Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: You So Black by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D., illustrated by London Ladd (Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Chatting With Authors Chiquita Mullins Lee and Carmella Van Vleet and Illustrator Jennifer Mack-Watkins (You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce) by Cherokee Crum from YA Books Central. Peek: [Chiquita Mullins Lee:] “One of [folk artist Elijah Pierce’s] slogans was ‘Your life is a book, and every day is a page.’…[That] communicates that your life matters and every day you’re writing a different page and at the end of it you want to be proud of what you’ve written. You should…live the best life that you can.”

Henry Holt and Co.

Throwback/Flash Forward Post Day 11—Kekla Magoon by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’ve received letters from readers who were surprised by the anger that my characters experience. They understood and related to that anger as teens living their lives…[I]t made them think differently….[W]e do our young people a great injustice when…we try to paint a pretty picture over something that was raw and ugly in its own time.”

Cover Reveal for Mascot by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Charles Waters:] “Young people overall are so perceptive and so smart and, I think, understand, in some ways, nuance in the world…With this book we [tried] to be as nuanced as possible because…there are different perspectives…It’s important to listen to different perspectives even if you don’t agree with [them]….That kind of discourse is important in the world….”

Excerpt Reveal for When You Wish Upon a Lantern by Gloria Chao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “I set out to write a contemporary book that feels like magic, with the magic coming from kind acts for others. I hope to remind readers that even though it’s rare, magic can be found in the real world. And sometimes you have to make your own magic.”

Equity & Inclusion

Katherine Tegen Books

Throwback/Flash Forward Post Day 9—Janae Marks by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I’m inspired by the Black children’s book authors who paved the way…For a long time, publishing seemed to only want books by Black authors that focused on painful topics and themes like slavery or racism….The Black experience is not a monolith and I’m grateful that the publishing industry is finally starting to understand and embrace that.”

A YA Author’s Journey To Writing an Award-Winning Afrolatine Horror Novel by Vincent Tirado from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[D]uring the publishing process, no one ever told me ‘no.’ No one in publishing…told me that a book about a gay Afrolatina living in the Bronx wouldn’t sell, or that no one would be interested in reading it….Neither my agent nor my editor ever asked me to turn down the gayness or the Black aspects….”

Debut You 2023: Erika Turner: And Other Mistakes from Black Children’s Books and Authors. Peek: “[T]he only person who knows your journey is you….[T]hat’s especially true of young Black kids…, especially if they’re queer. These are kids who are…not given the respect, care, and space to…figure out how to turn missteps into a positive direction. I try to give the teens in my book that space, and thus readers as well.”

Tu Books

A Point of Pride: Interview With Nisi Shawl by Tina Pavlik from Horror Writers Association. Peek: “Of course I include LGBTQ material. It’s part of the world I experience. I include it without question, the same way I include transportation and surgery and music and weather and everything else I encounter. That’s not an ‘effort’ on my part, conscious or otherwise. It’s simply good craftsmanship.”

Throwback/Flash Post Day 14—Christine Taylor-Butler by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “It’s getting better for mainstream books about children of color. But the industry is…not there yet….[T]here are more mainstream television shows…leading the way. I hope that success model extends to publishing. One where we can…stop assuming every child of color lives in impoverished crime filled areas in favor of a broader definition of their lives.”

Q&A With Camryn Garrett—Friday I’m in Love by Niamh Mccreanor from The Reading Corner. Peek: “[I] wanted to write about coming out in a way that made it clear that it’s different for everyone!…[T]here can be such pressure or terror surrounding the subject, and I wanted readers to remember that it can also be really joyful to discover this aspect of your identity and share it the way you decide to.”

Writing Craft

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Throwback/Flash Forward Post Day 8—Shadra Strickland by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I start with an 8.5 x 11 ‘Cheap Pad.’ As I read, I fill up the sketchbook with…many [story] possibilities…As I thumbnail, I scan each image, blow them up, and drop them into a mechanical. Once…the dummy is okayed [by the editor and art director], I print out the sketches to size and refine the drawing.”

Interview With Jumata Emill (The Black Queen) by Cherokee Crum from from YA Books Central. Peek: “[T]he real writing happens in the re-writing. There are so many stories I never finished because I was obsessed with ‘getting everything perfect’…in the first draft….I realized no one gets it right the first time. First drafts are for getting your thoughts on paper. Revisions are when you polish everything up, make it look pretty.”

Throwback/Flash Forward Post Day 10—Lamar Giles by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I truly believe part of that [publishing] offer coming when it did was because I’d decided not to leave my hopes and dreams in the hands of strangers. If no one wanted to publish [my book], I was laying the foundation to publish it myself….[T]he universe rewards preparation….I’m with a publisher who gets me.”


Natasha Khan Kazi—How I Got My Agent from 12 x 12 Challenge. Peek: “I made a spreadsheet to track agents and publishers that seemed interesting….[I’m] a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant, and my stories are rooted in my experience, so it was important for me to find an agent who represented marginalized authors and illustrators. Most of my research was on Twitter, following #MSWL…, diverse twitter pitch events…, and book announcements.”

MacKids Spotlight: Mariama J. Lockington from MacKids School and Library. Peek: “Music is a huge part of my life and my writing process….Every book I write starts with a playlist….[I] enjoy thinking about the musical plot of a book…[E]ven though I can’t draft to music with lyrics, often between writing sessions, I play a song from the playlist to help me get ready for the next scene….”

Throwback/Flash Forward Post Day 13—Judy Allen Dodson by Crystal Allen from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I usually begin writing all…my ideas down and then I go back and outline my story….Even though I rarely stick to it, having an outline gives me a foundation….[I] need long blocks of time to write, at least two hours. It takes me a long time to quiet down the other million thoughts in my head.”


Astra Books for Young Readers Rebrands Imprint by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This June, Astra Books for Young Readers’ mineditionUS imprint will receive a new name: Minerva.…[Maria Russo, Editorial Director:] ‘The name minedition causes some confusion…People aren’t sure how to pronounce it, and from a marketing standpoint that’s a challenge.’…Books already published under the mineditionUS imprint will remain minedition titles, including any reprints.”

Michael Sampson To Launch Young Readers Imprint at Brown Books by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Children’s author Michael Sampson will unveil his namesake imprint Michael Sampson Books, for publisher Brown Books Publishing Group, later this year….Within its first year, Michael Sampson Books plans to release 10 children’s books in alignment with the imprint’s mission to promote authors and illustrators prioritizing literacy for young readers.”


Ask WNDB: How To Master Book Promotion With Publicist Aleah Gornbein from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “The main thing that an author can realistically do to support their book is to share any media hits (reviews, interviews…) the book gets on your social media platforms online and with your personal support system….[P]articipate in any publicity opportunities….[S]hare your connections with your publishing team so they can leverage them to promote your book….”


Penguin Workshop

How My Local Library Changed—and Saved—My Life, a Guest Post by Mike Albo by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “It was through writing…that I began to remember, and re-appreciate, the power of a physical, walkable, searchable library. Libraries possess a vastness no matter their size. What you can find in one is uncontainable, unpredictable, and in its breadth, can allow you to roam and find your way to change your life.”

Palace Project, Draft2Digital Strike Deal To Offer Indie E-books to Libraries by Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The Palace Project, the nascent nonprofit library e-book platform pioneered by the Digital Public Library of America, and Draft2Digital, the world’s leading distributor of self-published e-books,…[agreed] to make thousands of indie and self-published e-books available to public libraries….[T]he first of an anticipated 500,000 e-book titles…will be made available for library lending in Palace Marketplace….”


The Midwest Independent Booksellers Assocation’s Spring Road Trip takes place May 2 to May 3 in Des Moines, Iowa. With an estimated attendance of 100 booksellers, the event “is all about getting out into our bookstore’s communities to learn from each other in inspiring settings…Learning from other booksellers makes us all better.” The author pitch deadline is March 31.

Education/Other Resources/Events

The Tucson Festival of Books, to be held on the University of Arizona’s campus, takes place March 4 to March 5. You can view the Presenting Authors Schedule here. Some of the many children’s/YA authors and illustrators presenting include Linda Sue Park, Kelly J. Baptist, Daniel Nayeri, A.G. Ford, and Dawn Quigley. Attendance is free.

School Library Journal is holding its fifth annual Middle Grade Magic free virtual event to celebrate authors and creators dedicated to crafting literature for children ages 8-12. “Get a first look at some of the most anticipated new titles for your young readers, from modern coming-of-age tales to eye-popping graphic novels to immersive fantasy.” The event takes place on March 9 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Penguin Random House, Library Journal, and School Library Journal present 2023 Spring Book & Author Festival, a day-long event celebrating reading, authors, and librarians. “As we lead up to National Library Week, enjoy a day packed with author panels and interviews, book buzzes, virtual shelf browsing, and adding to your TBR pile.” The free virtual event takes place April 4.

Crown Books for Young Readers

Mahogany Books and the Prince George’s County Office of Human Rights present A Conversation & Book Celebration with Nic Stone—”Chaos Theory.” The event takes place at the Prince George’s County Library—Oxon Hill Branch, 6200 Oxon Hill Rd., Oxon Hill, Maryland, on March 15 at 6 p.m. eastern. Registration is required.


Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Golden Poppy Book Awards. The winners in the children’s categories are: The Blur by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2022)(Picture Book), New From Here by Kelly Yang (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022)(Middle Grade), and All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (Razorbill, 2022)(Young Adult).

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who made Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Short List. Waterstones’ expert booksellers vote for the books they believe are “the very best in new children’s writing and illustration” across three categories [Illustrated Books, Younger Readers and Older Readers].” The winners will be announced March 30.


Congratulations to the 2022 Cybils Award Winners! The Cybils Awards “is a group of readers passionate about seeking out and recognizing books that portray diversity, inclusion, and appropriate representation for children and teens.” Its goal is “to recognize books written for children and young adults that combine both the highest literary merit and popular appeal.”

Congratulations to the Texas Institute of Letters new inductees! Those who’ve published works for young readers include: Sheila Black, Hayan Charara, Rubén Degollado, Brian Floca, Liz Garton Scanlon, Kari Anne Holt, Cynthia Levinson, Marcia Argueta Mickelson, Ashley Hope Pérez and Suzan Zeder.

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.

Applications open March 1 for the We Need Diverse Books’ Internship Grant Program. The program’s purpose is to award grants to applicants from diverse backgrounds “to help further their goals of pursuing a career in children’s and adult publishing….In 2023 [WNDB] will award a minimum of 24 grants of $3,000 to expand WNDB efforts to diversify the publishing industry…[There will be] 12 grants for a children’s publishing focus and 12 grants for an adult publishing focus.”

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Greetings, Cynsational readers! We have so much to talk about. As for me, I’m in preparation mode for my spring 2023 author events. I look forward to ABA Winter Institute 2023 in Seattle, the Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival in Redlands, CA; the San Antonio Book Festival, the Native American Read-In (online!), the Texas Library Association conference in Austin, the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland, and the Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR. Whew!

Reminder! The WNDB Native Children’s-YA Writing Intensive will be June 8 to June 11 in Austin. Apply now. Deadline: March 6.

Reminder! My upcoming Indigenous ghost mystery, Harvest House, cover by Britt Newton (Candlewick, April 2023), is now available for pre-order.

  “Using short, propulsive chapters, Smith…intertwines thoughtful conversation surrounding the racism faced by Indigenous teenagers with a convincing ghost story to craft a spine-tingling, edge-of-the-seat chiller.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

It’s my pleasure to share wonderful new Heartdrum covers! Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day, written by Dawn Quigley, and illustrated by Tara Audibert (Sept. 2023), is the third book in the Jo Jo Makoons chapter book series. Rez Ball, cover by Natasha M. Donovan, written by new talent Byron Graves (Sept. 2023), tells the relatable, high-stakes story of a young athlete determined to play like the hero his Ojibwe community needs him to be.

Speaking of new art, check out Those Pink Mountain Nights, cover by Bailey Macabre (Heartdrum, Sept. 2023). In her remarkable second novel, Jen Ferguson writes about the hurt of a life stuck in past tense, the hum of connections that cannot be severed, and one week in a small snowy town that changes everything.

Finally, let’s hear it for Jen and her debut novel, The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, cover by Reyna Hernandez, and title beading by Kim Stewart (Heartdrum, 2022)! Honors include:

  • ALA Stonewall Honor Award
  • YALSA Morris Award Finalist
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Top 10 Designation
  • Top Ten for Teen Readers, 2023 Rainbow Book List
  • Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Rise: A Feminist Book Project (ALA)
  • 2022 Cybils Winner, Young Adult Fiction

More Personally – Gayleen

One of my recent favorite reads was Torch by Lyn Miller Lachman (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner, 2022), a fellow VCFA grad. It’s a gripping story set in late 1960’s Czechoslovakia. I can’t wait to share my interview with Lyn with you next week when we take a deep dive into writing with multiple POV characters. See Lyn’s School Library Journal piece, Writing a Dystopian Past. In other news, in late December I adopted Millie from Austin Animal Center. She’s a Great Pyrenees mix who wants to know why I keep reading when I could be taking her for a walk.

More Personally – Gail

Carolrhoda Books

Last fall, I wrote an article in Neighbor’s Magazine (a local publication) called “Kindertransport Child Recalls Her Harrowing Rescue from Nazi Invasion.” The article is about 97-year-old author Mimi Ormond, who wrote a heartbreaking but hopeful book about her dreadful experiences as a Kindertransport teen struggling in England during WWII after she (but not her family) was removed from Czechoslovakia (Kindertransport: A Rescued Child, 2016). Mimi ended the book with optimism: “As I…consider the continued crisis of refugees and the senseless murder of the innocent, I renew my hope that somewhere, sometime, there will be lasting peace…[and] no more racism and no more war.”

This month, Carolrhoda Books has published a picture book about the Czech Kindertransport: Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport, written by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Selina Alko. With beautiful illustrations and a story—similar to Mimi’s—of trials, courage and survival as told from the children’s perspectives, it is a book definitely worth reading. See also, Roger Sutton’s interview with the author and illustrator: Caren Stelson and Selina Alko Talk With Roger from The Horn Book. Peek: [Caren Stelson:] “There’s such humanity in this story…I can’t help thinking how this theme ripples through that time period on to today. We still have not resolved these very difficult issues, and it’s up to us to step forward.”

Personal Links – Gayleen

Why We Need Diverse Books in Schools by Maya Pottiger from The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint. Peek:”…around the country, books like [Marchánt] Davis’ are being removed from the shelves of classrooms and school libraries. Books that feature Black protagonists or talk about Black history. And that’s a problem.”