Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Show the World! by Angela Dalton, illustrated by Daria Peoples (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Roshani Chokshi Talks “Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality”…. by Karen Rought from Subjectify Media. Peek: “The idea that these stories will go on to have lives [is] beyond me….I can only control what I put on the page…[A]s far as someone’s emotional reaction, as far as someone’s response to a story, that’s not mine….[I]t’s an act of creation to see something take on other lives and other people’s ideas….”

Dutton Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Ibi Zoboi, Star Child by Christine Lively from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to let people know that hey, you probably already know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, you’re probably very passionate about it, and here’s what can happen if you stick to it. Here’s what can happen if you follow your dreams and follow your bliss….”

New Voices, New Conversations: The 2022 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference by Pooja Makhijani from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Renée Watson:] “What is most important to me are the conversations I’m having with Black children, the educators who work with them, the people who love them. I have felt successful…because I was living my dream—I’m connecting with people in a real way. That sustains me when I’m feeling…the challenges with the business side of publishing.”

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

N. Griffin: On Connecting Truth and Fiction by Robert Lee Brewer from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “I thought I had already learned that to speak is to free yourself. But not only did I have to learn that anew, this time it came with the assurance that the freedom I gain from speaking is one that I must use to help someone else be free as well.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Frederick L. Jones, Quarto’s Saturday AM by Paola M. from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’ve been telling people…that diversity is ethically, morally, and financially the right thing to do….[P]eople of color have been typically disenfranchised from opportunities, especially in leadership. So if young kids of color can’t see themselves in the material then they begin to develop a mentality that…their stories don’t matter….I refuse to let that be the situation.”

Q&A With Shirin Shamsi, Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I was the only Pakistani in my class. I never saw myself represented in books,…or anywhere really. I felt it keenly when I became a mother. I wanted to fill this gaping void—so my children would have books about their cultural heritage….I hope readers will see a positive representation of Islam and Muslims.”


Q&A With Thanhhà Lại, Hundred Years of Happiness by Yeonwoo Shim from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I like looking back, rather than science-fiction forward. With a child-refugee backstory, I speak two languages, know two cultures, have a mother who stays within a Vietnamese mind/world. So it’s natural that my interests would include themes of war, displacement, resettlement, second chances, double identities, hardship, sacrifices, redemption.”

Lisa Allen-Agostini on Support, Treatment, and Breaking the Silence: Middle Grade & Mental Health by Amanda MacGregor from School Library Journal. Peek: “Without knowing that other people endure the same feelings [of depression and anxiety]—and that there is treatment that can help—life can seem unbearable….I would like [readers] to know that a mental illness diagnosis isn’t the end of the world,…that they can form and keep meaningful relationships…and that things are not always going to be awful.”

Have We Solved the Problem of Boy Books and Girl Books? by Shannon Hale from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[M]ost of the gendered reading bias I’ve encountered is not fueled by bad intent. It’s ignorance….[O]ur cultural ideology has for so long taught us ‘girls will read about boys, but boys won’t read about girls’….[W]e’ve created a hierarchy out of the binary opposites…, asserting that the masculine is aspirational and the feminine is degrading.”

Amulet Books

Q&A With Sheela Chari, Karthik Delivers by Ashley Wells Ajinkya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Many immigrant families have worked hard to create financial stability, often through achieving academic and professional success. For me and for other children growing up under the shadow of our parents’ hard-work ethic, it felt unimaginable to throw away that security to pursue uncertain careers in writing, acting, or the other arts.”

Q&A With Sayantani DasGupta, Debating Darcy by Danielle Wilkinson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I was getting negative messaging about beauty from two sides. I was getting it from the mainstream, mostly white community that I lived in…Then on the other side, there’s colorism from within my own community….I think it’s really important to empower the next generations…to recognize the beauty of their bodies and their hearts and their minds….”

Q&A With Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick, She Gets the Girl by Alaina Lavoie from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Alyson Derrick:] “I saw people like Jenny Han and Mary H.K. Choi and Maureen Goo, and I didn’t…put myself into the same category as them….[T]hose were real Asian Americans; I was just someone who happened to look the part on the outside…But embracing that part of my identity…has been a huge part of my early adulthood.”

Writing Craft

Carolrhoda Lab ®

Whose Story, a Guest Post by Betty G. Yee by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I began with some general research…My plan was to get a sense of the milieu, create an engaging plot and interesting characters, then add the pertinent historical facts…[But in] writing historical fiction…a lot depends on whose story you want to tell….Bit by bit, I pieced together what everyday life might have been like for the sojourners.”

Q&A With Stephan Lee, K-Pop Revolution by Danielle Wilkinson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[D]o whatever you can to make yourself happy while you’re writing. I think there’s this misconception that you need to be kind of tortured to produce your best writing….I think emotions are very important in writing…but you don’t necessarily have to be living that as you’re writing. So, while you’re writing…be happy, be comfortable.”

Writing From the Heart to Get Unstuck by Mary Jane Nirdlinger from SCBWI Carolinas. Peek: “Heart writing is my name for a…type of side writing. It’s the practice of creating a meditative space to focus on creating strong emotions in my characters. As with meditation, heart-writing is worthy of your time, without judgment and…’producing.’ It begins with permission to play….[I] turn to heart-writing for story creation and to get unstuck.”

Roaring Brook Press

Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Benson Shum from KidLit411. Peek: “Sometimes [I] start with the story and sometimes with a painting. If I start with the story, I…try to imagine what the page could look like, what the layout of the spread could be while writing. But I don’t have the image completely in my head…I start to search once I put pen to paper.”

Gamification: A Cool Way to Do Nonfiction Picture Books by Roxie Munro from Nonfiction Ninjas. Peek: “For my work about architecture or places, nature and science, art, and other nonfiction or informational content, I find using ‘gamification’ as a writing/illustration technique challenging, and fun. It can impart a lot of information for children in an accessible, creative and lively way….[E]ngaging in games helps children learn, concentrate, set goals, problem-solve,…and collaborate….”

Field Notes: Teaching Flying Lessons & Other Stories by Dean Schneider from The Horn Book. Peek: “The welcoming spirit of Flying Lessons makes it an ideal vehicle for classroom writing prompts that encourage students to imagine their way into stories….I teach with…expository prompts to get students to think their way into ideas in the stories, open-ended prompts to encourage them to think for themselves, and creative writing prompts to spark imaginations….”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Laekan Zea Kemp, Heartbreak Symphony by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I need low lighting, mostly silence, small achievable goals, and frequent brain breaks. I like writing in chronological order and outlining just a few chapters ahead so there’s…plenty of room for play and discovery….[A]s a…mood-based writer, my mental state is everything. If I’m feeling rushed or anxious, it’s better to not even open my laptop….”


How Bookstores Are Celebrating Independent Bookstore Day by Courtney Wallace from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “In celebration of Independent Bookstore Day (April 30), independent bookstores have been sharing their plans including special events, speakers, and bookshop crawls….Find resources, assets, and more on the Independent Bookstore Day page. We’ve also compiled a list of ideas on to help! Here are how some bookstores plan to spend the day….”


Profitably Publishing: The Big Four Posted Strong Earnings Increases in 2021 by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he country’s four largest trade publishers…[posted] impressive gains in earnings in 2021 over 2020. The largest gain came at Simon & Schuster, whose operating income soared 51.1%…Lagardère publishing, parent company of Hachette Book Group, saw recurring EBIT jump 42.7%, while HarperCollins had a 15.5% increase in EBITDA. Penguin Random House’s operating EBITDA increased 9.2%….”

Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Every Child Deserves To Feel Seen: Close-up on Salaam Reads from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[F]ive years have passed since Salaam Reads [launched] in 2016!….When the imprint was founded, the goal was twofold: to offer Muslim children, across a wide variety of lived experiences, the chance to see themselves reflected in literature, and…to ‘plant seeds of empathy’ in non-Muslim readers. Since then, Salaam Reads has published 44 books….”


TikTok Tips From the Booktokers Reimagining the PRH Account by Kelsey Manning from Penguin Random House. Peek: “PRH Consumer Marketing team…partnered with two amazing TikTok influencers—Kimberly Nwokorie and Simone Siew—to…maximize current book sales while creating future demand for our authors and books….[Simone Siew:] ‘Explore a range of formats and figure out what your audience enjoys watching. You’ll be surprised by the content that resonates the most with viewers on TikTok.’”


Follett Changes Course on Proposed Destiny Changes…. by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek: “[Follett Destiny Library Manager] decided not to proceed with new features for their Destiny software that would have enabled parents to be notified of the books their child has checked out…and to limit their child’s access to materials….[Becky Yoose:] ‘[T]his software is being developed in such a way that makes it harder…to protect student privacy….’”

The Essential Leadership of School Librarians from the International Literacy Association. Peek: “When librarians provide texts that reflect students and their lived realities—Alfred Tatum’s…idea of “enabling texts”—they empower students to see the fullness and richness of their identities on the page. These enabling texts—when presented by school librarians—have the potential to change not only children’s relationship to reading but also their lives.”

Education/Other Resources/Events


Charis Books and Charis Circle present Ashley Woodfolk in conversation with Nic Stone as they celebrate Ashley’s new YA book, Nothing Burns As Bright as You (Versify, 2022). The book is “an impassioned story about queer love, grief, and the complexity of female friendship that will keep your heart racing, and breaking, until the very last page.” This free in-person and virtual event takes place April 11 at 4:30 p.m. pacific, 6:30 p.m. central, 7:30 p.m eastern. Register here.

Registration is open for Vermont College of Fine ArtsSpring 2022 YA/MG Novel Virtual Retreat, with master classes and lectures, sessions on techniques and tricks to enrich your writing habits, and opportunities to receive feedback on your work. Facutly includes children’s/YA author Martha Brockenbrough and agent/author Eric Smith, with YA author Tirzah Price and writer/librarian Anna Drury providing sessions on writing rituals. Register here.

Amazon Crossing Kids

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art presents Translating Picture Books with translators Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp, Daniel Hahn, Lawrence Schimel, and Helen Wang as they answer questions about being a translator and translating picture books. “Their translations are highlighted in the Reading Library exhibition, Read the World: Picture Books and Translation.” The online event takes place April 28 at 9 a.m. pacific, 11 a.m. central, 12 p.m. eastern. Register here.

The Chicago Public Library, the Zena Sutherland Lecture Committee, and the University of Chicago present the 39th Annual Zena Sutherland Lecture, presented by Yuyi Morales. The Sutherland Lecture “honors the late Zena Sutherland, Professor Emeritus and retired editor of the ‘Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.’”  The online event takes place May 6 at 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. pacific, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. central, 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. eastern.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the 2022 Green Earth Book Award Long List. The award is bestowed annually to children’s and young adult literature that “best convey the message of environmental stewardship.” The five award categories are Picture Book, Children’s Fiction, Children’s Nonfiction, Young Adult Fiction. and Young Adult Nonfiction.

Congratulations to all the books that made the 2022 Sheikh Zayed Book Award shortlist in the categories of Literature, Young Author, and Children’s Literature. The three shortlists consist of nine works from Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The Sheikh Zayed Book Award is one of the Arab World’s most prestigious prizes.


Applications are open for the We Need Diverse Books’ 2022 Native Children’s & YA Writing Intensive taking place Aug. 4 to Aug. 7 at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas. Open to Native/First Nations writers, the intensive will include the sharing of “information, resources, and contacts related to children’s and YA writing, Native book for young readers, and the surrounding publishing world.” Scholarships are available for registration and lodging. Apply here by May 1.

LitUp, by Reese’s Book Club, is offering five writer’s fellowships for unpublished, underrepresented women storytellers. The fellowships include an all-expenses-paid retreat during which fellows develop their manuscripts and learn about the publishing business, a three-month post-retreat mentorship with a published author, and marketing support from Reese’s Book Club. Apply here by May 31.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

This week I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my chapter book Indian Shoes (HarperChildren’s, 2002)(Heartdrum, 2021). The hardcover was illustrated by Jim Madsen and the paperback was illustrated by MaryBeth Timothy with cover art by Sharon Irla. Indian Shoes was one of the first children’s books centered on contemporary urban Native characters. My gratitude to everyone who has supported the book for so many years!

Indian Shoes: A Modern-Day Native Voices Snapshot from The Story Spectator. PEEK: “This provides an opportunity to discuss with readers the stereotyping that often goes with the portrayal of Native people and how we have the power to change that.”

On Wednesday, I had the honor of speaking about Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021) in conjunction with the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books & Authors.

On a related note, I’m pleased to share that Ancestor Approved has been nominated for a 2023 New York State Charlotte Award (Middle School Division). Congratulations to friends Kimberly Willis Holt (The Ambassador of Nowhere Texas (Henry Holt, 2021)) and Traci Sorell (We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know, ill. by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2021)), whose books also were nominated in that category.

In Heartdrum news, it’s a delight to congratulate Jen Ferguson on her second starred review, this one from the Horn Book, for her debut, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum, 2022).

“Young adult readers can relate to the struggles Lou is facing as she navigates her transition from high school to college, and also use them as a conversation starter about race, identity, sexuality, dating, and friendship.”

Book People You’ve Gotta Know in Austin’s Literary World by Sharyn Vane from Austin American-Statesman. Peek: [Cynthia Leitich Smith:] “[W]elcoming, effective institutions are built by dedicated, hardworking book lovers. In the creative community, we’re so much more than collegial….We’re committed not only to our own literary works, but also to lifting up one another and collaborating as leaders in the wider national and international conversations of books.”

Austin SCBWI presents Marketing Tips, Tricks, What to Do & What Not to Do with a seasoned panel that includes Cynthia Leitich Smith, Donna Janell Bowman, Vanessa Roeder, and Rebekah Manley. They are “ready to divulge all the tips and tricks they have up their sleeves for marketing books and brands.” The online event takes place April 9 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. pacific, 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. central, 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. eastern.

From my Events page: “Cynthia supports equity and inclusivity in the world of books and beyond. She is not available for any events that discriminate against marginalized or underrepresented people, either on the page or off. This includes any non-Native/non-tribal schools with ‘Indian mascots.’ For context, please read the WNDB definition of diversity.”

More Personally – Gayleen

I had a busy week out in the world: volunteering at the Travis County AgriLife Extension Demonstration Garden, working a booth at a local eco fair, and (best of all) teaching my first in-person writing workshop in more than two years! Through the Austin Public Library Foundation‘s Badgerdog program, I’m leading an ongoing reading/creative writing workshop for adults exploring Louise Erdrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Night Watchman (HarperCollins, 2020).

More Personally – Suma

My next picture book was announced in Publisher’s Weekly early this week and I can’t wait to share A Bindi Is a Dot with children everywhere!