Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Coquí in the City by Nomar Perez (Dial Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

#FactsMatter Primer: The What, Who, and Why of Middle Grade and Teen Nonfiction by Karen Jensen from School Library Journal. Peek: “[T]here is something to be said about authority and authenticity when it comes to nonfiction as well as fiction….[A]s a woman, I appreciate reading nonfiction about women’s history more when it comes from an author who understands the emotional connection and has more first hand experience about what it means to be a woman….”

Scholastic Press

Q&A With Tami Charles by Erika Hardison from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’m writing to my son…because I want him to see his mom, a woman who is achieving and reaching her goals….[A]s a former teacher, I write for my students…because it’s important for them to open up a book and see themselves and their friends and communities reflected. I also write for the 12-year-old me….”

What Ramona Quimby Taught Me About Taking Up Space by Renée Watson from Monthly Portland. Peek: “When I talk with young readers…they often ask who inspired me to be a writer. I tell them about meeting a girl named Ramona…I tell them about Beverly Cleary and I share with them how it is possible to be mentored by people you have never met, to be inspired by who they are….”

Children’s Authors Tackle Pandemic Topics for Kids by Kate Messner from School Library Journal. Peek: “While many adults coped with the lockdown by taking up new hobbies or baking bread…some authors and illustrators found that leaning into the situation with creativity was a better fit. [T]hose projects…include everything from hopeful picture books and tributes to scientists and essential workers to historical perspectives on public health….”


J.D. and the Great Barber Battle: A J. Dillard Interview by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “I wanted children to see what it was like through my eyes; to show them that their hobby can become an actual career, and encourage them to pursue a passion. I wanted to make a positive impact on both children’s dreams and visions…I’m hoping to show kids that they can become an entrepreneur, too.”

Q&A: Vitor Martins, Author of “Here The Whole Time” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[Y]ou don’t need external validation to feel beautiful, to be beautiful….[F]or a lot of us, especially teens, this is such a hard place to get to. It’s hard to get to self-love. Sometimes, even when we are at this level, it’s not something that we can take for granted. It’s a daily battle….”

Equity & Inclusion

Camp: An interview With L.C Rosen from The Reading Realm. Peek: “The thing about being queer is most of the time, you’re born into a family that isn’t queer. You don’t have anyone to teach you your history…[or] show you what it is to be a strong queer person….[W]hen you’re straight, you’re looking at the hundreds and thousands of straight people…and trying on roles….”

Harry N. Abrams

Sandra Nickel…. from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Peek: [Sandra Nickel:] “Fiction picture books with female central characters are impactful because children not only hear the stories, they see them. The simple fact that a story centers around a female character attests to her importance.…Nonfiction picture books about women have double the impact…The unspoken message [is] ‘She did it, and so can I’”.

How Has Queer YA Addressed HIV/AIDS? by Derritt Mason from Literary Hub. Peek: “YA has consistently kept HIV/AIDS at a substantial remove from youth themselves.…[A]n informal Goodreads searchyielded only eight YA titles published in the last five years…that deal directly with HIV/AIDS….Despite what YA suggests, HIV/AIDS continues to be a very real part of the lived experience of many young people in contemporary America.”

Why My Graphic Novel Has an All-Queer, All-Latinx Cast by Stan Stanley from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[W]ith the conscious choice to have an all-queer, all-Latinx cast, you end up with so many stories to choose from that you can avoid the pitfall of a single character having to carry the burden of representing an entire marginalized community….[C]haracters who have different experiences with similar cultural commonalities…creates richness and nuance.”

Dial Books

New Beginnings & Active Hope: Adib Khorram Opens Doors by Nawal Q. Casiano and Cornelius Minor from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Children can be brave. They need not operate within limits the world imposes on them. For the children of immigrants, we can be both/and. We can proudly stand on the legacies of our ancestors, share our unique heritages, connect to others, and see ourselves in the experiences of book friends. We…deserve that.”

Q&A With Lucas Rocha, Where We Go From Here by Aaron H. Aceves from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I] began searching for YA novels that portrayed discussions about HIV in a way that could be hopeful for the future, but I did not find many of them….I wanted to show people the possibility of life after a positive diagnosis as a fulfilling one, full of beauty and color.”

Kaylani Juanita—A House For Every Bird with Nick Patton from Picturebooking. Peek: “There’s a lot of talk about…encouraging people like me to write stories. But….BIPOC people…[have] always been telling and writing these stories. It’s not a matter of us telling more of them. It’s a matter of people actually listening and taking the effort and energy to find us, uplift us, and then support our voice.”

Writing Craft

Algonquin Young Readers

Masuma Ahuja on Growing Up, Storytelling, and GIRLHOOD from Blue Willow Bookshop. Peek: “I often start out by asking myself, ‘what’s the best way to tell this story?’ Sometimes, seeing a photo…is more powerful than just reading…words. Sometimes, hearing someone’s voice as they get emotional telling a story can be more compelling than just reading their words. I…let stories I’m trying to tell drive the mediums….”

Six Authors Share What They Love About Writing YA Romance by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Abiba Jaigirdar] “[T]he difficult thing about writing romance is how to get people to root for your characters and their relationship. Getting them to connect with the romance…and feel the tension between the characters…[is] difficult to achieve….I try to ensure that the romance works for my characters, that it’s specific to who my characters are.”

Sensitivity Readers Can Make Publishing More Accountable, If We Allow Them To by Rebecca Wei Hsieh from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Sensitivity readers (also sometimes known as authenticity readers) are experts who draw from their lived experiences and knowledge to point out any problematic elements in a manuscript. They’re usually from one or more marginalized communities and read material that is potentially triggering or traumatizing….As with the writing itself, choosing a reader requires nuance.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Author Spotlight: Laekan Zea Kemp from KidLit411. Peek: “I did a 100-page manuscript critique through The Manuscript Academy and used that feedback to do a massive revision. I pitched the book in DVPit a few weeks later. Then a few weeks after that I signed with my agent and a month later I had a two-book deal with Little Brown Young Readers!”

Q&A With Wendy Heard, She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For this book, I developed a new trick I’m going to keep using. I write the book to the midpoint, stop, and do an edit before moving on. Because the second half is so dependent on the first, this helps me avoid taking accidental rabbit trails I’ll have to undo later.”


HarperCollins to Acquire HMH Trade by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “News Corp and its HarperCollins subsidiary has reached an agreement to buy the trade publishing division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for $349 million in cash. HMH put the division up for sale last fall as part of its strategy to become an educational technology company for the K-12 market.”

Little Genius Books

Laugh, Learn, Captivate: Spotlight on Little Genius Books from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Launching in April, Little Genius Books is an independent publisher of children’s books that specializes in creating high-quality, affordable content. The imprint…will offer a diverse range of board books, picture books, activity books, nonfiction, novelty books, and more….[and] will annually publish 35 to 40 new titles with fresh designs, innovative formats, and compelling content….”

Helping Kids Soar: Spotlight on Imagine and Wonder from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Imagine and Wonder, a New York publisher and distributor specializing in books on education, health, conservation, and social issues, is broadening its offerings through four new children’s book imprints….. Titles…include classic storybooks, science books, sticker books, and books…with relevant social issues.”

Mad Cave Launches Maverick by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I]ndependent publisher Mad Cave Studios is expanding its offerings this fall with the launch of a young adult graphic novel imprint called Maverick. While the genres of its titles will range from slice-of-life stories to urban fantasy and horror, each Maverick title will be an authentic, universal story of personal struggle.”

Wise Wolf Books

Wise Wolf Books Paves an Adventurous New Path for Teen and Young Adult Titles from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Wise Wolf Books is the new publishing imprint under the ever-growing Wolfpack Publishing umbrella, focusing on Teen and Young Adult audiences….WolfPack was established in 2013 to bring both established and new authors to the market. Wise Wolf Books aims to publish YA books from writers of all genders, ethnicities, races, and abilities….”

Whole Lot of Shaking Going On: Spotlight on Seismic Press by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When independent comic and graphic novel publisher AfterShock Comics launched in 2015, the new house immediately attracted big names in the comic book industry…Six years later, with the demand for young adult graphic novels increasing, AfterShock is expanding its offerings. This August the indie powerhouse will launch its YA imprint, Seismic Press.”

VIZ Originals Takes Manga Mainstream from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The mission of VIZ Originals, American manga publisher Viz Media’s newest imprint, is to deliver original manga-inspired graphic novels and manga adaptations of popular stories from books, television, and film by both debut and established creators. Think of it as an incubator for new voices and storytelling formats.”


Inhabit Media

Q&A With Sarabeth Holden, Picture Book Author…. from Book Time. Peek: “[What are you doing to promote your book?] Lots of Instagram! Inhabit Media has been so supportive and helped connect me with different organizations that promote Canadian authors. I’ve been part of Telling Tales and continue to do Zoom readings. Toronto Lit Up! supported my book launch party, which moved to an online format….”

Thirty Ways Authors Use Videos to Engage With Readers by Leila Hirschfeld from BookBub. Peek: “Video is a great way to grab readers’ attention and engage with them in a personal way online. It could lead to an increase in book sales, as 84% of consumers have been convinced to buy a product by watching a video….[W]e wanted to compile…examples of how authors use videos to engage with readers.”


April Offers Opportunities to Connect During ABA Shop Talks, Forums…. from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Throughout the month of April, the American Booksellers Association is offering opportunities for booksellers to come together virtually for discussion. Booksellers can visit the at-a-glance calendar to see all upcoming events.”

Independent Bookstore Day—the Last Saturday in April from IndieBound. Peek: “Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on…[April 24]. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music…and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items…you can only get on that day.”


During COVID, Libraries Prioritized Electronic Resources, Fiction by Melanie Kletter from School Library Journal. Peek: “Overall, many librarians plan to spend more this year on ebooks and audiobooks than last year, while also boosting their spending on fiction versus nonfiction….While physical books still account for the bulk of spending, close to 60 percent of librarians expect to spend less on print books than they did last year.”

School Librarians Get Creative To Hold Book Fairs…. by Christina Joseph from School Library Journal. Peek: “Follett [Book Fairs] and Scholastic Book Fairs were forced to reimagine their models after losing a significant portion of their business last spring….[O]nce it became apparent the pandemic would last much longer…, both publishing companies prioritized their online book fair offerings….Several thousand schools booked virtual fairs…[R]evenue is more than double what was expected.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

P&P Live! Brittney Morris, The Cost of Knowing. Politics and Prose Bookstore presents a conversation between YA authors Brittney Morris and Roseanne A. Brown, during which they’ll discuss Brittney’s new book The Cost of Knowing (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021). The free virtual event takes place from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. central, 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern on April 6.

Shake Up Your Summer Reading Sweepstakes. HarperCollins is offering a chance to win a collection of 15 diverse books for readers of various age groups, by authors such as Angie Thomas, Ernesto Cisneros, and Elizabeth Acevedo. Entrants must be U.S. residents 18 years of age or older, and can submit their entry here until 8:59 p.m. pacific, 10:59 p.m. central, 11:59 p.m. eastern on May 31.

A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Reading Series. Join bestselling author Dhonielle Clayton and four featured authors from We Need Diverse Books’ anthology A Universe of Wishes, edited by Dhonielle (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020), for a reading series that “explores topics around identity, queerness, and the futures of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.”  The series takes place every Wednesday in April at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern.


Books of Wonder will be hosting a conversation between children’s authors Rajani LaRocca and Padma Venkatraman about Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, written by Rajani and illustratrated by Chaaya Prabhat (Charlesbridge, 2021). There will be a live audience Q&A during the virtual launch event, which will take place at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern on April 17.


Congratulations to Meg Medina, winner of the 2021 Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature for Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away (Candlewick Press, 2020). Hollins University established the prize “to pay tribute to one of its best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors.”

Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards. Voting for the Crystal Kite Awards has begun and will continue until April 15. This peer-given award recognizes great books from 15 SCBWI regional divisions around the world. Access voting instructions here.


Scholastic Press

Congratulations to the co-winners of the 2021 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize: Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins, translated from Portuguese by Larissa Helena (Scholastic Press, 2020) and Where We Go from Here by Lucas Rocha, translated from Portuguese by Larissa Helena (Scholastic Press, 2020). The three-year-old prize, which is administered by the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, recognizes publishers, translators, and authors of books in English translation for YA readers.

Congratulations to the 2021 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Finalists, especially in the categories of Children’s Picture Book (0-3 years), Children’s Picture Book (4-7 years), Young Reader: Fiction (8-12 years), Young Reader: Nonfiction (8-12 years), Teen: Fiction (13-18 years), and Teen: Nonfiction (13-18 years). One Gold winner will be named in each category at the online awards ceremony held May 11 to May 14.

Scholarships & Grants

$1 Million Donation Kicks Off “Survive to Thrive” Initiative from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “[T]he Book Industry Charity Foundation…announced the establishment of the Survive to Thrive bookstore grant program. Founded with initial support from Ingram Charities and Ingram Content Group, the program will quickly provide grants to independent bookstores and comic shops affected by COVID-19….Thrive initiative has raised the first million dollars of its $2 million goal.”

Volemos: The Meg Medina Grant, which is funded by bestselling author Meg Medina, is open for manuscript submissions in Spanish or English until April 30. The grant is open to SCBWI members of Hispanic/Latinx/Ibero-American heritage who are early in their writing careers (one to two traditionally published books or not yet traditionally published). The winner will receive $500, a one-year SCBWI membership, registration to the Summer Spectacular conference, and a coaching session.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to An Open Book Foundation, HarperCollins Children’s Books, and librarian Victoria Johnson for virtually bringing me to visit students at Browne Education Campus in Washington, D.C., last Friday. It was a pleasure to talk about writing, publishing and Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021).

In related news, I was honored by this review for the anthology by Deirdre Baker in the Toronto Star, which was syndicated to the Winnipeg Free Press.

“The collection’s strength is the rich variety of contemporary Indigenous experience, families and culture it portrays.” —Toronto Star

Congratulations to debut Navajo author Brian Young on Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, 2021) being named a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection and receiving another starred review, this one from Kirkus Reviews:

★ “The deeply grounded and original perspective…brings readers into…the worlds of Navajo blessings songs, rain songs and traditional healing and everyday family relationships.”

Link of the Week: Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:

“…will offer an opportunity for reflection, conversation, celebration, and manuscript and career development. We’ll be sharing information, resources, and contacts related to children’s and YA writing, Native books, and the surrounding publishing world.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Nothing beats sharing a revision with beta readers! I’m celebrating by catching up on my TBR pile, starting with No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen (Groundwood Books, 2020).

More Personally – Suma

I’m thrilled to share that my picture book biography is now available for pre-order.

You can also add it to Goodreads.