Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: The Cot in the Living Room by Hilda Eunice Burgos, illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro (Kokila, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Interview With Author Daniel Aleman by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “[I]t’s so important to lead with honesty….I think that the stories that come from a deeply personal, honest place always have a way of standing out. It’s also important to persevere through rejection. Keep writing, keep creating, and eventually you will find someone who believes in your story as much as you do.”


How I Wrote It: Femi Fadugba on The Upper World by Femi Fadugba from Penguin Random House UK. Peek: “When you’re starting out writing…the biggest challenge is perfectionism and the fear created by unrealistic internal and external expectations. Aiming low initially helps guard against that….[O]nce you actually have something to work with, you’ll find it’s not crap—and that it’s then much easier to get to good and then, hopefully, to very good.”

Interview With Author Ashley Woodfolk by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “I’m on a mission to help kids (and adults!) believe they’re worthy of love and acceptance simply because they exist. I try to plant that message in the heart of everything I write and say and do….I’ll keep writing books that I hope help people feel a little less alone.”

Q&A: Farah Naz Rishi, Author of “It All Comes Back To You” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I stopped caring. About the rules of writing, about what will sell, about what people will think. My only rule is to make sure I don’t write anything that hurts people. Everything else is fair game. I’m no longer afraid to experiment or write about things that made me nervous in the past.”

Equity & Inclusion

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Katherine Locke & Nicole Melleby, This Is Our Rainbow by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Nicole Melleby:] “Most middle grade readers now live in a…different world than I did when I was that age—especially queer ones. There’s more visibility, more understanding among peers….So when I write about queer MG characters, I try to blend what I wish I had and what I needed, with what MG readers need and want now.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Co-Author Renée Watson Debut “Born on the Water”…. by Malaika Jabali from Essence. Peek: “I hope all readers come away from the book feeling empowered to ask questions about their personal history…I hope they realize that they have a legacy of freedom fighters, artists, and change-makers who left an example of how to stand up for justice. For Black American children…I hope the verses…make them feel seen, validated, and inspired.”

Ten Speed Press

Notable Native People by Andrienne Keene from Native Appropriations. Peek: “[T]earing down misrepresentations was incredibly important, but…I also needed to be pointing folks to representations to replace those horrible images with—because Indigenous people are so invisible, without a counter-representation or counter-narrative, there could be no forward movement. I…wanted [Native young folks] to have representations that reflected…the endless possibilities for their lives and futures.”

Nepantla and Writing Latinx Characters by Victor Piñeiro from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Coming-of-age as a Puerto Rican American was the constant swinging of a pendulum between two worlds. There’s the world of family and home, where you’re immersed in a vibrant culture that has lived in your family for generations. Then there’s the world outside…where the culture is an almost complete 180 degrees from your home life….”

Author Guest Post: Braiding My Past and Present in Native Children’s Literature by Dawn Quigley from Harper Stacks. Peek: “Writing about contemporary Ojibwe kids is really important to me. I want to let all readers, teachers, librarians, and families know that, indeed, we Natives still exist. It seems so unbelievable that the ‘vanishing Native’ story is so prevalent throughout the U.S….I wanted to write a fun, silly book that all readers will enjoy.”

Writing Craft

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Interview With Author and Illustrator Debbi Ridpath Ohi About the Newest Book in the I’m… Series from Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez. Peek: “If you aspire to illustrate children’s picture books, I strongly advise you to read them. I come across…hopeful children’s book illustrators who aren’t really familiar with the genre, except from what they remember in their childhood. Read as many…as you can, and a wide variety. Look closely at how the art and text complement each other.”

Q&A With Juana Medina, Juana & Lucas: Muchos Changes by Jessica Agudelo from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Figuring out how to balance text and image is equal parts a challenge and a constant reassurance. They’re both elements at the service of the story. The text often helps get through evocative details…that are harder to convey through visuals. Illustrations help me steer away from highly verbose descriptions, getting quicker to the point.”

Q&A With Oge Mora, Everybody in the Red Brick Building by Isabel Taswell from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “When I illustrate my own books I iron out the manuscript before I illustrate anything….[Y]ou have to have the right foundation. If you don’t have a story that’s moving you or…just making you feel, then what’s the point in illustrating it?…[Y]ou can make anything pretty but it has to be pretty with purpose.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Natasha Donovan Talks About “Borders” Graphic Novel and More with John Swinimer from True North Country Comics. Peek: “For my first picture book…I used a lot of brush and ink…Over time, I’ve grown to embrace the digital side of things out of necessity. It’s a lot more efficient. I still have a lot of love for ink and brush, but I use a lot of Procreate lately on the iPad….”

Q&A With Maleeha Siddiqui, Barakah Beats by Parul Sharma from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[E]ven with everything planned out, a productive writing day amounts to somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 words….A good writing day could also mean untangling a plot you couldn’t figure out…A good writing day could also just be you daydreaming…, walking through scenes in your head and trying to figure out where you’re going to go….”

Moving On Up: “Beasts of Prey” by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Ayana Gray:] “I worked on the manuscript intermittently until I discovered a Twitter pitching event called #DVPit, where I was able to ‘pitch’ my book to literary agents and connect with my now-literary agent…[W]hen we both felt it was ready, we submitted it to editors…I was tremendously fortunate that it was a relatively speedy process from there….”


Minnesota Historical Society Press

In Focus: New Books Published Entirely in Ojibwe from Lakeland News. Peek: “At the Mille Lacs Indian Museum…a celebration was taking place…‘We are celebrating the publication of five new Ojibwe language books that were produced through the Aanjibimaadizing [Changing Lives] program here in Mille Lacs and published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press,’ said Anton Treuer, Bemidji State University Ojibwe Professor….‘Our language is deeply important to us….’”

What It Would Take to Disrupt the Publishing Industry by Brooke Warner from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Publishing] is particularly slow to change….If we were to truly disrupt the publishing industry, it is the system that we would need to overhaul….We would need to raise the price of books across the board, and in so doing train our culture to place a higher value on books (and by extension authors).”


Create a Free Book Trailer by Rick Lite from Stress Free Book Marketing. Peek: “A book trailer is a short promotional video to help you showcase your book and reach an audience wider than your target audience. Since most people prefer to watch videos over reading text, creating a video book trailer is one of the easiest ways to introduce your book…But how can you create a free trailer…?”


HighWater Press

Canada’s Indigo Books has chosen its Best Books of 2021, including Best Kids’ Books of 2021 (0-2 Years, 3-5 Years, 6-8 Years, and 9-12 Years) and Best Teen Books of 2021. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators of the chosen books!

Another Pandemic Surprise: A Mini Indie Bookstore Boom by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Though the pandemic caused financial hardship for many independent bookstores…it has also paved the way for a mini-boom of bookstore openings….Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association…pointed to ‘exciting trends in new stores—more diversity, location-independent formats, smaller sizes with room for growth—and an increased interest in nonprofit and co-op models.’”

Major Indie Bookseller Initiative Poised to “Reimagine” Bookstores by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “On Oct. 18, nearly 600 indie booksellers and publishing industry professionals gathered online from 49 states and 12 countries for a two-day brainstorming session called Reimagining Bookstores….[Praveen Madan] opened the gathering with a question for attendees: ‘How can we reimagine bookstores to deepen literacy, strengthen our communities, and pay decent, living wages to our employees?’”


G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Library Journal and School Library Journal are sponsoring LibraryCon Live! on Nov. 10 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m eastern. With close to 50 speakers, including Nnedi Okorafor, Jarod Roselló and Melissa de la Cruz, this free virtual event will be a celebration of “beloved stories and characters, featuring the creators behind mind-bending speculative fiction, innovative comics, and fan-favorite graphic novels.” Register here.

Fort Worth Public Library Opens Dedicated Youth Branch by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “The perfect children’s section in a public library encourages curiosity and exudes comfort by combining enthusiastic staff and a just-right collection with art, technology, play, and whimsical-but-functional furniture. It is escape and destination….[I]magine an entire branch. Welcome to the Reby Cary Youth Library…[There are] play stations…, STEAM kits, a makerspace, and nearly 16,000 titles.”

OverDrive Education Acquires from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Leading digital library and education platform OverDrive has acquired, a popular online source of supplemental reading materials for educators….[T]he acquisition will significantly enhance OverDrive Education’s Sora reading app and platform, which serves K-12 schools around the world….With more than 265,000 ‘curated materials’… helps K-12 educators enrich how books are taught in the classroom.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Amulet Books

Reminder: the Texas Book Festival takes place, both virtual and in-person, Oct. 23 to Oct. 31. Angeline Boulley, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Neal Shusterman will headline the virtual Texas Teen Book Festival on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24. Some of the many children’s/YA authors include Cynthia Leitich Smith, Priya Huq and Michael Genhart. The full author lineup is available here.

Politics and Prose Bookstore is hosting author Natasha Bowen—Skin of the Sea, during which Bowen and bestselling author Nicola Yoon will discuss Bowen’s debut YA fantasy novel inspired by West African stories. The virtual event takes place Nov. 2 at 3 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. central, 6 p.m. eastern.

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore presents a Virtual Event with G.Z. Schmidt in conversation with Meaghan Mclssac to celebrate their new middle grade books, The Dreamweavers (Holiday House, 2021) and The Bear House (Holiday House, 2021), respectively. The event takes place Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. pacific, 9 p.m. central, 10 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Candlewick Press

Politics and Prose Bookstore is hosting award-winning Russian American author/illustrator Eugene Yelchin—The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, during which Yelchin will present his illustrated memoir about being raised and coming of age in the U.S.S.R. The virtual event takes place Oct. 25 at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Loyalty Bookstores presents a virtual event, Misty Copeland in Conversation With Jason Reynolds, as they celebrate Copeland’s new book, Black Ballerinas: My Journey to Our Legacy!, illustrated by Salena Barnes (Aladdin, 2021). The event takes place Nov. 6 at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. Register here.


Congratulations to Ellen Oh, recipient of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE’s 2021 Alan Award. The award is given to those who have made “outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature.” Oh is a middle grade and young adult author and the co-founder of We Need Diverse Books.

Congratulations to Paula Chase-Hyman, winner of the 2021 Bill Konigsberg Award for “Acts and Activism for Equity and Inclusion through Young Adult Literature.” The award is presented to an individual “who has acted in selfless advocacy of marginalized youth through the creation, teaching, funding or other form of promotion of young adult literature.”

Groundwood Books

Congratulations to the nominees of the 2022 Forest of Reading School-Aged Award Program, especially in the Programs for Kids categories: the Blue Spruce Award, the Silver Birch Express Award, the Silver Birch Fiction Award, the Yellow Cedar Award, the Red Maple Award, the White Pine Award, the Poplar Prize, the Larch Prize, and the Tamarac Prize. The Forest of Reading initiative “offers ten reading programs to encourage a love of reading in people of all ages.”

Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction to Launch in 2022 from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Ursula K. Le Guin Literary Trust will award the first-ever Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction in 2022. The Le Guin Prize for Fiction is…given to a writer for a single book-length work of imaginative fiction….The nomination process for the prize is open to all, and…will begin on February 1 of next year.”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Congratulations to the finalists of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards, especially in the categories of Young People’s Literature—Text, and Young People’s Literature—Illustrated Books. The awards recognize Canada’s best English-language and French-language books. Liselle Sambury and Angela Ahn are among the finalists for the text books, and David A. Robertson and Julie Flett are among the finalists for the illustrated books.


Congratulations to Don Tate, winner of the Texas Writer Award from the Texas Book Festival. The award is presented “each year to a Texas author who has made a significant contribution to the literary arts.” Don’s writing has been twice recognized with Ezra Jack Keats awards, and he’s illustrated more than 80 picture books. He is the author and illustrator of his latest title, Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes (Abrams, 2021).

Scholarships & Grants

Austin Creative Alliance’s Artists’ Emergency Fund was established “to help artists [including writers/illustrators] in Greater Austin maintain their personal and financial stability in these uncertain times….Artists may apply for up to $500 to replace verifiable lost income due to the cancellation of a specific, scheduled gig or opportunity…due to Coronavirus/COVID-19 precautionary measures. Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis….”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Join us for the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature Festival online Oct. 25 to Oct. 27! Registration is free! Check out the tie-in lesson plan for RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (Heartdrum, 2021). There are several terrific sessions to choose from or you can attend them all. I’ll be speaking about my writing, but also diversity and inclusion more broadly as well as the journey of Indigenous representation in the body of children’s-YA literature.

My anthology Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, cover by Nicole Niedhardt, along with The Sea in Winter by Christine Day, cover by Michaela Goade (both Heartdrum, 2021) were named Indigo Best Kids Books of the Year (Ages 9-12), plus Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert (Heartdrum, 2021) was named among Indigo Best Kids Books of the Year (Ages 6-8).

Both Ancestor Approved and Jo Jo Makoons were also named to the Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids 2021 in Fiction and Easy and Early Chapter Books respectively.

Catch up on the latest at the imprint at The Beat of Heartdrum: A Letter from Cynthia Leitich Smith, and on a related note, check out Braiding My Past and Present in Native Children’s Literature by Dawn Quigley. Speaking of Dawn, from PW Children’s Bookshelf:

“Cynthia Leitich Smith and Rosemary Brosnan at Heartdrum have acquired two middle-grade novels by Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe citizen Dawn Quigley (the Jo Jo Makoons series). The first book, Red Bird Danced, is a novel in verse set in an urban intertribal housing complex and encompassing traditional dance, learning disabilities, the tragedy and uncertainty of a missing relative, and the power of a community rising above challenges together. It will publish in fall 2023; an untitled second novel in verse will follow. Erin Murphy at Erin Murphy Literary did the deal for world English rights.”

Publishing As Passion: New Imprints and Voices at Book Fest @ Bank Street: Maria Russo of minedition US; Christopher Myers of Make Me a World, Cynthia Leitich Smith of Heartdrum, Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Unruly, Arthur Levine of Levine Querido, Namrata Tripathi of Kokila, moderated by Vicky Smith.

More Personally – Bree

In addition to teaching creative writing to local teens, I am officially a full-time freelance writer and I couldn’t be happier! I’m excited to pursue what I love. Plus, it means more time to work on my books and read! My new favorite October read is Boo Stew written by Donna L. Washington, Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (Peachtree, 2021). It’s a perfect Halloween read!