Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Ramen for Everyone by Patricia Tanumihardja, illustrated by Shiho Pate (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

Day 21 Throwback: Vanessa Brantley Newton by Tameka Fryer Brown from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Be true to yourself. Stop measuring your gifts and talents by other people, its hard enough being you as it is. Search for things to put around you to keep you inspired. Collect the books of the authors and illustrators that you adore and study them. You can be mentored from afar.”

Random House Books for Young Readers

Q&A With Chrystal D. Giles by Erika Hardison from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[E]ach child you encounter has a full life. It’s round, and it’s more layered than what you see. It may not be typical, and it may not be something similar to yours, but it doesn’t make them any less special. Too often kids are not being listened to…[or] being spoken to in a truthful way.”

Day 26 Throwback: Atinuke by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Atinuke ‘wanted firstly and desperately to be a Boy, then an Adventurer, and lastly, an Author.’ She decided to become a reader, and then a storyteller. ‘I got through the trials and tribulations of life by escaping into books and making up stories in my head.’”

Q&A With Ron Grady by Patricia J. Murphy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “I believe that if teachers of young children, myself included, understand that we’re dealing with really complex human beings—and if parents understand how important their roles are in contributing to the lives of their young children—we can see children as genuine collaborators, and all benefit from this collaboration.”

Equity & Inclusion

Tor Teen

Blood Debts Author Terry J. Benton-Walker Shares Exclusive Excerpt of Magical Murder Mystery Novel by Lauren Rearick from Teen Vogue. Peek: “Benton-Walker wants readers to ‘to explore, through the eyes of these characters, what it means to stand up for yourself in the terrifying face of injustice…I want Black and Black Queer teens…to finish this book and hug it close to their chest, because they love and identify with it so much.’”

Day 23 Throwback: Malaika Rose Stanley by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I strongly believe that the children’s book publishing industry needs to…challenge and reject the idea that books about black and ethnic minority characters will only appeal to readers from the same background. This view leads to the misconception that their commercial potential is limited and…makes it difficult for authors…from diverse backgrounds to break into publishing.”

Day 25 Throwback: Useni Eugene Perkins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “Although some progress has been made in changing the misinformation and stereotypes that have maligned Black history and culture, racism still resonates in every facet of American life. I believe literature, of every genre, can play an important role in correcting this problem. This is particularly true of illustrated books….”

Philomel Books

Black History Month 2023: Q&As With Picture Book Creators Highlighting Black History by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Alana Tyson:] “Young readers will be future leaders, so it’s imperative that learning opportunities reflect the type of society we want to see….Black history lessons in the U.S. have been fraught with inefficiency, lack of transparency, propaganda, and inaccuracies…I’m happy to be part of an industry that helps lead young people to various truths, no matter how uncomfortable.”

Day 27 Throwback: Sharee Miller by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I like that there is a focus on diversity in the industry right now….Representation has been lacking for a long time and children of color have been waiting for too long to see themselves in everyday stories. We don’t only exist in fables. We have experiences that should be represented.”

The NDN Girls Book Club: How Kinsale Drake Is Promoting Indigenous Writers by Kate Nelson from Teen Vogue. Peek: “Native American poet and arts advocate Kinsale Drake (Diné) is creating a community she wishes had existed during her childhood: NDN Girls Book Club. It aims to amplify Indigenous authors, support tribal libraries and bookstores, and encourage reading and writing among Native youth.…[Kinsdale:] ‘I want our impact to be centered on self-expression and healing.’”

Writing Craft

Disney Hyperion

Writing Into Joy With Leah Johnson by Ravynn K. Stringfield from Shondaland. Peek: “We use the archetype to give people a scaffold or an entryway into the story, and then from there we try to write humans. It’s hard to render that on the page, but it’s something you get closer to with every draft. Your characters will tell you more and more about who they are….”

Let’s Talk With Jason Chin by Sarayu Bhumula from Time for Kids. Peek: “The [book’s] concept…is that each time you turn a page, you see something smaller than what’s on the page before….The first thing I did was try to figure out what small things I’d put in the book. Then I investigated each one. Talking to researchers and scientists was an important part of my work.”

Day 24 Throwback: Marguerite Abouet by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “I don’t really have a particular writing technique or method; I go by my instinct. As the story moves along, I become better and better acquainted with my characters, I am more…at ease with them, and at the end of one moment it is the characters who guide me. I let them live, they evolve/move.”

Abrams Books for Young Readers

Carole Lindstrom Turns Family History Into a Song of Hope by Kimberly Olson Fakih from School Library Journal. Peek: [Carole Lindstrom:] “Picture books…are very short books—usually less than 500 words. The less the better….I am very particular about every word I choose. Each word, I think about whether it is needed to further the story along. I also have to be…cognizant of…leaving plenty of room for the illustrator to interpret the words into visuals….”

Milloo’s Mind Interview: Illustrator Hoda Hadadi from Reem Faeuqi. Peek: “I usually prefer more simple covers for all of my books, more minimal with one character and with plain white background…[B]ut publishers prefer covers with more color and more details because they know the market and the taste of their readers better than me and I respect and follow their advice.”

Four Questions for Brian Pinkney by Libby Morse from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The way I write is the way I dance. I’m…dancing now as I talk to you—other people pace, I’m like an otter, I have to dance. I’m writing in the way things come to me, in a flowing way….I buy Photoshop, I look at the tutorials and it’s like, No…it’s not fun. You’re a dancer….”


Gibbs Smith Herds 7 Cats Press Into a Fall Launch by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Gibbs Smith, the 54-year-old publishing company known for its lavishly illustrated books…is launching a children’s imprint this fall, called 7 Cats Press. The titles will emphasize ‘early learning concepts in…secular and inspirational themes.’ Gibbs Smith plans on releasing 16 titles annually under the 7 Cats imprint. It will debut this fall with 12 board book releases….”

Three Years On, Children’s Publishers Have Adapted by Joanne O’Sullivan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “This time last year, a range of issues were top of mind for most children’s publishers—supply chain and shipping problems, schedule delays, the price of paper, return to in-office work…A number of…publishers have…landed on using a mix of overseas and North American printers….For many publishers, hybrid [remote and in-office] has emerged as the back-to-office solution.” To Sell E-books, Publish First Print Title by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Online bookseller will begin selling e-books by the end of the year. It will also publish its first book…[T]he initial rollout will enable users to buy and read e-books in their web browser. The program will launch in Beta late this year. An e-reader app is also being developed and will be launched sometime thereafter.”

Page Street Publishing Turns the Page With YA Imprint by Pamela Brill from Publishers Weekly. “Page Street Publishing is launching an imprint this spring—Page Street YA—dedicated to the company’s growing teen readership. Under this brand, the company expects to double the number of annual releases by 2024…[William Kiester, Publisher:] ‘The new imprint and expansion of the list underscores the hunger in the market for characters…[from] under-represented communities….’”


February Authors Forward Interview With Tracy Badua and Laura Taylor Namey by Ellen Zielinski Whitfield from Books Forward. Peek: [Laura Taylor Namey, on Promotion:] “[D]o what is organically pleasing to you, and efforts should match your personality type. If you don’t love writing guest blog posts, focus your…attention on Canva graphics, or photos, or TikTok videos. The best promotion is natural, a little personal, and…lets the reader inside the world of your books, and maybe your author-world at times.”


The Bologna Children’s Book Fair Turns 60 by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF), which runs Mar. 6 to Mar. 9, will feature 1,350 exhibitors…Total attendance is expected to be between 20,000 and 23,000…BCBF celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion, it has enlisted 20 illustrators…to create landscapes from Bologna and portraits of people, which have then been amalgamated into a coherent whole.”

Booksellers Association Publishes Findings of Inaugural Workforce Survey from Booksellers. Peek: “The Booksellers Association has today published the findings of its inaugural Workforce Survey as part of its ongoing long-term commitment to make bookselling, and the wider book, media and creative industries, more inclusive and representative.” Read the Survey Report here (e.g., “71% of respondents identified as female”).


With New Model Language, Library E-book Bills Are Back by Andrew Albanese and Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “[L]ibrary advocates are back with new model legislation [for a library e-book law] they say can help ensure ‘fair and equitable licensing terms in e-book contracts for libraries’ while avoiding the thorny copyright issue…The revised language, developed with support from nascent library advocacy group Library Futures, takes a ‘regulate’ rather than ‘mandate’ approach.”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Reminder: Applications for the 2023 Native Children’s and YA Writing Intensive must be submitted by Mar. 6 via this link. The intensive, which takes place June 8 to June 11 and “offers an opportunity for reflection, conversation, celebration, and manuscript and career development to Native/First Nations writers,” will accept 14 participants. Registration and lodging scholarships are available.

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

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, 3555 Rosecrans St. #107, San Diego, CA, presents Mae Coyiuto in conversation with Tracy Badua about Mae’s new book, Chloe and the Kaishao Boys (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2023). The discussion will be followed by an audience Q&A. This in-person and virtual event takes place Mar. 18 at 5 p.m. pacific, 7 p.m. central, 8 p.m. eastern. Register for the virtual event here.

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore presents Clothilde Ewing reading her latest picture book, Stella and the Mystery of the Missing Tooth, illustrated by Lynn Gaines (Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023). This virtual event takes place Mar. 13 at 6 p.m. pacific, 8 p.m. central, 9 p.m. eastern. Register here.

School Library Journal’s virtual Day of Dialog 2023 Spring takes place May 4 from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. pacific, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. central, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. eastern. At this most anticipated librarian-only gathering of the year, “you’ll hear from top authors in genre fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. And you still get to dialog by visiting virtual booths, talking with authors, and networking with colleagues.” The entire event will be available on-demand until Aug. 4. Register here.

Children’s Book Week 2023 will be celebrated May 1 to May 7 and will offer “tons of downloadable bookmarks, activites, and more.” Book Week’s theme is “Read Books. Spark Change,” and its highlights, which are found here, include an official poster, step-by-step drawing lessons from favorite book illustrators, and, on May 5, Floyd Cooper Day. See also, 2023 Children’s Book Week Theme and Poster Revealed by Pamela Brill from Publishers Weekly.


Penguin Random House [PRH] & We Need Diverse Books [WNDB] Announce the Winners of the 2022 Black Creatives Fund Revisions Workshop by JoAnn Yao from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: “[PRH and WNDB] announce the two winners of the second annual cycle of the Revisions Workshop, who will each receive grants of $2,000. The Revisions Workshop is an initiative within WNDB’s Black Creatives Fund…, which launched in early 2021 to support Black fiction writers.” The winner in the Middle Grade/YA Category is Kibkabe Araya for Before Everything Goes Up in Flames.

Congratulations to the winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators2023 Golden Kite Awards in the categories of Middle Grade, Young Adult, Nonfiction Text for Young Readers, Nonfiction Text for Older Readers, Illustrated Books for Older Readers, Picture Book Illustration, and Picture Book Text. Congratulations also to the winner of the Sid Flesichman Humor Award.

OrangeSky Audio

Congratulations to finalists of the Audio Publisher’s Association’s 2023 Audie Awards, especially the finalists in the categories of Young Listeners, Middle Grade, and Young Adult. The winners will be announced on Mar. 28 at the Audies Gala, which will be held in New York City.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Greetings from the Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival at the University of the Redlands! I’m delighted to be presenting the morning keynote, a breakout session about rewriting fairy tales, and a breakout session about teaching Native children’s literature.

In Heartdrum news, “Rosemary Brosnan and Cynthia Leitich Smith at HarperCollins/Heartdrum have bought, in a 10-bidder auction, rights to K.A. Cobell’s (Blackfeet) debut YA thriller Looking for Smoke. The novel follows four teens on the Blackfeet Reservation who find themselves the suspects of a murder investigation during the annual Indian Days celebration. Publication is set for summer 2024; Pete Knapp at Park & Fine Literary and Media did the deal for North American rights.” Welcome to Heartdrum, KA Cobell!

Congratulations, Brian Young! Heroes of the Water Monster, cover by Shonto Begay, is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection!

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)(Listening Library, April 2023), is now available for pre-order.

★ “Smith uses a slow, deliberate pace initially to take time to develop and deliver backstory for each character while building the mystery, then intensifies the pace about halfway through which carries the reader through to the story’s unexpected climax… This is one heckuva roller coaster ride that ratchets up the tension the closer the story comes to Halloween.” —School Library Connection, starred review

Plus, the audio book edition of Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018, 2020) will be released in audio edition by Listening Library in April, too!

More Personally – Gayleen

I was very excited to see this display celebrating “Austin-Area Award-Winning Author” Varian Johnson at an Austin Public Library branch this week. As winner of Austin SCBWI‘s Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award, I’ve been working with Varian to revise my middle grade novel, so this also felt like the universe giving me a nudge to wrap up the revision before my mentorship year ends.

Also thrilled to see local librarians Carolyn Foote and Becky Calzada recognized by People magazine for forming FReadom Fighters! Full article at From an Emmy-Winning AIDS Activist to Librarians Fighting Book Bans: People’s 2023 Women Changing the World. Peek: “‘Books shouldn’t be contraband,’ says Foote, a retired librarian. ‘We’ve lost our way in this contentious environment. We forgot what’s at the core of libraries: getting kids excited about reading.'”