Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Little Rosetta and the Talking Guitar by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Day 15 Throwback: London Ladd (Then & Now) by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I try to inspire the kids to persistently reach for their dreams no matter their circumstance. I share with them the struggles that I experienced and how it built my character. I want kids to know that they can achieve any level of success if they put their mind and heart to it.”

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

MacKids Spotlight: Willie Mae Brown from MacKids School and Library. Peek: “I did not want the people to forget what they went through, how hard it was to get by and although it was hard, there was always someone to hand them something of need….I wanted them to remember the people who tried to break them and the people who locked arms with them.”

Day 18 Throwback: Jerdine Nolen by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I love writing picture books because they are very child-centered and family-focused. The idea of creating a story (beginning, middle, end) within 2-5 typewritten pages is very magical…When the words are matched with illustrations—I consider this a kind of high magic. It is amazing to witness the way the process comes together.”

Our Child Sunrise and Elder Sunset With Kim Rogers from Matthew C. Winner. Peek: “[If] you’re a kid and you think you wanna be a writer someday,…you don’t have to sit down and just write continuously. You need to go out into the world and experience it….[A]nd you take all those experiences…and your mind sifts through them. And when you sit down to write those, meaningful things come out….”

Quill Tree Books

When Success Is a Maze, a Guest Post by Tracy Badua by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “[W]hatever passions fuel the teens you know—whether they’re excelling at it or still trying to figure it all out—remind them that when it comes to who they want to be when they grow up, the answer should be seen as a goal with room to grow, not a life sentence.”

Equity & Inclusion

Writing Trans Joy in Spite of Everything, a Guest Post by Edward Underhill by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “The stories I want to tell are the ones where trans kids fall in love. I want to write stories to let them expand and take up space and find and choose their joy, in spite of everyone else. Stories where trans kids don’t need to prove their identity to anyone.”

Q&A With Elise Bryant by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I wanted to be in those [romance and rom-com] stories….I wanted to be the girl who was held up on a pedestal and desired and so I wrote myself into those stories. The reason I keep writing it is because I love reading it, and there are just so many stories I want to tell.”

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Grace Lin and Kate Messner on Storytelling and Their New Book by Stella A. Gilbert from The Harvard Crimson. Peek: “[Lin] seeks to give her young readers stories that allow them to see their personal identities represented inside her books. ‘I want to create books that give kids a sense of home, a sense of welcome, a sense of warmth…I escaped into books to try to find a sense of belonging.’”

Q&A With Patricia Park by Stephi Cham from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[We’re] grateful to be given our seat at the table, and I think we don’t feel that we deserve [it]….We’re told ‘these are traditionally not your spaces, so when and if you get here, you’d better prove that you can earn it’…[W]riting [this] story is so that girls…who feel that they don’t belong can find some solace….”

Cover Reveal for Magic Has No Borders, Edited by Samira Ahmed and Sona Charaipotra by JoAnn Yao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [Sona Charaipotra:] “Growing up, I rarely saw myself on the pages of books…and worried my kids wouldn’t either. I could count the representations of South Asians in the media…and many of them were stereotypes and the butt of the joke….This is a collection I would have loved to have as a teen.”

Feiwel & Friends

Q&A: Amber McBride, Author of “We Are All So Good at Smiling” by Elise Dumpleton from The Nerd Daily. Peek: “[T]he difficulty about writing about trauma and depression…is that everyone has a different experience and different inpatient or outpatient care. This was my primary struggle when crafting this book. How do you talk about trauma, depression and healing when every…journey is different? How do I make the feel of the book sway towards a shared understanding?”

Writing Craft

Day 19 Throwback: Daniel Minter by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Normally, the choice of the illustrator is reserved for the editor while the author has little or no involvement. Many people are surprised at this and feel that of course, the author should pick the illustrator and tell them how to draw the characters, but there is very little reason for an editor to do this.”

Day 20 Throwback: Renée Watson by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I have a writing space in my apartment, but…prefer to write at coffee shops. When I’m stuck, I take a walk and spend time outside to clear my mind. I get inspired on these walks,…getting new ideas for stories and finding solutions to…problems that need to be fixed in the draft I am working on.”

Labyrinth Road

Books in the Middle: Five Questions for Misa Sugiura by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “A few years ago, I would have said I could never write fantasy because I couldn’t make up worlds that didn’t exist. But it turns out that part was easy. My biggest challenge has been remembering to make space in the world-building and action sequences for the slower-paced character-building scenes that have always been my specialty.”

The Heart of the Story: PW Talks With Julie Flett by Patricia Buckley from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “You can’t always go to the places you’re illustrating, so I’ll find photos on the internet; it’s natural to pull colors from that. After a while, I realized that made sense, to respond to where the characters are from….Paring an image to its essence is something that I developed over time.”

Let’s Talk Illustrators #236: Zeno Sworder by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “The finished illustrations are made using a mix of pencil, graphite powder, watercolor and a 15 year old computer and scanner (fingers crossed that they can hold out for the next book). Because I was aiming for the feel of an old fairytale it was important that the illustrations felt handmade.”

Dial Books

Let’s Talk Illustrators #237: Jerome Pumphrey by Mel Schuit from Let’s Talk Picture Books. Peek: “[M]y first step was to read the manuscript over and over again and then break the text down into pages….[Next] was drawing thumbnail sketches…on sticky notes that I put on a large poster board on the wall….[Then] I worked on designing the characters…[and] was able to draw full size sketches and get the dummy book together.”


Five Easy and Effective Ways To Start Locally With Book Marketing by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “1. Contact local media outlets to talk about the story behind your book….2. Host a presentation and book signing at a venue with a connection to your book’s topic….3. Plan a ‘meet the authors’ night with other local authors…4. Collaborate with a nonprofit….5. Lead a workshop on how to write and publish a book.”


RISE Bookselling, whose mission is the “upscaling, reinforcing and maximizing the capacity and resilience of the European bookselling sector,” presents the inaugural RISE Bookselling Conference 2023, which takes place Mar. 19 to Mar. 20 in Prague. “Discover new ideas to implement in your bookshop. Hear from inspirational keynote speakers. Learn how the bookselling business works in other countries. Exchange experiences with booksellers from all over the world.” Register here.


Entangled Publishing Adds Children’s Book Imprint by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Entangled Publishing has announced a new children’s imprint, called Little Lark…Little Lark, with titles for children up to age eight, hopes to ‘fill a needed gap for parents and educators’ according to Stacy Abrams, editorial director…The imprint’s selections will…center female characters using world exploration to learn more about themselves.”

Lerner Partners With to Fund School Libraries from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Lerner Publishing Group has teamed with to support classrooms…as part of’s vendor marketplace. Lerner will fund three Read for a Better World classroom library prizes for educators. The curated Read for a Better World classroom libraries for grades K-5 support reading instruction, promote literacy, and provide access to engaging books…Apply for the prize here.”

Liesa Abrams [Vice President/Editor in Chief of Labyrinth Road] Talks with Roger by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: “When I’m reading a submission and already making notes about what I’m going to ask the author to do, then I have to catch myself—I don’t have this book on my list yet—that’s when I feel like I am the right person, and I have something to offer the author.”

Rebel Girls Enters Google Kids Space With Audio, E-book Content by Karen Raugust from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Rebel Girls, the publishing-based empowerment brand, has announced a digital content partnership with Google. The pairing will result in Rebel Girls adding close to 200 pieces of content to Google Kids Space, a content hub on select Android tablets featuring age-appropriate apps, books, games, and videos for children under nine.”


Reaching Reluctant Readers by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Blake Hopper, elementary school librarian:] “If [reluctant readers] ask me for superhero or sports books—or whatever they ask for—I’m going to order it…because if the books in the library aren’t what kids want, you’re not going to build that culture of reading or reach those kids that are reluctant to read.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

The TLA (Texas Library Association) 2023 Annual Conference takes place at the Austin Convention Center from Apr. 19 to Apr. 22. The Conference “will feature special author events, lots of social networking with peers and experts, educational programming taught by…librarians and leaders in the field, a vibrant exhibit hall, and many opportunities for you to learn, grow and enjoy time with one another.” The featured speakers are Gretchen Rubin, Angeline Boulley, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Deborah Roberts. Register here.

HighWater Press

National Read Across America Day (Dr. Seuss Day) March 2 from National Day Calendar. Peek: “Each year, National Read Across America Day is celebrated on March 2nd, the birthday of Dr. Seuss. The annual event is part of Read Across America, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association….[T]he event is designed to encourage reading in children and is fostered through the schools….”

  • The Heise Reads and Recommends’ #ClassroomBookaDay 2023 Read Across Diverse Regions’ curated book lists (Nationwide, Northeast Region, Southeast Region, Southwest Region, West Region, and Midwest Region) can be found here.


The virtual 2023 Society of Children’s Book Writers and IllustratorsGolden Kite Awards Gala will take place Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. pacific, 6 p.m. central, 7 p.m. eastern. Awards will be presented to the winners in the categories of Middle Grade, Young Adult, Nonfiction Text for Younger Readers, Nonfiction Text for Older Readers, Illustrated Book for Older Readers, Picture Book Illustration, and Picture Book Text. The winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, which recognizes comedy in children’s literature, will also be announced. Register here.

Congratulations to the 43rd Los Angeles Times Prizes finalists, especially in the category of Young Adult Literature. Special shout out to Lyn Miller-Lachmann for Torch (Carolrhoda Lab, 2022). The winners will be announced in a ceremony on Apr. 21 at 7 p.m. pacific at the University of California’s Bovard Auditorium, 3551 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. Get tickets here.

Katherine Tegen Books

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Southern Book Prize, and especially to the winner in the Children’s category: Nigel and the Moon by Antwan Eady, illustrated by Gracey Zhang (Katherine Tegen Books, 2022). “Winners receive a donation in their name to the charity or nonprofit of their choice.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the Yoto Carnegies 2023 longlist. “The Yoto Carnegies [are] the UK’s longest running and best-loved book awards for children and young people…Fifteen books [were] selected for the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Writing…and eighteen for the Yoto Carnegie Medal for Illustration.”

Congratulations to the authors and illustrators whose books made the #ClassroomBookaDay Read Across America Read Across the Diverse Regions of America book lists—Nationwide and in the Northeast Region, Southeast Region, Southwest Region, West Region, and Midwest Region. The lists were curated by Jillian Heise at Heise Reads.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

This week’s Heartdrum highlight is the cover reveal for A Letter for Bob, written by Kim Rogers and illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, due out Sept. 19. The picture book offers a touching, humorous story about a family saying thank you and farewell to their beloved car.

Thank you to the American Booksellers Association and Candlewick Press for your hospitality at Winter Institute in Seattle. It was such a pleasure to spend time with you. Extra gratitude to everyone who came to my ARC signing for Harvest House (Candlewick, April 2023)!

More Personally – Gayleen

We recently built a retaining wall behind our bed and breakfast cottage, the first step in adding a path to the firepit/grill area. As I poured bags of pea gravel around the blocks, I thought about how this project is like a novel. Each block, every bag of gravel and shovel of dirt has a job to do in supporting the structure, just like each word, every sentence and paragraph serve a purpose on the page. Rushing through might mean finishing sooner, but it also increases the odds or repair later. Fortunately, novels are much easier to revise than retaining walls.

More Personally – AJ

Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross currently has my whole heart. The story is cozy even though it takes place during a Fantasy World War One inspired world that is full of grief and brutal battles. I’m a huge fan of Rebecca’s voice as a writer and am constantly blown away by each new story she releases. I’ve gotten to the point in my reading of Divine Rivals that I’ve stopped overanalyzing how she constructs the story because I’m too distracted by the characters themselves. I’m almost finished and already know this will be one of those books that I’m excited to have read early and also lamenting that I’ve read early because the wait for the sequel will be that much longer!

Personal Links – Gayleen

Tales from the Banned Book Shelf inside the Texas Capitol by Bridget Grumet from Austin American-Statesman. Peek: “It’s one of her 4-year-old daughter’s favorite books. Now the sweetly illustrated And Tango Makes Three [by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005)] is prominently displayed at state Rep. Erin Zwiener’s office at the Texas Capitol, underneath a sign that reads, ‘Banned Book Shelf.’…’Two penguins lean their heads on each other. If someone is finding that pornographic, I have bigger concerns.'”