Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Welcome to the Cypher by Khodi Dill, illustrated by Awuradwoa Afful (Annick Press, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Rukhsanna Guidroz by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I want kids to know that the human spirit is extremely resilient and has no bounds. There are a myriad of experiences that are equally valuable, and it’s okay to be sad. Sadness is always part of your life. Things happen, sad things happen, devastating things happen, but you can get through them.”

Sourcebooks Young Readers

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna—Interview With Author Alda Dobbs by S.A. Larsen from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “I hope that [middle grade readers] learn that they too have the power and determination to be a leader…[T]hey are capable of so much if we give them the space and confidence to grow and figure things out on their own….[N]o matter the circumstances, they can look to their dreams for guidance and strength….”

Debut You: A 2021 Debut Author Series: Madison Moore from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “Something that I love about myself is my ability to find joy in a wide variety of things….I pride myself in trying to notice small moments of any normal day that might bring about some happiness or curiosity. There is no shortage of things that I’m excited to read about, learn about, or experience….”

Bringing STEM/STEAM to Life by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Janice Harrington:] “[P]icture book biographies…tell child readers that they are not alone. The great scientist was once a kid just like you, who was fascinated by spiders or by the outdoors. They might even have been different from other kids, and that’s okay!…STEM teachers want books that spark questions and enthusiasm. Science begins with curiosity.”

Dial Books

Q&A: Elisabet Velasquez, Author of “When We Make It” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I am constantly thinking about what things mean….I lead with gratitude and when I have moments where I doubt myself I go back to reminding myself that at any given moment I am where I am supposed to be. This moment will lead me to my next moment and so on.”

Equity & Inclusion

Part of the Fabric of Us: Virtual Exhibit at Eric Carle Museum Responds to Anti-Asian Attitudes by Steve Pfarrer from Daily Hampshire Gazette. Peek: [Grace Lin:] “While it has grown louder and more consistent these last few years, here in the United States the anti-Asian story of hate has been told for a very, very long time. So for those who believe in equality, justice and kindness, we need to combat those stories.”

Samira Ahmed Honors Fantastical Oral Storytelling With Chicago Flair and Siblings at the Center by Nawal Qarooni Casiano from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Samira Ahmed:] “Our shelves should reflect our world and right now they don’t…We are making strides, but reading a story about Indian American Muslims on an adventure? Anyone can read it. And it’s awesome because then you have a teeny window into someone else’s world, as a counter to the negative stereotypes they see…in the media.”

Delacorte Press

“Black Boy Joy” Brings Together 17 Stories of Positivity by Mary Quattlebaum from The Washington Post. Peek: “‘Every story moves toward a place of joy,’ said Kwame Mbalia…Mbalia wanted the stories to center on joy, because the news media can often highlight only the ‘bad stuff, the trauma,’ in the lives of Black boys…That portrayal, he said, doesn’t offer a complete and authentic picture of the Black experience.”

How To Explain White Privilege to Very Little Kids by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs from Romper. Peek: [Megan Madison:] “One major pitfall is thinking that you just talk about race and racism once and you’re done. Another one is waiting until a kid brings it up…Kids rely on us to give them language to describe patterns they’re noticing. We don’t wait for them to bring us books to expose them to books.”

Q&A With Joanna Ho, Playing at the Border by Amy Nam from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Growing up, I didn’t ever see myself in books, in movies, in magazines….[I]t didn’t even occur to me to dream about having books or movies with characters like me. It doesn’t even cross your mind that it’s a possibility because we never see it. It’s taken me decades to realize that something different is possible.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Divya Srinivasan by Sarah Yung from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I was thinking about…20 years earlier, when a stranger asked my sister, ‘What are you?’…[I] quickly started writing ‘I am ____’ statements. I thought about how people cannot be easily summarized, about how labels are fluid, and dependent on so many factors: situation, comparison to others, comparison to ourselves at other times, our mood….”

Critical Love Theory: History, Hand Holding, and Hard Truth by Shanna Miles from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Hard truths don’t have to be spoon fed and it shouldn’t matter if you’re Black or white or whatever the state is recognizing as race these days. What matters is the truth, and the truth is Black people have been here, living, loving, contributing, and fighting since 1619. Facts endure.”

Writing Craft

Q&A With Terry and Eric Fan, It Fell from the Sky by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Terry Fan:] “[O]nline platforms for artists began springing up…such as Threadless, Society6, and RedBubble. Society6 was such a lifesaver for me, and I credit them with enabling me to make a living as an independent artist. I received a royalty on every product sold, and critically, Society6 allowed artists to retain full rights to their work.”

First Second

Q&A With Damian Alexander, Other Boys by Alaina Leary from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “My process for memoir comics…starts when a single memory pops into my head and I scribble it down to work into a comic later….I like to imagine each memory like a paper doll holding hands with the next….[T]he scribbled memories became a script and that script became thumbnail sketches, line art, colors, and the lettering.”

My Journey to Becoming a Picture-Book Author from Karen Krossing. Peek: “I began my quest to become a picture-book writer by analyzing picture books I adore….Later, I started critiquing the manuscripts of friends, applying what I was learning to understand how they were written. Finally, I began to write my own tentative picture-book manuscripts, celebrating my messy experiments and learning from trial and error.”

The Weather Outside (Showing Seasons) by Julie Lake from How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. Peek: “A big part of our job as illustrators is to show our characters exist and move through a world that is real and full of sensory experiences. Specificity of setting is essential, and conjuring particular weather is a powerful way to draw readers into a scene.”

Groundwood Books

North by Northwest With Sheryl MacKay with Uma Krishnaswami from CBC Listen. Peek: [Uma Krishnaswami:] “[When writing the words] I don’t think I’m seeing pictures so much as I’m seeing scenes, I’m seeing movement, I’m seeing action, I’m seeing the forward momentum of the story.…I try to make myself [see pictures]…by creating little dummies and writing the text out in spreads so I can…get a sense of the page turn.”

Q&A With Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise, The People Remember by Khadejah Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Illustrator Loveis Wise:] “I typically don’t create work that centers on trauma and pain but I felt it was important for me to showcase the range of emotion our ancestors have felt throughout the diaspora. Black people, historically, have been through so much suffering but have always found ways to transmute our pain into freedom….”

Interview With Author Ana Siqueira by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit: Peek: “I write my ideas and let them marinate in my head. Each time I have an idea for a scene or a sentence, I jot it down…When I have enough information I outline my story…[T]hen I write it. It helped me cutting from 1000 revisions to about 30. Then it’s time to submit to…critique partners.”

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

As the Story Goes by Julie Danielson from Chapter 16. Peek: [Kathi Appelt:] “I love the research side of my work….[I]f I’m not careful, research would definitely get the better of me. You’d be surprised at how much information I took out of this story. It turns out that what makes me delirious with happiness is actually a form of info-dumping that doesn’t really move the story forward.”


New Religion Kids’ Imprints on the Block by Cathy Lynn Grossman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Several Christian publishing houses have plunged into the crowded children’s book market…Each seeks to offer something unique to kids—and the grown-ups who shop for them—in challenging times.” New imprints include IVP Kids, Good & True Media, and FatCat.  Chalice Press is aiming for two children’s books a year.

Patterson, Scholastic Team Up on New Literacy Initiative by Hillel Italie from AP News. Peek: “With a donation of $1.5 million from author James Patterson, Scholastic Book Clubs has launched ‘The United States of Readers,’ a classroom program designed to address literacy inequity. Scholastic announced…that United States of Readers will help bring books to 32,000 kids nationwide, grades K-8, from low-income families.”

Norton Young Readers

Youth Activists Share Their Stories in “I, Witness” by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Contemporary young activists offer first-person accounts of their trials and triumphs in I, Witness, a new middle-grade series from Norton Young Readers….The inaugural I, Witness titles…chronicle very different challenges encountered and conquered by…teens….The majority of I, Witness releases will be penned by participants in the writing program at the International Congress of Youth Voices.”


Book Marketing Strategies for Older Titles by Penny Sansevieri from Author Marketing Experts. Peek: “Book marketing strategies change a bit when you’re promoting an older title, so it’s important to keep your marketing plans separate for your new releases and your backlist….[H]ere’s a quick rundown of marketing strategies that can help you revive and reignite a book that no longer falls in that ‘new release’ window.”


Indigenous Owned Bookstores You Need to Visit by Nikki DeMarco from Book Riot. Peek: “Indigenous owned stores are too few in North America, which is a shame because it’s their land we live on. (Not sure whose Native land you’re living on? Find out here.) These Indigenous owned bookstores are a good place to start to intentionally spend your book money to support independent bookstores.”


Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors: Exploring the 2020 Rainbow Book List by Tadayuki Suzuki, Darryn Diuguid, and Barbara Ward from Association for Library Service to Children. Peek: “Being familiar with the Rainbow Book List is one easy way for librarians to support the LGBTQ+ community and address the American Library Association’s Response to Service for LGBTQ+ People….[T]he list…is a curated bibliography highlighting books with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning content, aimed at children and youth from birth to age eighteen.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Puffin Canada

Join Birchbark Books for a virtual event with Indigenous author David A. Robertson, during which he will discuss his new book The Great Bear: The Misewa Saga, Book Two (Puffin Canada, 2021). The event takes place Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Enter the National Education Association’s 2021-22 Read Across America Sweepstakes to win a year’s worth of diverse books, from Read Across America’s 2021-2022 calendar, for every classroom in your school. All entries must be submitted by Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. pacific, 4 p.m. central, 5 p.m. eastern.

Janet Wong, who was named as the 2021 recipient of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, will be speaking at the Nov. 20 Children’s Book Awards event during the 2021 NCTE Annual Convention that is taking place Nov. 18 to Nov. 21. Scholarships to the convention are available. Apply here.

Millbrook Press

Join Book People for a free virtual event: Chris Barton—How to Make a Book (About My Dog), during which Barton will be in conversation with librarian Priscilla Delgado. The event takes place Oct. 9 at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern. Register here. See also a virtual BookPeople event with Varian Johnson in conversation with Erin Entrada Kelly, celebrating Playing the Cards You’re Dealt Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 5 p.m. eastern. Register here.

School Library Journal Day of Dialog 2021 Fall. “Join us Oct. 7 for the most anticipated librarian gathering of the fall 2021 publishing season—fully virtual and free…Our daylong program of author panels, in-depth conversations, and keynote talks will keep you informed, inspired…and provide insight into industry trends…Come hear about the latest and most exciting forthcoming titles for children, tweens, and teens….” Register here.

Loyalty Bookstores presents a free virtual event, Brandy Colbert & Christina Hammonds Reed, to celebrate the release of Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert (Balzer + Bray, 2021). The event will take place Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register here.


Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Congratulations to the winner and honorees of the 36th annual Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children’s Literature, which is granted “to works of literary excellence for nine-to-twelve year olds”: Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido, 2020)(winner), When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020)(honoree), A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat (Candlewick Press, 2020)(honoree), and Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020)(honoree).

2021 Kids’ Book Choice Awards Finalists Announced by Gilcy Aquino from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “After a month of voting by kids on nominated titles for the all-new awards categories, the finalists have been selected, and voting for this year’s winners is now open for the Kids’ Book Choice Awards…[T]he awards are the only national book awards voted on solely by kids and teens…Each category has six finalists.”

Scholarships & Grants

IBPA Partners With We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) on Internship Grant Program from IBPA. Peek: “WNDB‘s Internship Grant Program aims to diversify the publishing industry by providing supplemental grants to interns from marginalized backgrounds….WNDB’s goals align with IBPA’s [Independent Book Publishers Association] DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] vision of a publishing industry where everyone can tell their story and find themselves in the content they read.”

The We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program is open for applications Oct. 1 to Oct. 31. Sixteen mentorships (in the categories of Picture Book, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Illustration) will be offered to “diverse writers or any writers or illustrators who have completed a full draft of a manuscript for children or teens featuring a diverse main character or diverse central subject matter. The illustration mentorship is available to any diverse illustrator who has a portfolio and several sample illustrations completed.” The mentorships will take place Jan. to Dec., 2022.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Awards season has kicked off again, and we’re honored to spot Heartdrum books popping up on Mock Newbery Lists. This sort of speculative buzz is a conversation that belongs to the kids and the heroes who connect books to them, not to authors. That said, I do want to highlight the Anderson’s Bookshops Mock Newbery, which features a few of our titles, and so I can remind everyone to support bookstores by ordering early for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (Oct. 11), Native Heritage Month (November), and the holiday gift-giving season.

Please also be sure to register for our free Heartdrum authors’ virtual event presented by BookPeople on Oct. 7 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Bookplate-signed copies of our titles are available! Register today!

Highlights of the week included this shoutout to Ancestor Approved cover artist Nicole Niedhardt and fellow “rad” Indigenous illustrators from Book Riot and this nifty list of children’s novels…

Ten Magical Middle Grades by Isabelle Popp from Book Riot. Peek about Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021). Peek: “Instead of having the story revolve around a boy who refuses to grow up (we’ve seen how that plays out in real life!), this story centers Native American Lily and English Wendy, best friends and stepsisters.”

More Personally – Gayleen

Inspired by Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Mélina Mangal, illustrated by Ken Daley (Free Spirit Publishing, 2021), I planted seeds this week – in an assortment of upcycled containers. I’m looking forward to a late fall harvest of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage.

More Personally – Stephani

This past weekend I enjoyed volunteering at the Bookmarks Books Festival. It was so wonderful to see the community of readers and writers connecting with one another again! Kudos to Bookmarks for having safety measures in place that made it comfortable to get together.