Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Mardi Gras Almost Didn’t Come This Year by Kathy Z. Price, illustrated by Carl Joe Williams (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Day 18: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I overheard a conversation in a Muslim women’s group…about the lack of children’s books representing Black Muslim kids, and something clicked….In that moment, a voice in my head said, you have those stories….I was suddenly flooded with ideas. I had characters and bits and parts of stories all fighting for attention in my head.”

Bloomsbury YA

Phil Stamper’s Third YA Novel Is About Found Family and Queer Excellence by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[W]hen readers connect with a story…they will email you, DM you, tag you in a billion posts on social media, all to make sure the author knows that their story touched their heart…And I think that’s so special, and that’s the kind of joy that drives me to write the best books I can.”

Are Mentorships Helping Writers? by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Pitch Wars, Author Mentor Match, We Need Diverse Books, Rogue Mentor…are [all] opportunities for unagented writers to work with agented and sometimes published writers on their craft….Getting accepted by these programs can be life-and-career-changing for authors, who are inducted into a thriving community as well as given one-on-one guidance for their own writing.”

Day 21: David Anthony Durham by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “This [fantasy] novel is the first that…was truly a joy to write. Usually, writing is hard, slow work. I’m always glad to have written a new work, but the process can be exhausting. It reminded me of how fun reading can be for kids; and taught me how fun writing for kids can be.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Amina Luqman Dawson, Freewater by Khadejah Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Knowing and understanding the children’s personalities in [the book]—each with their own quirks, blind spots, and strengths—creates a symphony of voices. It’s both fun and important to have contrasting personalities with their own experiences. It’s through the music of their voices that the reader hears the sound of humanity.”

Amanda Gorman on…Lifting Up Artists, and the Power of Girls of Color with Versha Sharma from Teen Vogue. Peek: “I think the whole issue of access to literacy is in itself access to literature. Who am I allowed to read? Who am I allowed to question? Who am I allowed to emulate and imitate?…I think that it’s super important…that we are preserving the windows and mirrors that young leaders deserve to have.”

Laila Sabreen Wrote Her Debut Novel for Herself by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wasn’t really writing it for [others in the community] when I was drafting….When you’re drafting try to tell the story that you wanna tell, not that readers might wanna read or that the publishing market might want at this time…Tell a story that feels authentic to you.”

Sourcebook Explore

Q&A With the Alphabet Rockers and Ashley Evans, You Are Not Alone by Olivia Mules from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Ashley Evans:] “I have a tendency to be hard on myself…[S]ometimes I get caught up in my work not turning out ‘as perfect’ as whatever I had in my head…[I]n the end the work that gets all my effort poured into it is good and the fact that I can create something at all is amazing….”

Equity & Inclusion

Day 20: Vera Ahiyya by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “As a child, I devoured books…Yet, I can barely recall ‘seeing’ myself in those books. After hearing…about books being windows and mirrors, I knew that providing those experiences would be of the utmost importance….Students need to see themselves and their peers in the books they read, and to engage with varying viewpoints.”

Community and Story: A Conversation With Zoraida Córdova by Arley Sorg from Clarkesworld Magazine. Peek: “Where are the Afro-Latinx SFF books?…Who is publishing Indigenous authors from Latin America? Can our community ever escape stories that center pain and immigration and still be successful? I can only ask these questions. Of course, I want more. But it’s publishers and agents who have the power to make this change.”

Balzer + Bray

Author Spotlight: Erik J. Brown from KidLit411. Peek: “I wanted a post-apocalyptic story about queer people!…And along with that, I wanted to explore a character discovering their sexuality in a post-apocalyptic landscape….How do they discover it and do they then have the freedom to explore that because civilization has collapsed? Is there a place for queer people in this new world?”

How Children’s Literature Is Getting More Diverse, and Why That Matters by Mark Swartz. Peek: “Books shape children’s attitudes and beliefs about themselves and the world….Once a book becomes a favorite, it becomes a part of children’s lives—forever….It will become the springboard for children learning to read….Years later, they will probably still be able to recite passages from memory and to conjure the illustrations in their mind.”

Q&A With Axie Oh, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I was very influenced by strong female Asian characters growing up….I was trying to subvert some of the ways people read Asian stories where they think women are weak, women are powerless, they don’t have voices. I kind of wanted to subvert that, especially with the knowledge that my audience would predominantly be English speaking.”


Q&A With Reem Faruqi, Golden Girl by Thushanthi Ponweera from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I chose to write about kleptomania because I hadn’t read about it much in children’s literature…I researched kleptomania and found that it’s more common than I thought. I also wanted to explore the deep emotions that go with this behavior and to explore how it affects relationships with friends and family.”

Q&A: Mia P. Manansala, Author of “Homicide and Halo-Halo” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Second Book Syndrome hit me hard….I made it through…that first draft…through the power of my extremely supportive social circle…, the uplifting effects of BIPOC romance novels, and the knowledge that there were people out there waiting for my books, who were so hungry for representation and lightness and fun.”

Debut You: A 2022 Debut Author Series: Adrea Theodore: A History of Me from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “I’ve written this book for those kids who are the only brown kids in their class, or on their team….I’ve written this book primarily, though, for those kids who are descendants of those who were enslaved….I was ashamed of that heritage because it was only ever associated with negative things when I was growing up.”

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Race in America: History Matters With Michelle Duster with Robin Givhan from The Washington Post. Peek: “[T]here’s not this idea that there’s enough space for everybody….[A]ll of us are part of this country, and we have all contributed in our own ways, and all of those contributions need to be recognized….[I]t’s not a matter of if Black women get recognition…then other people are erased. It’s we’re all included….[T]here’s just addition.”

Writing Craft

Author Spotlight: Carolyn Tara O’Neil from KidLit411. Peek: “[For historical fiction] immerse yourself in the world of your time period…Read as much as you can get your hands on in terms of interesting popular or academic nonfiction about the period. Read contemporary fiction from the era…If possible, visit the area, watch movies, listen to music, enjoy the art. Then start writing.”

Interview With Vanessa Len—Author of Only a Monster by Kashvi Kaul from Misty Realms. Peek: “I read a lot of craft books about how to write a novel, but in the end I found that the best way to learn was to read and to watch TV shows and movies—to see how other people tell stories. I analyzed ways to create characters, set up twists, structure scenes, and more.”


Day 17: Nicole Collier by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Before I start writing, I review the beginning of Lajos Egri’s, The Art of Dramatic Writing (Simon & Schuster, 1946) and key portions of Dara Marks’, Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc (Three Mountain Press, 2006). Those books help me process the premise and the character’s journey….[I] enjoy the time I spend doing this. It’s fun and low stakes, yet very informative.”

Q&A With Vanessa L. Torres, The Turning Pointe by Paola M. from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I write by the seat of my pants. No outline. I have a story in my head, and I sit down and start writing. However, I never begin until I have very detailed character bios. This helps steer the story because by the time I’m typing, ‘Chapter One’…my characters…motivations are very clear.”

Q&A With Lisa Yee, Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Samantha Leong from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Revise, revise, revise. Cut, cut, cut. The book was so much longer in the early drafts because I packed it with so many issues, attitudes, and aggressions. Then I stepped back and pared it down, putting my trust in the reader and letting a few carefully chosen incidents and actions speak volumes.”

Beaming Books

Day 22: Alleanna Harris by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Sometimes I start off with character sketches to nail down what the main characters look like…If not, I dive right into rough interior sketches. I clean the sketches up just enough for the team to understand what I have in mind compositionally….After the revised sketches get approved, I start the color illustrations.”


Authors Share Their Favorite Black-Owned Bookstores from Opra Daily. Peek: “Black-owned bookstores have been in America since as early as the 1960s—but they often don’t receive the kind of attention they deserve. The team at Oprah Daily created an official guide to Black-owned bookshops around the U.S.—127 of them…We also asked several esteemed Black authors to share their own go-tos….”

Registration Opens for PW’s 2022 U.S. Book Show from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Registration for the 2022…U.S. Book Show is now open. The virtual book publishing trade show, produced by PW…, will run May 24 to May 26. The event’s primary mission is to promote fall 2022 books of particular interest to booksellers, librarians, book media, agents, and publishing professionals….[T]his year, an international pavilion will welcome exhibitors from outside the U.S.”


Philomel Books

Chelsea Clinton to Launch Nonfiction Book Imprint This Fall by Associated Press from US News. Peek: “Philomel Books announced Friday that Clinton…will launch and provide introductions for a nonfiction chapter book series for kids ages 6-9, ‘Save The …’, about animal conservation….[Chelsea Clinton:] ‘My hope is that young readers and their families will enjoy and learn…from the books…[about] animals that could disappear if we don’t all work together to save them.’”

The 2022 shortlist for the Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year has been announced. The nominated publishers from the U.S. are Abrams and Barefoot Books. The winners of this prize, which is intended to highlight excellent publishing houses worldwide, will be announced during the Bologna Children’s Book Fair taking place March 21 to March 24.


Ways to Promote Your Book While Watching TV by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “If you’re a multi-tasker like me, try doing a few of these book promotion activities the next time you watch your favorite show….On social media, follow the people who influence your readers….Follow your influencers’ fans….Schedule social media posts. Use a free desktop or smartphone social media management tool….Set up Google and Talkwalker Alerts.”


Odd Dot

Reinvigorate Library Collections With “Active Nonfiction” by Melissa Stewart from School Library Journal. Peek: “‘Active nonfiction’ describes a category of books ‘that help[s] kids make and do things.’ It includes everything from craft books and cookbooks to field guides and books that come packaged with models or games….While active nonfiction is ideally suited for school makerspaces, it’s a great addition to the school library and classroom collections, too.”

As Seen on #BookTok: Inspiring Young Readers, TikTok Is a Boon for Books by Kelly Jensen from School Library Journal. Peek: “[TikTok’s #BookTok] platform has made its mark on school libraries…where students seeking hot titles drive up circulation. And many students who might otherwise not have set foot in their libraries are doing just that….Librarians note that there has been a steady stream of requests for inclusive #BookTok titles.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Charis Books presents Reem Faruqi in conversation with Gayatri Sethi as they celebrate Faruqi’s new release, Golden Girl (HarperCollins, 2022). The free event takes place Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Loyalty Bookstores presents a free virtual event featuring Julian Randall and Jason Reynolds as they celebrate Randall’s new release, Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2022). The event takes place March 3 at 3 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. central, 6 p.m. eastern. Register here.

The Tucson Festival of Books, to be held on the University of Arizona’s campus, takes place March 12 to March 13. You can view the Presenting Author Schedule here. Some of the many children’s/YA authors and illustrators presenting include Traci Sorell, Brian Young, Kelly Yang, Angeline Boulley and Raúl The Third. Attendance is free.


Congratulations to the 2022 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalists in the category of Young Adult Literature: A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido, 2021), Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2021), Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon (Candlewick Press, 2021), A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia (Quill Tree Books, 2021), and From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement by Paula Yoo (Norton Young Readers, 2021).

Delacorte Press

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the Freeman Book Awards in the categories of Children’s Literature, Young Adult/Middle School Literature, Of Note—Young Adult/Middle School Literature, Young Adult/High School Literature, Young Adult/High School Literature (Graphic), and Of Note—Young Adult/High School Literature. The awards “recognize quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of East and Southeast Asia.”

Scholarships & Grants

Submissions are open for the Austin SCBWI Scholarship for Creators of Diverse Worlds. “Kidlit and teenlit writers and illustrators of all genres whose work in progress has characters…that are diverse in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disabilities, etc….[and] who have not traditionally published a children’s/young adult book or have a book under contract [may enter].” Winners receive a scholarship for Austin SCBWI’s Writers & Illustrators Working Conference.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

As of earlier this week, I have sent in my line-edits revision on the Native YA ghost story. I’m hopeful that it’ll appeal to readers of both my Native novels and my Gothic fantasies for teens. Now, I’ve put on my Vermont College of Fine Arts teacher hat and have been reading manuscripts for Heartdrum, too.

More Personally – Gayleen

Wearing my new #FReadom shirt in support of  Shulamith Armintor, a Denton, Texas student who created an online petition asking her school district to keep inclusive books on school shelves. The shirt comes from the #FReadom Fighters, a group of Texas school librarians sharing positive stories of libraries and books for all students. Their merchandise sales support the Texas Library Association‘s Whitten Intellectual Freedom Fund.