it…[S]tructure gives me the freedom to deviate from the plan…It’s easier to see what isn’t working in a book if I’ve plotted it ahead of time…Plotting gives sustainable energy to the spark of inspiration that gets me writing.”

Abrams Books for Young Readers

A Day for Rememberin’ by Paula Chase Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: [Floyd Cooper:] “When I first read the manuscript, I did what I call a heat check. I do this for everything I’m considering illustrating. It’s where I notice if I see images, right from the jump, immediately upon that very first read. They have to pop into my head. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”

Debut Author Tori Bovalino On Surviving the Submission Process from Mindy McGinnis. Peek: “Editorial feedback from absolutely everyone has one thing in common: it’s subjective. You have to choose the subjective view that most aligns with your own. On submission, as rejections roll in, it’s helpful to search for patterns….[E]ven the feedback that makes me scratch my head shows that there’s some weakness in the manuscript.”

How Mercedes Helnwein Sits Down & Writes by Emily Lee and Cassie Stossel from Sit Down & Write. Peek: “[T]he purpose of listening to music would be to have the correct soundtrack for whatever scene I’m writing.  Everything for me is so visual that in order to write a chapter or moment I have to basically see the scene in my head like a film…and visualizing that is much easier with music.”


Sourcebooks Wonderland

Sourcebooks Announces New Children’s Imprint by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Sourcebooks…announc[ed] Hometown World, Sourcebooks’ 15th imprint and its ninth for children. [Publishing Manager Nicky Benson:] ‘[W]e wanted to create a series of books that could speak directly to the hearts of kids….by incorporating a fun sense of the local alongside bright, happy illustrations.’ The first new series to be…will be My Baby Locale….”

Warming Up to Kids’ Books Publisher Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When Jason Kutasi started San Diego children’s book publisher Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream four years ago, he thought his background in digital marketing might help him break into the book publishing market—but early results have exceeded his most ambitious expectations. He attributed PDIC’s rapid rise to its…direct-to-consumer sales…[and] online book buying….”


In-Person Author Tours Won’t Be Back Anytime Soon by Jim Milliot, Claire Kirch and Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[P]ublishers and booksellers are not in a hurry to resume in-person author tours this spring or summer. Most publishers contacted by PW said they are deferring making any concrete plans about tours until authors feel comfortable going back on the road and booksellers and librarians feel comfortable hosting in-store events.”

With New DIY Platforms, An Author Website Is Easier Than Ever by Fauzia Burke from Mindy McGinnis. Peek: “[B]uilding and maintaining a website can sound like a daunting, time-consuming task…[But] you should start building your platform/brand as soon as you have an idea for a book….[T]oday there are many options for building a website….New tools like Pub Site make building and maintaining a professional author website quick, easy, and inexpensive….”


Publishers, Authors to Raise More Aid for Indie Bookstores by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This summer, publishers and authors are pitching in to raise more money to support independent bookstores as well as We Need Diverse Books. First is the return of Indie Shindig, a virtual event series for booksellers created by Workman Publishing, Abrams Books, Bloomsbury Publishing, Candlewick Press, Chronicle Books, and Sourcebooks….”


Launching Large-scale Library Initiatives from American Library Association. Peek: “[L]ibrary leaders [need] to demonstrate that libraries are innovative, collaborative, and can provide eye-catching, transformational services and programs to their communities…What library workers really need is a roadmap for making…impactful ideas become reality….‘Launching Large-Scale Library Initiatives: Innovation and Collaboration’…will walk you through formulating and shaping your ideas into sellable, actionable projects.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Come celebrate 2021 Children’s Day, Book Day with the National Council of Teachers of English and author-poet Pat Mora in a live event designed to embrace bookjoy. Adults and children are welcome; NCTE membership is not required. The event takes place at 10:30 a.m. pacific, 12:30 p.m. central, 1:30 p.m. eastern on April 30. Register here.

ILA Children’s Literature Intensive: Creating a Culturally Responsive Classroom Through Books. Hosted by Dr. Tiffany A. Flowers, the intensive focuses on “incorporating culturally relevant and responsive children’s literature in meaningful ways.” It features 20+ authors in sessions, panels, and presentations. Keynote speakers are Saraciea J. Fennell, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Meg Medina. The event takes place 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. pacific, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. central, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern on May 11.

The free 2021 Gaithersburg Book Festival, “a yearly celebration of the written word and its power to enrich the human experience,” is taking place May 1 to May 28. The children’s/YA events will take place May 17 to May 28. See schedule here. Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, Christine Day and Brian Young, as the authors discuss with moderator JoAnn Yao their newly published middle-grade books, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021), The Sea in Winter (Heartdrum, 2021), and Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, 2021), respectively. This event takes place 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on May 27 on the festival’s YouTube channel.

Dial Books

Since May is Asian & Pacific Islander American Book Month, Penguin Classroom has put together a list of 90 books by Asian and Asian American creators, for grades Pre-K through 12. You can download the list here. Also, free resources for books by Asian and Asian American authors and illustrators—which include discussion guides, educator guides, and downloadable activities—can be downloaded here.

SCBWI Austin’s 2021 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference will take place May 1 and May 2. Please view the schedule here, “which consists of keynotes and panels for all attendees, plus breakouts geared for Picture Book writers, Novel writers, Illustrators or Professional Development.” Recordings of most sessions will be available for two weeks after the conference.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is presenting digital workshops free to current SCBWI members. The webinars will feature renowned children’s book creators. The workshops will take place every Thursday starting May 13, 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. Recordings of the workshops will be available for two-to-four weeks after the live event. View the workshop schedule here.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Summer Conference has been scheduled! With more than 50 presenters, it will be held from July 30 to August 1. There will also be an optional Pre-Conference Day on July 29. Registration will open mid-May. Stay tuned to the conference details here.


Congratulations to the winners of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, especially in the Children’s Literature category, in which the winner is Rehlat Fannan (An Artist’s Journey) by Tunisian author Mizouni Bannani (Dar Al Mua’nasa Publishing, 2020).

Congratulations to the 20 nominees of the 2022 Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award, which is sponsored by the Washington Library Association School Division (WLA). Congratulations also to the 12 nominees of the WLA’s 2022 Sasquatch Book Award.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Congratulations to winner and honor books of the Anna Dewdney Read Together Award, which is given annually, by Penguin Young Readers, the Children’s Book Council, and Every Child a Reader, “to a picture book that is both a superb read-aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.” The winner is Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by AG Ford (Macmillan Children’s Publishing, 2020). A live read-aloud event will take place at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern on May 7. Register here.


LitUp by Reese’s Book Club is offering a writer’s fellowship for unpublished, underrepresented women with a complete manuscript for a young adult or adult work of fiction. The fellowship will include “an all-expenses-paid retreat, a three-month mentorship with a published author, and marketing support from Reese’s Book Club.” Application deadline is at 11:59 p.m. pacific on May 30 and at 1:59 a.m. central, 2:59 a.m. eastern on May 31. Apply here.

Latinx in Publishing, with the support of Macmillan Publishers, is offering its first Publishing Fellowship for an aspiring Latinx editor living in the U.S. or Puerto Rico. Peek: “LxP will…provide networking opportunities for the selected mentee with their network of members including publishing professionals, agents, editors, and writers…Mentee will receive a stipend of $2,500.” Applications for this 10-month fellowship will be accepted until May 15.

A Dozen Authors Raise $40,000 for Binc from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Twelve authors have contributed a pool of $40,000 to Binc‘s Survive to Thrive bookstore grant program, which is raising $2 million to give $10,000 grants to 200 independent bookstores. The movement to enlist authors is led by Garth Stein and Amor Towles….”

Delacorte Press to Publish The Grimoire of Grave Fates in Partnership With We Need Diverse Books from Peek: “Delacorte Press will publish…a new YA fantasy novel told in interconnected points of view by 18 acclaimed young adult authors…The novel was created by Hanna Alkaf…and Margaret Owen…Alkaf and Owen will be using proceeds from the sale to establish two initiatives for marginalized authors, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books.”

This Week at Cynsations

Author Tirzah Price, photo by Tab London

More Personally – Cynthia

Huzzah! The third major trade review for Sisters of the Neversea is also the third starred review. Publishers Weekly calls it a “smart novel” and concludes:

★ “A sharp, contemporary retelling of a classic that puts the focus on the Indigenous kids….”

Hooray! Today I’m a last minute author-speaker replacement at Arizona State University’s celebration of Día de los niños/Día de los libros! I’m excited to visit with 1,000 kids all over the world (Senegal, Ghana, India, the Philippines and of course Arizona) about my picture book Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000/Heartdrum, 2021).

Highlights of the week also included attending the online launch party for The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levison, illustrated by Evan Turk (Abrams, 2021) at BookPeople of Austin.

More Personally – Gayleen

Congratulations to the writing team of Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn, whose book, Perkin’s Perfect Purple, illustrated by Francesca Sanna (Little, Brown, 2020) was named a Cook Prize Honor Book by Bank Street College of Education. See my 2019 Cynsations interview with the co-authors.

More Personally – Stephani

I am currently drafting a middle grade novel and each day trying to hit my word count goal. I’m using gold stars to keep me going! It’s the little things!

More Personally – Suma

I enjoyed reading Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree Books, 2020). It was poignant and powerful.