Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Beautiful You, Beautiful Me by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Salini Perera (Owlkids, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Alexandra Alessandri on Multicultural Children’s Book Day IG Live with Mia Wenjen from YouTube. Peek: “One of the things that surprised me the most [when writing for children] was how much hope there is in children’s literature…There’s  something incredibly hopeful in seeing the target audience—these kids—being better than we are, and it brings me a lot of hope of…[how] much they might get things right that we didn’t get right.”

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Author Jennifer Dugan and Illustrator Kit Seaton on “Coven” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Found family is [a] common thread in all my work…[W]e see various aspects of that throughout the characters’ journeys with grief and identity. It’s important for me to show that love and support can come from even the unlikeliest places. It is out there, even if you don’t or can’t see it right away.”

Matthew Dawkins by Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen from Quill & Quire. Peek: “[W]e deserve to take up space, and no one can take that away from us….What we’re creating is art, and art is subjective. I guarantee there’s a space where you’re able to thrive, and that means you should be writing stories that make you truly, truly happy. Once you do that, you’ve already won.”

Author Chat With Linda Sarsour (We’re In This Together) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: “[W]e each deserve to share our experiences, triumphs and losses. Over the years, I gained more courage to tell my story, even in a world that…marginalized and demonized my voice. Writing forces you to set aside time, reflect and share…your most sacred moments. You learn that your story may inspire others…[T]hat becomes your biggest motivation.”

Lee & Low Books

A.M. Dassu from TresA Magazine. Peek: “Not everyone is accepted for who they are or who they want to be….I want [readers] to know that they’re not alone….[T]hough bad things happen, together we can get through them, and no matter how awful things get—there will always be someone…who is willing to work beside them to make things better.”

Equity & Inclusion

Interview With Elana Rubinstein, Author of A Donut in Time with Barbara Bietz from Jewish Books for Kids. Peek: “As a Jewish woman, I find…much meaning in intergenerational stories. Jewish people have faced so much persecution through history—but the decision of my ancestors to continue the tradition has provided me with a beautiful gift I am grateful for every day. I am who I am because of all the people who came before me.”

MacKids Spotlight: Ari Tison from MacKids School and Library. Peek: “There are so many needed, beautiful books about abuse. It was important to me to depict what comes after the stopping of an abusive cycle—the messiness of healing….[W]hen something terrible ends it can feel like everything will get better,…[but] sometimes…it takes time, community, art, and intentionality to take steps towards our own mending.”

Clarion Books

An Indies Introduce Q&A With Maggie Horne with Nicole Brinkley and Melissa Taylor from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “I think the ‘volume’ of [the protagonist’s] queerness—and my own, at that age—actually fluctuates massively….It was really amazing to get to write that experience—pretty much my exact experience, though I didn’t come out ‘fully’ until my 20s—in a book that I know would have been a game-changer for me at 12.”

Interview With Deeba Zargarpur (House of Yesterday) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: “[W]orking at [Salaam Reads] and independently writing my own stories is allowing me to unlearn so much about how I view myself and my identity. Muslim voices deserve to be seen, to be celebrated, to be the heroes of their…stories. We are incredibly diverse, with…incredible talent just waiting to make an impact on the literary landscape….”

You Only Live Once, David Bravo With Mark Oshiro with Paola M. Guerrero from YouTube. Peek: “It is my first book where I felt courageous enough to finally talk about what it’s like to be adopted [a transracial adoptee]. It is a book about an adopted kid…and he isn’t quite sure who he is or where he came from…which is very common for a lot of us who are adopted.”

Yali Books

Get To Know Anita Jari Kharbanda, Author of Lioness of Punjab with Taryn Jackson from Yali Books. Peek: “I can think back to…when I never saw people who looked remotely like me on bookshelves. I volunteer at my children’s school library, and it’s not as diverse as it could be, but I will see books with a young woman with her hijab on….We shouldn’t…have to identify it as diverse—it should just exist.”

Writing Craft

About Amélie Wen Zhao from Amélie Wen Zhao. Peek: “My method for getting published was: 1) Read a lot and study the works you love in the genre you want to publish; 2) Actually write the book; 3) Have critique partners tear the book apart—sometimes multiple times—because outside feedback is one of the most important aspects of writing a book for me.”

Interview With an Author: Lamar Giles by Daryl M. from Los Angeles Public Library. Peek: “I think the final revised version is…the best version. The book evolved and changed as most of my novels do. Bloated at first. Maybe a little nonsensical. Then each draft chips away the extra weight. I’ve compared it to eliminating the weight in a racecar to make it faster.”

Albert Whitman & Company

My Experience With R&R [Revise and Resubmit] from Mariana Ríos Ramírez. Peek: “I’m really happy that I decided to go ahead and revise this story, because it not only got better but, ultimately, it got me a book deal….When an agent/editor offers you an R&R [it] is because they see something special in your story….[and] are interested in discovering what you can do to make the story better….”

Q&A: Sophie Gonzales, Author of “Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Mimi Koehler from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “Usually when I write a book, I’ll be able to focus on the relationship and build moments around that, but with a reality show…you have to stretch the timeline out and check back in after longer gaps…[I]t was a careful balancing act of trying to show the changing feelings and growth between scenes that were often…days apart.”

Jillian Tamaki’s Picture Book “They Say Blue” Uses Color To Explore the World Through a Child’s Eyes by Nikky Manfredi from CBC Radio. Peek: “[I]t’s not like I have a lot of deep things I must say….Most of the time, it’s, ‘What do I want to draw? What will sustain me for a year because these books take a bajillion hours to do?…What kind of characters do I want to spend time with?’ Those are more important questions….”

Random House Studio

Stories That Soar: Interview With 2022 Best Books Cover Illustrator Guojing by Andrew Eliopulos from School Library Journal. Peek: “I started by sketching a storyboard…[B]ecause the book is nearly wordless, it was imperative to make sure the story was crystal clear….[Once] the story was working, I embarked on final character development and art style exploration. Once the sketches were set and the characters were resolved, I was able to start the final drawings.”


Five Easy Ways To Turn Your Book Into an Article Marketing Machine by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “One of the most efficient ways to promote your book online is through ‘article marketing.’ With this tactic, you write and share short, informative, bylined articles related to your book’s topic….The articles…aren’t about you or your book. They aren’t overtly promotional….Instead, you’re providing a preview of sorts of what people need to know from your book….”


Creative RA Campaigns for Your Library Shelves by Karen Jensen from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “Sometimes, creative RA ideas come to me. Other times, I feel like I’m…drawing a blank; like I’ve already done every display idea or RA theme I can think of. In those moments, it’s nice to get inspiration from others. Today I am sharing with you some recent RA campaigns from others that have inspired me.”


Charlesbridge Publishing Acquires Move Books by Emell Derra Adolphus from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[C]hildren’s book publisher Charlesbridge Publishing has acquired middle-grade book publisher Move Books, launched in 2011 by Eileen Robinson with the aim of increasing literacy rates among boys. Robinson…[will] form a new middle-grade imprint called Charlesbridge Moves. [Robinson:] ‘[O]ur books grow and sustain an appetite for reading, especially with boys and reluctant readers.’”

Publishers Discuss Ways To Serve a Diverse Market by Diane Patrick and Calvin Reid from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The efforts of the book publishing industry to acknowledge and embrace the complexity of American society, and to publish high-quality, diverse lists of fiction and nonfiction reflecting that complexity, continue to grow….This survey of adult, children’s, and young adult publishing is an effort to make the standards and range of these books known and easily available….”


YA Does YA at Annabelle’s Book Club L.A. by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Teen books attract an avid school-age readership, but seldom does an actual teenager establish a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Annabelle’s Book Club L.A.…stands out for its hot pink façade, its YA-focused inventory, and its 16-year-old proprietor….Although her primary interest is in YA books…, she carries general interest titles along with picture books, graphic novels, and other kids’ fare.”

Shop Indigenous-Owned Bookstores…. from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “As Native American Heritage Month winds down, here are Indigenous-owned bookstores (including Native Hawaiian- and Pacific Islander-owned stores) you can shop [at].” Store names and links provided.

Education/Other Resources/Events

If you were unable to attend the LibraryCon Live! free virtual event on Nov. 17, the sessions and exhibits are available on demand until Feb. 18, 2023. You can still see author panels, keynotes, learning sessions, and studio spotlights. Register here to access LibraryCon Live! on demand.

Zoom with an author or illustrator on World Read Aloud Day Feb. 1, 2023. Teachers and Librarians: Children’s author Kate Messner has a list of author volunteers for virtual visits via her email newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.

The National Museum of the American Indian presents Becoming a Native Knowledge 360° Educator: Telling More Complete Narratives About American Indians with Teacher Services Coordinator Renée Gokey and Museum Program Specialist Bert Correa. “[E]ducators will learn about…Native Knowledge 360°. Components…include a focus on land acknowledgements, best practices regarding terminology when referring to Native Americans, and…ways to teach more complete narratives about Native people….” The webinar takes place Dec. 6 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern.


Scholastic Press

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsRussell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World: Freedom! The Story of the Black Panther Party by Jetta Grace Martin, Joshua Bloom, and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. (Levine Querido, 2022) and The Tower of Life: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Susan Gal (Scholastic Press, 2022). The winners receive $2,500 plus $1,000 to purchase copies of the winning book for distribution to schools and libraries. This award is presented by the newly-formed Impact and Legacy Fund, SCBWI’s charitable and community service division.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made NPR’s Books We Love! list, especially in the categories of Kids’ Books and Young Adult. “NPR’s biannual, interactive reading guide—is back for its 10th year with 400+ books published in 2022…. Discover the books that comforted, challenged, and captivated us this year.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Shelf Awareness’s 2022 Best Children’s & YA Books of the Year. The books “encompass age ranges and genres. Included are gorgeously illustrated picture books that cover everyday experiences—both nonfiction and fiction—as well as stories of mythic proportions and cat-sized fears. Our middle-grade and young adult titles include fiction and nonfiction that embrace courage, despair, terror and triumph.”

Feiwel & Friends

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2022, especially in the categories of Kids and Teens. The library’s annual recommendations are curated by the library’s expert librarians.

Congratulations to the NCTE 2023 Children’s Book Awards winners: The Charlotte Huck Award (outstanding fiction for children): Wayward Creatures by Dayna Lorentz (Clarion Books, 2022); The Orbis Pictus Award (excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children): Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022); and The Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children: Georgia Heard. Congratulations also to the Honor Books and Recommended Books.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made School Library Journal’s Best Books 2022 in the categories of Picture Books, Chapter Books, Middle Grade, YA, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Graphic Novels. “We hope that you find a lot to cherish in these 155 titles. Above all, we hope that every one of your readers will find among these pages that thing that rings true, sparks something inside, and shines a light in the darkness the way only a book can.”

Scholastic Inc.

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Chicago Public Library’s 2022 Kids Best of the Best Books lists, in the Kids categories of Board Books, Picture Books, Fiction for Younger Readers, Informational Books for Younger Readers, Libros en español, Fiction for Older Readers, and Informational Books for Older Readers, and also in the Teen categories of Teen Fiction, Teen Nonfiction, and Teen Graphic Novels and Manga.

The Best Children’s and YA books of 2022 by Karen MacPherson from The Washington Post. Peek: “My assignment: to choose the best 15 kids’ and teen books of 2022 in three categories—picture books, books for middle-grade readers ages 8 to 12, and books for teens. My take: There’s an absolute bumper crop of great books this year, so I’ve chosen 15 that are favorites of mine.”

Congratulations to the winners of the School Library Association’s 2022 Information Book Award in the age categories of 0-7, 8-12, and 13-16. “Now in its twelfth year, the IBA aims to emphasise the importance of non-fiction by highlighting and celebrating the high standard of children’s information books…. As well as the judges’ choices, children have also had the opportunity to vote for their favourite book from the shortlist in order to determine an additional Children’s Choice winner in each age category, and one overall.”

Penguin Workshop

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made Kirkus Review’s Best Picture Books of 2022, in the categories of For Animal Lovers, Funniest, About Families, That Celebrate Community, Nonfiction, Biographies, Board Books, To Spark Conversations, Most Empowering, About Nature, and To Inspire Budding Artists. The list of 2022 Best Middle-Grade and Young Adult Books will be released on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, respectively.

Scholarships/Special Free Services

Traci Sorell, children’s book author and Cherokee Nation citizen, has partnered with the Highlights Foundation to raise funds for the Native Creative Scholarship to help Native storytellers share their works. The Native Creatives Cabin provides a space where creators can be immersed in books by Native Nations writers and artists. A Native Creatives In-Community Retreat will be held Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, 2023.

Binc Launches Mental Health Wellness Program from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “The Book Industry Charitable Foundation is now offering two months of free therapy to booksellers and comic retailers through its Mental Health Wellness Program…Through the program, booksellers and comic retailers can receive two months of free therapy…through a partnership with the online mental health platform BetterHelp…. [F]ill out a short application on Binc’s website [100% confidential].”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Thank you to everyone who lifted up Native voices and visions in books for young readers during Native American Heritage Month. Please be sure to continue supporting Indigenous children’s-YA literature year round. I have two upcoming releases from Candlewick, the YA novel Harvest House in the spring, and book one in the Blue Stars middle grade graphic-novel series, co-authored by Kekla Magoon, illustrated by Molly Murakami, in the fall. In addition, 2023 promises to be a huge year at Heartdrum. You can already pre-order Just Like Grandma by Kim Rogers and Julie Flett; Heroes of the Water Monster by Brian Young, cover art by Shonto Begay; and We Still Belong by Christine Day, cover by Madelyn Goodnight.

As of this week, I’m done with author-speaker events for the year—Mosaic Changemakers, it was a pleasure!

Sending good vibes to my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA advisees! Hang in there! You’ve got this. You’re almost across the semester finish line.

On a more somber note, the author community lost Ellen Wittlinger on Nov. 22. Ellen was always so warm and kind to me. I’m saddened by her loss and offer my heartfelt sympathies to her friends, colleagues, and readers. You can learn more about her life from this obituary by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly.

More Personally – Gayleen

Last week I was thrilled to learn the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted unanimously to rename “Indian Garden” campground in Grand Canyon National Park as “Havasupai Garden.” Havasupai people lived in the area thousands of years before being forcibly removed when the national park was created in 1926.

Photo from my last visit to the canyon.

I hope this is just one step in acknowledging and addressing our nation’s complex history. Currently, the Havasupai lead a battle in protecting the canyon from uranium mining. My current work-in-progress is set at the canyon and touches on these topics.

More Personally – A.J

Nano update! Didn’t win in the traditional sense, but I’m celebrating all victories and I’m proud of the progress I made.

Personal Links – Cynthia

Member Interview: Sean Petrie from Austin SCBWI. Peek: “Our Monthly Member Interview Series continues with Sean Petrie, author of Pet Poems (Also Not Just Pets), published by Burlwood Books, and 2022 Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Bronze Medalist. You may know Sean as the founder of Typewriter Rodeo or from his other books for kids, including the Jett Ryder adventure-history series, Jollyfish Press. Besides an MFA in Writing for Kids from Vermont College, Sean is a professor of legal writing at the University of Texas Law School.”

Personal Links – Gayleen

The Year We Banned Books by Michael Agresta from Texas Monthly. Peek: “…school librarians now find themselves cast as enemies of a populist movement that distrusts credentialed expertise and aims to advance right-wing social and political priorities in spheres of public life in which partisan aggression was, until recently, rare.”