Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: How to Wear a Sari by Darshana Khiani, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Versify, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview: Randi Pink by Edith Campbell from CrazyQuiltEdi. Peek: “[F]or a year now, my mantra has been to glean the unwanted edges. Take in my hands the tiny victories and make desirable things…That’s been my pandemic—hands, brain, fingers, ink pen, words, stories…Some days, I’d force in myself the will to…write one word and then another…until I felt they made something worth gleaning.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Ashley Herring Blake by Mary M. Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “After publishing several books—and writing even more than that—I understand things I didn’t when I first started. Writing never gets easier….[But] now, I understand that when drafting isn’t going well, I will get through it. I have a better sense of what makes a great story, how to trust my instincts….”

Shining a Light on a Hidden History by Stacey Lee from Penguin Teen. Peek: “One of the privileges of being able to write books for young people is to give them reflections of themselves. What we see around us gives us a yardstick by which we can measure our self-worth, and by the same token, not seeing ourselves sends a message that we don’t belong.”

How to Talk With Students About Banned Books by Nicole Klett from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It is imperative that we talk with our kids and teens about the different reasons they may see books disappear from shelves in schools, libraries or bookstores….How do you go about having the conversation on books removed due to censorship versus inaccurate or harmful information?…[Students] look for answers and expect the adults to have them.”

Delacorte Press

Nicola Yoon on Her New Book Instructions for Dancing and the Importance of Diverse Love Stories by Megan McCluskey from Time. Peek: “We need stories of joy and love and big, swooning romances. I always say that I don’t wake up every morning thinking about the struggle, because then I don’t get to have joy in my life. I wake up thinking about coffee and muffins and snuggling with my people.”

Equity & Inclusion

The Truth Behind Toxic Friendship by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Adiba Jaigirdar:] “I ended my toxic friendships, and I learned how to stand up for myself and for others in the face of bigotry…I lost a lot of things along the way….[While] writing the [book’s] character…, these are the moments I went back to….[W]e were…both caught up in a racist society that teaches us not to value ourselves.”

Why Fiction for Younger Readers Needs to Talk About Suicide by Rukhsana Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[C]hildren’s literature…can give a desperate child a break from their problems….All those books where the protagonist reconciles with their bullies didn’t reflect my reality. Sometimes there is no path to reconciliation. There’s only hanging in there until you can escape….I wanted someone to show me that there is a way through….”

Quill Tree Books

LGBT+ Representation in the Middle Grade Sphere With Author Jules Machias from HarperCollins Studio on YouTube. Peek: “I waned to help others understand what the experience of a shifting non-binary gender feels like….Our culture tends to associate emotionality with femaleness and therefore to devalue it, and that hurts everyone in lots of ways. For emotional boys…the message is, there’s something wrong with you. Newsflash, this is a load of nonsense.”

A Native “Ambassador in the Borderlands” by Blue Tarpalechee from Kirkus Reviews. Peek: [Anton Treuer:] “[A] lot of our kids, they’re hungry. They want to know their history, they want to know their culture, and they want to marry that with their own lived experience as Indigenous people. They don’t want to be blamed or shamed for something that they didn’t get to learn through no fault of their own.”

Author Spotlight: Cassandra Newbould from KidLit411. Peek: “When I was a teen there weren’t many books featuring bodies that looked like mine. Especially ones that showed those people getting their heart’s desire….Luckily, that is changing and I am so grateful…to be a part of that change. Diverse intersectional stories…help open the door to self confidence, self acceptance, and comfortable body neutrality.”

HighWater Press

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story (10th Anniversary Edition) by Helen Kubiw from CanLit for LittleCanadians. Peek: “Too many of the truths about injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples have been hidden, suppressed and ignored….With each story told, the silence is broken a little more, allowing an opportunity for justice to manifest….[Today] there is a new opportunity for the world to listen…and give survivors…a chance to tell their stories and have them remembered.”

Four Questions With Rachael Lippincott by Mary M. Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I]t’s so important as a queer person, as a queer reader, to have these characters, these people, who are showing that the best version of yourself is truly the self that is the most honest and most real. It’s the person that you really want to be, even though it can be difficult….”

I Wrote Wishes so Readers Could See What It’s Like To Be a Refugee by Mượn Thị Văn from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to write a story where the reader could see and feel the story from the inside—from inside a family of refugees, and from inside the heart of a refugee….The story doesn’t begin on the first page and it doesn’t end on the last page….Stories have the amazing power to change us.”

Quill Tree Books

Q&A: Rita Williams-Garcia, Author of “A Sitting in St. James” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I hope readers will not be afraid to look at this history even in its brutality and lack of care and respect of human rights. I hope it will encourage readers to think about entitlement and its legacy in ways they’ve never thought of before….[P]onder. Recast situations as they pop up….Talk amongst yourself.”

Writing Craft

Kosoko Jackson Talks With Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “The rules of time travel are incredibly important to stick to—you have to establish rules in the beginning. Then you can find ways to break them, but not in a way that feels too contrived….There are…different ways that time travel can get out of hand. It’s a very messy thing to write.”

“Firekeeper’s Daughter” Author Angeline Boulley Takes the Book World by Storm by Rob Capriccioso from Tribal Business News. Peek: “How this book auction worked: It was all by email. The 12 [bidders] were sent an email inviting them to submit their initial bid by a certain time of the morning….[M]y agent and I…picked the top five that we were interested in having them submit a ‘best and final’ by the end of the day.”

Sleeping Bear Press

Illustrator Saturday—Elisa Paganelli from Kathy Temean. Peek: “Both the cover and the internals require first sketches to be approved by the publisher….[Then] comes the coloring stage. I usually try to set up a color palette that I can keep as a guideline throughout the whole book…[T]hen with my beloved set of digital painting I start page by page to complete the job.”

What Is the Story of Alice in Wonderland? by Dana Meachen Rau with Gilbert Ford from Wild Things. Peek: “One of the lessons I learned…was that the best way to further my writing career was to not think about my writing career. Leave publishing goals, industry trends, and marketing ideas at the door. Instead, [be] completely open to follow your compulsion to create….[T]o play, dare, take chances, and make mistakes.”

Interview: Kiki Thorpe and Nidhi Chanani by Chris Mirjahangir from Toho Kingdom. Peek: “I create my artwork digitally in photoshop. I begin with sketches and once they’re approved, I move to create full color art. I begin with the characters, blocking in their shapes in color. Then, I layer up detail by detail…I add shadows to the characters and then build up the environment.”

Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Q&A With S. K. Ali, Misfit in Love by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[W]hen I get stuck while writing, I clean up my office and organize all my notes and materials and just declutter my physical space which helps declutter my brain. I then make a teapot full of sage tea and pour myself little cups while I get back to the soul of my story….”

Noteworthy YA Series Come to an End This Season by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I]t’s professional reviews that I find helpful!…[I]t’s hard for me to understand my work until an audience responds to it. You think you know the laugh line and, if the audience laughs, you’re good. But, if you’re wrong, you’ve written a pause, and nothing happens….[P]rofessional reviews help me to know if I’ve gotten it right….”


Written in Stone: Hoping for Lasting Progress in the Native Book Biz by Rob Capriccioso from Tribal Business News. Peek: [Debbie Reese:] “This is very different from what we have seen in the past…This is a big wave—we are seeing so many milestones for Indigenous writers who have been traditionally shut out of the major publishing houses. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind this big wave.”

Second Story Press

In Focus: Retelling the History of Indigenous People by Diane Patrick and Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The power of literature to address the history of the oppression of Indigenous peoples in North America and chart their futures has never been more important….PW contacted a variety of publishers to find out how their programs serve the needs of Indigenous readers and their communities.”

Legendary Comics Launches YA Graphic Novel Imprint by Brigid Alverson from from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Legendary Comics, the graphic novel division of film production house Legendary Entertainment, is launching a young adult imprint, Legendary Comics YA, along with a slate of five graphic novels to be published over the next 18 months. The first graphic novel on its list…was released in April.”

Mango Partners With Woo! Jr. to Launch DragonFruit Imprint by Karen Raugust from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Miami-based Mango Publishing…has formed a new children’s imprint, DragonFruit. Its partner in the joint venture is Wendy Piersall, CEO and editor-in-chief of Woo! Jr. Kids Activities, a publisher of educational activity books and other content. Books developed by Woo! Jr. will account for about half of DragonFruit’s list….”

Black Sands Entertainment

Black Sands Publishing Launches Digital Comics App by Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Black Sands Entertainment, an African American owned publisher and media company aimed at African American consumers, launched the Black Sands Publishing app, a digital comics platform…[BSE] published a mix of comics, graphic novels, chapter books, DVDs, and picture books aimed at Black parents and their children….[The] app lets fans read comics for free….”

“Young Authors Publishing” Nurtures Up-and-Coming Writers of Color by Pamela Brill from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Helping to expand the burgeoning community of Black and brown voices in children’s books, Young Authors Publishing is celebrating its third year in business….What began as a corporate social responsibility initiative…has since morphed into a full-time nonprofit that serves children in low-income communities by putting their stories onto paper—and into readers’ hands.”


I’m Now a Talkabook Author! from Todd Mitchell. Peek: “Talkabook is a new way to connect with authors in interactive, virtual visits. I’m also continuing my normal in-person and virtual Author Visit options for schools, libraries, and reading groups, but Talkabook is another way to connect personally and virtually. With Talkabook you can bring…[authors] out to a gathering, a writing group, a classroom….”

Sourcebooks Young Readers

How TikTok Got This YA Author a Six-Figure Book Deal by K.W. Colyard from Bustle. Peek: “Aster is the latest success story to emerge from BookTok: a corner of TikTok devoted to all things books. [Alex Aster:] ‘Every week there’s…a new Next Big Thing. It’s forcing publishing to keep up, and I hope that they really take it seriously, because I think that BookTok is the biggest platform for readers….’”


CALIBA Creates Community for BIPOC Bookstores by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA) has established the Mosaic Community, a new group for BIPOC store owners and booksellers….[CALIBA’s] purpose…is to help organize BIPOC booksellers to ‘come together to host author events, BIPOC author meet and greets, share best practices, develop education specific to their channel and to raise awareness of their stores….’”

New Voices New Rooms 2021: Opening Doors by Nicki Leone from New Voices New Rooms. Peek: “The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance…and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association…are coming together again for their fall virtual conference, New Voices, New Rooms (NVNR) September 27-October 1. NVNR will offer…booksellers, publishers, authors, and other industry partners a week of opportunities for education, networking, innovation, and fun. [The] official theme…is ‘Opening Doors.’”


U.S. Book Show: Why America Needs Libraries Now More Than Ever by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[S]ociologist Eric Klinenberg…stressed that as the nation seeks to recover from a tumultuous year, we will need our public libraries now more than ever before. ‘I don’t know all the ways we’re going to have to build and invest…[But] as we start to rebuild, there is probably no better place to begin…than the library.’”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Join Escondido Public Library’s virtual YA LGBTQ+ Panel featuring a live conversation with Adult Services Librarian Jessica Buck and YA authors Z.R. Ellor, F.T. Lukens, and Alexandra Overy. Learn more about the authors’ books: May the Best Man Win (Roaring Book Press, 2021), In Deeper Waters (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021), and These Feathered Flames (Inkyard Press, 2021). The event takes place at 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. pacific, 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. central, 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. eastern on June 10.

It’s not too late to apply for the online We Need Diverse BooksNative Children’s and YA Writing Intensive that will take place Aug. 5 to Aug. 8. The intensive, open to Native/First Nations writers, will focus on “sharing information, resources, and contacts related to children’s and YA writing, Native books, and the surrounding publishing world.” Faculty members include children’s/YA authors Cynthia Leitich Smith and Dawn Quigley. Scholarships are available. The deadline to apply here is June 1.

Enjoy the free replay of Books of Wonder’s event, Native American Voices for Young Readers, with authors Traci Sorell, Dawn Quigley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and David Robertson, along with author/moderator Christine Day. They 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, cover Michaela Goade (Heartdrum, 2021), respectively. The authors also discuss aspects of their childhood and books/stories in their lives growing up.

Bologna Prepares for a Second Virtual Fair by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[The] Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been…replaced with a virtual event, which this year runs June 14–17.…[W]ith a year to plan and prepare, the organizers have created a…robust program….Though the core of the 2021 fair is scheduled for June, organizers have added numerous conferences, seminars, and master classes, which will take place throughout the year….”


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 William Allen White Children’s Book Awards. Two books are chosen annually by Kansas schoolchildren, one by students in grades three to five, and another by students in grades six to eight. The first group chose Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018), and the second group chose Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018).

Congratulations to Tonya Duncan Ellis, winner of the Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award, and runner-up Laura Pollack! Kudos to all the nominees: Brenda Panella; Lynn Baldwin; Lynn Pederson; Robert Bostick; Leyna Juliet Weber; Heather Anne Harwood; Seth Barton; Johanna Peyton; Brian Brown; Eliza Kinkzand; and Gene Brenek! The 2021 Mentor is Bethany Hegedus.

Congratulations to the twelve applicants who were chosen to participate in the We Need Diverse BooksBlack Creatives Revisions Workshop! The workshop is “an extended opportunity for writers who have completed a full draft of a Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Adult novel…to receive training from a small faculty of esteemed Black authors to complete revisions of their manuscript and to submit their novel to a team of editors at Penguin Random House….”

Congratulations to L.A.-based bookstore Eso Won Books and Simon & Schuster sales rep Toi Crockett for being named Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year and Sales Rep of the Year, respectively. The announcement was made at the U.S. Book Show.


Latinx in Publishing is offering a Work-in-Progress Fellowship, sponsored by Macmillan USA. The fellowship “will support one Latinx writer (living in the United States, including Puerto Rico) with a manuscript in the Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction, or Young Adult categories by pairing them with a Macmillan editor to help develop their manuscript over a 10-month period.” The manuscript must be unpublished or previously published with less than 5,000 copies sold. The writer will receive a $5,000 stipend. Apply here until June 1.

We Need Diverse BooksEmergency Fund for Diverse Creatives in Children’s Publishing is still accepting applications for “emergency grants of up to $1,000 to diverse authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals in financial need.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Read an excerpt.

We’re at three days and counting until the release of my middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum). Please consider pre-ordering your copy today. Read an excerpt.

As a former journalist, it’s a special thrill when my books get positive ink from a newspaper, so I’m really celebrating this lovely review of Sisters of the Neversea by Trisha Collopy from the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Peek:

“He [Peter Pan] lures Wendy and Michael to Neverland, leaving Lily to attempt a rescue on an island full of hungry crocodiles, a queendom of fairies, angry merfolk and wily pirates. ‘Like any other kind of magic, stories can offer harm and hope,’ Leitich Smith writes. Here, she offers pushback and a path forward.”

So far, the book has received three starred reviews. The novel was also named among 16 Best Books for June by Kirkus Reviews. Peek:

“A refreshing adventure that breathes new life into a classic text.”

Did you miss the Heartdrum panel (featuring me, Brian Young and Christine Day) at Gaithersburg Book Festival? Watch it here.

Last call! Goodreads giveaway! Enter to win a copy of my upcoming middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, June 1, 2021). Deadline: May 31.

I’m delighted that two Heartdrum books, Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert, and The Sea in Winter by Christine Day, cover by Michaela Goade were both chosen as Indigo Kids Best Books of 2021 So Far.

★ In a starred review, Shelf Awareness cheers:

“An Ojibwe girl sorts out friendship struggles in a hilarious series starter from #OwnVoices creators.”

★ In another starred review (the fourth total), School Library Journal raves:

“The story playfully captures age-appropriate concerns and interests, as young Jo Jo navigates family traditions and shifting friendships. Audibert’s fun illustrations utilize big expressions to convey the book’s gentle highjinks and Jo Jo’s rambunctious, carefree nature.”

Jo Jo Makoons also was named a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, and received another terrific review along with an audio excerpt, featuring voice actor Jennifer Bobiwash from AudioFile! So, far the book has received four starred reviews.

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I’ve taken a deep dive into Plasticus Martitimus: An Invasive Species by Ana Pego and Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho and translated by Jane Springer (Greystone Kids, 2020). It’s an exploration of plastics in our oceans, and includes ideas to help. (No straws, please!) I’m analyzing the book’s structure and tone as a mentor text for my nonfiction projects this summer.

And being fully vaccinated, I look forward to reconnecting in person with writing friends soon.

More Personally – Stephani

Happy Summer to all our readers! This week I loved participating in VCFA’s Writing Novels for Young People Retreat. Tirzah Price and Anna Drury did an amazing job hosting the event, and Corey Ann Haydu and Patrice Caldwell gave lectures that inspired and informed. It reignited my enthusiasm for a few projects that I’ll work on over the summer.

Being fully vaccinated means we’ll get to see far-away family finally! Huzzah for science!

Other than reading, writing, and travel, this summer you can find me in my garden.

More Personally – Gail

I’m excited and honored to have my newest essay, Compelling Characters—In Life and In Stories, published in Lunch Ticket. The essay features two of the most important, influential, and compelling persons in my life: my mother and my grandfather.

More Personally – Suma

I’m looking forward to catching up on the sessions from the VCFA Writing Novels For Young People Retreat this Memorial Day Weekend.

Personal Links – Cynthia

Nominations 2021 from Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Peek: “…the 2021 shortlist of the children’s publishing houses most recommended in each of the six geographical areas by publishers, publishers’ associations and institutions devoted to reading promotion worldwide.” Congratulations to our friends at Levine Querido, Lee & Low and their fellow nominees!

Y.A. Author A.S. King Lost Her Child, Now She’s Trying to Save All The Others by Anthony Breznican from Vanity Fair. Peek: “She deals with topics like bullying, death, racism, anxiety, and other real-world concerns, but in her stories everything feels symbolic and nothing makes literal sense. Is there a better metaphor for adolescence than that?”

Tasha Spillett-Sumner & Michaela Goade Launching I Sang You Down from the Stars from McNally Robinson Online Events.