Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Stephani EatonSuma Subramaniam, Bree Rae, AJ Eversole and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home by Zahra Marwan (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Christina Soontornvat: Genre Master by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Writing is such a cool job…[I]t’s not like playing a sport, where you’re going to reach your peak and then you’re never going to be that good again…I look up to authors who came before me…I want to be like them. I’m just trying to keep learning and getting better at this writing thing.”


Author Deborah Falaye On How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories by Ian Benke from Medium. Peek: “[B]ooks are the most immersive form of storytelling…[W]e’re able to draw on our own imagination to bring these stories to life. I call it the magic of words, where we…are immediately pulled into this world right from the first page. There’s a rush to it as we go on this journey alongside the characters….”

Q&A With Hena Khan, One Sun and Countless Stars by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[Advice] I would have told myself [as a new writer is] to go for it sooner. To believe in myself earlier….I don’t think I allowed myself to believe that stories like mine mattered….I tell kids all the time…that your story matters, and no matter what your background is, it’s important. People need to hear it….”

Sex in Young Adult Books Is Age Appropriate by Danika Ellis from Book Riot. Peek: “[S]ex is part of many teenagers’ lives….[W]hether or not they’re having sex, it’s absurdly naive to think that they’re only encountering the topic in school library books….Reading about sex…may be educational: to learn about consent and safer sex practices. It can model a healthy relationship to sexuality, including establishing boundaries and getting clear consent.”

Albert Whitman & Company

Q&A With Harshita Jerath, The Leaping Laddoo by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Don’t give up! If you have a story in your heart, put it to pen and paper and pursue it. To bring a story to the world requires grit. It’s a passion project combined with perseverance, which gives results….[And] do not hold back…[W]rite the story you want to tell without skewing it for the audience.”

Hey, Grownups! Kids Really Do Like Nonfiction by Cynthia Levinson, Melissa Stewart, and Jennifer Swanson from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “We frequently encounter adults who mistakenly believe that children think ‘Textbooks. Ugh’…when they hear ‘nonfiction’.…[H]here’s what kids are actually saying: ‘I like nonfiction because you gain knowledge. Then you ask more questions,’…‘I like that nonfiction books really make you think about things for a while and then sometimes your thinking changes’….”

What Makes A YA Book “The Best of All Time”? by Kelly Jensen from Book Riot. Peek: “I’ve been thinking a lot about the Time [2021] 100 Best YA Books of All Time list….No list can truly be a ‘best of all time.’ Perhaps it’s time to stop trying to create something unique and instead, celebrate a category as a whole…Let’s appreciate YA for what it is: expansive, creative, groundbreaking, and life-changing.”

Equity & Inclusion

Quill Tree Books

Q&A With Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas, Squire by Gianna Macchia from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “We didn’t want to be mired down in one-to-one representation, but rather develop a world that reflected the rich history and complexity of the Middle East. We wanted to depict this world with the nuance that our cultures are almost never depicted with…with various ethnic and religious identities, with our food and clothing and symbolism.”

Q&A With Lillie Lainoff, One for All by Alaina Lavoie from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to write a story like the ones I loved as a kid, a story with astronomically high stakes and many duels, but also a story in which the main character was disabled, and not just in brief moments when that facet of her identity was…beneficial to the plot or the development of other characters.”

Forward March by Skye Quinlan: Interview With the Author from Thindbooks. Peek: “[I] really craved asexual representation in YA spaces because there aren’t too many books out there that feature ace main characters. Growing up, I would have understood my own identity a lot sooner had there been ace representation in the media, so…it was extremely important to me that I include it in my own work.”

Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

I Never Thought I’d Become a Children’s Book Author. Then I Became a Mom by Clothilde Ewing from NBC News. Peek: “I kept running into books that…showed Black characters being exceptional or overcoming struggles due to racism. Although it’s important for Black—and really all—children to…be exposed to history so they are able to have context about how the world is today, it’s equally crucial for children to see Black characters in ordinary, relatable storylines.”

An Interview With Kosoko Jackson…. by CW from The Quiet Pond. Peek: “[W]ith queer stories…[i]t always has to be about the trauma of coming out…. [T]hese stories are important, but Black (and queer) kids deal with this in their life. They deserve some sort of reprieve from it in their fiction and I wanted to…have them just be badass and the star of an epic romance.”

Q&A With Abigail Hing Wen, Loveboat Reunion by JoAnn Yao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “‘What is it that you want people to take away from your work?’ And I guess the answer would be: more openness. Like a shift in how we perceive people who seem different from us, whether that’s ethnic diversity, neurodiversity, gender diversity—to try to walk in other people’s shoes more. Hopefully because they’ve walked in some of my characters’ shoes. To take that kind of attitude forward.”

Quill Tree Books

What Inspired The Book of Living Secrets, a Guest Post by Madeleine Roux from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “Young girls are still held to standards that ultimately make them vulnerable…[One main character] has the added pressure of struggling to come to terms with her sexuality in a world…hostile to choice and self-acceptance. She’s battling the same demons I did…loving a body that is muscular and strong, loving a self that is queer.”

Writing Craft

Happy Happy Book Birthday to Sun and Son…With Linda Joy Singleton from Erin Dealy. Peek: “When I first started writing…[t]here was so much I had to learn, which took time, experiences, rejections, and more rewriting. I began to understand what ‘learning my craft’ meant. Craft is more than just the words on a page—it’s the rhythm of your words, important details, and layers of plot + characters.”

Pep Talk From Anna-Marie McLemore from NaNaWriMo. Peek: “That novel you’re drafting right now? The novel it eventually becomes may or may not…end up looking anything like the words you have on the page…[M]any of my first drafts have been just that: paths in, and they’ve needed rewrites to find their way deeper…[M]y [newest book] took many detours to find its heart….”

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

An Obsession With Animals: Closeup on Remy Lai’s Surviving the Wild Series from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Because I wanted to make sure things were as factually correct as I could make them, I read up on all I could about elephants and koalas, from the foods they eat to their social hierarchies to the challenges they face due to human activities and climate change….I did go down the rabbit hole.”

Q&A With Joyce Chua, Land of Sand and Song by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’ve always liked writing in multiple POVs. I think there’s something intimate about writing from different characters’ perspectives….When writing from multiple POVs, you get to see the story from different angles and really understand the psyche of each POV character, and you get a 360° view of the story that way.”

Interview With Illustrator Wendy Xu by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “I don’t care how crappy you are at art, you will never understand pacing or visual storytelling if you don’t…draw. Use stick figures if you have to, but piece together a story panel by panel…and you will learn what comics are about more than…writ[ing] a script and then passing it off to someone else to draw.”


Interview, Sonja Thomas from Writes With. Peek: “I use Scrivener and Microsoft Word. Scrivener has a pretty steep learning curve, but…[w]hat I love most is that it houses everything! Brainstorming notes, research, character sketches, outlines, photos, pdf files, website links, sound files…everything in one place for easy reference and access….I can easily move scenes around with the drag of my mouse.”


No Kids’ Nonfiction Bestsellers Lists from “Times,” But Advocates Press On by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Nonfiction coming out today is more narrative, emotionally engaging, and beautifully illustrated than ever, [Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello] said, adding that despite this, its long-held association with textbooks has been hard to shake….With the urgent need for information literacy, nonfiction can provide facts in an engaging and…entertaining way. ‘Kids need these books right now.’”

Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair Postponed From March to July by Porter Anderson from Publishing Perspectives. Peek: “[T]he China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair has announced a postponement of its trade show to July 22 to 24. The book fair was originally scheduled for March 20 to 22…[T]he Shanghai event looks to return to its normal schedule in November 2023, which will be the program’s 10th anniversary….”


How BookTok Changed Book of the Month’s Influencer Marketing Strategy by Phoebe Bain from Morning Brew. Peek: “Samantha Boures, who manages media and influencer marketing [at Book of the Month]…[said] the company…decided to formalize and create an influencer program around BookTok in early 2021. Since then, she said the program has continued to grow: TikTok is now the social media channel her team…spends the most time and effort on.”


Sterling Acquires Boxer Books by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Sterling Publishing has acquired Boxer Books, an independent London-based publisher of books for children up to age seven. The purchase expands the range of publishing businesses owned by Sterling…Boxer Books is dedicated to publishing picture and board books that combine inventive ideas, concepts, and storylines with a strong sense of style and design.”

The LA Review of Books (LARB) Publishing Workshop, taking place June 20 to July 22, is “an intensive summer training program for aspiring publishing professionals with an emphasis on diverse and innovative publishing opportunities.” The workshop is open to “graduating college seniors, those who have already graduated…, current graduate students, or people with significant relevant experience.” On the application, LARB offers several reduced tuition scholarships and full fellowships based on financial need. Apply here by April 15.


Little Free Library Launches Mobile App from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Little Free Library nonprofit organization has announced the launch of its mobile application, designed to help users locate registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes in their local communities and around the globe….[U]sers can locate and interact with listed Little Free Libraries by searching nearby locations, creating mapped routes, saving favorite locations,…and more.”

The Public Library Association & Pacific Northwest Spotlight: The Library Community Is Getting Together Again by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he 2022 PLA Conference, set for Wednesday through Friday, March 23 to March 25, in Portland, Ore., will be the first major library conference since Covid-19 forced much of the world into a historic shutdown…. [The PLA] conference is one of the most vibrant, popular, and well-attended ALA events, frequently drawing around 8,000 attendees or more.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Boston Public Library invites kids ages 8 to 12 to Tween Time With Author Lin Thompson. In celebration of Lin’s debut middle grade novel, The Best Liars in Riverview (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022), the BPL will be chatting with Lin and learning more about their work. The virtual event takes place March 17 from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. pacific, 3 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. central, 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. eastern. Register here.

The Silver Unicorn Bookstore presents Story Time Event With Traci Sorell to celebrate the release of Powwow Day by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (Charlesbridge, 2022). Learn about the tradition of Native American powwows with Traci, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. The virtual event takes place March 12 at 8 a.m. pacific, 10 a.m. central, 11 a.m. eastern. Register here.

SCBWI Western Washington presents Animal Representation in Children’s and Young Adult Literature, a panel discussion with Evan Griffith, J. Albert Mann, Mary Quattlebaum, and Victoria Wells ArmsSuma Subramaniam will be moderating. The virtual event takes place March 12 at 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. pacific, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. central, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. eastern.


Dreamscape Media, LLC

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Audie Awards, especially those in the Middle Grade, Young Adult, Best Male Narrator, and Short Stories/Collections categories:

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the International Board on Books for Young People’s (IBBY) Short List for the 2022 Hans Christian Andersen Award. Two winners will be announced on March 21 at the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair. IBBY is “the oldest and most highly regarded organization in the world working globally for children and books.”

Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson, who had her 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award presented to her at the 14th IBBY Regional Conference on March 4.


There are still a few Representation Matters scholarships available for the next six month session of Courage to Create, a community of courageous writers with Bethany Hegedus. “To work towards our vision of publishing as a community garden…where a variety of voices thrive, every 6 months, we will be offering the following full scholarships, which are not need-based: 4 scholarships for B.I.P.O.C writers, 2 scholarships for LGBTQIA+ writers, 2 scholarships for neurodiverse writers, [and] 2 scholarships for writers with various disabilities.”

We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House Launch Second-Annual Black Creatives Fund Revisions Workshop. Peek: “We Need Diverse Books…announce[d] the launch of the Black Creatives Fund’s second-annual Revisions Workshop, underwritten by Penguin Random House. The program supports unpublished Black writers with completed manuscripts and will feature esteemed faculty…from Penguin Random House….Twelve writers, including six Middle Grade/Young Adult…writers, will be selected….” Applications close on April 1 at 8:59 p.m. pacific, 10:59 p.m. central, 11:59 p.m. eastern. Apply here.

Paths in Publishing is a free mentorship program “to help prepare early career applicants (moving into or out of entry-level jobs) for the work of applying to, interviewing for, and navigating negotiations of new positions in scholarly publishing…Mentors from established scholarly publishing positions…review cover letters and CVs/resumes…; conduct mock interviews; offer guidance on negotiating offers…; and help early-career staff build toward promotions.” Submit requests here.

The Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Regional Advisor Scholarship. This scholarship is given every year “to a children’s book writer who has the passion and desire to pursue a career in this industry.” The chosen recipient receives a full scholarship to Austin SCBWI’s 2022 conference, a year’s membership to SCBWI, and more. SCBWI members and non-members in Texas who are pre-published and unagented may apply here until March 14.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Pre-order grand prize submission form

Terrific Heartdrum news! The first review is in for The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson, cover art by Reyna Hernandez (May, 2022).

★ Kirkus Reviews (starred): “Heart-rending and healing; a winning blend that will leave readers satisfied.”

The novel is available for pre-order, and the author is hosting a pre-order prize program. Jen says:

“One winner will get a grand prize filled with awesome things and everyone who fills out the form with proof of preorder or library purchase request will get a hand-stamped and signed bookplate as well as some other fun, flat swag.

“This is open internationally. It does not matter where you live; if you can get mail, I’ll send you swag.

“The grand prize includes an awesome, custom hand-painted leather and canvas crossbody satchel laptop messenger bag by ThemBonesShop with a super cool velociraptor fossil skeleton; a choice of either dino earrings or a necklace from Scream Pretty in sterling silver or gold (18k gold plated); and some gorgeous flat swag from Okla Chahta artist Bridgette.

“Preorders of any format of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet purchased anywhere count. As does requesting that your local library order any format of The Summer of Bitter and Sweet. You’re welcome to do both, but do not need to.”

More Personally – Suma

Next week, on March 12, I’m 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 Arms. Register early. We hope to see you there!

More Personally – AJ Eversole

I spent this past Saturday at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Irving. Two years ago, this was the last major event that I attended before everything shut down, so getting to come back made me absolutely giddy.

It was an amazing day packed with great panels. My favorite thing about this festival is that it is focused on the student experience. School buses from all over the DFW area drop students off and they spend the day attending panels with a variety of kidlit authors, then in the afternoon, there is one big author signing session.

Getting to see actual middle grade and high school kids laugh at panels and leave with arms full of books left me feeling excited and eager to get home and work on my own stories.