Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son by John Parra (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Beyond the Kindness Curriculum by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “When we teach respect, we also teach tolerance….We may not initially understand someone very different from us, but by starting from a place of respect, we create space to find common ground….So I am building a list of children’s books for a curriculum based around respect….Because when we treat others with respect, kindness usually follows.”

Amulet Books

Wildseed Witch #BlackGirlMagic by Melissa McDonald from The Creative Librarian. Peek: [Marti Dumas:] “I wrote this story for kids roughly ages 10-13 who can see themselves reflected in someone whose family is good, but not perfect, who wants to achieve a goal, no matter how small, and who wouldn’t mind waking up one day to realize that they are magic.”

Q&A With J.C. Cervantes and Tehlor Kay Mejia from Read Riordan. Peek: [Tehlor Kay Mejia:] “Much of my writing life is about my own journey of healing…I try very hard to create a path in my stories and my characters’ arcs to show what’s possible in that regard….[T]he best way we can honor our ancestors is by breaking cycles of trauma and making a new way for the next generation.”

Author Julie C. Dao On How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories by Ian Benke from Medium. Peek: “To be a good writer, you can’t…hole up in a room in pajamas and pound away at a keyboard or scribble in a notebook (as attractive as that may sound to me and my fellow introverts); you have to go out into the world and listen to conversations, observe people, learn about others’ stories,…and so on.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Samira Ahmed, Hollow Fires by Dhanika Pineda from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[E]very child deserves to see themselves as a hero on the page…I also believe that  our shelves should reflect our world….[F]or so many young people…they haven’t been able to see themselves as the hero on the page—as the astronaut, as the superhero, as the brave one. When you see it, you can be it.”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Natalia Sylvester, Breathe and Count Back From Ten by Karis Rogerson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Disabled people are vulnerable to sexual assault. I don’t think it’s talked about enough…[There’s an] underlying truth of how do we feel safe in our bodies? How do we feel like we are worthy of love and desire when we deal with all these other forces coming at us that tell us otherwise?”

Q&A With Ryan La Sala, The Honeys by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I’m a storyteller with an interest in subverting the traditionally defeatist mythology around queerness, which has sort of given me this campy, villainous aura in publishing…My mission as an author is to center queer characters in stories that only they can tell, and to create a new mythology that finds power in queerness.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Kathryn Ormsbee & Molly Brooks, Growing Pangs by Michele Kirichanskaya from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I thought that…my compulsions, like double-checking and tapping, were embarrassing behaviors that I had to hide from others….If I’d been able to see my experience reflected in a book? I would’ve felt seen, validated, and reassured….[My] hope for this book is that it provides that validation and reassurance for young readers going through similar experiences….”

Q&A With Rachel Lynn Solomon, See You Yesterday by Aleah Gornbein from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Advice for supporting people struggling with mental illness:] “Empathy is the biggest thing, along with understanding that mental illness looks different for everyone. Sometimes that means…asking, “How can I best support you?” and realizing the person may not have an answer yet….I’m so glad we’re seeing more positive discussions of mental health on the page….”

Celebrating Immigrant Muslim Mothers This Mother’s Day by Aya Khalil from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Growing up, I didn’t see myself in books until I was in high school. I am so glad my kids can easily access books with characters that look like them and relate to the struggles and victories that they face….As a Muslim and Arab mother…, I want my…kids to see themselves in books with positive portrayals….”

Magination Press

Q&A With Ann Hazzard & Vivianne Aponte Rivera, Something Happened to My Dad by Gianna Macchia from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “For mixed status immigrant families, we hope the story will reduce shame and foster hope. We also hope to counter prejudice against undocumented immigrants, both within immigrant communities and among U.S.-born families. Finally, we hope that a broad audience will embrace the story’s messages of compassion towards, and shared humanity with, immigrant families.”

In Writing Stories for Kids, Minh Lê Found a Way To “Accept and Embrace” His Own Lived Experiences by Lisa Deaderick from The San Diego Union-Tribune. Peek: “Growing up,…I was always comparing my experience to what I imagined to be truly ‘American’ or truly ‘Vietnamese’ and in doing so I always felt inadequate. Writing has helped me realize that all of our experiences are ‘true’…[W]hile my experience as a Vietnamese American may be different than others, it is no less valid.”

Writing Craft

Norman Asks | Zoraida Córdova Answers by Talia Moodley from In the Margin. Peek: “[I]n order to take someone through a journey they have to be transformed from the person they were at the beginning of the story. People have to make mistakes (in my novels) and then figure out a way to right those wrongs….I think my favorite books are the ones where the protagonists are fallible.”


Amy Lea: On People-Watching Inspiring Romance by Robert Lee Brewer from Writer’s Digest. Peek: “In my first few books,…I didn’t fully flesh out who my characters would be ahead of time. This resulted in running into multiple dead-ends plot-wise…[W]hile I didn’t need a fully fleshed out plot to begin…, it helped roughly to plan the beats and understand who my characters are and the journey they need to go through….”

In Conversation: Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Jason Griffin:] “With any project…, I always tend to make a lot. I wish I had the ability to just create the thing on the first try but that rarely happens. Creating art is a process of…allowing space for happy accidents….I always push myself to make an abundance of work, and play as much as possible….”

Author Interview: Tanvi Berwah from The Spinning Pen. Peek: “[When] drafting a first…draft—instead of thinking of the whole story, which can get overwhelming, break it down in parts. It has helped me tremendously to have four different documents, each dedicated to four parts—the beginning, part 1 of Act 2, part 2 of Act, and the ending…[I]t doesn’t have to be just four.”

Margaret K. McElderry Books

Q&A With Xiran Jay Zhao, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Nithya Ramcharan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I] had so many historical and mythical stories in my head that I wanted to tell that I didn’t need to do much extra research besides double-checking that my facts were legit. Whenever I saw an opportunity…to bring up a fun anecdote, I went for it. My first draft was actually stuffed with many more.…”

On the Importance of Getting Out Into the World with Max Freedman from The Creative Independent. Peek: “I carved out a month to write my young adult novel….I’d wake up in the morning, read a young adult novel, and then I’d have lunch, and…do some plotting on my novel…[M]aybe I’d read another novel at bedtime. I did that for a month. About midway through, I started writing more and reading less.”

Author Interview: Candice Yamnitz from The Spinning Pen. Peek: [Advice:] “1.) Learn how you best cope with criticism (You need others speaking into your story without you becoming discouraged). 2.) Have fun; it comes across in your writing. 3.) Be an always learner; your writing will suffer if you aren’t constantly learning the craft. 4.) Find a time to write and stick with it.”


Baker & Taylor Opens a New Chapter With Paw Prints by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Baker & Taylor has announced the launch of a publishing program, Paw Prints Publishing, which…will publish original book content for children ages three to eight for the library and trade markets….Diversity and social and emotional learning are at the heart of Paw Prints’ list…[Paw Prints] will release its debut titles across four series on June 28….”

Lerner Publishing, Thomson Reuters Partner on Children’s Books by Diverse Authors by Naasir Akailvi from Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. Peek: “Lerner Publishing Group and Thomson Reuters announced a partnership…that aims to publish five nonfiction books written by authors of color by spring of 2024. The Minneapolis-based publishing company will develop, publish, and distribute the books while Thomson Reuters’ Eagan-based operation will be in charge of printing services. Both companies will promote the books and authors….”

A Fundraiser for the IBBY Crisis Fund: Things We Eat, edited by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong, (Pomelo Books, 2022) is an alphabet poetry anthology including Cynsations reporter Elisabeth Norton, along with 25 other poets. Peek: “100% of the profits from this book will be donated to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund (”

The Powerful, Complex Partnership Between Publishers and Libraries by Brian Kenney from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he close relationship between publishers and libraries has always been apparent to PW’s editors….PW has always had a strong readership and subscriber base among librarians. Because libraries are not only an enormous market for publishers, they marshal hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year in support of literacy and reading.”


What Is Independent Bookshop Week? from Books Are My Bag. Peek: “Independent Bookshop Week is a celebration of independent bookshops in the UK, highlighting the vital role [they] play in their communities. The campaign…launched in 2006 by the Booksellers Association and celebrated its 15th birthday in June 2021. Independent Bookshop Week is sponsored by Hachette UK.” Independent Bookshop Week will take place June 18 to June 25.


HarperVoyager Launches Publishing’s First TikTok Creator House by Sian Bayley from The Bookseller. Peek: “HarperVoyager is launching publishing’s first TikTok creator house with eight top BookTok influencers in Hay-on-Wye this weekend. Creator houses are physical spaces where creators and influencers come together to collaborate and create content for social media. HarperVoyager will be partnering with digital influencer agency Rocket to organize its creator house….”


Why Aren’t There More Black Librarians? by Maya Pottiger from Afro. Peek: “As of 2021, only 7.1 percent of librarians are Black… [Tracie Hall, executive director of American Library Association:] “We are still in an era where upwards of 80 percent of the professional public librarians are White….[T]o remain relevant as a field,…[and] relevant with the information needs of our community, we have to become much more diverse….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Roaring Brook Press

The 2022 in-person Gaithersburg Book Festival will take place May 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg, Maryland. There will be author presentations, book sales and author signings, interactive literary activities for kids, free writing workshops, and more. Some of the numerous featured children’s/YA authors and illustrators include Carole Lindstrom, C.J. Farley, and Angela Dominguez.

The 10th Anniversary of Children’s Institute (Ci10) will take place June 20 to June 22 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona. “ABA is proud to present this 10th annual industry event filled with special programming for children’s focused and general bookstores, as well as keynotes, an author reception, and a special celebration for Juneteenth.” Ci10 keynote speakers include Danielle Greendeer, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Traci Sorell.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Virtual Summer Conference will take place August 5 to August 7. Keynote speakers include Jessixa Bagley, Dhonielle Clayton, and Donna Barba Higuera. There will be 30+ writing and illustrating breakout sessions, plus a bonus day to pitch editors/agents, and an extra illustrators’ intensive. Registration opens May 24 at 10 a.m pacific, 12 p.m. central, 1 p.m. eastern. More information coming soon at

Nancy Paulsen Books

Penguin Random House’s new Friday Zoom series, Middle Grade Munchies, begins in May. At the author events, the authors will chat with viewers about their latest books. The scheduled events include: Lauren Wolk on May 20 (register here), Hena Khan on June 10 (register here), Varsha Bajaj on July 29 (register here), and Celia C. Pérez on August 12 (register here). All events take place at 12 p.m. pacific, 2 p.m. central, 3 p.m. eastern.

Hosted by Bel Canto Books and the Long Beach Public Library, the Festival of Asian American & Pacific Islander Books will take place May 21 at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. pacific at the Billie Jean King Main Library. There will be author readings, panel discussions, author talks, kids activities, and cultural performances. Register here.


Submissions are open for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsA. Orr Grant, an award for middle grade fantasy and science fiction authors. You must be a SCBWI member and not have any works published or under contract with a traditional publishing house. The winner will receive tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference and $600 cash. Submit cover letter and first ten pages of your manuscript to

Viking Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors whose books were selected for the Summer/Fall 2022 Indies Introduce program, especially in the Kids’ Debuts category. “Each year, the Indies Introduce program brings booksellers together from across the US for conversation and connection centered around exciting upcoming debut adult, middle grade, and young adult titles.”

Congratulations to the winner and honorees of the Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award, which is administrated by an independent committee of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ members. The award is given “to the author of a promising manuscript who is dedicated to honing their craft and expanding their writing community.” The winner is Lauri Fortino for her picture book manuscript Jinpa and the Dust Cloud Dog.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 New York Society Library‘s New York City Book Awards, and especially to children’s author/illustrator C.G. Esperanza for his picture book Boogie Boogie Y’all (Katherine Tegen Books, 2021). The New York City Book Awards honor “books of literary quality or historical importance that…evoke the spirit or enhance the appreciation of New York City.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

It’s been a HUGE week for Heartdrum, starting with two new releases, and to celebrate, we’ve added materials for both to our Educator Guide.

Congratulations to Jen Ferguson on the release of her debut novel, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, cover by Reyna Hernandez (Heartdrum, 2022)(new author podcast interview!). The novel has received five starred reviews.

 BookPage (starred): “It’s moving and inspiring to witness Lou’s tenacious drive to understand, on her own terms, what family and identity truly mean.”

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

★ Horn Book (starred): “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.”

★ Publishers Weekly (starred): “In a layered first-person portrayal of a young Indigenous woman navigating the edge of adulthood, Ferguson (who is Métis and white) tackles necessary issues…through well-wrought, complicated characterizations and prose that sings with poetry.”

★ Booklist (starred): “Lou is complex, smart, and honest, and a narrator readers will trust, love, and learn from as she works to repair friendships and gain security for her treasured family.”

Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants, written by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert (Heartdrum, 2022) is the second book in the popular Jo Jo Makoons chapter book series.

Hello/Boozhoo—meet Jo Jo Makoons! Full of pride, joy, and plenty of humor, this first book in an all-new chapter book series by Dawn Quigley celebrates a spunky young Ojibwe girl who loves who she is.

Read an excerpt. Read Braiding My Past and Present in Native Children’s Literature by Dawn Quigley from HarperStacks.

Honors for the series include:

And the Heartdrum excitement just keeps coming! We’re also celebrating a new acquisitions announcement. Heartdrum will be publishing Stronger Than by Nikki Grimes, Stacy Wells and E.B. Lewis in 2025. It’s the story of a Black Choctaw boy who suffers from nightmares but finds strength in the example of his ancestors.

More Personally – Suma

I had a wonderful time at the Washington Library Association conference last Saturday.

Shout out to the local librarians who came to our Inside Story panel about new and upcoming children’s books. What would we do without them?

Personal Links – Cynthia

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