Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Fly by Brittany J. Thurman, illustrated by Anna Cunha (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Authors Share Readers’ Letters to Show Impact of Books by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “Children’s authors know the impact and value of their work….Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Hearts Unbroken, tweeted this response from a reader of the novel: ‘From a Chickasaw teen: “This is the first time I’ve ever read a book that gets what it’s like to be me….”‘”

Balzer + Bray

Q&A With Rebecca Podos, From Dust, A Flame by Aleah Gornbein from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It’s okay for anybody, at any age, not to have themself totally figured out. We’re more than any one facet of our identity, more than the particulars of our history, or the way that our loved ones and community perceive us. It’s a lot to grapple with all at once, and that’s alright. That’s life!”

Q&A With Shirley Reva Vernick, Ripped Away by Dhanika Pineda from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For children, what I hope they will take from [the book] is we really need to help each other, whether that be in the face of intolerance or something else. And even if you can help just one person,…that is really big and really vital….[O]ne person can make a difference….”

Banned Voices: Padma Venkatraman by Edith Campbell from Cotton Quilts. Peek: “Every child has more than a mere right to exist…If we value children, we need to respect them…equally. We need to embrace and celebrate children of all genders, races, ethnicities and religions. We need to be interested in truly listening to their varied stories….[I]t’s important…that we expand our curricula to include underrepresented and marginalized voices.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Tina Wells, Honest June by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[In middle grade] they’re still playing around with what’s real and what’s not real, living in their heads a lot…[T]here’s a lot of freedom to write for this demo. But for me the real draw is the ability to influence…in a positive way, and to also try to capture some at-risk readers and really get them…reading.”

Q&A With Kristen R. Lee, Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Gianna Macchia from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Don’t compare your process to others. Just because someone sold their book in two days doesn’t mean they’re going to be more successful than someone who sold theirs in three years. One of the first things my mentor…told me was no two things are the same—keep your eyes on your own paper.”

Q&A With Angela Velez, Lulu and Milagro’s Search for Clarity by Suniti Srinivasan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]rust is essential in sisterhood, and you need to trust they are looking out for you and…have your back. It is a relationship that is always there even if you are mad at each other…[I]t is a loose definition, and anyone can be in a sisterhood. It just requires a deep level of trust.”

MITeen Press

Revealing Tasting Light, an SF Anthology Edited by A.R. Capetta and Wade Roush from Peek: “We’re thrilled to share the cover of Tasting Light: Ten Science Fiction Stories to Rewire Your Perceptions, an anthology of ten speculative stories from leading young-adult authors….In tales buzzing with possibility, hope, innovation, anger, and tenderness, Tasting Light offers a dazzling challenge to connect with open minds, hearts, and senses in a fast-changing world.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Alice Oseman, Loveless by Kaley Kiermayr from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’d read a lot of coming out stories…but I’d never read a book which had an aro-ace coming out story as the focus, that explored all the confusion and doubt and exploration involved in figuring out your sexuality. Something like that would certainly have helped me a lot when I was younger….”

Q & A With Marieke Nijkamp by Katrina Niidas Holm from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “For me, [inclusion] means creating a space where it’s possible for people of all kinds of backgrounds, specifically marginalized backgrounds, to be heard equally and represented equally….[T]that is what the world looks like, and our fiction, in so many cases, does not represent that…It’s important…to make the playing field a bit more equal.”

Balzer + Bray

Day 3: Elise Bryant by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I taught English and reading classes for high school students with disabilities…I was desperate to find books that my students (all Black or Latinx) would actually want to read. Just like me as a young reader, they asked for joyful, funny books. They wanted stories…they could see themselves in….So, I started writing a book….”

Day 5: Lisa Stringfellow by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “When I was a child, most books about characters that looked like me were contemporary or historical fiction, but the books I loved…were fantasy. Absence sends as powerful a message as presence. Not seeing yourself in books…can make a child feel that those types of stories are not for them. They absolutely are!”

DAY 7: Janae Marks by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “For a long time, publishing seemed to only want books by Black authors that focused on painful topics…like slavery or racism. While [those] authors do write about those topics, they also write about Black joy. The Black experience is not a monolith…I’m grateful that the publishing industry is finally starting to understand and embrace that.”

We Need Diverse Books has released the covers to Suma Subramaniam’s two picture books slated for publication this year. See, Cover Reveal for She Sang For India by Suma Subramaniam, Illustrated by Shreya Gupta (scheduled for release Nov. 8, 2022 with preorders taken here), and Cover Reveal for Namaste Is A Greeting by Suma Subramaniam, Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (scheduled for release Oct. 11, 2022 with preorders taken here).

Q&A With Racquel Marie, Ophelia After All by Nithya Ramcharan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I started writing [the book]…right after I turned nineteen, because I wanted to explore all the feelings I’d been suppressing around my sexuality….[W]riting through [the character’s] perspective helped me with my processing and growth, bringing me to a present where I am…comfortable and proud of my queerness. So her voice came pretty naturally to me….”

Q&A With Navdeep Singh Dhillon, Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Representation is absolutely necessary for kids…to develop not just their self-worth through stories, but to see themselves as more than just teachable moments or foils for white characters…It’s not…the lack of representation or harmful rep that takes a toll, it’s also not relating to the kind of rep we’re seeing, the whole single-story issue.”

Writing Craft

Roaring Book Press

Day 6: Raissa Figueroa by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “There’s something that happens when I’m ‘in the zone’…that feeds my soul and makes time, to-do lists, wants and worries, fears and anxieties, heck, even life slip away. And if that wasn’t enough, just knowing that my art can be used to bring joy [to] others makes my heart swell with happiness and purpose.”

Day 9: Winsome Bingham by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I get an idea which is normally a title….I wait for the story to form in my head. The entire story. From page four to thirty-two. I do not outline. Since the story forms in my head, it already has a structure. I then sit down, and transfer from my brain to the page.”

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat with John Schu from MrSchuReads. Peek: “[This] book I have rewritten more times than any other. It has gone from third person to first person. The main character changed from a girl to a boy and back again….[T]he worldbuilding went through a complete overhaul. But at its heart this book has always been about the secrets we keep from the world and…from ourselves.”

Scholastic Press

Day 2: India Hill Brown by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I write [the story]…by hand first, and then I outline it on the computer using a program called Scrivener. Then, I messily type the first draft. When I get stuck…I write down the question I am asking myself….Revising is tough—sometimes I have to step away from the project for a while….”

How Jason Reynolds Distinguishes Y.A. Books From Adult Fiction from The New York Times. Peek: “[The difference between YA and adult fiction] has more to do with tone than anything else….[P]eople create this massive chasm between the two…I’ve tried really hard to push against the dividing line but ultimately, I’m learning there is a difference. I’m just not sure it’s as drastic as we try to make it.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators: Tracy Subisak by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “When I illustrate someone else’s text, I think about how I can add to the story that isn’t written – What is the character feeling? Where is the story’s setting? Who is the character close to? I am constantly noting what visuals add to the story, and what visuals distract from the story.”

Penguin Workshop

Q&A With Peter Kahn, Respect the Mic by Gianna Macchia from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “My writing process is…aligned with the approach to the craft that I espouse to my students. I typically write personal narrative poems and use examples/create prompts that elicit personal narratives. We stress originality, surprise and a grounding in ‘specific incident,’ a term I first learned from Roger Robinson (who learned it from Kwame Dawes).”

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Sharon Sordo, Tatiana Gardel, Luciana Navarro Powell by Cecilia Cackley from Latinx in Kid Lit. Peek: [Sharon Sordo:] “Through digital art, I have all of the traditional mediums at my disposal without the clean up and I can erase with ease. I don’t need a huge studio to store canvases and stinky oil paints, my pigments will never dry up, and sharing my art with the world and clients is amazingly simple.”


The California School Library Association’s 2022 Virtual Conference takes place Feb. 10 to 19. The conference is free to all educators. The Feb. 18 schedule includes “Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: Promoting Equity, Justice, & Anti-racism Through Informational Writing,” during which a diverse panel of nonfiction children’s/YA authors will describe “how the equity and social justice topics they explore reflect their passions, personalities, beliefs, and experiences in the world.” Register here.

Annick Press

NYPL Launches “Vibrant Voices,” Great Books For All Ages by Authors of Color by Shauntee Burns-Simpson from School Library Journal. Peek: “In January 2022, we launched the reading list Vibrant Voices: A Booklist Celebrating Stories of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The list, the first of its kind and selected by expert library staff, supports parents, teachers, and the overall school community in discovering a world of new perspectives and narratives through literature.”


LBYR Book Sharing Permission Statement for Educators, Librarians, and Booksellers. Peek: “With many schools and libraries continuing to operate at limited capacity, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has extended the permissions for teachers, librarians, and booksellers to post readings of books online for students to access through the remainder of the school year [to June 30].”

On the Origins of the Authors Guild Translation Model Contract with Alex Zucker from Hopscotch Translation. Peek: “The Authors Guild Literary Translation Model Contract and Commentary—which is available to everyone for free, whether or not you are a Guild member—states very clearly, ‘Our advice is that you identify the provisions that are most important to you’….I also recommend the checklist for negotiating contracts…[that helps] translators identify…[terms] that are negotiable….”

Hornik to Start Own Imprint at PYR; Klonsky to Run Dial BFYR by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Penguin Young Readers…announced the spring 2023 advent of a new imprint, Rocky Pond Books….[which] will publish titles by debut and celebrated authors and illustrators and will encompass books spanning a range of age levels, from toddlers to teenagers. The imprint will include fiction and nonfiction, with a focus on mental health and social-emotional learning.”


Black-Owned Bookstores You Should Absolutely Know About by Sara Conway from Scholastic On Our Minds. Peek: “Every Friday this month we’re highlighting different Black owned bookstores on our Instagram stories, but we want to amplify these stores not only during Black History Month but all year long. With that in mind, here are…Black owned stores you should keep in mind when looking for your next read!”

Education/Other Resources/Events

The Writing Barn is hosting a free virtual picture book launch Feb. 26, featuring Dear Reader: A Love Letter to Libraries, written and illustrated by Tiffany Rose (Little Bee Books, Feb. 8, 2022) and How to Train Your Pet Brain by Nelly Buchet, illustrated by Amy Jindra (Beaming Books, Feb. 22, 2022). The authors will read from their books and answer questions. The event begins at 8 a.m. pacific time, 10 a.m. central time, 11 a.m. eastern time, register here.

Children’s Book Press

Join Reading Is Fundamental on March 2 for “Reading Inspires!”, a virtual event celebrating Read Across America Day. “Watch read-alouds from acclaimed authors Sandra Boynton and her son Keith, Chelsea Clinton, and Monica Brown and hear how reading inspires each of them.” The webcast, available on, begins at 6 a.m. pacific time, 8 a.m. central time, 9 a.m. eastern time. Register here.

Join School Library Journal for its fourth annual Middle Grade Magic free virtual event taking place March 10 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern. “Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the most anticipated new titles for kids and tweens, from modern coming-of-age tales to eye-popping graphic novels to immersive fantasy.” Register here.

The 59th Bologna Children’s Book Fair takes place in person from March 21 to 24 in Bologna, Italy (at Bologna Fiera). Browse a preview of the fair here. Registration for the Visitors Area is free here.


Levine Querido

Huge congratulations to the winners and honorees of the 2022 ALA Youth Media Awards:

See also regarding the Mildred L. Batchelder Award: The Youth Media Award For Translation: the Mildred L. Batchelder Award by Paula Holmes from World Kit Lit. Peek: “On January 12, 2022, the ALSC Board passed…[a] motion regarding the Batchelder Award Criteria…to include: ‘The translator(s) shall be named on all titles submitted for consideration. The translator(s) name(s) shall appear, at minimum, on the title page along with the author(s) name(s), and ideally the translator(s) name(s) shall appear on the cover along with the author(s) name(s) as well.’”

Salaam Reads

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the ALA Affiliate Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature:

Congratulations to the Gold Medal and Silver (Honor) Medal recipients of the ALA Affiliate Sydney Taylor Book Award. The Gold Medalists are:

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Awards and Honor Books. Award winners include Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt and Co., 2021)(Teen Category) and Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (Quill Tree Books, 2021)(Younger Readers category).

Congratulations to Picture Book and YA winners of the 2022 Pacific Northwest Book Awards: Time is a Flower by Julie Morstad (Tundra Books, 2021) and Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen, 2021).

South of Sunrise Creative

Congratulations to winners and honorees of the 2022 American Indian Youth Literature Awards. Winners included:

Congratulations to winners of the Bank Street College of Education’s Children’s Book Committee’s 2022 Awards in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry:

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors whose books were named to the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2022 Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and especially to those authors whose books were chosen to the top eleven titles list.

Congratulations to the 53rd NAACP Image Awards nominees, especially in the categories of Outstanding Literary Work—Children, and Outstanding Literary Work—Youth/Teens. The winnners will be announced at the awards telecast on Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. cenral, 8 p.m. eastern on BET.

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose book made the Association for Library Service to Children’s 2022 Notable Children’s Books list, in the categories of Younger Readers, Middle Readers, Older Readers, and All Ages.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the 2022 Rise: A Feminsit Book Project Top Ten. Rise: A Feminist Book Project promotes quality feminist literature for readers ages 0 to 18. “Each year, the project compiles an annotated book list (or bibliography) of well-written and well-illustrated books with significant feminist content, intended for young readers.”

Quill Tree Books

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Children’s Cooperative Book Center’s 2022 Choices list. Choices is a best-of-the-year list created annually by the CCBC librarians and includes 273 recommended books published in 2021 for children from birth through high school.

Congratulations to the 78 artists who won the 59th Bologna Children’s Book Fair’s 56th Illustrators Exhibition. “After the Fair, the 78 winning groups of illustrations will embark on a two-year journey around the world to important art museums.”

Distinguished Writers To Be Inducted Into the Texas Institute of Letters 2022. Peek: “For the 86th year, members of the Texas Institute of Letters…have decided on the induction of new members to join the ranks of the distinguished honor society founded in 1936 to celebrate Texas literature and to recognize distinctive literary achievement….[The] honorees include…children’s and YA authors Christina Soontornvat, Francisco Stork, Don Tate, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Varian Johnson, Jennifer Ziegler, and Lupe Ruiz-Flores….”

Sarah Baker Elected Executive Director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators from SCBWI. Peek: “The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Board of Directors elect[ed] Sarah Baker as the organization’s new Executive Director for a renewable two-year term…Baker remarked, ‘Alongside our members, I hope to make improvements that are rooted in community feedback and good process so that our changes are lasting and meaningful.’”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made The Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list. The list is an annual project of the National Council for the Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council. The list features “K-12 annotated titles published in the previous calendar year that are exceptional books for use in social studies classrooms, selected by social studies educators.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Welcome back, Cynsational Readers! We’re delighted that you’ve rejoined us for another season of celebration in the world of books for young readers! We have so much to share!

First, I’d like to compliment Team Cynsations, especially Cyntern Bree Bender, on our new logo and header. It’s magical and positive!

The first Heartdrum list received a total of 20 starred reviews and have received numerous honors! (Check out the Educator Guide!)

Highlights include:

What else? You can now pre-order The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by debut author Jen Ferguson (Heartdrum, 2022). Peek: “In this complex and emotionally resonant novel about a Métis girl living on the Canadian prairies…a powerful story about rage, secrets, and all the spectrums that make up a person—and the sweetness that can still live alongside the bitterest truth.” Laura Simeon at Kirkus Reviews listed it among 10 Anticipated YA Books to Look for in 2022.

Two recent Heartdrum acquisition deals also have been announced:

Finally, I’m delighted to report that Hop to It: Poems to Get You Moving, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, illustrated by Franzi Paetzold (Pomelo Books) was a winner of the Every Child a Reader Kids’ Book Choice Awards (Ages -12 Best Book of Facts).

More Personally – Gayleen

My 2022 plans include tracking and sharing what I’m reading. This week I’m loving Birdie and Me (Kathy Dawson Books, 2020) by debut author J.M.M. Nuanez. It’s a heartfelt middle grade novel exploring the meaning of home, identity and bouncing back after losing someone you love.

In January, I completed the Storystorm challenge organized by Tara Lazar, and now my notebook is bursting with ideas! If you’re stuck on what to write next, check out the month’s worth of blog posts to spark your creativity. I can’t wait to explore my idea list after I wrap up this revision. If only I were as clever as my protagonist and could manipulate time!

More Personally – Stephani

First of all, I am so excited that Cynsations is back. I’ve been formatting posts in preparation for our return and we have some wonderful content to share with our readers this season. Other than that, I’ve been busy writing, writing, writing–really loving my new desk setup.

More Personally – Gail

Happy 2022! While on hiatus, I shared many wonderful times in California with my sister, son, daughter-in-law, and two precious grandsons. When I returned, my younger son arrived from NYC and we enjoyed several festive days of good food, good company, and good conversation.

I also worked on co-founding Kids Story Studio with artist/illustrator Lynn Brewster. Kids Story Studio offers free story writing classes for children 8 to 10 in a fun, supportive environment. Our debut class was this week at the Cuyahoga County Public Library.

Lunch Ticket Literary Journal, where I’m an assistant editor and interviewer, published it’s 20th Issue in December, and now we’re working on the next one. The YA submissions I’m reading are flowing in!

And I joined Courage to Create, an online writing community founded by The Writing Barn’s Creative Director, Bethany Hegedus. The information and insights are invaluable and I’m feeling supported, inspired, and empowered in my writing efforts!

More Personally – Suma

It’s been a busy few months with cover reveals for my picture books that release later this year.

I’m so very thrilled to share the covers here. The links to the cover reveal posts on the We Need Diverse Books Blog are here and here.

Both the books are available to preorder wherever books are sold.