Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, translated by Deborah Smith (Scribble US, 2021).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Outside the Box With Kelly Starling Lyons! by Jill Esbaum from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “[M]any of my stories focus on family and heritage. It’s important for kids to know that who they are, whose they are and where they’re from is enough. I want them to hold their heads high and know that the story they hold inside is the one that deserves to be heard.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

Happy Book Birthday to Karla Valenti’s Lotería! with NoNieqa Ramos from Las Musas. Peek: “[A]ll writers pen ‘garbage’ and we all have moments of brilliance…[W]e all dream big and have our dreams crushed. Publishing a book…doesn’t change any of that. The key thing to remember is that this is a long game, and that the only act that will truly defeat you on this journey is walking away.”

Interview With Camilla Pintonato by Maria Marshall from The Picture Book Buzz. Peek: “[W]hen illustrating a book, I believe there are always references…to the personal life of the author, because if there is a room to furnish or a landscape to draw, one must ask himself: what can I put in here? So you try to find not just any landscape or any room but something that has meaning.”

An Interview With Chloe Gong, Author of These Violent Delights…. by CW from The Quiet Pond. Peek: “[I’ve] grown a lot, both on a person level and as an author…Some things come easier to me now, and because of that writing becomes 100 times harder because I have much higher expectations of my character work and story arcs and right off the bat I’m trying to hit everything right on the nail.”

Equity & Inclusion

Balzer + Bray

Behind the Book: Black Birds in the Sky, by Brandy Colbert by Katie Dutton from Harper Stacks. Peek: [Brandy Colbert:] “Black American history is beautiful and horrific, full of progress and setbacks that have defined the story of the United States since its founding. But no matter how it looks, everyone deserves to know the truth about the past and how it informs the present.”

No More Ghosts! A (Queer) Picture Book Love Story by Charlotte Sullivan Wild from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[A]s a child not one person or story had shown me that queer love (or I) could exist. I’d been ghosted….So I’d ghosted myself, too. To be safe….[U]ntil very recently, LGBTQIAP2S+ childhood has been completely ghosted from children’s stories….How marvelous to see more transgender and nonbinary kids, queer elders and BIPOC characters and creators.”

Q&A With London Shah, Journey to the Heart of the Abyss by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[What] pops into your head when I say Afghanistan, Afghan, or Pashtun? Chances are…[t]he sum of an entire people—a deeply rich and varied history—[are] reduced to a country’s problems…Except Afghans are more than that—so much more. There’s irrepressible joy…And there’s a humility and grace and graciousness that will move you to tears.”

Capstone Press

“Saving Children’s Lives”: Gender Representation in Children’s Books by Katherine Russell from Bookstr. Peek: [Adria Karlsson:] “There are more kids than ever who feel safe revealing their genders, but we make it so hard for most of them. By normalizing gender identities and expressions outside of the tight confines of what has previously been depicted in children’s literature, we let them know they’re not alone and that it’s normal.”

Roots in Iran by Yasmine Mahdavi Is a Textured Tapestry of Strong Iranian Women by Nawal Qarooni Casiano and Cornelius Minor from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wrote it for myself. It became a story for all of us in the diaspora…who came in the ’80s, who were raised here or in Canada or Europe by immigrant parents….It really [is] about the vision of who they wanted to be and how they wanted to live their lives.”

Q&A With Huda Fahmy by Priya Chandrasegaram from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I chose to focus on adolescence…because I think it’s important for young readers who are first generation or children of immigrants to have someone…that they can relate to. A lot of times they can feel out of place in their own community. It’s like they have a foot in both communities….”

Writing Craft

Quill Tree Books

Q&A With Wendy Xu, Tidesong by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: ”For comics, it’s absolutely imperative to always let the art do the storytelling when it can, to use background details as you would a piece of descriptive dialogue, and to let the words be more of a confirmation than the star of the show. I always let the art go first.”

Q&A With Rebecca Kim Wells, Briar Girls by Alaina Lavoie from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[R]etellings are popular in part because of the cultural permanence and simplicity of the original stories….[T]here are holes in…these classics that create opportunities for a writer to reinterpret or reimagine an entirely new adventure to their own liking. When I think about fairy tales…I love to ask “but why?” and see what answers come knocking.”

Debut Author Interview: Terry Catasús Jennings and Definitely Dominguita Sherlock Dom by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: “I read and re-read the classics. I chose the iconic scenes of the books that I wanted to include in my books…Once I have the scenes from the classic book, I put them in order and then I decide what kid-like adventure I can hang on these scenes.”

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Benjamin Alire Sáenz…On Writing Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Molly Catherine Turner from Lambda Literary. Peek: “Writing different genres and age groups demands that I respond to the different sides of me. I can tap into the little boy in me. I can tap into the high school kid in me. I can tap into the hurt and hopeful man in me. I’m able to…do that….I don’t know how it happens.”

Interview With Kaija Langley by Maria Marshall from The Picture Book Buzz. Peek: “[I] have a critique group that is…instrumental for accountability and support. We’re all at different stages in our writing careers and we all met through Grub Street, an amazing local creative writing center….We workshop entire manuscripts during our meetings, which is crucial for understanding the full story arc….We also chat all the time on WhatsApp….”

Let’s Talk Illustrators: Mercè López by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “Every project is unique…I am not able to use the same style or technique when I have a funny children’s book…than I would have for an illustrated Romeo and Juliet. I dive into a different universe every time, and…listen to music or podcasts or radio programs that give a background to my mental state.”


Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Q&A With Dara Beevas of Wise Ink by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Wise Ink is a publisher for independent authors…[W]e usually attract authors who are really mission oriented; meaning activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, healers, folks who are truly committed to putting into the world something meaningful….Wise Ink has published countless Black and brown people who would not have had their words see the light of day otherwise.”

We Need Diverse Books Joins as Fiscal Sponsor of People of Color in Publishing from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We Need Diverse Books…has become a fiscal sponsor of People of Color in Publishing (POCIP), a grassroots organization created by book publishing professionals….[POCIP] is dedicated to supporting, empowering, and uplifting racially and ethnically marginalized members throughout the publishing industry. POCIP offers career development and advancement for book publishing professionals who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color….”

Taking the Pulse of STEM/STEAM for Young Readers by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Books with STEM and STEAM concepts at their core continue to be strong performers in the children’s book arena. After seeing a distinct bump during the early days of the pandemic, the demand for these books remains high…‘I see it absolutely growing,’ says Karen Edwards, executive editor at Workman [Publishing], about this area of publishing.”

Santa Monica Press

Santa Monica Press Enters YA Market by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “An independent publisher of nonfiction titles for adults for more than a quarter century, Santa Monica Press will launch a line of books for teens next February. Publisher Jeffrey Goldman…was motivated to make the foray into YA by his decade of experience…with the nonprofit literacy organization Words Alive….[The] debut list comprises two memoirs and two novels….”


Bookstore Sales Recovery Continued in September by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bookstore sales posted another huge gain in September, with sales jumping 42.1%, to $881 million, over 2020, during which September sales were $620 million…Through the first nine months of 2021, bookstore sales were up 38.6% over the comparable period in 2020, reaching $6.44 billion.”

Sharjah Book Fair Posts Record Numbers by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The 40th Sharjah International Book Fair was held November 3-13 in the United Arab Emirates. The SIBF attracted 1,692,463 visitors representing 109 nationalities….[S]ome 1,632 publishers attended from 83 countries….[It] conducted more than 1,000 activities, including 440 cultural sessions, 355 shows, performances, seminars and workshops for children, and sessions with more than 85 authors….”


School Libraries 2021: Fostering Relationships Between Students and Community Members by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “Librarians hold a unique role in schools that allows them flexibility and the opportunity to connect students not only to books, but also to technology, critical thinking skills, and the community. In schools big and small, creating relationships with community members benefits the students….[M]any librarians across the country [are] reaching beyond campus.”

Education/Other Resources/Events


The live and online Miami Book Fair, which opened Nov. 14 and continues until Nov. 21, features hundreds of authors. “Catch online presentations from some of the hottest authors for kids and young adults,” such as presentations by Soman Chainani (Nov. 20) and Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé (Nov. 20). See the full schedule of events here.

The virtual National Council of Teachers of English 21 Convention (NCTE 21, ending Nov. 23) has more than 300 On-Demand Sessions that are viewable by all registrants through Feb. 15, 2022. For example, the “Middle Grade Fantasy: A Portal to Exploring Power, Politics, and Privilege” session features an author panel—which includes B. B. Alston, Kekla Magoon, Aisha Saeed, Christina Soontornvat, Jessica Vitalis, and Alysa Wishingrad—that will discuss “how educators can use the unique characteristics of middle grades fantasy to explore the dynamics of power, politics, and privilege.”

The Children’s Literature Assembly is hosting “Five Voices from the Four Directions” at NCTE 21. The event, which features a panel of Indigenous book creators that includes Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee), Traci Sorell (Cherokee), Michaela Goade (Tlingit), Carole Lindstrom (Metis), and Kevin Maillard (Seminole), takes place on Nov. 21 at 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. central, 9 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. eastern.

Also, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) is hosting “Anthologies are Awesome” a panel moderated by Michelle Waters with Saraciea J. Fennell, editor of Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed (Flatiron Books, 2021), Laura Silverman, editor of Up All Night (Algonquin Young Readers, 2021) and Cynthia Leitich Smith, editor of Ancestor Approved (Heartdrum, 2021). The event takes place Nov. 22 at 1:50-2:15 p.m. pacific, 3:50-4:15 p.m. central and 4:50-5:15 p.m. eastern. See the full NCTE 21 schedule of events here.


HarperCollins Children’s Books is sponsoring Shake Up Your Shelves Sweepstakes, in which one entrant will receive 30 incredible diverse, inclusive books for readers of all ages. Enter here. The last entry will be accepted Jan. 3, 2022 at 8:59 p.m. pacific, 10:59 p.m. central, 11:59 p.m. eastern.

Crayola Education presents “The Art of Learning Through Imagination” with Matt de la Peña as he shares his book Milo Imagines the World (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2021) “He’ll then give tips for drawing what represents ‘you,’ and writing your own story—straight out of your imagination, or the beautiful world you see around you.” The event, occuring on the Crayola Education Facebook page, takes place on the Dec. 8 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern.

Penguin Random House, Library Journal, and School Library Journal are presenting their free virtual Winter Book & Author Festival. “Enjoy a day packed with author panels and interviews, book buzzes, virtual shelf browsing, and adding to your TBR pile. You’ll hear from many of your favorite authors, whose work runs the gamut from Picture Books to Young Adult titles to the best new Fiction and Nonfiction for adults.” The event takes place Dec. 9 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time. Register here.

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Heartdrum, 2021) is being featured in Parents’ Raising the Future Book Club. The author will read a chapter from the book and answer viewer questions on @Parents Instagram Live on Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern.


Dutton Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 National Book Awards, and special acknowledgement to author Malinda Lo, winner of the Young People’s Literature award for Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2021).

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Awards, and special shout out to the Young People’s Literature winners: Firefly by Philippa Dowding (DCB, 2021)(Young People’s Literature—Text) and On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (Tundra Books, 2021)(Young People’s Literature—Illustrated Books). The awards recognize Canada’s best English-language and French-language books.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books have been named to BookPage’s Best YA Books of 2021, Best Middle Grade & Chapter Books of 2021, and Best Picture Books of 2021. These books are highly recommended by the editors of BookPage.


Congratulations to the ten books that won the 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books Award. Ever since 1952, the judges have selected the winning books from several thousand children’s books published each year, based purely on the basis of “artistic merit.”

Mahogany L. Browne and Urban Word to Receive Marian MacDowell Arts Advocacy Award at MacDowell Virtual Benefit. Peek: “Mahogany L. Browne will receive the second annual Marian MacDowell Arts Advocacy Award on behalf of Urban Word—one of the oldest and most comprehensive youth literary arts organizations in the country—during MacDowell’s National Benefit to be held virtually Dec. 7.”

Scholarships & Grants

Penguin Random House and We Need Diverse Books have submissions open for the 2022 Creative Writing Awards, which will also include the Amanda Gorman Award for Poetry and an award to the top entrant from the NYC area. Five $10,000 scholarships will be awarded. Eligible submitters are high school seniors who attend public U.S. schools and plan to attend college in the fall of 2022. Applicatons close Feb. 1 or when 1,000 applications have been submitted.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to Herrick District Library for welcoming me Monday night to talk about Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Today (Heartdrum, 2021). Good news! I just heard from my editor that the anthology is going into another printing!

Highlights of the week included receiving advanced reader copies of Heartdrum’s first YA novel, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson (Métis and white), cover art by Reya Hernandez (Iháŋktuŋwaŋ Dakota (Yankton Sioux)), beading by Kim Stewart (Métis)(Heartdrum, May 2022). Now available for pre-order!

More good news for Heartdrum books! The Sea in Winter, cover by Michaela Goade, was named to BookPage’s Best Middle Grade & Chapter Books of 2021 and Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-to-Be_Best Friend, by Dawn Quigley and Tara Audibert, was featured among Six Best Kids’ Books that Reflect Native American Traditions As Well As Life Today by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Bank Street Best Books of 2021 (Holiday Edition) includes Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, written by Cynthia Leitich Smith, cover by Nicole Niedhardt (Heartdrum, 2021), along with titles by Kathi Appelt, Holly Green, Nikki Grimes, Meg Medina, Linda Sue Park and more!

More Personally – Gayleen

I loved Debbi Michiko Florence‘s workshop on creating fully developed characters. I’m a huge Jasmine Toguchi fan, especially when she tries to convince her parents they need a pet flamingo. The workshop recording is free for all SCBWI members through Nov. 28.