Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Gayleen Rabakukk, Suma Subramaniam, A.J. Eversole and Gail Vannelli for Cynsations

Spotlight Image: You Matter to Me by Doyin Richards, illustrated by Robert Paul Jr. (Feiwel & Friends, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Wally the World’s Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat—Interview With Author Ratha Tep by Andrea Wang from Picture Book Builders. Peek: “I’m competitive about certain things, but not about my writing…because it’s all so personal. I can only write the way I’m meant to write, just like someone else can write in only the way she can. Writing is also so hard—it’s pulling magic out of thin air, really—that I…find myself marveling over what others create.”


Illustrator’s Studio: Michele Assarasakorn from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Peek: “I struggled at the thought of being locked into ‘one’ career path after graduating since I enjoyed doing all creative things at school….[I]t is perfectly natural to transition between creative fields as you gain experience….[P]ick the path you find fulfilling, do your best and don’t be afraid to move on if it doesn’t make you happy….”

Meet Renee Rutledge, Author of One Hundred Percent Me from Ulysses Press. Peek: “Write what you feel you want to write at the moment that you want to write it. Then put it away. Look at it again tomorrow, or months from now, and the inspiration or spark of meaning that called you will still be there. Follow it. Never stop following your sparks of meaning.”

Artist Shaun Tan Makes the Familiar Strange with Kyo Maclear from Orion Magazine. Peek: “Stories have a huge role to play…, given that every significant change that’s ever happened in human society has begun with someone telling a story, for better or worse. As artists and writers, we have a natural bias toward truth and honesty, so our stories can be strong and enduring.”

Quill Tree Books

Fun Questions With the Authors of “Whiteout” and Why It Should Be Your Next Read by Farrah Penn from BuzzFeed. Peek: “[Dhonielle Clayton:] ‘Love is messy and complicated but worth it.’ [Tiffany D. Jackson:] ‘Ain’t nothing like loyal friends you can count on.’ [Nic Stone:] ‘It’s okay not to get it right on the first try. Or…the second.’ [Angie Thomas:] ‘Don’t give up on love.’ [Ashley Woodfolk:] ‘Being brave enough to forgive can lead to unexpected joy.’ [Nicola Yoon:] ‘Love is worth all the risks.’”

Equity & Inclusion

Traci Sorell: Finding Authentic Children’s Books About Native Peoples from Reading Rockets on YouTube. Peek: “My criteria when I look at a book is ‘Who has been centered and who is this book written for?’ Second,…I look at what work this person has done….[W]riting from a place of giving those Native characters their full humanity…[is] necessary if you’re going to write a work that should be given to young people.”

Cover Reveal and Interview: “An American Story” by Kwame Alexander by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek: “For the most part, teachers are unprepared to teach difficult topics, like slavery….There should be a course called ‘How a Teacher Teaches Slavery,’ because it’s going to come up.…[Until we] deal with it, we can’t necessarily heal from it…I wanted to write a book that would give teachers an entry point into how to teach slavery.”

Rockridge Press

Multitude of Stories: 13 Native Anthologies for Middle Grade Readers by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal. Peek: “Gathered from northernmost Canada to the Mayan of Central America, these works are only a selection of the stories that exist within the Native community. They take place in the past, but also the future, to emphasize that Native peoples have been, are still, and will always be an active and indelible part our complex story.”

“Legendborn” Author Tracy Deonn Details the Importance of Black Characters in the Fantasy Genre by Kayla Grant from Shondaland. Peek: “I want people to pick up these books and see that there is a Black teenage girl whose thoughts and feelings are strong…and valid enough to drive the engine of two 500-page books. Every choice…she makes impacts the people around her and matters. I want people to have that same sense of value of their emotions….”

The Kids Are Alright: Close-Up on Nick Brooks from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[T]he [justice] system often fails Black and Brown boys, particularly in low-income communities….[S]tudents are sometimes up against things that would cripple most adults. They need more grace, more advocacy, and certainly more resources, and hopefully telling their stories will spark conversations to get them what they need.”


Interview With Jake Maia Arlow, Author of How To Excavate a Heart with Kashvi from Misty Realms. Peek: “It was super important to me to have the characters say the word lesbian truly as much as possible (it’s used 14 times in the final version…). I’ve only recently felt comfortable calling myself a lesbian…though I’ve identified with the word since I was like 18, which…says a lot about how the word itself is perceived.”

Writing Craft

Spilling the Tea: Author Suma Subramaniam on Maximizing Your Time by Suma Subramaniam from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “If I don’t…begin work at 6 am, writing will not happen. Having a day job gives me limited time to write. My family is central to everything I do, and I spend most of my time keeping everyone…comfortable. I also write at the end of the day when the family has gone to sleep.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #229: Kailin Duan by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “I mostly used acrylics…[Y]ou can apply several layers or leave them quite translucent, and also you can create different textures by rubbing them with leaves, sponges, steel wool and so on. In some places, I also used mineral pigments, which can create dense layers of subtle colors….I scanned these images and adjusted them with Photoshop….”

Candlewick Press

Behind the Scenes: Illustrating “A Life of Service: The Story of Senator Tammy Duckworth” by Dow Phumiruk from Beth Anderson, Children’s Writer. Peek: “I’ve been asked how I choose what to draw, especially in a biography spanning many years….I take cues from the text and then expand from there….I often focus on one aspect of the text on a page instead of trying to draw everything discussed. What part of a passage evokes imagery…as I read? That’s what I’ll draw!”

Happy Book Birthday to Lola Out Loud… with Tamika Burgess from Las Musas. Peek: [Jennifer Torres:] “For as long as I’ve been an author, I’ve had a job outside of books…Almost every word I’ve written has been in the couple of hours before my kids wake up and…after they’ve gone to bed. My writing life might not look like I once thought it would…[but] it all adds up to real books.”

Traditions and Tributes: An Interview With Ana Aranda with Rae Ann Parker from Parnassus Musing. “While researching the technique for the book, I was looking for a way to visually convey the passage of time. I started doing paintings and experiments based on old pictures…I buried the paintings in my friend’s garden, and I would go…water them. Some of the textures were amazing although…I didn’t end up using this technique….”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Interview With Korean American Author of Children’s Picture Books by Monthi Rosselini from Peek: [Aram Kim:] “Draw what you love and know. As a student, my teacher told me this, and I remember writing down a cat, Korea and food on a piece of paper. I also remember thinking that these were not that great to draw. But after years passed, I…realize[d] that everything I’ve done so far came from this list.”


Frankfurt 2022 From a Children’s Book Perspective by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[Kate Schafer Testerman, KT Literary:] ‘[M]any editors I met with were excited to look at both young adult and adult rom-coms, as well as…any fantasy novels with a romantic element’…Testerman was pleased to report ‘a lot of interest’ in LGBTQIA+ stories, ‘even in markets that I would have pegged previously as more conservative.’”

What Do Women (Publishers) Want? by Bethanne Patrick from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Almost all of the women-owned publishing companies exist because their founders wanted to do things that large, corporate, white-male-dominated companies weren’t interested in trying. [Nancy Traversy, Barefoot Books:] ‘[I] think that women approach things differently than men. I feel there’s maybe more empathy, compassion, and flexibility here at Barefoot….[T]he culture and creative energy…is very different….’”

Kwame Mbalia To Head New Imprint for Disney by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Freedom Fire, a new middle-grade imprint headed by Kwame Mbalia,…author of the Tristan Strong trilogy, is in the works at Disney-Hyperion. The imprint will feature stories of Black resilience and Black joy, written by Black creators, and is tentatively scheduled to debut in spring 2024….[It] is expected to publish chapter books, novels, and graphic novels.”


Library Pass’ Comics Plus Adds Image Comics by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “LibraryPass…announced a distribution agreement with Image Comics to make a range of titles available to libraries and schools through Comics Plus….Image is the third largest comics publisher in the United States, publishing award-winning comics and graphic novels….Library Pass’s Comics Plus service offers readers access to more than 20,000-plus digital comics, graphic novels and manga….”


Ways To Promote Your Book Long After the Launch by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “[M]any authors…mistakenly believe that they can only promote their book when it’s new….In reality, you can—and should—promote and market your book as long as it’s available for purchase….[Here are] things you can do to promote your fiction and nonfiction books long after the launch….Pitch yourself to the press as an expert source.”


Guadalajara Gears Up by Zaira Eliette Espinosa and Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Guadalajara International Book Fair…, which is the world’s largest Spanish-language book fair, runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 4 in the state of Jalisco…3,000 activities—including 700 book launches, readings, and lectures—are planned, and 48 countries will have stands….The Sharjah Book Authority is organizing an extensive program, including…a program for children….”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Holiday House

Brick & Mortar Books and Art by Vikram Madan present Kids’ Book Event: Vikram Madan and Suma Subramaniam. “Join us to meet Vikram Madan, author of Owl and Penguin and Bobo and Pup-Pup: The Funny Book, and Suma Subramaniam, author of Namaste Is a Greeting and She Sang for India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice for Change.” The in-store event takes place at Brick & Mortar Books, 7430 164th Ave N.E., Suite B105, Redmond, Washington on Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. pacific. The event will be simultaneously livestreamed here.

Native Ways of Knowing Webinar Series for 2022-2023 [Through May 31, 2023]. Peek: “San Diego County Office of Education and California Indian Education for All are hosting a free, Native Ways of Knowing Webinar Series. K-12 educators and leaders are invited to learn from…Native American professors, scholars, and changemakers. Participants will access free…resources to improve representations and classroom climates for teaching and learning about California’s first peoples.” Register here.

PA, BA, AAA Partner for OpenBooks Initiative in the U.K. from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “The Publishers Association, Booksellers Association and Association of Author’s Agents are collaborating on the development of OpenBooks, a series of free, accessible online events….Aimed primarily at 14- to 19-year-olds from underrepresented backgrounds, OpenBooks will showcase a range of book-related career options across publishing, bookselling, literary agenting and beyond.” Read the full press release here.


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the California Independent Booksellers Alliance’s Golden Poppy Awards 2022 Finalists, and especially to the finalists in the categories of Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Mirrors & Windows: Excellence in Children’s Literature. The awards recognize “the most distinguished books written and illustrated by creators who have made California their home.”

Meet the Finalists of the 2022 TD Prize for Canadian Literature for Children and Young People. Peek: “Communication-Jeunesse and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre…announce[d] the finalists for the 2022 TD Prize for Canadian Literature for Children and Young People. The winning title will receive $50,000. The nominated titles represent the remarkable quality of work by Canadian creators. Each nominated title has made a valuable contribution to French-language Canadian children’s literature.” The winner will be announced at a short virtual ceremony here on Nov. 15.

Writing Resources for the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards are…open for submissions! U.S. public high school seniors are invited to apply in [these] categories: the Michelle Obama Award for Memoir, the Amanda Gorman Award for Poetry, the Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word, fiction/drama, and the NYC entrant award….Here are some resources to get you started….”


2023-2024 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List Released. Peek: “The Texas Library Association’s 2023-2024 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List was announced…[S]tudents in grades 3–6 from across Texas revealed the books on the list….[It] is one of the most distinguished children’s literature lists in the country….The primary goals…are to introduce children to a variety of quality books, develop critical reading skills, and honor and encourage authors.”

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Writers’ Trust of Canada Awards, and especially to Elise Gravel, the winner of the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People, which is given annually “to the author of an exceptional body of work in children’s literature.”

Congratulations to the finalists of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s 2023 Southern Book Prize, which represents “bookseller favorites from 2022 that are Southern in nature—either about the South or by a Southern writer.” Special congratulations to the finalists in the Children’s and YA category.


Scholastic’s Art Mentorship Program is free and open to US and international unpublished and unrepresented aspiring illustrators “who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). Eligibility is at the discretion of the applicant and submitted work does not need to focus on marginalization….The program will include portfolio critiques and workshopping, professional industry expectations from a hiring standpoint, and Q&A.” Applications close Dec. 1.

The 2022 Story of the Year Contest from Storyshares. Peek: “[W]e are searching for fresh, diverse stories that are ‘easy to read and hard to put down.’ The 2022 competition will run [until] Dec. 27 and will feature four distinct categories. Winners will receive $12,000 in cash prizes, plus publication in both digital and print form. Entry [is] free, unlimited, and open internationally.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to Massachusetts librarians! It was lovely visiting with you this week. Today, I’m off to South Carolina for Y’ALL Fest.

Congratulations, Jen Ferguson! The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Heartdrum, 2022) is a YA finalist in CALIBA’s 2022 Golden Poppy Book Awards, and in a starred review, School Library Journal called the audio edition, “A sharp, eloquent, heartrending accomplishment that demands ­access in all media.” Read 20 Audiobooks Featuring Multiracial Characters for Elementary, Middle Grade, and YA Listeners by Terry Hong from SLJ.

More Personally – Gayleen

Highlight of my week was helping my granddaughter celebrate her first birthday. I even took part in her swim class! We also read a boatload of board books with The Sun Is A Shine by Leslie A. Davidson, illustrated by Slavka Kolesar (Orca, 2021) being a favorite.

More Personally – Suma

I’d love to invite the Cynsations community to my hybrid (in-person and online) book launch event this Saturday, November 12th, 2 pm at Brick & Mortar Books. Here’s a link to the livestream: 

Personal Links – Gayleen

Banned Authors to Meet with Student Advocates for Speech from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). Peek: NCAC and SCBWI “are co-sponsoring a discussion of book banning with bestselling authors whose works have been challenged and members of Student Advocates for Speech (SAS), NCAC’s new initiative to build a national network of high school free speech clubs.” The virtual event will be at 8 p.m. ET, Nov. 30. Register for the event at