Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Suma Subramaniam, AJ Eversole and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: Dadaji’s Paintbrush by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane (Levine Querido, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q&A With Christina Soontornvat and Rahele Jomepour Bell, To Change a Planet by Thushanthi Ponweera from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:[Christina Soontornvat:] “[O]ne person can make a difference. It’s so easy to get discouraged and feel small because the world’s problems can feel so big. But as we have seen time and again, when it comes to making a change in the world, one person matters. One person can be the spark that starts the fire.”

Greenwillow Books

A Message to My Younger Self, a Guest Post by Erin Entrada Kelly from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “Every time I write and illustrate a new adventure…, I’m reaching back thirty-five years, whispering to a younger version of myself, saying: You are not invisible. You are not alone. We’re never too young—or too old—to get that message. And it’s never too late to hear it.”

“Don’t Look Back”: A Sudanese Refugee’s True Story of Survival—and Arrival by Sarah J. Robbins from Publishers Weekly: “[Achut Deng] hopes that readers of her book can find a way to be open to life—to feel their pain and then let it go. ‘If you are going through a tough time in high school, you can say, well, if she managed to get out of that situation, I can too.’”

Q&A With Brynne Barnes, Black Girl Rising by Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I think literacy success looks like all children everywhere being able to pick books from the shelves in which they can see themselves, their faces, their neighborhoods, their families and friends, their whole worlds right there on the page. This is my goal for every book that I write….”

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Q & A With Sherri Winston by Erika Hardison from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Y]ou want to do one thing and the voice that’s making you want to write a story is trying to guide you to do something else. Maturity comes when you finally learn to listen to that voice. And I realized that the 12-year-old me had more to say than the adult version of me.”

Author J. Elle Middle Grade Ninja Episode 179 with Rob Kent from YouTube. Peek: “I’m constantly learning and relearning and unlearning. I just feel like I’ve learned so much [with] each book. I still feel like I have so far to go and I think…the most exciting part about being an author is that with every book, I’m having fun but I’m also teaching myself things….”

Equity & Inclusion

Q&A With Liselle Sambury, Blood Like Fate by Victoria Finney from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “Black characters, Black girls, weren’t usually present [in books I read as a teenager], and if they were, they were kind of a sassy best friend. They didn’t get a love interest, they didn’t get a lot of character development, and they…didn’t get to be the hero….I wanted to write a book where that was absolutely the case.”


Four Native American Creators Weave Together the Story of Keepunumuk, The Time of Harvest by Danielle Ballantyne from Foreword Reviews. Peek: [Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, Alexis Bunten:] Peek: “We want…[readers] to see that First Nations (and Native American) people are still here. We are vibrant and cultural people. Through the book’s imagery and storytelling, it shows…our language and our histories have persevered from first contact…It shows that our children learn from our elders and carry forward those lessons to pass down to future generations….”

Q&A With Guadalupe García McCall, Echoes of Grace by Kaley Kiermayr from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I think the canon has evolved considerably in the last century, becoming more open to the stories of crimes against women in recent decades….I believe that in writing about sexual assault and other crimes against women, we are…honoring wisdom and courage by speaking truth for the sake of a healthier, more sustainable society.”

Q&A With Francesca Padilla, What’s Coming to Me by Nithya Ramcharan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I wanted to write a story about things I…experienced as a kid—at first, just to get it out. Then I had the sudden idea for this badass, freedom-obsessed, bleached-blonde Latina, and it grew from there. I never really felt like I was building [the main character’s] character, more like uncovering different aspects of her.”

Wednesday Books

Q&A With Dahlia Adler, Home Field Advantage by Aleah Gornbein from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[T]he truest version of the story did not have a friendly environment to the queer characters. It makes me much gladder that I went with the truer version rather than the fluffy version because you never want to make kids feel like their reality has to be erased for a good, happy story.”

A Black Girl. A Black Book. An Accidental Book Shunning by Lakita Wilson from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[I]n the 90s….[t]here were no Black books in the [library’s] children’s section …Technically, there were books with Black people on the cover….[W]hite books were in abundance and were for casual reading. The Black books were for educational purposes…I write widely for the next generation of readers who deserve more access to books that reflect who they are….”

Q&A With Sana Rafi, A Mermaid Girl by Khadejah Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “It was so easy to be a Muslim in a Muslim country…Celebrating Eid was so joyful, and I embraced all those traditions as a child because that was the norm…Once I left that bubble,…I missed how easy a community makes celebrations for you and how difficult it is to get that in a foreign place….”

Writing Craft

Levine Querido

Interview With Emi Watanabe Cohen, Author of The Lost Ryū with Barbara Bietz from Jewish Books for Kids…and More! Peek: “I had a basic understanding of modern dragon lore going in. Research-wise, my approach was primarily anthropological. The [book] is about creatures of myth, but also about how those myths…contribute to nationalist identity-building. While drafting, I read up a lot on the use of folk icons in propaganda, both in prewar Germany and in Japan.”

B.B. Alston on Inspiration…and His Sensational New Middle Grade Novel, Amari and the Great Game by Kate Oldfield from United By Pop. Peek: “So much of the stuff in the book is just me thinking what will be really cool right here and…let me find a way to put that in the story. The hardest part is probably taking stuff out…because I tend to under write and add as I go along.”

L.A. Libros Fest: Interview With Donna Barba Higuera by Llyr Heller from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “I am a daydreamer. Sometimes I am trying to finish a book or story, and my mind wanders. I wonder, ‘What if this happened instead?’ Sometimes those wandering ideas are better than what I’ve written, and I have to rewrite entire parts of my book….That is why I am not the fastest writer.”

Running Press Kids

Author Natasha Deen on the Five Things You Need To Be a Successful Author or Writer by Kristin Marquet from Medium. Peek: “I found breaking goals into bite-sized pieces (I write for fifteen minutes…then take a break), giving myself space to be awful with the writing…, and giving myself rewards for trying my best was the way to overcome writer’s block, the anxieties about the story, [and] the worry about if anyone will want the book….”

Interview: Zoulfa Katouh Talks, As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Amani Salahudeen from Pop Culturalist. Peek: “I’m a pantser….[A]t first, I let the words flow out and I discover the book as a reader…After I’m done comes the editing part, which means I break down the chapters to see what fits and what needs to go….[This] involves a lot of tears and mourning to see my beloved scenes and words go away!”

Dhonielle Clayton: Future of Magic from Locus Magazine. Peek: “If I were able to show you my first draft, you’d be like ‘Ooh! Yikes. What is going on?’ I skeleton and vomit it out,…then craft and clean it. I keep cleaning, and read out loud, and listen for the rhythm and the beats, and think about long sentences and short sentences and mood and pacing.”

Viking Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Anoosha Syed, That’s Not My Name! by Khadejah Khan from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[M]y process is I’ll brainstorm text with a big word-vomit of ideas, then…draw the art—that’s where I find my storytelling really shines. After, I’ll go back to the text and refine it. That’s something I like about this process: because I’m both an author and illustrator, the art affects the text and vice versa….”


Random House Announces Inaugural List for Labyrinth Road Imprint; Q&A With Vice President and Editor in Chief Liesa Abrams from School Library Journal. Peek: “Random House Children’s Books…announces the inaugural Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 lists for Labyrinth Road, a new imprint…[Vice President/Editor in Chief Liesa Abrams:] ‘Labyrinth Road is a home for books about epic journeys…that allow readers to explore our world and imagined worlds….[T]he imprint will publish primarily middle grade series as well as select high-concept literary YA novels.’”

Levine Querido Launches Lantern Paperbacks by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Levine Querido has entered the paperback arena with the introduction…of Lantern Paperbacks. The inaugural list features seven middle-grade and YA titles originally released in hardcover by LQ…Like LQ’s hardcover titles, Lantern Paperbacks are distributed by Chronicle Books. The new imprint will release 10 titles annually, initially focusing on middle grade and young adult….”

Levine Querido

LQ to Debut Ediciones Levine Querido by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Levine Querido has announced the creation of Ediciones Levine Querido, an imprint dedicated to bringing high-quality literature for young people to Spanish-language readers through collaborations with authors, illustrators, translators, and publishers from around the world. The new imprint…will release between four and six titles annually, ranging from picture books to YA fiction.”

Spotify Makes a Bet on Audiobooks by Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris from The New York Times. Peek: “Spotify made the lucrative audiobook market more competitive…when it debuted a new hub on its app with more than 300,000 titles…Spotify’s move into audiobooks could reshape what has become a rapidly growing category for publishers….Many in the publishing world are hopeful that Spotify will convert some of its users into audiobook lovers.”


PRH and TikTok Partner on New In-App Feature from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “TikTok has partnered with Penguin Random House to create a new in-app feature allowing users to link to PRH titles directly in their video captions….Users can tag…the PRH titles available in their respective country. Once the video is posted, the selected title(s) will be featured above the video’s caption. An explainer video…can be found here.”

Open Road Launches Middle Grade, YA Program from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Open Road Integrated Media has launched the Fall Hardcover Discovery Initiative, which is aimed at giving exposure to new middle grade and YA hardcovers this fall. Under the discovery program, publishers can promote up to five middle grade or YA hardcovers, which will be featured in four spots across Open Road’s digital properties….”


CALIBA Focuses on Children’s Authors and Social Justice by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The California Independent Booksellers Alliance held its Fall Fest…[that] included two panels featuring children’s and YA authors….[The Allyship and Activism in Children’s Books] panel asserted [that] bookstores can feature diverse books through the events they host, the titles they recommend, and the debuts they celebrate. They can partner with churches, community centers, and apartment-building community rooms….”


Nominations Open for 2023 School Librarian of the Year from School Library Journal. Peek: “Sponsored by Scholastic, the annual award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies.” Nominations close Dec. 5.

Education/Other Resources/Events

Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Simon & Schuster’s free virtual 2022 AuthorFest will take place Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. pacific, 5 p.m. mountain, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. “Each season Simon & Schuster partners with book festivals nationwide to present insightful panel discussions between celebrated authors.” The featured authors, John Irving and Jason Reynolds, will discuss “Identity: In Fiction and in Life.” Visit the fest site to register with one of the partner book festivals.

Penguin Young Readers and Booklist (an American Library Association publication) present “Celebrating Indigenous Stories and Storytellers” with Traci Sorell and David Treuer as they discuss their new books. This free event takes place September 28 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Virtual BookFest @ Bank Street will take place Oct. 15 from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. pacific, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. central, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. eastern. Peek: “BookFest is an event devoted to the celebration, discovery, and discussion of books for children and teens. This event, designed for adults, features luminaries from the children’s literature community. Authors, illustrators, editors, reviewers, and scholars will take part in panel discussions and breakout sessions.” Donna Barba Higuera is the keynote speaker. Register here.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Little City Books presents a Launch Event for My Diwali Light by author Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022), with reading, conversation and signing with the author. The free event takes place Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. eastern at Little City Books, 100 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken, New Jersey.

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) presents the 2022 Education Sovereignty 53rd Annual Convention & Trade Show on Oct. 5 to Oct. 8 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “NIEA and Partners will host a variety of PD sessions that encompass critical topics for PK-12 educators.” The Keynote Panel: Native Representation in Literature & Media, includes children’s authors and illustrators Traci Sorell, Kim Rogers, Steven Paul Judd, and Madelyn Goodnight.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books were nominated for 2022 Connecticut Book Awards. Peek: “The 2022 Connecticut Book Awards recognize the best books of 2021 either about Connecticut or by authors and illustrators from Connecticut. Categories include: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Books for Young Readers [Picture Books—Nonfiction, Picture Books—Fiction, Middle Grade—Nonfiction, Middle Grade—Fiction, Young Adult—Fiction].”

Levine Querido

Congratulations to the children’s/YA winners of the Washington State Book Awards 2022: Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand by Jennifer Bradbury, illustrated by Sam Boughton (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2021)(Picture Books), Mighty Inside by Sundee Frazier (Levine Querido, 2021)(Books for Young Readers), and Little Thieves by Margaret Owen (Henry Holt and Co. (BYR))(Books for Young Adults).

The 2022 Kids’ Book Choice Awards, launched in 2008 by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader, are open for voting. These awards are the only national book awards voted on solely by kids and teens. Voting ends Nov. 13.

Scholarships & Grants

Applications are open for We Need Diverse BooksEmergency Fund for Diverse Creatives and Educators, which offers “emergency grants to diverse authors, illustrators, publishing professionals, and K-12 educators who are experiencing dire financial need.” Grants range from $500 to $1,000. See website for eligibility guidelines.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to St. Edward’s University for hosting me and fellow Austin author Chris Barton yesterday evening! I enjoyed chatting about reading, writing, and the importance of inclusive representation in books for young readers.

Of late, it was my pleasure to blurb Man Made Monsters, written by Andrea L. Rogers and illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Levine Querido, 2023). “Fierce, fantastic, ingeniously Indigenous. Smashes all expectations. I felt my teeth getting sharper with the turn of every page.”

In my book news:

In Heartdrum news:

More Personally – Gayleen

We welcomed our first official customers to our Bed & Breakfast last weekend! On the writing front, I’m very excited about my new middle grade WIP.

More Personally – Suma

I’m so excited to be on a panel at The Writing Barn this week.

And in case you missed my interview with the amazing Betsy Bird of School Library Journal, read about the making of She Sang For India here. To preorder She Sang for India, click here.

More Personally – AJ

One of my absolute favorite podcasts on writing is back with their first episode of the new season. Zoraida Cordova and Dhonielle Clayton do an amazing job touching on a variety of topics in the writing world.

Personal Links – Cynthia

Annette Dauphin Simon’s Book Spine Poetry from Lit Hub.

Personal Links – Gayleen

It’s a Book, Not a Belief System by Shirley Robinson from Texas Library Journal.

Personal Links – Gail

Books to Kickoff Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month from Stories of a Colorful World.