Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho (HarperCollins, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Day 25: Bryan Patrick Avery by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’ve always considered it a privilege to write for young readers. Lately, I’ve begun to view it as a privilege and a responsibility. The words we put down on paper matter and, regardless of the challenges we face, we must continue to write, continue to publish, and continue to inspire.”

Feiwel & Friends

MacKids Spotlight: Judy I. Lin from MacKids School & Library. Peek: “Read a lot. Not only fiction, but nonfiction as well. You might find inspiration and little details to insert in your stories in the strangest places. Sometimes you only have a few pieces of the puzzle, but the rest of it might come when you are reading someone else’s story or learning about something new.”

Eva Chen and Sophie Diao Discuss I Am Golden by Bianca Schulze from The Children’s Book Review. Peek: [Eva Chen:] “[H]ow we ensure a more beautiful future and a more beautiful world is by teaching and equipping children with as many perspectives as possible. The world is a beautiful place. It’s a huge world that…most will only experience through books….[T]he more research and perspectives we can give them through reading…the more beautiful the country will be.”

Q&A With Nnedi Okorafor by Sanina Clark from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Words are like culture in a lot of ways—they’re fluid, they’re alive. They’re not set in stone. They can evolve and devolve. They shift and become different things. How do you harness it? How do you not get harmed by it?…Use your brain and be open to understanding, listening, researching, and feeling.”


Pam Muñoz Ryan Brings “Solimar” to Life by Michelle Shaw from School Library Journal. Peek: “Many of my stories have grandparents in them….[I]t stems from my own childhood and being close to both of my grandmothers. My Mexican grandmother…lived around the corner, and I saw her almost daily….[G]randparent characters provide an avenue to share wisdom, different perspectives, and family history and secrets, sometimes becoming a conspirator in the child’s life.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Remi K. England, The One True Me and You by Ashley Wells Ajinkya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As a teen, I didn’t have the language for nonbinary identity, so I was just angry and uncomfortable all the time….These days, teens have access to so much more information about gender, sexuality, mental health, and so on. I can’t even imagine what a different person I would have been with that.”

Sabaa Tahir’s All My Rage Is About Allowing Young People To Be Witnessed by Nawal Qarooni and Cornelius Minor from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I want [young people] to know…they can go to the world and put good into it….I want them to witness each other. The good and the bad too. That is what can make life less overwhelming; someone else saying you are not alone…I want them to close the book and feel: I have been witnessed.”


Q&A With Lina AlHathloul and Uma Mishra-Newbery, Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The catalyst was…trying to figure out how to talk about what’s actually happening to women, and those who are fighting for women’s rights, to kids….Where you are distilling reality…in a way we can educate and make our kids more aware of what’s actually going on with the fight women still have to undergo.”

Zoraida Córdova’s Reclaim the Stars Explores Social Injustices Through Magical Tales by Eva Recinos from Refinery29. Peek: “There are some great books out there, but at the same time, it’s a little frustrating when you can’t see yourself in these worlds and fantasy realms. You’re expected to just identify with an elf or a hobbit, but people can’t identify in the same way with people of color….[E]verybody belongs in fantasy worlds.”

Q&A With Laura Gao, Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Suniti Srinivasan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I had to get past this toxic view that I created…[that] doing Asian things or having Asian friends was not cool….[And] I had to get past this impostor feeling, that I wasn’t Asian enough or queer enough. I had to have some hard conversations…about why I had these fears, and how to unlearn them.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Julian Winters On His Geeky LGBTQ+ Romance Right Where I Left You by Rosie Knight from Nerdist. Peek: “I hope readers take away a sense of empowerment—in themselves, the things they love, their goals, the feelings they’re not ready to share with everyone….I truly hope Black and brown and queer readers feel…we’re capable of creating our own happy endings. We don’t need the world’s permission to be the hero.”

Hope and Representation, A Guest Post by Dannie M. Olguin from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “One demographic that’s absent from the conversation about representation is children who live in an abusive or otherwise difficult situations. Kids from underprivileged backgrounds; kids whose only meals are free school breakfast and lunch; kids who have to parent their parents and protect their siblings while dealing with the stress of housing and food insecurity….”

Writing Craft

Illustrator Saturday—Honee Jang from Kathy Temean. Peek: “It helps a lot to learn to digital paint without using blenders, textures, or filters when you are starting to learn. It’s a good idea to invest in brushes, especially if you know what type of lines you are drawn to. Kyle’s brushes are very good (his brushes are…available for all at Adobe Photoshop!)….”

Quill Tree Books

Q&A With Ethan M. Aldridge, The Legend of Brightblade by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Once I’ve figured out the general shape of the story, I start writing the script….While the script is being reviewed, I begin drawing the storyboard, or thumbnails…[There are] revisions back and forth between my editor and me…Once we agree that the story is as good as can be, I start work on the final artwork!”

Interview With Emily X.R. Pan by the Forever Young Adult Book Club from White Plains Public Library. Peek: “[G]iving yourself permission to write a garbage first draft is really important…[I]t’s important for you to get to the end…in order for you to revise it, but also…so that you can have that confidence in yourself, so that you can trust that you have the ability to finish it.”

For All Time…Interview With Shanna Miles with C.M. Lockhart from YouTube. Peek: [On choosing an agent:] “You have to make a decision on the heart of people and not just the surface. There are people who are established who are going to fight for you…And that’s what you need, someone who is knowledgeable enough to say, ‘This is a low ball, we’re not going to take it.’”

Clarion Books

Four Questions for Traci Chee by Krystyna Poray Goddu from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’m not a ‘story bible’ kind of writer….Except for the made-up language, though. That was carefully constructed with…a writer and linguistics major. I wanted the language to sound Japanese-inspired, so we decided to make it a language based on syllables, not individual letters….I wanted the book to read as though it were a ‘found’ manuscript….”

Two Nonfiction Writing Styles by Kristian Bucknor from Celebrate Science. Peek: “[T]eacher-librarian Kristian Bucknor…tried an activity that introduces the two nonfiction writing styles—expository and narrative—with her [third grade] students…‘[Students] began noticing differences in how the books were written—one was a story, the other shared lots of facts….[M]ost students (40 percent) enjoyed the two writing styles equally.’”

Day 26: Adrea Theodore by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “[Something] sparks an idea….[I] toss it around in my head, try out different scenarios, different phrases, try to see which angle to approach the story, and think about who the story is for…Who is the main character and what will the action be?…Often when I finally sit and start to write, the words will just flow.”


Candlewick Press

Q&A With John Schu by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The best parts [of being a school librarian] were book talking and helping kids see and identify themselves as readers by finding ‘the book’ that changed everything for them….The most challenging thing was to see people try to take away the joy of reading from…students by imposing their own opinions on it.”


Waterstones Acquires Blackwell’s, the UK’s Biggest Independent Bookseller by Jem Bartholomew from The Guardian. Peek: “The UK’s largest book chain, Waterstones, has acquired the country’s largest independent bookseller, Blackwell’s, ending 143 years of family ownership and signaling a further concentration of the bookselling industry. Blackwell’s, which has 18 bookshops, was put up for sale this month after its owners ditched a plan to hand it to employees.”

The London Book Fair is taking place April 5 to April 7 at Olympia London. This fair will “unite the publishing community for three days of business, networking, and learning.” The Children’s and Young Adult section traditionally welcomes leading names in the field.

The Reforma LA 2022 Spanish Language Book Fair is taking place via Zoom and Facebook on March 8, 10, and 17 at 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. pacific, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. central, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. eastern. The Children and Teens sessions will be on March 10 (register here) and March 17 (register here). This free event is open “to librarians, educators, students, and professionals interested in serving Latino and Spanish-speaking communities.” Presentations will be in English.


Pitch Wars Comes to an End by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “After 10 years, popular mentoring program Pitch Wars and contest #PitMad drew to a close on Feb. 15…The news was met with…an outpouring of gratitude by those who found writing community, publishing success, or both through the initiatives…[T]he program and contests resulted in nearly 500 authors connecting with agents and launching careers.”

PYR to Launch New Imprint, Rocky Pond Books from Penguin Random House. Peek: “Penguin Young Readers will launch a new imprint, Rocky Pond Books, helmed by Lauri Hornik, longtime publisher of Dial Books for Young Readers, and editor of many award-winning and bestselling books…The imprint will publish books for two through teen, both fiction and nonfiction, with a focus on mental health and social-emotional learning….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Little Shop of Stories, in partnership with the Georgia Center for the Book, is excited to present Dan Santat, live and in person, at the DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur Branch on March 9 at 2 p.m. pacific, 4 p.m. central, 5 p.m. eastern. Dan will be discussing his new graphic novel, The Aquanaut (Graphix, 2022). Register here.

Greenwillow Books

Little Shop of Stories presents Erin Entrada Kelly With Meg Medina! Erin and Meg will be talking about Erin’s new middle grade book Those Kids From Fawn Creek (Greenwillow Books, 2022). The virtual event takes place March 9 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Register here.

The Octavia Fellin Public Library presents Female Empowerment, with author Daniel W. Vandever and illustrator Corey Begay [Diné] giving a presentation and reading of Herizon (South of Sunrise Creative, 2021). The virtual event takes place live on Zoom and live on Facebook @galluplibrary on March 30 at 1 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. mountain, 3 p.m. central, 4 p.m. eastern. See details here.


Congratulations to 2022 Texas Bluebonnet Award winner: The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by Oge Mora (Anne Schwartz Books, 2020). A total of 63,331 students, in third through sixth grade, cast votes. Watch the announcement video here.


Congratulations to the 2022 Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award winners: My Two Border Towns by David Bowles and Erika Meza (Kokila, 2021), Indivisible by Daniel Aleman (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021), and Bright Star by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books, 2021).

We Need Diverse Books is now accepting submissions from publishers for the 2023 Walter Dean Myers Awards. The awards will be given in Teen and Younger Readers categories. The submission deadline is Nov. 15.

  • The awards event for the 2022 Walter Dean Myers Awards will take place June 23 at 7:30 a.m. pacific, 9:30 a.m. central, 10:30 a.m. eastern. It will be livestreamed and tentatively held in person at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC.

Children’s Book Awards Support Latino Kids and Authors. Peek: “Arte Público Press is accepting children’s book manuscripts to be considered for…the Salinas de Alba Award for Latino Children’s Literature and The Reyes-Olivas Award for Best First Book of Latino Children’s and Young Adult Literature….In addition to the publication of the book and royalties from sales, the winning authors will receive a $5,000 prize.” Submit year-round here.

Candlewick Press

The USBBY’s 2022 Outstanding International Books List by Bettie Parsons Barger from School Library Journal. Peek: “The United States Board on Books for Young People…launched its annual 2022 Outstanding International Books List to celebrate and elevate the most exemplary international titles that U.S. publishers and distributors bring in from the rest of the world each year. The 42 titles are significant for both their exceptional quality and globe-spanning origins.”

Scholarships & Grants

We Need Diverse Books Internship Grant Program. In 2022, WNDB will award 12 grants of $3,000 each to applicants from diverse backgrounds who wish to pursue a career in children’s publishing. Internship positions must take place between June 1 and Aug. 31. The application submission window is open until May 1 at 12 a.m. pacific, 2 a.m. central, 3 a.m. eastern.

The Highlights Foundation Scholarships application window is now open until March 13. All aspiring and published children’s authors and illustrators can apply. The Foundation will award 25 full tuition scholarships and 20 partial tuition scholarships for Highlights workshops, 30 full tuition scholarships for online courses and 15 scholarships for personal retreats at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center. There are over 30 scholarship opportunities offered. See, for example:

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Sign at the senior center where I voted in the Texas primary election on Tuesday

Much of this week was spent reading and responding to writing by Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA student advisees as well as to Heartdrum-related manuscripts, both submissions and projects under contract.

Which reminds me, my own YA novel, tentatively titled Harvest House, is off to copyedits and will be released by Candlewick Press in spring 2023. It’s a ghost story, centered on Hughie Wolfe, a secondary character from Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020). Within the YA book category, it skews a bit younger. While Hearts Unbroken was recommended to readers 14+, Harvest House will likely be recommended to readers 12+

In Heartdrum imprint news, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, cover art by Reyna Hernandez (May, 2022) is available for pre-order from Skylight Books (and other retailers). Until supplies run out, preorders will include limited edition swag prizes by LGBTIA+ and Indigenous artists. From the promotional copy:

In this complex and emotionally resonant novel, debut author Jen Ferguson serves up 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.

Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend—whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort—and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word.

But when she gets a letter from her biological father—a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life—Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists.

While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever.

More Personally – Gayleen

Last Saturday, I attended a writing workshop taught by Dana De Greff on writing through fear and tackling those tough topics we’d rather avoid. Dana talked about the emotions of fear and excitement being closely related (probably why horror is so popular). I picked up a few writing prompts and tools to help me venture deeper when showing up at the page gets scary. I even ordered Dana’s new book, Words and Wonder: A Guide to Becoming a Creative Writer (BookBaby, 2022) for more journaling prompts.

More Personally – Suma

Next week, on Saturday, March 12th, I’ll be honored to moderate a panel on Animal Representation in Children’s Literature for SCBWI Western Washington. The panelists are the wonderful Evan Griffith, Mary Quattlebaum, J Albert Mann, and Victoria Wells ArmsRegister early. We hope to see you there!

Personal Links – Cynthia

Conversations with Sean Petrie from Voyage Austin. Peek: “A decade ago, if you’d told me I would be a poet, I probably would have laughed and said have another drink. But sometimes a path you never expected opens up — and you just leap.”