Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: I Am Thinking My Life by Allysun Atwater, illustrated by Stevie Lewis (Bala Kids, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Rachel Roasek, Love Somebody by Aleah Gornbein from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I want [readers] to know that they don’t have to have it all figured out….[I]t’s fine if you don’t know anything for sure yet, and it’s fine if the things you do know end up changing. You’ve got your whole life to figure out what you want, who you love, how you love….”

Balzer + Bray

Abdi Nazemian’s Chandler Legacies Is a Guiding Legacy for Kids by Cornelius Minor and Nawal Q. Casiano from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Abdi Nazemian:] “We are trained not to talk about pain because of our culture…But I am a big believer of responsible storytelling. The details are mine….Culturally, we can’t cope with hard things without storytelling that brings us into the hearts of people…instead of remaining statistical. It is my hope that the story leads people to important debates.”

Questions for Samantha M. Clark from Writers’ League of Texas. Peek: “It surprises me how many people say they want to write a novel but don’t read them, or want to write a picture book but don’t read them. Reading is one of the best ways to learn…[O]ur subconscious is soaking in the flow of the story, the authors’ word choices, the way characters are revealed….”

Q&A With Jetta Grace Martin, Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Christine Lively from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I hope young activists will learn from this book…[t]hat what makes you an activist is your determination to organize, to agitate, and to fight for what is right and just. At the heart of this book is my hope that young people will…be inspired to make a positive difference in their lives.”

Peachtree Publishing Company

Q&A With Nizrana Farook, The Boy Who Met A Whale by Thushanthi Ponweera from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[B]e yourself. Remember that using your unique perspective means that your book is uniquely yours. No one else could write it. It took me some time to realize this. My early attempts were me trying to copy my favorite writers. Ultimately, I came to see that being me was the best thing for my writing.”

Day 4: Antwan Eady by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’d like to believe that I’ve been on this path long before I knew it. But it wasn’t until I became intentional that the more defined parts of my writing journey began. Intentional being…when I had something to say…something to offer in this space…[T]hat required growing personally in order for me to meet my creativity halfway.”

Equity & Inclusion

Day 11: Charnaie Gordon by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “A dedicated advocate for diverse children’s books,…Charnaie Gordon champions reading through her popular blog, Here Wee Read, social media platforms, podcast, and nonprofit organization, 50 Books 50 States, Inc. ‘My passion for diversity and inclusion is driven by a desire for everyone to have his or her own voice.…’”


Interview With Author Traci Sorell and Illustrator Madelyn Goodnight with Jillian Heise from YouTube. Peek: “Whether I’m writing fiction…or nonfiction, I really focus on presenting the full humanity and agency and community of Native nations and their citizens….[W]hat has been shown previously…[are] people who are not fully fleshed out, events that are glossed over. I don’t want any reader…to see that in my work.”

Q&A With Crystal Maldonado, No Filter and Other Lies by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “There is something deeply and profoundly lonely about rarely, if ever, seeing a reflection of yourself in the media….[W]e are slowly starting to see more marginalized stories told…and I’m hopeful that my stories are able to do a small part in helping to make Latinx, queer, and body diverse readers feel seen, validated, and worthy.”

Q&A With Eugenia Cheng and Amber Ren, Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Amber Ren:] “[C]hildren’s books help shape us into who we are today. I think especially now, it’s important to give voice to those that are underrepresented. Diversity in children’s books lets kids of color see themselves in the story and helps them get a sense of who they are and what they can be.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Kelly McWilliams, Mirror Girls by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We put a huge burden on diverse writers to write from their own POV…while white writers seem to have the freedom to write whatever they want. I guess I want to say that it’s okay not to write only about your diverse identity. Write about unicorns, if you want to, or ancient shipwrecks, or cats!”

Day 13: Lakita Wilson by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I didn’t want to only highlight death when writing about the Black Lives Matter movement, because life is its actual foundation. I wanted children—especially Black children—to know that this movement is not only about keeping them safe and alive, but also elevating their peace, joy, and quality of life, while they are still living.”

Day 14: Reggie Brown by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Children’s publishing should know that we can tell Black stories that don’t just deal with Black pain or racism. Black kids inhabit the whole human spectrum from nerds to jocks and everything in-between. We love stories about elves and wizards, or the supernatural and science fiction. We want to see ourselves reflected in these works….”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Q&A With Bethany Mangle, All the Right Reasons by Alaina Lavoie from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to write a teenage girl who refused to be quiet or fit into a narrow definition of how she’s allowed to express herself. There have been so many situations where I’m afraid of being ‘too much’ in a world that doesn’t seem designed for a loud-mouthed, neurodivergent goofball.”

Writing Craft

Day 1: Nikkolas Smith by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “[I] paint in Adobe Photoshop, and use various textured brushes such as dry brush, charcoal, etc. My process of painting is…an add-and-subtract method that bypasses the line sketch phase. I start by speed painting to add more to the canvas than needed, and then chip away with the eraser to refine to the desired form.”

Tara Audibert Talks About Illustrating the “Jo Jo Makoons” Graphic Novel Series with John Swinimer from True North Country Comics Podcast. Peek: “Sketchbooks are my main place where I’m doing ideas and I really like to have that physical pencil and paper. First, I’m doing a lot of sketches and thumbnails and seeing how things are going to look on a smaller scale, and then I take everything into the digital world after that.”

Christy Ottaviano Books

Five questions for Marilyn Nelson by Horn Book editors and Nicholl Denice Montgomery from The Horn Book. Peek: “I read everything I could find about [the sculptor]….The research came before the writing….Biography and history require both research and imagination. Unless the subject has left a trail of crumbs in journals, letters, old calendars, etc., the biographer has to interpret, with imagination, the information she finds.”

Q&A With Mariko Tamaki, Cold by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The nature of the writing part of a graphic novel…means they’re much faster to write on my end (but extremely labor intensive on the side of the illustrator)…. [N]ovels are a lot of heavy lifting, and it’s an endeavor to make them feel easy, to find the flowing bits in the mountains of words.”

Day 15: Michelle Coles by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “My first step is to think about the overall story that I want to tell. Then I start envisioning my characters. Who they are? What’s their personality? What do they want out of life? Then I start outlining…Once I have an outline I’m happy with, I try to tackle one scene at a time….”


Q&A With NoNieqa Ramos, Beauty Woke by Anisa Lewis from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Poetry is a community experience, it’s an invitation to be vulnerable, it’s a call-to-action, and it’s an explicable connection between the inner and the outer….I wanted [my audience] to feel the textures of the words, I wanted them to hear an echo of their heart. I want the book to feel like an embrace.”

Day 16: Brittany J. Thurman by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I went through query after query. Rejection after rejection….I kept those rejections in a visible spot…as a reminder to keep going…Someone out there…would eventually get it….Like many authors, I went through an agent whose morals and values did not align with mine. And again, like many authors, I found an agent whose morals and values did.”

Q&A With Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Yas Imamura, Love in the Library by Edie Ching from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Yas Imamura:] “The layouts that end up as spreads are very easy to spot for me; they…could only be painted in a luxurious, sprawling manner. The choice between vignette or full-page really comes down to more of a subtle intuition for me. I love to be able to use white space effectively into a scene….”

Inkyard Press

Q&A With Alechia Dow, The Kindred by Anushi Mehta from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Worldbuilding is something you learn over time…[T]here isn’t one right way to do it. I think of a book like a movie. Every scene is…on the screen and the more details I give from why that character is there, doing what they’re doing, to what’s outside their windows, makes the scene more vibrant and visual.”


PRH Continues Temporary E-book, Digital Audio Terms for Libraries by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Penguin Random House announced…that it has once again extended its Temporary Library Terms of Sale for digital content as well as its temporary story time permissions, both of which will now run through June 30, 2022….[Librarians] tell PW that the temporary pro-rated terms offer them much-needed flexibility in managing their digital budgets.”


Bookstore Sales Rose 28% in 2021 by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Riding strong gains in the second half of the year, bookstore sales increased 28% in 2021 over 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were $9.03 billion, compared to [the 2020] sales of $6.50 billion…[The] increase in bookstore sales for 2021 was higher than the 19.3% increase for the entire retail sector.”


The Texas Library Association has announced its 2022-2023 Tejas Star Reading List. “This carefully curated list of Spanish and bilingual titles is designed to encourage children ages 5 to 12 to explore Spanish, bilingual, and multicultural books to discover the cognitive and economic benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism.”

Where Do You Get Your Craft Ideas? Part II by Teen Librarian Karen Jensen from School Library Journal. Peek: “One of the things…libraries don’t do very well is give their staff time to actually look at the books in their collections…If you are looking for craft and programming ideas, knowing what’s in your collection is a huge advantage….[W]hen we pull ideas from our collections, we have naturally built in book promotion opportunities.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Christy Ottaviano Books

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers presents “It’s a Thin Line Between Y and A—A Conversation on Crossover YA,” with Kelly McWilliams (Mirror Girls (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022)), Echo Brown (The Chosen One (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2022)), and Natasha Friend (The Wolves Are Waiting (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022)). Sandie Chen of Loyalty Bookstores will moderate a conversation about “the malleability of young adult literature and its appeal to both teens and adults.” The event takes place Feb. 25 at 4:30 p.m. pacific, 6:30 p.m. central, 7:30 p.m. eastern.

The virtual 2022 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference takes place March 25 to March 27. This will be “an incredible weekend with top editors, agents, authors and illustrators in the children’s book publishing world. Our spring conference is an excellent opportunity for BIPOC writers and illustrators to learn, get inspired and network with others in the industry.” Register here.

Kwame Alexander and Follett Kick Off Classroom Book Club by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Kwame Alexander has partnered with Follett School Solutions to create the Kwame Alexander Bookfest, an experiential, student-led classroom book club. Alexander has curated grade-appropriate book collections for grades three through eight, focusing on stories that are ‘accessible, inspiring, challenging and positively entertaining, because ultimately the goal is getting kids to want to read…’”


Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Congratulations to the finalists for the Golden Kite Awards in the categories of Picture Book Text, Picture Book Illustration, Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult, Illustrated Book for Older Readers, Nonfiction Text for Younger Readers, and Nonfiction Text for Older Readers. Congratulations also to the finalists for the Sid Fleischmann Humor Award. The winners and honors will be announced at the virtual Golden Kite Gala taking place on March 15 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Mathical Book Prize. “The 2022 Mathical Book Prize is awarded by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute…in cooperation with the Institute for Advanced Study…The prize is awarded in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of English…and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics…and in coordination with the Children’s Book Council….”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Shortlist. Waterstone’s booksellers voted for books they believed are “the very best in new children’s writing and illustration across three categories [Illustrated Books, Younger Readers and Older Readers].” The winners will be announced March 31.


Congratulations to the 2021 Cybils Awards Winners. The Cybils Awards’ mission is “to recognize books written for children and young adults that combine both the highest literary merit and popular appeal.” The awards categories are Board Books, Fiction Picture Books, Easy Reader, Early Chapter Books, Elementary Non-Fiction, Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Middle Grade Non-Fiction, Poetry, High School Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Graphic Novels, and Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

Congratulations to authors and illustrators whose books made the 2022 Yoto Carnegie Greenway Awards longlists. The 33 longlisted books selected for these U.K. awards for children and young people all had themes of “community and connection, shared humanity and friendship explored in the titles.” The shortlists will be announced March 16.

Congratulations to the winner of the 2022 Robin Smith Picture Book Prize: The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021). The prize was launched in memory of Robin Smith, who was a teacher, writer, conference speaker, children’s book committee regular, and co-founder of Calling Caldecott, The Hornbook’s blog. Every year Calling Caldecott selects one picture book that exemplifieds what Robin looked for in picture books.

Scholarships & Grants

Educators Making a Difference Grants from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “WNDB established the Educators Making a Difference Grants for educators who believe in the importance of incorporating diverse books by diverse authors into their schools, libraries, and educational organizations. These grants will provide up to $2000 per educator and can be used toward…[any] project that supports diverse literature.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Big news! My long-haired Chihuahua Gnocchi has a new sibling. Meet Orzo (pictured above)! According to the vet, Orzo is a Pom-Chi (Pomeranian-Chihuahua). I adopted him from a local shelter a couple of weeks ago.

Beyond that, I’ve been busy with line edits on my Native YA ghost story, and I am celebrating the fact that the Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021, 2022) was named to the longlist of the Reading the West Award by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers. The anthology is newly available in paperback.

Check out Five Top Takeaways: How Children’s Literature Is Getting More Diverse and Why That Matters by Mark Swartz from Early Learning Nation.

More Personally – Gayleen

This week I took a detour into the adult section and am lingering over the essays in All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson (One World, 2020). I’m fascinated not only by the subject, but also the structure of this anthology that includes poetry along with traditional essays broken into sections, and thinking about how this layered approach can translate for texts aimed at younger readers.