Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Magic: Once Upon a Faraway Land by Mirelle Ortega (Harry N. Abrams, 2022).

Author/Illustrator Insights

STEM Tuesday—The Science of Art—Author Interview With Karen Latchana Kenney by Mary Kay Carson from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “[A] big part of my interest in writing about STEM topics is my desire to promote respect and awe for the wonders of our world. I hope that my books will help kids have more respect for the environment and see what may have become mundane in the natural world in a new and exciting light.”

Balzer + Bray

Mapmaker by Lisa Moore Ramée with John Schu from MrSchuReads. Peek: “Story is quite simply magic. It is where many, many of us escape to when reality is difficult, or maybe just a dud. I’m amazed at how I can get a book—for free if I’m at the library—and journey all over the world, or into the cosmos or to a completely different land/time/reality.”

Debut You: A 2022 Debut Author Series: Lala Watkins: Little Santa’s Workshop from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “I love writing for children…Kids enjoy reading and learning, and if they see something they love reflected in that, it impacts them for the better. My goal is to add joy and play to the publishing world—to inspire and make it fun for those who love to read.”

A Video Interview With Kekla Magoon from Reading Rockets. Peek: “Books are entirely about empathy. They are a way of diving into someone else’s mind and heart, whether it’s the mind and heart of the author or…of the characters or both….[T]the more you experience the world through someone else’s perspective, the more you see that there are…these beautiful diverse perspectives in our world….”

Equity & Inclusion

Delacorte Press

In Conversation: Isabel Wilkerson and Beverly Horowitz from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Teenagers can identify with the need to belong. If you’re going to a new school, you have to learn who’s in and who’s out, and who are the popular people and who are the outsiders…[W]e are all accustomed to having to…find a place to belong. No one wants to be on the bottom.”

My Interview With Middle-Grade Author & Kindness Advocate Torrey Maldonado by E Train from YouTube. Peek: “By the second grade I had stopped reading….I didn’t hate books but I did think that books hated me….I loved reading but I didn’t feel like the books loved me because I didn’t find a lot of books that had characters of color in them…[or] that had neighborhoods like the neighborhood…I grew up in.”

MacKids Spotlight: Nick Brooks from MacKids School and Library. Peek: “I’d like [educators] to understand that Black and Latinx boys in the education system are often misjudged, misdiagnosed, mishandled, miseducated and/or downright mistreated. In addition to giving our students more grace, we as educators, allies and advocates must challenge the existing Education-Industrial Complex and support our children in ways they deserve.”

Bloomsbury YA

Interview With Author Naz Kutub by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “This was the first time I decided to write a character that reflected me and my cultural upbringing, while allowing myself to infuse a ton of my lived experiences, along with the people I’ve known throughout my life…And I’m glad for it, because it got the attention of my agent, and…sold in a two-book deal.”

Ashley Bryan and Jerry Pinkney: Unfettered Artists Sharing Their Talents, Visions, and Joys by Violet J. Harris from The Horn Book. Peek: “Bryan’s beliefs about cross-racial and cultural interactions were cosmopolitan and transformative. He embodied the idea of fluidity, in and out of cultures nurtured by respect, honor, and connection, intellectual and spiritual. Black artists and writers were integral to cultural interaction in publishing. Bryan stated, ‘When Blacks opened the door, it’s opened to everyone.’”

Edmonton Author Lands Publishing Giant for Picture Book Celebrating Black Children by Kashmala Fida Mohatarem from CBC Radio. Peek: [Rahma Mohamed:] “I never saw myself in…the books that I read and I really struggled not seeing representation…. I felt that there was a gap in the market for Black, Muslim children representation…. I felt that this message [that Black, Muslim children are loved and matter] was something that needed to be read by a lot more people.”

Writing Craft

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Interview/If Your Babysitter Is a Bruja from Of Maria Antonia. Peek: [Ana Siqueira:] “I tried writing this story in the third and first person. I love writing in the first person. But something was not right. It was maybe too scary….[W]hen I tried writing it in the second person…[t]his voice allowed me to transform this story into a fun story without being so scary.”

Learning How To Cope With Rejection Is an Essential Skill in the Publishing Industry from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Peek: “What helps me: having an inspirational board. This is a corkboard I pass by every time I enter my basement studio, and one I tweak constantly. It currently includes notes of congrats or encouragement from family and friends and people I’ve worked with, art and letters from young readers,…and more.”

Ghosts of the Great Wall​ from Ying Chang Compestine. Peek: “[W]riting a story is like developing a recipe with a Yin/Yang balance, offered with a beautiful presentation, and most importantly, to be deliciously satisfying. In a well-written story, a strong protagonist needs to be balanced by a strong antagonist; a great injustice should lead to a grand revenge. The story should be fast paced and character-driven.”

Harry N. Abrams

Interview With Author Kacen Callender by Michele Kirichanskaya from Geeks Out. Peek: “[W]ith every book…I have to…figure out what the process is going to be. It changes from book to book, with some stories requiring a strict outline, and others needing more of a flow. My favorite process is when there’s…an outline that allows for flow and surprising new storylines in between every planned plot beat.”

Interview: Author, Editor, Activist Saadia Faruqi from Hayat Life. Peek: “Collaborating is definitely challenging, because you are working with another person who has their own…writing process. So we spent a lot of time getting used to each other’s styles and preferences, and discussing how to work,…and so forth. The best part of co-writing is learning a different way of doing something, which can be so eye-opening.”

Do You Have the Right Writing Wheels? from Shirin Yim Leos. Peek: “I write with Scrivener….[B]ecause of the ease and power provided by Scrivener, [for my recent books] I moved scenes. I moved chapters. Importantly, I merged scenes into beats so that I could go back and edit each lump into appropriate beat length, no matter how many scenes I’d stuffed that beat with.”

Inkyard Press

Q&A: Rebecca Carvalho, Author of “Salt and Sugar” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “I tried cooking and baking so many Brazilian dishes, you have no idea. I studied recipes. Most of the fried dishes were a big fail…. But I made many batches…just getting a feeling for what challenges my super clumsy main character would experience when baking for the first time. I also read many books on kitchen dynamics.…”


Let’s Get Engaged: How to Use Social Media Effectively by Amy Rogers Nazarov from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “Today’s authors and writers have available to them a…bottomless resource of inspiration, prospective readers, generous colleagues, tips on editing and selling, leads on relevant podcasts, and…more. This free tool is social media…. My rule of thumb for the amount of content you create versus the amount of content you engage with: 1 to 5.”


An Interview With Middle School Librarian Erin Wyatt by Natalie Rompella from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “[W]orking in a middle school…it seems like there is a gap of books for those readers who are upper middle grade or lower YA….[T]here is a need for more stories…with characters who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ+ [and] disabled, and…for more stories in these genres being written by authors from historically marginalized groups.”


Make Yourself at Home: Meet the U.S. Team at Nosy Crow Inc. from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Nosy Crow…is expanding into North America with the 2023 launch of Nosy Crow Inc. The…company will continue to publish vivid, expertly designed, and delightfully written and illustrated books for infants through middle graders….[Ally Russell:] ‘When readers see our gruntled crow on the spine…, we want them to associate our brand with humor, curiosity, and charm….’”

Canadian Distributor Thomas Allen & Son to Close from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Canadian publisher and distributor Thomas Allen & Son, which…is the oldest, family-owned and -operated book distributor in Canada, will be closing at the end of March 2023….Effective April 2023, Firefly Books Ltd. will be the Canadian distributor of many of the publishing companies that Thomas Allen & Son currently represents in the country.”


Dr. IndigiNerd on Creating the World’s Only Native Comic Book Shop by Tai Gooden from Nerdist. Peek: “Red Planet Books & Comics…[is] Native-owned…[and] the only comic shop in the world that strictly publishes and sells comics by Indigenous creators. [It] provides a unique space and platform for Indigenous creatives to amplify their work….[Dr. IndigiNerd:] ‘I wanted to really change the perceptions and representations of Native and Indigenous people in popular media.’”

Binc Foundation’s Board Members Launch Matching Donation Challenge from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “Noting that the Penguin Random House matching gift challenge for the year-end Read Love Support…campaign has been met, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation‘s board members are now offering a second matching donation challenge to help Binc reach $100,000 or more…before December 31. The…board will be matching all gifts dollar for dollar, up to a total of $5,000….”

U.S. Booksellers Embrace Books in Spanish by Nathalie op de Beeck from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “A range of factors are leading U.S. bookstores to expand their Spanish-language offerings. Driven by language-immersion schools and bilingual families, many stores are now specializing in bilingual books for young readers. Others serve heritage-language customers who want to practice their Spanish, as well as language learners seeking cultural immersion.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Registration is open for the America Library Assocation LibLearnX 2023: The Library Learning Experience. “Attendees will participate in hands-on workshops, bite-size sessions, and other formats designed to match preferred learning styles with an emphasis on experiential learning. Be inspired and motivated by thought-leaders, authors, and subject matter experts, and celebrate your colleagues and favorite authors at the Award ceremonies.” The event takes place in New Orelans from Jan. 27 to Jan. 30.


Vroman’s Bookstore presents Writing Teen Empowerment Panel with authors Z.R. Ellor (Acting the Part (HarperTeen, 2022)), Alexandra Overy (This Cursed Crown (Inkyard Press, 2022)), Emery Lee (Café Con Lychee (Quill Tree Books, 2022)), Brandie June (Curse Undone—Gold Spun Duology (CatCam Books, 2022)), and Carly Heath (The Reckless Kind (Soho Teen, 2021)). They will discuss how YA literature can help teens overcome their fears and embrace their authentic selves. The event takes place at Vroman’s, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA. on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. pacific.

Spots Available for SCBWI New York Conference 2023. Peek: “Registration is open for both the in-person and virtual New York conference…. This year, the in-person conference is built around an all-new workshop model that we’re calling ‘Creative Labs.’ Each day-and-a-half-long lab will dive into one aspect of writing, illustrating or marketing. The labs will be taught by established authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and art directors….”

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore presents Tobias Madden in discussion with Robbie Couch about Tobias’s new YA book Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell (Page Street Kids, 2023). This virtual event takes place Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. pacific, 8 p.m. central, 9 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day takes place Jan. 26, 2023, its tenth anniversary “of bringing diverse books to children, parents, teachers, and librarians. It is an online and offline celebration that attracts thousands of supporters, educators, parents, caregivers, book reviewers, and quality authors and publishers who join forces to shine the spotlight on diversity in children’s and YA literature.” Registration ends Dec. 31.


Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Bookstagang Best Books of 2022 List in eight categories: Best Board Books, Most Innovative Nonfiction, Future Classics, Best Illustration, Best Read Aloud, Best Biography Books, Conversation Starters, and Bookshelf Builders. The Bookstagang Picture Book Guild “is a collaborative community of social media influencers who include picture book content in their regular work.”

The nomination submissions deadline for the 2023 School Librarian of the Year Award, presented by School Library Journal and sponsored by Scholastic, has been extended to Dec. 27. The 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.”

Delacorte Press

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made The Guardian’s Best Children’s and YA Books of 2022. “This has been an outstanding year for children’s literature, with conservationist, comic, reflective and adventurous books all finding enthralled readers.”

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2022 Work-in-Progress Grants. The winners in the categories of Picture Book, Middle Grade, Young Adult, Chapter Book, Nonfiction, and Underrepresented Voices were chosen from a pool of over 1,000 submissions. Winners have their work promoted and sent to a list of agents and editors.

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2022 Don Freeman Illustration Grants. One grant goes to a published illustrator and the other to a pre-published illustrator. The $1,000 award may be used by the recipients in any way that helps them complete their project.

Congratulations to the winner of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2022 Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award, which is for authors over the age of fifty who have not been traditionally published in the children’s literature field. The winner is Don Halquist for Marbles in His Toes: The Story of Tap Dancer Bill Evans.

Viking Books for Young Readers

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made the Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 2022 List. “Committed to providing a broad selection of outstanding books that mixes popular appeal with literary excellence, the Books for Youth editorial staff has chosen…its favorite [titles in] nonfiction, fiction, and picture-book offerings.”

Scholarships & Grants

Several scholarships are available for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsSCBWI In-Person and Virtual New York Conference 2023. For the In-Person Conference, apply here for the BIPOC Scholarship, Tribute Fund Scholarship and Student Illustrator Scholarship. For the Virtual Conference, apply here for the BIPOC Scholarship and General Conference Scholarship. Applications are accepted through Jan. 10, but for the Tribute Fund Scholarship, contact your regional advisor for deadline information.

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is offering two Bologna Scholarships to SCBWI illustrators who hope to attend the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2023. “Two winners will each receive a ticket to the Bologna Book Fair, travel fare, and a stipend for accommodations. Winners will have an opportunity to show their portfolios to publishing professionals, display their portfolio at our industry party in Bologna, and attend the prestigious fair.” Submissions are open until Dec. 22.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Teacher Cyn took center stage this week. I graded Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA student writing and am working on semester evaluations.

From there, I’m excited to slide into winter-holiday mode, which means time with friends and family as well as my focusing on creative writing. Getting down the early draft of my middle grade novel in progress. I finally realized that it’s a road-trip story, and I need to get my cast on the road sooner. The writing on the cutting-room floor was still really useful. It helped me get to know the characters and their desire lines.

I also have appreciated all the enthusiasm from early readers of Harvest House (Candlewick, April 2023)! Please pre-order a copy today!

More Personally – Gayleen

Our baby chicks (see Oct. 7’s Cynsations News for adorable photos) are almost grown, but not yet laying eggs for our Hill Country Highland Bed & Breakfast guests.

On the writing front, I’m deep in revision on my middle grade WIP based on notes from Varian Johnson, my Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor.

More Personally – Gail

Chicago Review Press

I’m so excited about the recent release of Music Mavens: 15 Women of Note in the Industry, written by Ashley Walker and Maureen Charles, my fellow alumni from Vermont College of Fine ArtsMFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Published by the Chicago Review Press, this amazing resource for young readers features 15 extraordinary women who reveal “how they turned their passions into platforms and how they use their power to uplift others. Their musical resumes will inspire, but the way each artist lives her life is the real story.”

More Personally – Suma

I have the following exciting virtual events coming up for Namaste is a Greeting. Hope to see you there:

  • Virtual Story Time via Facebook Live on Saturday, December 10th, 2022 at 11 am EST.
    The link is here:

  • Virtual Storytime with Read to Grow’s Popcorn & PJs! Families who buy a ticket are sent a package with a copy of the book, popcorn, crayons and sketch pads. You also have the option to just purchase a link and more copies of the book to donate to Read to Grow.
    The link for the tickets is here:

  • Finally, You can also enter the Macmillan Most Beautiful Picture Books of the Year Sweepstakes which includes She Sang for India and other gorgeous books. The link is here:

More Personally – AJ

I challenged myself at the beginning of the year to write one picture book a month. As of this week I succeeded! I have always gravitated towards novels, but something I feel I have been missing is simplicity. Picture books force you to share the story in few words, sometimes poetically and with just as much, if not more, meaning behind the theme. My favorite picture books are the ones I leave feeling touched by or am left amazed that they summed up a particular feeling in such a true and relatively quick manner.

Something that helped me very much along the way was Joy Harjo’s Masterclass in Poetic Thinking. It helped unlocked concepts and abstract ideas in a more concrete way for me. I highly recommend it!

Personal Links – Gayleen

League City Approves Book Policy Paving Way For Removal of ‘Obscene’ Books From Public Library from KHOU-11. Peek: “The 4-3 vote ensures taxpayer dollars won’t be spent on books deemed ‘obscene’ and creates a new board to determine what books are appropriate for minors.”