Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Uncle John’s City Garden by Bernette Ford, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Holiday House, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights


Joanna Ho: Storytelling Is an Act of Love and Bravery by Lisa Bullard from Macklin Community. Peek: “It is a tremendous privilege to be able to write for young people; to connect with others through the words I put on a page. There is also a tremendous responsibility that comes with this privilege. The challenge is letting go enough to allow readers to interpret the story through their own lenses.”

Interview With Author Darcie Little Badger by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “[T]he books I read as a teenager made an incredible impact. They provided happiness and solace when I was a shy, bullied kid; they fed my imagination, encouraging me to dream; they shaped the person I was and would become. I hope that my books make a similar difference in the lives of young readers.”

Interview With Author, Illustrator, and Publisher Helen H. Wu by Lindsay Ward from Critter Lit. Peek: “Picture books have the potential to pass on the joy from generation to generation, and it’s one of the channels that children can learn about the world [from] when they snuggle on the laps of parents and grandparents. It’s a magical format that…can perfectly encapsulate a feeling, a moment, a subject, a place and time.”


Author Spotlight: Rochelle Hassan from KidLit411. Peek: “When you’re starting out, just have fun…and don’t worry…about getting feedback or getting published. Find the joy in it. Once you’ve learned joy and passion, embrace dedication and discipline. Finish your projects. You learn a lot from taking a manuscript all the way, beginning to end, including revision—no matter how flawed it is.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Dhonielle Clayton, The Marvellers (Part II) by Steve Dunk from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to remind [readers] that it is possible to create fantasy worlds that are inclusive, that are exciting. That have organic diversity and inclusion embedded in its foundation without it being about those things….I want[ed]…to remind them that we’re in community, and it’s important for us to invite more people inside of our community.”

Where Are the Arab Authors in Kidlit? by Rhonda Roumani from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Because we are not afforded our own category, we are often conflated with Muslims, or with other minority groups, such as South Asians or Iranians. We are all distinct groups. Arabs hail from 22 countries…[W]e need our own categories so that we can start to understand the range of stories that our children need to read.”

Dial Books

Q&A With Kelly Yang, Yes We Will by Yeonwoo Shim from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I was trying to find a picture book about Asian American heroes for my daughter. I wanted to read her a book that would show…the many incredible things Asian Americans are doing across all industries, so that she would know she can be anything when she grows up!…But I couldn’t find a single picture book!”

Stacy Wells (Choctaw), Children’s Author from First People’s Fund Podcast. Peek: “I think about the books that were out there for Native people for so many years. Especially [books for] kids. [They] were written by nonnative people, by white men….Native writers and creators had to push back and [say], ‘No, we’re writing our own stories.’…[We] deserve more Native writers in children’s literature.”

Four Questions for Elizabeth Acevedo by Idris Grey from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I’m from the Dominican Republic which is…80% Afro-descended. I used to get my hair straightened on a weekly basis….It was the idea of what was considered elegant, beautiful, and presentable…. I haven’t touched a hot iron to my hair, or rollers or anything, in almost a decade because I want to accept who I am.”

Astra Young Readers

Q&A With Maya MacGregor, The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maria Mayor from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I want to normalize neuroatypical behaviours…[I]t would be nice if there was more understanding and if neurotypical people would adapt to us the way we are always expected to adapt to them….[A]utistic people are very likely to also be trans or non-binary, so that intersection in particular was deeply, deeply important to me to write.”

Writing Craft

Q&A With Casey McQuiston, I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Maria Mayor from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[You] can’t write teenage characters the same way you write adults. There should be more room for them to be messy and get things wrong, because that’s what being a teenager is. They don’t need to have things figured out, or…be anywhere close….I wanted to leave room for teens to be teens to the fullest.”

Illustrator Saturday—Bhagya Madanasinghe from Kathy Temean. Peek: “I love digital illustrations, which look like those…drawn by traditional medium. I’d love to learn how to paint by watercolors and gouache. But the desire for digital illustrations have never faded…I started digital illustration with a Gamon graphic tablet in 2018, and switch[ed] to draw on an iPad in 2019. I use it ever since.”

Clarion Books

May Spotlight: Letters in the Mail by The Rumpus. Peek: [Tracy Badua:] “[M]y first published novel…is actually the sixth full one I’ve written, and whew—did I make some odd choices in those earlier stories….Every draft taught me important lessons about my own writing—that yes, plot is important, and no, you probably shouldn’t spend half a chapter describing some random, pretty tree….”

Q&A With Joanna McClintick & Juana Medina, ‘Twas the Night Before Pride by Isabel Taswell from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Juana Medina:] “I gave a lot of thought to the color scheme. Pride is a very colorful event from a visual standpoint, but at the same time I wanted to make sure…the colors didn’t feel unapproachable or oversaturated…If I had gone for fully saturated colors I might have detracted the viewer from spending more time on each page.”

Q&A With Joe Cepeda, Rafa Counts on Papá by Suniti Srinivasan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[You] hear about style and voice being a thing for an illustrator as an essential thing in their toolbox…[T]here is another element and I refer to it as grace. What that means…is that level of openness that you need to put yourself in…so you are receptive to everything that comes to you and through you….”


Salaam Reads Celebrates Five-Year Anniversary: Q&A With Editor Deeba Zargarpur and Authors S.K. Ali & Linda Sarsour by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “When executive editor Zareen Jaffery and publisher Justin Chanda launched Salaam Reads in 2016, the imprint’s goal was to offer Muslim children, across a wide variety of lived experiences, the chance to see themselves positively reflected in literature, and as Zareen said at the time, to ‘plant seeds of empathy’ in non-Muslim readers.”

Sci-Fi for Kids Is a Missed Publishing Opportunity by Emily Midkiff from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When I looked at very different libraries all across the country, I saw…[a] low supply of science fiction…[but] a high demand for it….If no adults think that children like science fiction, then no one makes it, no one sells it, and no one buys it because adults are in charge of these processes.”

Sharjah Promotes Proprietary Lit Agency from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Sharjah Book Authority…launched the Sharjah International Literature Agency…in an effort to foster further international collaboration. SILA acts as a sub-agent between local and international publishers and literary agencies to aid the purchase of translation rights. It also aims to provide a platform for local and Arabic authors to showcase their work for international audiences.”

Greenburger Associates Launches Children’s Division by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, the literary agency that is celebrating its 90th anniversary, has announced the formation of GreenburgerKids, a new division specializing in representing children’s book authors and illustrators….’We are pleased to continue to support and develop the next generation of classic books for young readers,’ Heide Lange, president of Greenburger Associates, said….”


The Changing World of Bookselling by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[B]ookselling has undergone seismic changes…embracing alternative bookstore models like nonprofits, hybrids, and cooperatives…[W]hen [BookBar founder Nicole Sullivan] purchased the Bookies children’s bookstore, she also signed papers to become a public benefit corporation…Eileen Dengler, executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, launched a five-module educational program…[so] booksellers can qualify to become certified professional booksellers.”

Sharjah Launches New Bookselling Conference from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “On May 15 and 16, the Sharjah Book Authority will host its first conference for booksellers in the U.A.E., bringing together 200 professionals—including booksellers, distributors, and publishers—from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Keynote speakers include Egyptian bookseller and author Nadia Wassef…, among others.”


Join School Library Journal for the anticipated librarians Spring gathering: Day of Dialogue. This free virtual event features author panels, conversations, and keynotes that will “keep you informed, inspired, and entertained, and provide insight into industry trends as you work to grow and diversify your collections.” You’ll hear about upcoming, exciting titles for children, tweens, and teen, and engage in Q&A sessions. Some of the dozens of presenters include Amy Sarig King, Kelly Starling Lyons, Minh Lê, and Andrea L. Rogers. The event takes place 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern on May 19. Register here.


How to Get Reader Reviews by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “That’s simple…You just have to give a copy of your book to people in exchange for an honest review. But who do you give books to? Where do you find those people? And how do you make sure they review it? Follow these five steps to getting reviews from people who will love your book.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

If you missed Cynthia Leitich Smith presenting the Vermont College of Fine Arts2022 Katherine Patterson Chair Lecture, titled “The Authorial Voice in Today’s Discourse: The Page, Podium, Platform, & Persona (Plus Nurturing Your Writer’s Heart),” you can now watch it on YouTube.

Capstone Young Readers

Reminder: Every Child a Reader is holding the first annual Floyd Cooper Day today. “Teachers, librarians, and booksellers are encouraged to hold readings of his books on…May 6.” KidLit TV has produced original videos of several well-known children’s authors reading Floyd’s books, which are on KidLit TV’s website and can be shared during this event.

The Tulsa Artist Fellowship presents Insider Info: Indigenous Creators and Their Editor Drop Kidlit Trade Publishing Knowledge. Traci Sorell (Cherokee) will moderate a discussion with author Laurie Goodluck, illustrator Madelyn Goodnight, and senior editor Karen Boss as they “share their perspectives and advice on submitting stories and art portfolios and navigating the trade publication process, including how to involve one’s Native community in both the creation as well as the release of the work.” The event takes place May 15 at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books that made the 32nd Annual Reading the West Book Awards shortlist. Reading the West was conceived “to celebrate the diversity, courage, tenacity, expertise, and indie spirit of the bookstores in the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association…[and] to promote the best of our regional authors and stories….” The winners will be announced live on Zoom on June 7 at 5 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. mountain, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register for the awards presentation here.

Scholastic Nonfiction

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Oklahoma Book Awards. The winners in the children’s/young adult category were: Run, Little Chaski! An Inka Trail Adventure by Mariana Llanos, illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson (Barefoot Books, 2021)(Childrens) and Living Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories by Dan SaSuWeh Jones, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Scholastic Press, 2021)(Young Adult).

Congratulations to the 2022 Forest of Reading Nominees for the Blue Spruce Award, Red Maple Award, White Pine Award, Yellow Cedar Award, Silver Birch Fiction Award, Silver Birch Express Award, Tamarac Prize, Larch Prize, and Poplar Prize. In this large Canadian reading program, the kids pick the winners, who will be announced at the award ceremonies taking place the week of May 17 at the virtual Forest of Reading Festival.

Congratulations to the winners of the Mystery Writers of America’s 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, and especially to Christina Diaz Gonzalez for Concealed (Scholastic Press, 2021)(Best Juvenile) and Angeline Boulley for Firekeeper’s Daughter (Henry Holt and Co., 2021)(Best Young Adult).

Random House Graphic

Congratulations to the Maryland Association of School Librarians2021-2022 Black-Eyed Susan Award Winners:

2022 B&N Children’s, YA Book Award Winners Announced by Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The winners of the Barnes & Noble Children’s & YA Book Awards have been announced. The overall winner, as well as the winner in the picture books category, is Knight Owl, written and illustrated by Christopher Denise (Christy Ottaviano Books, 2022). The winner in the young reader category is Hooky, written and illustrated by Míriam Bonastre Tur (Clarion, 2021), and the winner in the young adult category is Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen, 2021).”

Clarion Books

Congratulations to the 2022 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction finalists. “The award…[is] presented annually to the author of a young adult title…demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.” The finalists are:

Congratulations to Traci Sorell for her book We Are Still Here: We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2021) being selected as the Chautaugua Literary Arts2022 Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) Young Readers selection for Week 1: “What Should Be America’s Role in the World?” Traci will join Chataugua Literary Arts in-person on July 1 at 4:30 p.m. eastern at the Chautauqua Institution for the first ever CLSC Young Readers author presentation. See event information here.

Piccadilly Press

Congratulations to the authors whose books made the 2022 Branford Boase Award shortlist. The Award “rewards the most promising new authors and their editors, highlighting excellence in writing and publishing for children. The Award is made annually to the most promising book for children of seven and upward by a first-time novelist.” The winner will be announced July 14.


The PEN/Phyllis Naylor Grant for Children’s and Young Adult Novelists. This annual grant is offered to “an author of children’s or young adult fiction for a novel-in-progress…. [T]he award was developed to help writers whose work is of high literary caliber and assist a writer at a crucial moment in their career to complete their novel. The author of the winning manuscript…will receive an award of $5,000.” Apply for the 2023 cycle here by June 1.

Mentors and mentees! DiverseVoices, Inc’s mission is “to support and increase the number of book creators in publishing who self-identify from marginalized communities.” Their DVdebut program provides guidance to debut, marginalized book creators to help them survive the debut year. DVdebut is open for mentor applications from published marginalized book creators. Submit mentor applications here. To apply as a mentee, submit here until May 14.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Here at Cynsations, we are celebrating Floyd Cooper Day! See also our In Memory tribute post to Floyd by Rebecca Kirshenbaum.

Exciting news! The paperback editions of my Sisters of the Neversea, cover by Floyd Cooper, and Healer of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover by Shonto Begay (both Heartdrum, 2021, 2022) are now available. I’m delighted that this will make these books more affordable to young readers. Also, if you read either, please consider leaving a customer review on major retailer websites. Word of mouth (and algorithm results) can make a positive difference in connecting kids to books.

Vote! Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids (Heartdrum, 2021, 2022) is shortlisted for the Reading The West Book Awards in the Young Readers division. Vote here!

Also, be sure to check out the Picture Books and Young Adult short lists and cast your votes there, too!

Congrats to pals with books on the short lists: Darcie Little Badger, Jennifer Mathieu, and Janet S. Fox!

Reminder! If you missed my Vermont College of Fine Arts2022 Katherine Patterson Chair Lecture, titled “The Authorial Voice in Today’s Discourse: The Page, Podium, Platform, & Persona (Plus Nurturing Your Writer’s Heart),” you can now watch it on YouTube.

More Personally – Gayleen

I’m thrilled the opening of my middle grade manuscript, Canyon Home, was selected as a finalist for Austin SCBWI’s Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award by author Joy McCullough. I love her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Atheneum, 2021), which made her nomination even more meaningful to me.

Joy’s encouragement, coupled with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to allow uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, have renewed my determination to find a home for this story.

More Personally – Gail

The last few weeks, I’ve been extra busy with Kids Story Studio, a free story writing and drawing class for kids ages 8 to 10. Now into its fourth month, Kids Story Studio was founded by me and children’s illustrator Lynn Brewster. It began as a community project to serve children in the Cleveland area, but evolved into a weekly class at our local library. During class, the kids are guided to imagine, write and draw their unique and creative stories in a fun, supportive environment. At the end of each class, the kids receive a colorful picture book by authors such as Cynthia Leitich Smith, Suma Subramaniam, Sue Ganz-Schmitt, and Linda Urban. We just finished Kids Story Studio’s first month-long art exhibit, which was a resounding success. Find us on Facebook here.