Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Anne Wynter, illustrated by Oge Mora (Balzer + Bray, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Authors Share Stories of Loss and Hope in Closing NAIBA/SIBA Keynote by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Yuyi Morales:] “[Picture books are] how we…connect with children over the things that they are actually going through, recognizing that in the lives of many children, difficult things are happening…It’s only with this universe of books and this universe of stories…that we are going to make something valuable and significant happen.”

A Conversation With Dr. Kimberly Parker on the Movement to Create More Readers by Laura Tavares from School Library Journal. Peek: “[W]hat does it mean to diversify one’s curriculum?…[B]efore we do that, we have to think about, what’s the internal work that we have to do…[I]f we don’t do that work, even the most diverse texts can be damaging for kids. We have to start with ourselves….‘Why do I…want to put different books in kids’ hands?’”

Q&A With Benjamin Alire Sáenz by Martha Schulman from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Teachers] are an essential part of our lives, and an essential part of our growing up years….I’m baffled as to why there aren’t more teacher characters in our young adult novels….Teachers…play a crucial role in the lives of young people, and I feel strongly that they be represented in young adult literature.”

Flatiron Books

Meet Saraciea J. Fennell, the Writer Building Her Community Through Literature by Jeanette Diaz from REMEZCLA. Peek: “Together Somos Más means that we are stronger together….There are so many wonderful writers who have come before me and who inspire me every single day. There are new writers aspiring to be published one day who also inspire me every day….[T]ogether, we can…encourage each other to write and continue to have our stories told.”

Writing Rock Bottom by J. Albert Mann from Little, Brown and Company. Peek: “My main character…and I have a lot in common. We both lived in bodies very different than most folks. We both suffered years of chronic pain….[W]e both found ourselves falling toward a place called rock bottom….[P]ain and grief always matter. They’re the ingredients we need to heal….Falling toward rock bottom changes a person….”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Janella Angeles, When Night Breaks by Amy Liu from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I] was the type of reader who loved bold, glamorous characters but rarely ever saw any that looked like me. As such, I wanted to create an empowering, confident, powerful woman of color in a fantasy that I had always wished to read about since I was young….”

First Second

Meet Alina Chau—Children’s Books Author and Illustrator from ShoutoutLA. Peek: “Visual storytelling is an effective and gentle form of communication for people to overcome differences, misunderstandings, and social barriers and share life experiences from a very human perspective….Just knowing the person who seems to be very different from you on the outside, may be going through a similar struggle or triumph…just like you—helps us connect.”

Interview With C.B Lee, Author of “A Clash of Steel” by Veronique Manfredini from Bookstr. Peek: “I want queer teens to be able to walk into a bookstore or library and find any type of story they want celebrating who they are. Whether it’s in space or in a coffee shop or going on adventures or traveling to different lands or finding treasures. I wanted to be a part of that….”

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Kylie Lee Baker with Kim Brock from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Children who don’t see their cultures represented are getting the implicit message that they…can never be protagonists. Mixed-race children are still so sorely underrepresented or misrepresented in children’s literature….[T]he more popular depictions of mixed Asian in children’s books are not…by mixed Asians and do not capture the complexity, beauty, and trauma of being mixed race.”

Bloomsbury YA

Q&A With Lilliam Rivera, We Light Up the Sky by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Most] books that I write have always come from the point of view of a Latinx…[I] wanted the focus of this book to be about the choices that are made, how brown and Black kids are looked upon as the enemy…And then when a catastrophe happens, you just know who gets saved and who doesn’t….”

Writing Craft

Q&A With Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Squad by Ashley Wells Ajinkya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Have you ever sneezed and had a good idea at the same time? Anyway, that’s what my drafting process is like. Then, because publishing and illustrating take a long time, you have a long time to wonder if you are, in fact, delusional and if maybe that sneeze knocked something essential and sensible loose.”

Q&A With Rose Viña and Gloria Felix, Alicia Alonso Dances On by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Rose Viña:] “I loved the research part of creating this story. It’s interesting to dive into the world of another person and discover what makes…them tick, what highs and lows they experienced, and how they overcame their darkest hours…. I edited and revamped this book off and on for nearly six years before it got a book contract.”

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

In Conversation: Adam Jay Epstein and Ruth Chan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Ruth Chan:] “In thinking about the cover…I had to figure out how to communicate the busy-ness that is inside the book while keeping it clean and simple so as not to overwhelm potential readers visually. I also wanted the cover to convey the humor of the book, as well as showcase some of the main characters….”

Illustrator Saturday—Shamar Knight-Justice by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: “[I] start with an idea…then go on a search for reference materials…. I sketch out the scene primarily focusing on the character….I lay on the flat colors for the character, and see what goes well with the background…. I take time to add texture and details to the piece, and play around with the coloring and lighting.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators: Zara González Hoang by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[M]y inspiration was my own family…The dad in the story is very much based on my dad…The other characters are based on family members and friends that have swirled around me throughout my life; it was fun to bring bits of my own life into the story through the characters and the house as well.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Elizabeth Lim by Sarah Yung from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[I]f I rely on what I know already from childhood, then the nostalgia is more present in my stories…. I might think of a story and…read it again to refresh my memory, but I really try to rely on the feelings that I had from when I was a kid and why I loved those stories.”


Things Nobody Tells You About the Publishing Industry by Kilby Blades from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The industry moves slowly…. Unless you’re writing timely nonfiction, settle in for a leisurely ride. There are more gatekeepers than you think…. In reality, players at several key stages need to get behind your work…. The goal line is always moving. Authors don’t just write books—authors build empires, with multiple business aspects and income streams.”

Bestselling Authors Call on Publishers to Name #TranslatorsOnTheCover from The Society of Authors. Peek: “[Bestselling authors] launch[ed] #TranslatorsOnTheCover, calling on every writer to ask their publishers for cover credits for the people who translate their work…. The letter acknowledges that it is ‘thanks to translators that we have access to world literatures past and present’ and goes on to say that translators should be ‘properly recognized, celebrated and rewarded.’”

Feiwel & Friends

A Cautionary Environmental Tale From Katherine Applegate by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Feiwel and Friends is launching [Willodeen] with a 750,000-copy…market distribution and a virtual promotional campaign targeting schools called Go Green with Willodeen: How to Become an Eco-Activist in 3 Simple Steps, which provides educators with a game plan to jumpstart students’ environmental awareness and activism….Macmillan Children’s Publishing developed a concise course of eco-action with its…initiative.”


Do Authors Need an Upgrade? by Brian Feinblum from BookMarketingBuzzBlog. Peek: “Authors, heed my lessons: First, upgrade your resources, technology, data bases, etc. to position you well for book marketing success. Second, new means change…Try new things and get used to new methods. They will benefit you in the end. Third, don’t get complacent about anything…. Revise your standards and hold yourself accountable to a higher threshold.”


Panels at Combined NAIBA and SIBA Conference Take on an Uncertain World by Claire Kirch and Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Children’s book buyer/author Amy Cherrix], pointing out that ‘authors are natural born handsellers,’ asked each panelist to inform booksellers on how best to handsell their book….[Author Kathryn Holmes] said that her chapter books can serve as a ‘gateway’ to nonfiction for…readers who are ‘curious about…animals but are not into nonfiction yet.’”


Investing in Storytime Training: Setting the Stage for All Staff by Jaime Eastman and Laura Hargrove from Association for Library Service to Children. Peek: “Librarians each have a personalized approach to presenting storytimes, but it’s just as important that families know what to expect. With consistent structure in place, patrons know exactly what to expect in terms of developmental level and are thus able to select the storytime that best meets their needs.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Candlewick Press

Join Book People Teens’ virtual event with A.R. Capetta in conversation with Varian Johnson, as they celebrate Capetta’s new YA book, The Heartbreak Bakery (Candlewick Press, 2021). The event takes place on Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Teach Graphix Week Is Back! “Celebrate graphic novels in the classroom with free activities, author events, and Flipgrid videos with your favorite creators!…Graphix creators share tips and tricks to creating your own comics, including how-to-draw videos, getting started with a comic, and more fun insider tricks to share with your class!” The event takes place from Oct. 19 to Oct. 22.

The Neustadt Lit Festival, to be held from Oct. 25 to Oct. 27, is “one of the most unique literary events in Oklahoma!” This free all-virtual event celebrates Cynthia Leitich Smith, winner of the 2021 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, and is focused this year on Indigenous Young Adult literature. Check out the schedule of events and featured writers, artists and scholars. The winner of the 2022 Neustadt Prize will be announced on Oct. 26.

Lee & Low Books

Webinar: Children’s Books About Joy. Join Lee & Low Books’ authors Kelly J. Baptist (The Electric Slide and Kai (Lee & Low Books, 2021)), Samara Cole Doyon (Magic Like That (Lee & Low Books, 2021)), and David Anthony Durham (The Shadow Prince (Lee & Low Books, 2021)) as they share “their inspiration behind their books, the importance of showcasing joyful books as well as serious subjects and content in your library, and immediate classroom applications that you can take with you into your respective setting.” The event takes place on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. eastern, 3 p.m. central, 1 p.m. pacific.

Anderson’s Bookshops’ virtual Young Adult Literature Conference will feature an amazing lineup of authors who will each deliver a keynote speech and participate in panel discussions. The event will be held on Oct. 23 from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. pacific, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. central, and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Join Anderson’s BookshopsMeet the Author’s Monday event on AB.Teens Instagram Live, featuring Christine Day, author of The Sea in Winter (Heartdrum, 2021) and Brian Young, author of Healer of the Water Monster (Heartdrum, 2021). The event takes place on Oct. 11, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, at 3 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. central, 6 p.m. eastern.


Candlewick Press

2021 National Book Award Finalists Announced by Sophia Stewart from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The National Book Foundation has announced the finalists for the 2021 National Book Awards. The winners will be announced live on November 17 at the [virtual] 72nd National Book Awards Ceremony….” The Young People’s Literature finalists are: The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor (Kokila, 2021), Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2021), Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff (Dial Books for Young Readers), Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon (Candlewick Press, 2021), and Me (Moth) by Amber McBride (Feiwel & Friends, 2021).

Nominations for the Cybils Awards are now open. The awards’ mission is “to recognize books written for children and young adults that combine both the highest literary merit and popular appeal.” Anyone may nominate one book per genre: Board Books/Fiction Picture Books, Easy Reader/Early Chapter Books, Elementary/Middle Grade Non-Fiction, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Poetry, Graphic Novels, High School Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, and Young Adult Speculative Fiction. Nominations close Oct. 15.

CLMP Launches $10,000 Constellation Award from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses…has launched a new annual prize, the Constellation Award, to honor an independent literary press that is led by and/or champions the writing of people of color. This year’s inaugural recipient will receive $10,000… Presses must also have a demonstrated commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion….” Applications will be accepted until Nov. 5. Submit here.


Congratulations to the authors whose books made the shortlist for The Diverse Book Awards in the categories of Kids, YA and Adult. The Diverse Book Awards were established November 2019 to showcase the talent of marginalized voices. Entry is open to any UK-based author who has written a fiction book in one of the listed categories. The winners will be announced on Oct. 21.

Scholarships & Grants

Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards. We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House have opened submissions to the 2022 Creative Writing Awards. Current high school seniors at a public U.S. high school can win up to $10,000 in college scholarship funds. Only the first 1,000 applications will be accepted. Apply here.

This Week at Cynsations

Author Elana K. Arnold

More Personally – Cynthia

Mark your calendars! Indigenous Peoples’ Day is coming up Oct. 11, and I’d love to take this opportunity to encourage you to support Indigenous-owned bookstores! Learn more about Heartdrum’s titles and the wider community of Native and First Nations children’s-YA literature!

Thank you to everyone who joined me, Christine Day, Dawn Quigley and Brian Young for the Heartdrum panel at BookPeople this week! You can still order books with signed bookplates. I’m honored to say that my new novel, Sisters of the Neversea (Heartdrum, 2021) is a staff pick! Meghan G. says: “With a refreshing Native perspective, a healthy dollop of fairy dust, and a strong dose of sisterhood, Smith brilliantly flips the script on the classic Pan tale and imagines what it would really be like to land on an island ruled by a stubbornly frozen-in-time boy.”

On a related note, I’m delighted to show off the art for our up-and-coming Heartdrum YA novel!

“Today we are excited to reveal the cover for The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson! The cover was illustrated by Reyna Hernandez with beading by Kim Stewart. The jacket was designed by Laura Mock. The book will be released on May 10, 2022, by Heartdrum.” —Alaina Lavoie, from We Need Diverse Books

From now until Oct. 11, We Need Diverse Books is raising money to support Native writers, illustrators, and students! Will you please consider clicking here to make a gift today? Your money will be matched up to $11,000 by me and fellow Native authors Angeline Boulley and Traci Sorell.

In spooky news, the e-book edition of my YA novel Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral trilogy)(Candlewick, 2013, 2014) is for sale for $1.99 for October only from Candlewick Press. Sign up for Candlewick’s E-Volt newsletter here or here. You can also go directly to a number of vendors, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play, to take advantage of the $1.99 sale price. From the promotional copy:

When sexy, free-spirited werecat Yoshi tracks his sister, Ruby, to Austin, he discovers that she is not only MIA, but also the key suspect in a murder investigation. Meanwhile, Clyde and Aimee have set out to do a little detective work of their own, sworn to avenge the brutal killing of pal Travis.

When all three seekers are snared in an underground kidnapping ring, they end up on a remote island inhabited by an unusual (even by shifter standards) species. The island harbors a grim secret and were-predator and were-prey must join forces in a fight to escape alive.

A wry, high-action entry in an exciting series.

Finally, congratulations to Kekla Magoon, author of Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People (Candlewick, 2021), and her fellow finalists for the National Book Award. Kekla is a friend, fellow VCFA WCYA faculty member, and my co-author for The Blue Stars middle grade graphic novel series (Candlewick, fall 2022-).

More Personally – Suma

I’m so looking forward to this book signing event in Kalama, Washington with fellow VCFA authors next week.