Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: When Lola Visits by Michelle Sterling, illustrated by Aaron Asis (Katherine Tegen Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

How Can Parents and Teachers Help New Kids Adjust? by Rosie J. Pova from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[O]ne of the biggest challenges for young kids is reaching out and making new friends….So what’s a parent—or a teacher—to do to help?…[P]ull out a picture book to the rescue. Reading about a character in a similar situation…can definitely serve as a starting point to offer reassurance and ease that transition.”

Dutton Books for Young Readers

A.S. King: Stop All the Clocks by Norah Piehl from BookPage. Peek: “[W]e should be flicking switches all day—finding new ways to see old things. Finding new things. Growing….The imbalance between personal emotional learning and book or social learning is always going to show in the crop. We need to teach young humans how to nourish themselves and give them ample time to do it.”

Author Rajani LaRocca Writes Because She’s Fascinated by People by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Part of why I want to be a writer is that I really feel like the world is full of wonder…Math and science hold all kinds of wonder….[I’m] amazed at the incredible intricate machinery of all the stuff that goes on in biological beings…[I] want to spread my fascination and my joy…to kids.”

Dancing With Daddy by Anitra Rowe Schulte and Ziyue Chen with John Schu from MrSchuReads. Peek: [Ziyue Chen:] “Picture books show that illustrations speak louder than words, to delight and engage children. The illustrations and words are interrelated, creating a meaningful story. They fill us with wonder and keep us curious. I love how they transport us to another world, widening our horizon, and quenching our mind and soul.”

Holiday House

Amira’s Picture Day: Reem Faruqi in Conversation With Fahmida Azim from Charis Circle on YouTube. Peek: [Fahmida Azim:] Peek: “Contrary to popular belief [the creative process] is not magic…You too can make stuff up. It’s really easy. All you need is feelings and ideas or experiences that you want to communicate to other people and then you need some convoluted method to get there.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Emery Lee, Meet Cute Diary by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’ve never consumed any media where the trans character wasn’t constantly worrying about being outed or not passing…I wanted to craft a story where transness just is, where trans people can be confident and happy and worry about things like love and friendship…instead of focusing on all these struggles about identity.”

[B]ook On Diversity Inspired by Bullied Five-Year-Old, Who Says “All Colours Are Beautiful” by Desmond Brown from CBC News. Peek: [Author Marswa Blossom Yarmeto]: “[Start] having basic conversations as early as before school age. This way…they will go to school having an expectation to meet different people, not meet someone else and feel afraid or not wanting to play with them because of how they look…[T]he contents they’re watching…[and] the books they’re reading need to be diverse.”

Amulet Books

Chad Lucas on Letting Boys Be Boys from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “[I]t’s important to give boys permission to contain multitudes. They can be loud, sporty, sweaty, goofy and they can be artsy, anxious, sensitive, soft. They can question their sexuality, or what it means to identify as a boy….[B]oys, especially Black and brown boys, deserve to see those…facets of their identities explored with joy.”

Jenny Devenny and Charnaie Gordon (Race Cars) in Conversation by Jenny Devenny and Charnaie Gordon from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “This book…is about educating [children] about the unfair things that sometimes happen to people of color. Children should recognize when something is unfair and…have the courage to be able to speak up…Talking about tough topics with children in age-appropriate ways is important if we want to raise children who value equality for all.”

Q&A With Alejandra Domenzain, For All/Para Todos by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to portray the challenges, but also honor immigrants’ role as agents of change. I wanted to create a picture book that showed a young girl not just growing and finding her voice, but questioning unfair systems and taking steps to change them, not just for her, but for all immigrants.”

Feiwel & Friends

Author Interview With Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé by CW from The Quiet Pond. Peek: “All my books will have queer characters, because the world has made it so 99% of the content we consume is very heteronormative….I’ve decided to basically make my books a safe space for queer teens of color. I wanted to not only center queer teens…but also show them that happy endings exist for QPOC.”

Autism Representation in Kid Lit: Interview With Sally J. Pla by Evelyn Hendrix from A Novel Mind. Peek: “It’s tremendously important for there to be diverse…stories in the world…Stories and books can spark tremendously important discussions in classrooms and in families. Speaking about a fictional character’s dilemmas and fictional mental health struggles allows many of us a ‘safe’ distance and good entryway into speaking about our own feelings, struggles, challenges, and identities.”

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.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Raakhee Mirchandani Discusses Children’s Book, Hair Twins with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager from MSN. Peek: “This book is a window…into our lives, into who we are, into the pride we feel to be all the things we are…I hope that every single person who reads it, adult or kid, feels called and compelled to share who they are, all the parts of themselves, with others.”

Writing Craft

Q&A With James Sie, All Kinds of Other by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Y]ou find the nuances, the specificity, by experiencing….[T]he more you know about something the more you can create a 3D image of it. You can explore what it tastes like, what it sounds like, what it looks like. So you give the reader a much more sensory experience if you experience it.”

Meet Rita Williams-Garcia! from Scholastic on YouTube. Peek: “[I have] to talk my story to myself before I even get started….[W]hen I start to really write, I write the story in a one or two pager….[T]hen I begin to write scenes. The real writing doesn’t begin until I can feel where my character is coming from [and] can hear their own voice.”


Q&A With Ellen Oh by Giraffy from InBeTween News. Peek:“[Y]ou have to read a lot in order to be a good writer and you have to write a lot also….[T]he biggest difference between a writer and a published author is that the published author learned to finish their manuscript and revise it….Finish that story. Revise it. Submit. Repeat until you are published.”

Fast Forward Friday—Graci Kim from MG Book Village. Peek: “I work with an outline…I adore plans and checklists and any kind of tool that I can convince myself will make the actual task of writing less painful. Does it…make the writing process less painful? Probably not…But I find having a map gives me confidence that I’m heading in the general right direction.”

Author Interview [ZR Ellor] by Jacob Rundle from Writer’s Alley. Peek: “Taking criticism is part of becoming a successful author! You have to learn who and when to listen; which criticism comes from people who share your vision and want your book to succeed. Criticism…points out an area that needs improvement…[I]t’s the job of the author to think up creative solutions to these problems.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Interview with Daniel Aleman with Maya Ameyaw from YouTube. Peek: “I started my querying journey…The first book I got zero responses. Then the second book, a couple of partial requests. Third book I had so many full requests and I got really, really close to signing with an agent. And then the fourth book…was the one….I think rejection teaches you so much….”


Peachtree Teen Imprint to Debut Next Year by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Peachtree Publishing Company will expand its children’s offerings with a YA imprint, Peachtree Teen, in summer 2022….[The] mission is to shape a list that ‘focuses on fresh, empathetic storytelling that empowers teens and inspires conversation.’…[Though] Peachtree Teen’s three inaugural releases…are all written by debut YA authors, each falls into a different genre.”

Consumer Behavior Changes Affect Children’s Publishing by Deborah Halverson from SCBWI. Peek: “People have been buying children’s books in steadily increasing numbers for years, but 2020 jumped to new heights, across formats. Children’s/YA hardcover sales increased (5.6%), as did paperback (3.2%), e-book (70.5%), downloadable audio (37%), and board book (18.2%)…Consumer book-buying behavior has changed in notable ways…Online book sales rose 43% last year….”

Ripple Grove Press

Chicago Review Press Buys Ripple Grove from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Chicago Review Press has acquired Ripple Grove Press’s entire catalog of 16 children’s books. CRP, one of two publishing divisions of Independent Publishers Group, will add the picture books to its children’s list….”


2021 Book Marketing: How Authors Are Promoting Their Novels by Diana Urban from BookBub. Peek: “[W]hat are some of the biggest (or newest) book marketing strategies that authors have been using?…[A] tried-and-true…strategy is to make the first book of a series permafree as a ‘reader magnet,’ hooking them into the rest of the series….One creative thing we’ve seen authors doing this year is creating resources for teachers, librarians, and parents.”


Bookstores of All Sizes Will Benefit From New Bookselling Survey, Says CIBA’s Doug Minett by Ryan Porter from Quill & Quire. Peek: “BookNet Canada is spearheading the 2020 State of Bookselling survey to assess the bookselling landscape across the country….Developing a detailed picture of the bookselling landscape helps organizations such as CIBA [Canadian Independent Booksellers Association] advocate for the industry….[CIBA] used data from BookNet’s 2018 bookselling survey…to successfully lobby for…$32.1 million in funding for booksellers.”


A Seat at the Table by K.C. Boyd from School Library Journal. Peek: “School districts nationwide have leaned on their school librarian workforce during the pandemic…Around the country, school librarians have led virtual field trips and contactless book fairs, and celebrated school-wide events and holidays with related programming….I challenge school librarians to stand up and fight for students. Share all of the good things…in your library programs.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Algonquin Young Readers

Blue Willow Bookshop is presenting a free virtual visit with Trent Reedy and Jawad Arash as they talk about their new YA book, Enduring Freedom (Algonquin Young Readers, 2021). The event takes place at 3 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. central, 6 p.m. eastern on May 26. Register here.

During May’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, check out Asian American K-12 Resources, created by Sarah Park Dahlen to help librarians, educators, and caregivers understand current Asian American issues and find Asian American children’s literature. Dahlen is an Associate Professor of Library and Information Science at St. Catherine University.

Firekeeper’s Daughter: A Celebration of Indigenous Literature With Angeline Boulley & Louise Erdich. If you missed this event sponsored by the National Congress of American Indians, with bestselling authors Angeline Boulley and Louise Erdrich, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Upcoming Events With Cynthia Leitich Smith


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 at 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.

Books of Wonder will be hosting a live event, Native American Voices for Young Readers, featuring authors Traci Sorell, Dawn Quigley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and David Robertson, with author/moderator Christine Day. They will share their books We Are Still Here!, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2021), Jo Jo Makoons, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Heartdrum, 2021), Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Heartdrum, 2021), On the Trapline, illustrated by Julie Flett (Tundra Books, 2021), and The Sea in Winter (Heartdrum, 2021), respectively. The event, which includes a Q&A, takes place at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern on May 15. Register here.

Join award-winning author Martha Brockenbrough as she welcomes authors releasing Peter Pan related books in 2021 to The Peter Panel. These authors include Aiden Thomas, K. Ancrum  A. C. Wise, and Cynthia Leitich Smith. Get a sneak peek at their books: Lost in the Neverwoods (Swoon Reads, 2021), Darling (Imprint, 2021), Wendy, Darling (Titan Books, 2021), and Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021), respectively. The event takes place at 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. central, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. eastern on May 22. Register here.


Join moderator JoAnn Yao and Native American authors Cynthia Leitich Smith, Christine Day and Brian Young as they discuss the authors’ 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 free event takes place at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern on May 27 on the 2021 Gaithersburg Book Festival’s YouTube channel. See the festival’s master schedule here.

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.

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 is taking place June 10 to June 12. Some of the visiting authors include Sharon G. Flake, Mitali Perkins, and Maria Padian. Special guests will be Cynthia Leitich Smith and Eric Gansworth. Register here.

The online We Need Diverse BooksNative Children’s and YA Writing Intensive will take place Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. The intensive, open to Native/First Nations writers, will involve “sharing information, resources, and contacts related to children’s and YA writing, Native books, and the surrounding publishing world.” Two of the faculty members are children’s/YA authors Cynthia Leitich Smith and Dawn Quigley. Scholarships are available. The deadline to apply here is June 1.


Congratulations to the winners of the B&N Children’s and YA Book Awards: Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor (Balzer + Bray, 2021)(Picture Book), Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (Balzer + Bray, 2021)(Young Reader), and Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt and Co., 2021)(Young Adult).

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, especially in the children’s/YA categories: Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Algonquin Young Readers, 2020)(Best Juvenile), and The Companion by Katie Alender (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020)(Best Young Adult).

Scholastic Inc.

Congratulations to the finalists of the 2021 Locus Awards, especially the ten finalists in the Young Adult Novel category, some of which include A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (Tor Teen, 2020), Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020), and Shadowshaper Legacy by Daniel José Older (Scholastic Inc., 2020).

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 SCBWI Emerging Voices Award: Ines Bellina for Jessie Cristo, Superstar, and Lily Quan for The One and Only Rosie Chen. “The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.”

Scholarships & Grants

LitUp by Reese’s Book Club: “will provide five emerging (unpublished, unagented, underrepresented women) writers with an all-expenses-paid retreat, a three-month mentorship with a published author, and marketing support from Reese’s Book Club.”

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is taking applications for the A. Orr Fantasy Grant. This award is open to middle grade/YA authors with promising manuscripts in the fantasy, sci-fi, or speculative fiction genre. One winner will receive free tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference, $600, and the opportunity to have a preview of the manuscript sent to select agents/editors open to querying. The deadline is May 31.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

What an honor it is to be featured on the cover of Literacy Today, a publication of the International Literacy Association!

Ready for the Challenge by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Literacy Today. PEEK: “In pushing back against misconceptions, prejudice, and erasure, today’s Indigenous book creators are crushing the myth of extinction, both on the page and as literary role models.” Check out my upcoming events above for information about my ILA keynote.

What a terrific new review for my upcoming middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, June 1, 2021)!

“…the novel offers redemption not just for Peter but for many of Neverland’s other characters as well. With expertly shifting perspectives, an oft-broken fourth wall and subtle but firm remedies to elements of the story best left in the past, SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA is a welcome new addition to the legend of Peter Pan.” —BookPage

Are you on Goodreads? Enter to win a copy of my upcoming middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, June 1, 2021). Deadline: May 31.

Hooray! Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover by Shonto Begay and Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert (both Heartdrum, 2021) were named Kids Indie Next List Picks! They will both be released on May 11, so be sure to pre-order today! Huge thanks to independent booksellers for their ongoing support of Native voices and visions for young readers!

In related news, BookPage cheers Jo Jo Makoons: “Quigley’s first-person narration is fast paced, witty and engaging, while illustrator Tara Audibert’s black-and-white cartoon-style illustrations assist with character development and deepen the story’s setting.” Plus, Jo Jo Makoons was chosen as an Best Book of the Month for May!

More Personally – Stephani

It’s been a week of writing and reading here. Mostly reading. In between wrangling these two pups, I’ve been tackling my to-be-read pile of books with renewed vigor.