Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithGayleen RabakukkStephani EatonSuma SubramaniamBree Bender and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: Magic Like That by Samara Cole Doyon (Lee & Low Books, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Remembering the Pioneers: Arnold Adoff, Floyd Cooper, Eloise Greenfield, and Bernette G. Ford by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson from School Library Journal. Peek: “As children’s book publishers and authors, we are always thinking about the stories we tell, the children and adults we want to reach, and the change we want to help drive to make the industry more diverse, inclusive, and equitable…Making a difference, no matter what the cause, is not easy. It never is.”

Page Street Kids

Q&A With Sonia Hartl, The Lost Girls by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Don’t let comparison steal your joy from writing. It can always seem like you should be in a certain place career-wise…but nobody is on the same timeline…I queried for nine years before signing with my agent…Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, I’ve always been exactly where I need to be.”

What Horror–Yes, Horror–Can Do For Kids by Josh Allen from School Library Journal. Peek: “[K]ids are smart. If they reach for scary books, they’re doing so for a reason. They’re choosing terror on the page so they can develop resilience. They’re choosing stress-filled stories so they can learn to navigate their own anxieties. They’re choosing fear in fiction so they can cultivate bravery in real life.”

Q&A With Fabio Napoleoni, Dragonboy by Paola M. from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I work hard at what I do. I enjoy it….[T]hat’s key number one…[I]f you do it for an honest reason, then it’s going to reward you in an honest way….[P]ursue something that you enjoy and just keep pursuing it and putting it out and someone’s gonna like it, someone’s gonna reach out to you….”

Equity & Inclusion

Wendy Lamb Books

How To Win a Slime War Is the Book Mae Respicio Has Wanted Since Childhood by Mae Respicio from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Growing up, the books I clutched to my heart were those that helped me peek into the lives of characters doing the same things I was…[W]hat those books didn’t have, which I truly longed for, were characters who happened to be Filipino American….[I’m] happy to write the kinds of books I loved…starring diverse main characters.”

Q&A With Michelle Quach, Not Here To Be Liked by Shannon Rygg from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Culturally, we’re in a place right now where it’s okay, maybe even expected, to identify as a feminist, but there’s still…mixed messaging about what that entails. So I wanted to explore the topic in a way that makes…young readers feel like it’s okay to grapple with that uncertainty and arrive at their own conclusions.”

Tiffany D. Jackson on the Real-Life Horror Stories That Inspired Her Novel White Smoke by Alamin Yohannes from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: “I love being able to write for kids who were like me; I love writing for a young Tiffany. I see so many young Tiffanys, girls who are looking for thrillers or horror stories that they could see themselves in, particularly Black girls. I want to give that to the next generation.”


In Conversation: David Bowles and Erika Meza from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Erika Meza:] “[T]he border brings with it a feeling of being in limbo…and when you’re not really going anywhere, you feel like you should be. It is…a complicated creature—and it is not until you are actually away from it that you can really see the special beauty in the raw, blunt nature of the place.”

In Their Own Words: What Angeline Boulley, Eric Gansworth, and Darcie Little Badger Want You To Know by Kara Stewart from School Library Journal. Peek: [Eric Gansworth:] “The biggest drive for me, maybe the reality I accepted…is that being born and raised deeply within an Indigenous community, I knew any memoir would also involve telling stories of other community members’ lives, too….[T]he poems that feature other people aren’t side trips, but instead are integral parts of the story.”

How Raquel Vasquez Gilliland Is Reenvisioning YA Romance by Katie Tamola from shondaland. Peek: “One of the inspirations for [the book]…is very personal. My sister and I were very close with our white-passing cousins growing up. My sister and I are not white-passing….[P]eople treated us very, very differently from our cousins. The most common response was simply not noticing us…I accepted that I was less beautiful….”

Writing Craft

Delacorte Press

YA Debut Authors Reveal Their Inspirations and Challenges by Melanie Kletter from School Library Journal. Peek: [Jessica Lewis:] “Most of my research came from my own noggin since the story is so personal. But some fun, random things I researched: age you can legally drop out of high school, spray-paint art, how to play Go Fish…and Korean hip-hop/rap (sadly this didn’t make it into the book…).”

Bravo Anjali Embodies Truth for Children by Cornelius Minor and Nawal Qarooni Casiano from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Lucia Soto:] “To bring a character to life I rely on facial expressions and body language…[I]f you look at any character…you can always tell that they are thinking/feeling. So if [the main character] is angry, her eyes are slightly squinted, her brow is contracted, her jaw is tight…[S]he shows her feelings just like any of us would!”

Q&A With Rajani LaRocca by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I only work on one novel at a time…Picture books are a good break for me. When I’m too tired to work on a novel, a picture book idea will come to me and I can just draft it in a half an hour or 45 minutes, and then set it aside.”


Q&A With Veera Hiranandani, How To Find What You’re Not Looking For by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Second person] point of view…kind of forces you the reader to be the character, at the same time allowing for separation between the character and you the reader. Suddenly the main character just kind of links arms with the reader, and…you kind of have to be that main character whether you want to or not.”

Q&A With Karen Yin, Whole Whale by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Before I begin a manuscript, I spend a lot of time prewriting—dreaming, making lists, jotting down notes, outlining…The prewriting stage is the most delicious part of writing because my mind is free to make odd but beautiful connections that form the spine and nervous system of my story.”

Q&A With Katie Zhao, How We Fall Apart by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I love reading and writing complicated, messy characters…I especially love writing girls who are fiercely ambitious—even if to a fault. Two characters who will stop at nothing to get what they want and make their parents proud, even if it means ruining each other….From the beginning, I didn’t mean for them to be likable.”

Philomel Books

Q&A With Gillian Sze and Michelle Lee, My Love For You Is Always by Thushanthi Ponweera from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Michelle Lee:] “I’ve always liked looking at things. Deep observation is such an important science (and life) skill!…When I illustrate, by including lots of details to observe, my hope is that the viewer can get a little lost in that world being depicted and maybe something will osmose its way into their head….”


Literary Agents Assess the Middle Grade Landscape by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A handful of agents revealed some of the middle grade trends they are observing…. [Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency:] ‘I am definitely receiving submissions from a wider variety of voices than I have in the past…There are so many voices, points of view, and stories that haven’t previously been represented in middle grade.’”

How HarperCollins Will Integrate HMH Trade by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “HarperCollins has announced its integration plans for the former HMH divisions….[T]he two children’s imprints and HMH Productions, now officially rebranded HarperCollins Productions and responsible for all of children’s IP, will become part of HarperCollins Children’s Books…The former HMH Books for Young Readers division…has been restructured as the Clarion Group.”


New Universes for Young Readers: Close-up on Wonderbound from Pubishers Weekly. Peek: “When Damian and Adrian Wassel founded Vault Comics in 2016, their goal was to create a comics imprint to reach young readers. It was with that same goal in mind that this year they launched Wonderbound, a comics and graphic novels imprint launching on Sept. 21 and focusing on middle grade and tween readers.”


How TikTok Makes Backlist Books Into Bestsellers by Sophia Stewart from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A large community of TikTok users have carved out a corner of the app—called ‘BookTok’…for sharing their favorite books and authors….BookTok influencers are predominantly teenagers and young women, excited to share their book-related opinions, rankings, and recommendations. When a book catches on among users…results can be impressive. BookTok content reaches an extremely large audience….”


With Sales Momentum, Looks to Future…. by Danny Crichton from TechCrunch. Peek: “[O]ne company that has captured the imagination of a lot of readers has been, which has become the go-to platform for independent local bookstores to build an online storefront and compete with Amazon’s juggernaut. The company, which debuted…in January 2020, rapidly garnered headlines…After a year and a half…Bookshop hasn’t seen a downturn.”


The Surprisingly Big Business of Library E-books by Daniel A. Gross from The New Yorker. Peek: “OverDrive distributes e-books and audiobooks…For the most part, publishers do not sell their e-books or audiobooks to libraries—they sell digital distribution rights to third-party venders, such as OverDrive…Libraries now pay OverDrive and its peers for a wide range of digital services…[H]igh prices of e-book rights could become untenable for libraries in the long run….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Scholastic Press

Book People presents a free virtual event with children’s author Varian Johnson to celebrate the upcoming release of his book Playing the Cards You’re Dealt (Scholastic Press, 2021). Moderated by Erin Entrada Kelly, the event will take place Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and School Library Journal are presenting Mathical Books: Inspire Joyful Curiosity in Math-Themed Kids’ Literature on Sept. 21 at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern. “Join Title I school librarians as they share programming ideas for using titles from the Mathical Book List in their schools.” Register here.

Frankfurt Confirms In-Person Fair, Limits Daily Attendees to 25,000 by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he Frankfurt Book Fair has confirmed that the fair will proceed with live, in-person events, this October 20-24. The in-person fair will be augmented by online offerings….[T]he total number of people allowed on the fairgrounds will be limited to 25,000 a day.”


Since 2003, the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature has been awarded every other year to a living writer or author-illustrator with significant achievement in children’s or young adult literature. Sponsored by World Literature Today (the University of Oklahoma’s award-winning magazine of international literature), the NSK Prize celebrates literature that contributes to the quality of children’s lives. The 2021 NSK Laureate is Cynthia Leitich Smith. A collection of secondary ELA lesson plans about her work is now available. The 2021 Neustadt Lit Fest will take place online from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27.

This year’s Lit Fest is focused on Indigenous young adult literature. On Oct. 26, from 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern, Cynthia will discuss her work and writing career with Dr. Heather Shotton (Wichita-Kiowa-Cheyenne). Teachers and students are welcome, and admission is free. The session may be viewed live or watched afterward. The full Lit Fest schedule is available online.

Finalists for 2021 Kirkus Prize Are Revealed. Congratulations to the 18 finalists for the Kirkus Prize, in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, and young reader’s literature. The young reader’s literature category is comprised of a combination of picture books, middle-grade books, and young adult titles. The winners will be announced at a virtual ceremony on Oct. 28.

Levine Querido

2021 NBA Longlist for Young People’s Literature Announced by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The National Book Foundation has revealed the 2021 National Book Award longlist for Young People’s Literature. The five finalists will be named on October 5…This year’s longlist features two authors [Kekla Magoon, Anna-Marie McLemore] who have been previously recognized by the National Book Awards.”

PRH and Amanda Gorman Launch Creative Writing Award for Poetry by Gilcy Aquino from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Penguin Random House has announced its partnership with Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, to launch the Amanda Gorman Award for Poetry, a new creative writing award focused on poetry for public high school students…[T]he award will recognize a student for an original literary composition in English for poetry.” Submission opens on Oct. 1.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Receives Award From Library of Congress by Camruinn Morgan-Rumsey from WYMT. Peek: “Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library received the $150,000 David M. Rubenstein Prize from the Library of Congress…The literacy program, nicknamed ‘the little program that could,’ has delivered more than 160 million books to children worldwide…The program now delivers 1.8 million books to children five-years-old and younger every month.”

Dial Books

Congratulations to the children’s/YA winners of the Washington State Book Awards 2021: What I Carry by Jennifer Longo (Ember, 2021)(Young Adult Literature), Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit (Dial Books, 2021)(Books for Young Readers), and The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann (Candlewick Press, 2020)(Picture Books).

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Cynthia uses sticky notes to figure out the timeline for her YA novel in progress.

Huge congratulations to the authors and illustrators long-listed for the National Book Award! A shout out to fellow VCFA faculty Kekla Magoon and Anna-Marie McLemore, both celebrating their second time on the long list. I’m also especially delighted to see books by Darcie Little Badger, Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper included.

Kudos also to Christine Day, whose novel The Sea in Winter (Heartdrum, 2021) has been chosen to represent Washington State at the National Book Festival! Check out the educator guide for The Sea in Winter.

What else? My most recent YA novel, Hearts Unbroken, (Candlewick, 2018, 2020) was recommended by NewsOne and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was discussed by Dr. Debbie Reese on episode 6, season 2 of the Learning for Justice podcast.

I also appreciated this review essay: Hearts Unbroken: A Young Adult #CreekVoices Tale of Love and Hate by F. Fallon Farokhi from The Story Spectator. Peek: “This is a powerful moment where readers can decide what to do and say when they realize that their families have racist or prejudiced opinions about others.” In addition, The Story Spectator reflects on Charms of Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum), which is newly available in paperback.

Finally, I’m honored by Susan the Librarian’s thoughtful review of my new middle grade novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021). Peek: “There is so much to love in this beautiful story of family and redemption.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Recent downsizing in preparation to move included donating ARCs (advance reader copies) to Austin-area Little Free Libraries. (Most public libraries and literacy organizations won’t accept ARCs.) I had great fun comparing designs in anticipation of installing my own Little Free Library at my new home.

More Personally – Stephani

This past month I was excited to gift my nephew with one of the books we’re featuring on Cynsations this month, Theo Thesaurus by Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Mike Moran (Philomel, 2021)! Not only does he share a name with the titular character, he is the biggest dinosaur fan. Perfect gift!

Personal Links – Cynthia

On Lines: SISTERS OF THE NEVERSEA from On Lines: Connecting Story and Song, One Line at a Time. PEEK: “I chose to forewarn young readers to brace themselves for high stakes and page-turning peril, but at the same time reassure them that the narrative voice would guide them safely through it.”