Cynsational News

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

Spotlight Image: Remember by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Random House Studio, 2023).

Author/Illustrator Insights

The Reading Culture Podcast: Eye of the Tiger: Ellen Oh on Rising Up for the Right To Read from Listen Notes. Peek: “[B]ooks save lives. And as dramatic or even cheesy as that sounds, I want to remind people of the power of books and…their ability to show each reader that they are not alone. We all know the importance of representation in books and how life-affirming it can be for those who are historically underrepresented.”

Knopf Books for Young Readers

An Indies Introduce Q&A With María José Fitzgerald with Earl Dizon from American Booksellers Association. Peek: “Our planet truly is beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how stunning it is and how incredible its creatures are. The biggest message I’d like to offer readers is that no act is too small. Taking care of the critters and the environment in your immediate community is a great place to start.”

MacKids Spotlight: Deb JJ Lee from MacKids School and Library. Peek: “I learned to be kinder to myself on…days where I would rather do anything [other] than get up and draw a page by just taking the day off…I also found that readers don’t need a fancy steak dinner for every meal—not every page needs 110% of your effort. Make that masterpiece-page truly stand out….”

Rebranding Happily Ever After? A Guest Post by Lakita Wilson by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “[For] teen readers everywhere, romance novels and Happily Ever After’s have their purpose. They provide butterflies, reasons to swoon, and hope—that we will all one day find the forever love we deserve….Now, more than ever, many teen readers look to these types of stories to find sparks of joy.”

Equity & Inclusion

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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 which is difficult and complicated….[W]hen something terrible ends…it takes time, community, art, and intentionality to take steps towards our own mending. But healing is absolutely possible.”

Writing About Suicide While Suicidal, a Guest Post by Lizzy Mason by Amanda MacGregor from Teen Librarian Toolbox. Peek: “I want teens to know that they are…not alone. I write about difficult subjects so that if it happens to them, they’ve at least read about one person’s experience of dealing with it….Maybe they’ll remember how a character dealt when they can’t figure out what to do. Maybe they’ll just feel less alone.”

A Conversation With Ibram X. Kendi About Race, Religion and Parenting by Brandon McGinley from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Peek: “[Either] young people are going to learn that there are all these different skin colors, but no one who is lighter or darker is better or worse; or they’re going to learn that the lighter or darker you are, the better you are. They’re going to learn either one… [I]t’s important for…children to learn racial equality.”

Kar-Ben Publishing

WNDMG Wednesday—Debut Author Noa Nimrodi by Heather Murphy Capps from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek: “When I began writing this book…, I believed I was drawing from the experiences of my three kids (we moved from Israel to the US when they were seven, twelve and fourteen). But as I tapped deeper into the emotions of my main character, it dawned on me that I was also writing about myself.”

Why Are Books Banned? Part of a Broader Effort To Oppress Girls and Nonbinary People by Reshma Saujani from Teen Vogue. Peek: “[B]ook bans are about oppressing girls—especially girls of color, queer girls, and nonbinary people—by making us believe that our stories aren’t worth sharing, our aspirations aren’t worth pursuing, and our identities aren’t worth celebrating….[H]istory has shown…that there are few things more powerful than a teenage girl armed with equal parts self-confidence and righteous fury.”

International Women’s Day—40 SFF Books by Women of Color To Read This Year from Fanna For Books. Peek: “Women’s Day brings a great opportunity to celebrate books by women…Women of color had to deal with…judgements…that didn’t allow their stories to reach farther…[I]t seems like a dream to see BIPOC women authors adorning bookshelves, particularly in genres whose more mainstream readership holds a clear bias: SFF….[H]ere are forty SFF books by women of color….”

Writing Craft

Balzer + Bray

Author & Illustrator Spotlight: Anne Wynter & Daniel Miyares by Brian Gehrlein from PB Spotlight. Peek: [Anne Wynter:] “This book taught me that some ideas are worth relentlessly plugging away at….I know sometimes we have to put aside ideas that aren’t working, but if you feel like an idea is really worth fighting for, keep your eyes open for sources of inspiration and keep writing more drafts!”

In Conversation: Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey from Publishers Weekly. Peek: [Jerome Pumphrey:] “I started by designing all the characters and how they look doing all these different activities…Then it was just a matter of designing all the environments…described in the text and then populating it with them….[A]lthough we normally make the art…with printmaking, we decided I’d just draw it with line art due to how much art there is….”

Authors’ Corner: Traci Sorell by Danelle Jishie from Worlds of Words. Peek: “While structuring her writing, Sorell recognizes the perfect book stays unattainable. However, spending time to thoroughly research helps create a book with purpose. Writing fully developed characters entails ‘knowing who is in the story and is their whole humanity showing?’…[C]reating versatile [characters]…provides children a place of belonging within the story.”

Zest Books

Nearer My Freedom: An Interview…With Lesley Younge by Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: “Found verse takes existing text and reorganizes a selection of words, phrases, and sentences into poems. It can be thought of as a remix or a collage. Sometimes the new poems bring new meaning….Found verse allowed us to focus on…certain turns of phrase, while making the language more accessible to young people.”

Four Questions for Trang Thanh Tran by Iyana Jones from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “The book really took off when I made the house a narrator. The house chapters are shorter so it almost [gave me] the freedom to write a little bit poetically, about what it’s like for this house having this experience and where it’s also becoming more and more like a person.”

Interviews: Aram Kim, Art Director, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group from Children’s Illustrators. Peek: [About illustrators’ portfolios:] “[I] recommend including the urban setting, natural setting, home setting, and everyday setting like school, park, or playground. Including a few pieces where multiple characters interact with one another is vital, too, since it’s rare that we only have one character per page in a book, and a children’s book is often…about emotions coming from relationships.”


Ask WNDB: Going on Submission With Editor Sabrina Pyun from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: [For those looking to work in editorial:] “Do as many informational interviews as you can! Many people in editorial, especially assistants, are very happy to…inform you about the department and…the industry. There is so much you cannot learn without already being in the industry. If you can, do an internship, but you don’t have to have done an internship to get in….”

Sci-Fi Publishers Are Bracing for an AI Battle by Elizabeth Minkel from Wired. Peek: “Neil Clarke, the publisher…[of] Clarkesworld, had plotted out the publication’s past few years of plagiarized and spammy submissions. Until late 2022, the bars are barely visible, but in the past few months…the numbers climb[ed] dramatically, mostly due to AI-generated content….[The] worry is about the volume of garbage clogging up an already oversaturated space.”

From Roald Dahl to Goosebumps, Revisions to Children’s Classics Are Really About Copyright—a Legal Expert Explains by Cathay Smith from The Conversation. Peek: “The backlash to Puffin Books’ decision to update Roald Dahl’s children’s books has been swift and largely derisive….[H]owever, updating Roald Dahl’s children’s books is really about the rights and control copyright grants to authors and copyright holders….These rights aren’t absolute and…aren’t forever. Once the copyright…expires, anyone can reproduce, edit and sell new copies of…an original book….”


Impact Library Program Steward Stories, February 2023 from Little Free Library. Peek: “Little Free Library’s Impact Library Program provides no-cost Little Free Library book-sharing boxes to underserved communities where they can make a meaningful impact on book access and literacy engagement….This month we granted 24 Impact Library Packages to applicants from clinics, schools, and nonprofit organizations.” Apply here to receive a free Library book-sharing box through the Impact Library Program.


Curious About Book Funnels? Here’s (Almost) Everything You Need To Know by Sandra Beckwith from Build Book Buzz. Peek: “A book funnel is a marketing strategy…to increase book sales. It consists of a series of steps that guide potential readers from discovering your book to purchasing it….With marketing funnels, lots goes into the top, and little comes out the bottom….The difference between ‘lots’ and ‘little’ remains trapped in the middle…[M]arketing happens in that middle.”


Wi2023: What You Need to Know About Nonprofit Models from Shelf Awareness. Peek: “At Winter Institute 2023…, booksellers from four nonprofit bookstores, as well as an attorney specializing in nonprofit law, convened to discuss what other independent booksellers need to know about the nonprofit model….[Attorney Tara Vitale] noted that perhaps the biggest benefit of a nonprofit is ‘building an institution” that is ‘truly community based.’”

Education/Other Resources/Events

Quill Tree Books

Silver Unicorn Bookstore, 12 Spruce St., Acton, MA, presents In-Person Middle Grade Launch With Rajani LaRocca! to celebrate the release of her new middle grade novel Mirror to Mirror (Quill Tree Books, 2023). The event takes place Mar. 21 at 7 p.m. eastern.

The Northwest Ohio Teen Book Festival, which focuses on the teens and tweens of Northwest Ohio, takes place Mar. 18 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. eastern at Rossford Junior High School, 702 Superior St., Rossford, OH. “The festival will consist of a keynote by New York Times Bestselling Author Natalie D. Richards, four sessions, with seven breakout options per session, and an Authors Alley book signing session.” Some of the attending authors include Deeba Zargarpur and Debbie Rigaud. Register here.

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore presents Francesca Flores in discussion with Amparo Oritiz about Francesca’s new YA novel The Witch and the Vampire (Wednesday Books, 2023). This free virtual event takes place Mar. 22 at 6 p.m. pacific, 8 p.m. central, 9 p.m. eastern. Register here.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

OverDrive presents “In the Know!—Reading Beyond Pride With Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.” Join authors Ami Polonsky (World Made of Glass (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023)), Nina Varela (Juniper Harvey and the Vanishing Kingdom (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023)) and Lin Thompson (The House That Whispers (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023)) as they discuss “middle grade stories that take us beyond tropes to authentic emotions.” The free virtual event takes place Apr. 5 at 11 a.m. pacific, 1 p.m. central, 2 p.m. eastern. Register here.


Bologna 2023: Laurie Halse Anderson Wins Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “American author Laurie Halse Anderson is the winner of the 2023 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest children’s book prize…The ALMA jury’s citation states, ‘In her tightly written novels for young adults, Laurie Halse Anderson gives voice to the search for meaning, identity, and truth, both in the present and the past.’”

Bologna 2023: Publishers from India, Mozambique, Ukraine Win Top Prizes by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: “Bologna Children’s Book Fair announced the winners of its annual BOP—Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year. The prizes cover six regions around the world…The winner is voted on by fellow publishers and acknowledges those who have ‘stood out…for their innovation, creativity and the quality of their editorial choices.’”

Featured New Release

Happy book birthday to You Are Here: Connecting Flights, edited by Ellen Oh (Allida, 2023)!

A powerful and engaging exploration of contemporary Asian American identity through interwoven stories set in a teeming Chicago airport, written by award-winning and bestselling East and Southeast Asian American authors: Linda Sue Park, Grace Lin, Erin Entrada Kelly, Traci Chee, Mike Chen, Meredith Ireland, Mike Jung, Minh Lê, Randy Ribay, Christina Soontornvat, Susan Tan, and Ellen Oh.

You Are Here is a Junior Library Guild selection.

★  “Consistently engaging and rewarding.” — Booklist (starred review)

★  “Compelling and nuanced.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★  “An intersectionally diverse, multifaceted collaboration that’s artfully conceived and executed.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Allida imprint (HarperChildren’s)—led by Linda Sue Park and Anne Hoppe—will encourage marginalized creators to explore the stories they’re most passionate about. You Are Here is the imprint’s inaugural book. 

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally – Cynthia

Calling YA sci fi & fantasy lit fans! You can find a list of March & April 2023 new releases, compiled by Alex Brown from Highlights include my Harvest House, cover by Britt Newton (Candlewick Press) & Funeral Songs for Dying Girls by Cherie Dimaline (Tundra Books), which can be well paired for young readers of ghost stories.

More Personally – Gayleen

Spring is my favorite season and the bluebonnets are just beginning to bloom around our bed and breakfast cottage! I spread lots of seed last fall, but just like story ideas, some immediately take root and flourish while others need a little more time to germinate and blossom.

Personal Links – Gayleen